We’ve passed the midpoint in October, which only means one thing for basketball fans: the start of another NBA season. After a whirlwind offseason where multiple superstars switched teams, the action is finally among us again.
In the Eastern Conference, no news was bigger than Kyrie Irving’s demand to be traded from Cleveland, the three-time reigning conference champs. He was eventually shipped to Boston in exchange for “Mr. 4th Quarter” Isaiah Thomas in a deal that will certainly shake up the makeup of the conference’s most powerful teams. Irving joins Al Horford and rookie Jayson Tatum in Boston, and the Celtics will try to overcome a devastating injury to Gordon Hayward on opening night and end Lebron James’ streak of seven straight Finals appearances.
James has a new supporting cast this year. After acquiring Thomas and forward Jae Crowder from Boston, veteran guards and former All-Stars Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade both signed with the Cavs. The Raptors will also be looking to dethrone Cleveland, and superstar tandem DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry certainly have the supporting cast in Toronto to make a deep run.
The Western Conference has only gotten stronger since last year, with multiple stars coming over from the East during the offseason. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony both ended up in Oklahoma City, and now form a new “Big Three” with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. The lineup change instantly puts the Thunder in a position to contend with the mighty Warriors.
In Minnesota, Jimmy Butler signed with the Timberwolves, and, along with Karl Anthony-Towns, hopes to lead the team to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. Chris Paul left the Clippers to join James Harden in Houston, forming the NBA’s most talented backcourt. And while the Spurs didn’t make any huge deals, they will have (as usual) another great shot at taking down the Warriors with MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, their ever-consistent core players, and basketball genius Gregg Popovich at the helm.
Trades and free agent signings weren’t the only causes of disturbances this summer. Many rookies are also poised to make an impact right from the start. In Philadelphia, Markelle Fultz of Washington and Ben Simmons of Louisiana State (LSU), the last two first overall draft picks, both look to make their debuts. The Sixers’ “Trust the Process” era may finally start showing results, as the two highly skilled rookies join dominant big-man Joel Embiid in Philly’s quest for the Playoffs and ultimately, the Finals.
Optimism surrounds the Lakers for the first time since Kobe’s decline, with rookie/reality TV star Lonzo Ball and a strong, young core giving fans hope for the future. In Dallas, point guard Dennis Smith Jr. is the early Rookie of the Year favorite and now holds the reigns to a team poised for another high lottery pick in next year’s draft.
Despite all the changes across the league, the general NBA hierarchy remains the same: the Warriors are still the best team in the league, with the Spurs, Thunder, and Rockets all close on their heels in the West. Lebron still has a stranglehold over the Eastern Conference, but the Celtics and Raptors both have the capability to knock off the King.
All signs may still point to a fourth consecutive Cavs-Warriors championship matchup, but a lot can change in the eight action-packed months of basketball before the Finals in mid June.