Consider yourself forgiven if you didn't realize the NBA had an offseason in 2017. The league spent the summer spinning from one blockbuster transaction to the next.
The Oklahoma City Thunder beefed up their security around Russell Westbrook, the Association's reigning MVP. James Harden now has a superstar running mate with the Houston Rockets. The Minnesota Timberwolves enlisted the help of more than one Tom Thibodeau staple to tutor Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
And that was just some of what happened out West. In the East, the latest conference finalists pulled off what looks to be a monumental deal, with the Boston Celtics adding another key piece in free agency.
Granted, this is all mere window dressing in the league's grand scheme. The Golden State Warriors, fresh off their second championship run in three years, returned all of their core constituents from the previous campaign while upgrading their bench.
That leaves everyone else once again playing for second place.
Here's a glance at the NBA training-camp schedule, followed by the biggest storylines to track through the preseason. For all the key dates to know this season, click over to NBA.com.
2017-18 NBA Season Training Camp Schedule
- Sept. 22, 2017: New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors held their media days.
- Sept. 25, 2017: All other teams hold media day.
- Sept. 30, 2017: Preseason begins.
The Next Generation
The upcoming Rookie of the Year race could be among the more star-studded in recent memory, thanks to an incoming class teeming with talent.
Dennis Smith Jr. has the makings of an early favorite. With his talent as a passer, scorer and high-flying finisher—not to mention his motivation after dropping to the No. 9 pick this year—the North Carolina State product should be a breath of fresh air for a Dallas Mavericks squad in dire need of an upgrade at point guard.
Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, the last two No. 1 overall picks, figure to split votes. They'll both be running the Philadelphia 76ers' show to a significant extent this coming season.
That is, unless Joel Embiid captures a fleeting moment of health to dominate like he did during his own rookie campaign in 2016-17.
No first-year, though, has anywhere near the hype that Lonzo Ball brings to the table. It would've been more than enough for him to be just a college star coming into the NBA. That he's a local kid looking to bring his favorite franchise back to life is endearing. That the team happens to be the Los Angeles Lakers (i.e. the most popular basketball team in the world) makes Ball's situation pure insanity.
And that's before we bring his father, LaVar Ball, into the equation.
All of that makes the eldest Ball boy well worth following. There's already a website devoted solely to the whereabouts of Lonzo and his family.
That massive popularity won't make Ball the Rookie of the Year on its own, but it will put plenty of eyes on the hoops prodigy from Chino Hills.
The NBA's Arms Race
Golden State's swift run to the 2016-17 title didn't send the rest of the Association to run and hide. Rather, it seems to have emboldened the league's resolve to compete with the defending champions however they can.
With big decisions looming in Russell Westbrook's future, the Thunder showed their commitment by acquiring Paul George on an expiring contract in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and...no picks. Ditto for the Houston Rockets and James Harden, now that Chris Paul is part of the equation.
Even teams outside of the West's best needed major moves to make any waves whatsoever. The Minnesota Timberwolves did that by trading for Jimmy Butler at the 2017 draft. In Paul Millsap, the Denver Nuggets added their most consequential free agent ever, but they may have little more to show for it than a quick first-round ouster.
The East didn't exactly sleep this offseason, either. The Boston Celtics signed one stud (Gordon Hayward) and managed to trade for another (Kyrie Irving). Those game-changing moves—especially the deal with Cleveland—strengthened the Celtics' own hand while weakening that of the Cavaliers, who ousted Boston from the conference finals in five games this past spring.
Still, LeBron James' squad looks like the best bet to come out of the East. So long as Isaiah Thomas returns from his hip injury in time for a chunk of the regular season and all of the playoffs, the Cavs will have the most talent in their conference and, thus, the best chance of getting (back) to the Finals.
That's due in no small part to the too-often-forgotten gifts of Kevin Love. As Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue told ESPN's Zach Lowe, the Cavaliers are counting on Love to have a phenomenal year acting as James' No. 2 at least until Thomas gets right:
"Kevin is going to have the best year that he's had here. I thought he was great anyway. You keep bringing up Bosh. What did Bosh average in Miami? Kevin averaged almost 20 [points] and 10 [rebounds] with two other All-Stars. If you are on a championship-caliber team, you have to sacrifice. But this year is going to be a big opportunity for him. We're going to play through him more. He's going to get those elbow touches again."
Whether these changes bear any real fruit in pursuit of the Warriors is almost beside the point. What's more important—and more pertinent—is that there should be plenty of intriguing competitors clamoring after that catbird seat.
None of that changes the same basic fact that dictated the previous campaign. That is, the Warriors really are lightyears ahead of the rest of the league now. They have every reason to believe they'll romp through the NBA to another Larry O'Brien Trophy.
"Oklahoma City will always be in Durant’s DNA, but it’s time for him to move on. Slapping around a team that was loyal to him, even in rejection, is a bad look. He’s a Warrior, and the possibilities for this Golden State team are endless. He can win championships, can win awards, can build one of the great dynasties in NBA history. The Thunder are doing their thing. Durant should forget about them, and do his."
Fortunately for Golden State, those mishaps have nothing to do with actual basketball. If Durant continues to dominate like he did during the 2017 Finals, the rest of the league stands no chance against the Warriors. The Stephen Curry-KD pick-and-roll that became the team's bread and butter this past June might soon turn all comers into toast.
Whatever his transgressions, there's no faulting Durant for doing whatever it takes to win. Last year, that meant leaving Oklahoma City for the Bay Area. This year, it meant taking less money than he could've in free agency so the Warriors could bring back Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.
Throw in the additions of Nick Young, Omri Casspi and rookie Jordan Bell, and Golden State could boast the best bench in basketball to complement an incredible starting five.
The defending champs will take their act far on the road to China for the third time in the last 10 preseasons. The rest of the NBA shouldn't get too cozy while Golden State is away. The Warriors will be back in ample time to march back to the top of the basketball world.