The 1 Reason to Tune into Every NBA Team's Games This Season
Don't be fooled by those who tell you the NBA isn't worth watching until the playoffs, or even by the league's national broadcast schedule itself.
There's at least one good reason to watch all 30 teams this season. No, seriously.
Some are more obvious than others. You probably don't need to be convinced to see a full-fledged contender or an all-galaxy superstar in action. But you might need some prodding to tune in when lottery-bound rebuilders take the hardwood.
That's where we come in. After careful examination of everything from offseason activity, past and projected production and any notable narratives beyond the roster, we've pinpointed the biggest reason for you to get all 30 clubs onto your screens in 2018-19.
Atlanta Hawks: The Trae Young Experience
Does anyone have a wider range of potential outcomes than this summer's No. 5 pick, Trae Young?
At Oklahoma, he had five games with 39-plus points and seven contests with six or more triples. He also had at least six turnovers 13 different times and six games in which he attempted double-digit long-range looks and connected on three or fewer.
He'll have some 30-point outbursts as a rookie and other games where he can't stop turning the ball over or start hitting shots. It won't always be pretty, but this will be never-a-dull-moment basketball.
If that's not enough to keep you glued to the Atlanta Hawks, at least put them on every once in a while to catch John Collins' aerial antics or Taurean Prince's rapidly expanding skill set.
Boston Celtics: Death Lineup East
Soak this one in, hoops heads. Even the Golden State Warriors might consider this quintet an embarrassment of riches.
It looks like it has everything. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are All-Stars with 20-points-per-game campaigns under their belt. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown just contributed 36.5 points a night to a three-round playoff run during their rookie and sophomore seasons, respectively. The 2 through 4 spots look interchangeable; the 5 is occupied by Al Horford, Boston's connective tissue at both ends.
It's too early to tell when and how Celtics head coach Brad Stevens plans to employ this lineup. But it'll be a must-see unit every time it steps inside the lines.
There should be X's-and-O's mastery for basketball nerds and no shortage of highlights for casual fans. Not to mention, the championship stakes for this five are as high as any unit outside of Oakland.
Brooklyn Nets: Kenny Atkinson's Green Light
If you've ever tuned into the Brooklyn Nets during Kenny Atkinson's tenure, you've probably thought the offense looked familiar.
It shares many principles with Mike D'Antoni's offense with the Houston Rockets—pace, ball movement and a bunch of long balls. Last season, Brooklyn finished second in three-point attempts (35.7 per game) and sixth in pace (99.74 possessions per 48 minutes).
The Nets offense isn't great (22nd in efficiency last year), namely because there isn't a James Harden or Chris Paul (let alone both) around to run the show. Brooklyn's previous regime made rebuilding on a budget a way of life, and the Nets are still waiting to land a centerpiece.
Still, it's fun to see what they can produce off the strength of Atkinson's system alone. He's constantly testing the limits of his players' offensive ranges. He's tried making three-point shooters out of Brook Lopez (successful), Tyler Zeller and Timofey Mozgov (not as much), and it sounds like Jarrett Allen is next. The experiments alone are worth the price of admission.
Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker's Fight
Two-time All-Star Kemba Walker will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end. If he wanted to, he could practically handpick his next employer, since he's one of only six players to average at least 20 points and five assists each of the past three seasons.
But that's not what he wants.
"I want to create something special here in Charlotte, something that we have never had here before," Walker told reporters. "I want to create some consistency. And I want to be a part of that."
Walker wants the Hornets to matter, and it's his quest to make that happen over the next seven months. Re-signing him for a lot of money should be a no-brainer, even if he'll be 29 at the time. If he can't make the Hornets relevant, maybe he gives the front office something to think about next summer (or even at the trade deadline). Between the stakes and the skill level, this should be an incredible challenge to watch unfold.
Chicago Bulls: Offense, Offense and More Offense
If you're still lamenting the league's move away from the gritty, ground-and-pound style of the 90s, then the 2018-19 Chicago Bulls aren't for you. But if up-and-down play, huge point totals and a hazy scoring hierarchy are more your style, congrats—you've just found your League Pass team.
The Bulls have at least a handful of 20-point threats on any given night. Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker and Lauri Markkanen are the usual suspects, but Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine, Kris Dunn and Justin Holiday can all spontaneously erupt. Rookies Chandler Hutchison and Wendell Carter Jr. should land in one of those groups sooner rather than later.
Oh, and Chicago's defense looks horrid on paper. The Bulls were the third-worst unit on that end last season, and it somehow feels possible they still backtrack in a big way once LaVine and Parker start working major minutes together.
In other words, you're probably getting a fireworks display on a nightly basis. If you can stomach the defensive lowlights, you'll feast on offensive gems during the races to 120-plus points.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Running of the Young Bull
The last time LeBron James vacated Northeast Ohio, the Cleveland Cavaliers immediately became unwatchable. But once Kyrie Irving joined the fold the following year, their broadcasts jumped from brutal to bearable and far better than that on Uncle Drew's biggest nights.
This time around, the Cavs hope they already have their next franchise fixture in rookie Collin Sexton. The No. 8 pick averaged 19.2 points and 3.6 assists at Alabama last season. He nearly orchestrated a road upset of a top-15 team despite playing three-on-five the majority of the second half. He introduced himself to fans on The Players' Tribune with the following:
"My nickname is 'The Young Bull.' Watch me play and you'll understand why."
That's a mic-dropper.
Some will watch the Cavs to see whether Kevin Love can really get back to being Minnesota Kevin Love after all. Some might want to see JR Smith without LeBron's supervision or whether Rodney Hood can get himself back on track. But if I'm watching Cleveland, I'm checking out Sexton's attempt to race the franchise into its next era.
Dallas Mavericks: Doncic Does It All
Luka Doncic can play anywhere but center. He can hurt defenses with his shooting, playmaking, creativity and rebounding. He's savvy, skilled and incredibly poised.
Oh, and he's 19 years old through the end of February. That isn't surprising for a rookie, it just doesn't seem fair given the way his game gets described.
"Doncic may never lead the league in scoring, but he'll check every offensive box and still be more of an impact-over-stats combo guard or forward," Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman wrote. "Doncic has the chance to be special."
It takes a prospect of his caliber to outshine all the other interesting narratives around Dallas this season. Dirk Nowitzki's potential swan song is the most historically notable, but there's also the development of Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan's overdue arrival and Harrison Barnes' near-star-level play.
Denver Nuggets: Best Passing Big Man...Ever?
Imagine a 6'10" center who's both a 39.6-percent shooter from distance and a crafty, consistent scorer out of the post. Sounds pretty unguardable, right?
Well, Nikola Jokic can look that way at times. He reached 30 points seven different times last season and finished the year as the top scoring option on the Association's sixth-best offense. But the real beauty in the Joker's game lies not with the points he finds himself, but rather those he creates for his teammates.
"Jokic's 2017-18 season—six dimes per game, an assist rate of 30 percent—was arguably the greatest passing campaign ever for a big man," ESPN.com's Zach Lowe wrote.
The Nuggets will be League Pass darlings for a number of reasons. Jamal Murray and Will Barton are incendiary scorers. Paul Millsap is an overqualified glue guy and Gary Harris is on a short list of the league's best three-and-D threats. But if you watch this team strictly to see how Jokic brings all the parts together, you'll never be disappointed.
Detroit Pistons: High-Low Synergy
The Detroit Pistons aren't the first (and won't be the last) team to try zigging against a league-wide zag. They might even argue that's not their intention, since they've tapped into Blake Griffin's perimeter potential (5.4 three-point attempts, 6.2 assists per game after his midseason move to the Motor City) and might be inclined to do the same with Andre Drummond.
But the best basketball Griffin and Drummond play together this season—certainly the most aesthetically pleasing—will be of the high-low variety. Consider it a reboot of the old Griffin-DeAndre Jordan tandem, with the added bonus of Drummond being a sneaky-good passing threat (career-high 3.0 assists last season).
The Pistons have other puzzles to solve, like keeping Reggie Jackson healthy and squeezing more production out of the wing rotation. But nothing means more to their success than maximizing their twin towers. It will not only be fascinating to watch, but it should be highlight-heavy. Both are former Dunk Contest participants, and it's possible each can comfortably operate either side of an alley-oop.
Golden State Warriors: A(nother) Team for the Ages
Some pictures may speak a thousand words, but the photo above voices just three: This. Is. Silly.
Good luck finding any gamers or fantasy owners who've ever compiled as much talent as the Golden State Warriors now employ. This was already a historic power, having won three titles and 80.8 percent of its games over the past three seasons. Now, it's added a fifth All-Star to the mix in DeMarcus Cousins, who was list seen compiling an unprecedented stat line before a torn Achilles cut his 2017-18 campaign short.
Are we certain that Cousins can get himself back to full speed this season? It's impossible to say yes. Do we know that his style of player will automatically fit with the Warriors? Of course not.
But the NBA has taught us time and again that talent usually trumps everything. And everyone can admit the Dubs have an unrivaled collection of it.
Houston Rockets: Debunking the Offseason Narrative
Among the many things the Houston Rockets did right last season—masterfully balance the new Chris Paul-James Harden pairing, splash a record number of threes, come within a game of the NBA Finals—their defensive improvement proved a critical, perhaps surprising part of their success. In the span of one year, Head Coach Mike D'Antoni oversaw a climb from 18th to seventh in defensive efficiency.
So, it seems more than fair that media members and fans alike raised an eyebrow or two as the Rockets watched both Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute depart in free agency.
"While the downgrade from Ariza to [Carmelo] Anthony and [James] Ennis might not make a huge difference in the regular season, it figures to cost the Rockets when they match up against elite opposition in the playoffs," wrote ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton, who graded Houston's offseason as a D-plus.
That said, the 2017-18 Rockets were 65-game winners who had legitimate championship aspirations up until a strained hamstring sidelined Paul in the Western Conference Finals. Their three best players are back, as is their mastermind coach. This is not a situation that typically spawns doubters, and it should be incredible to watch Houston try to prove everyone wrong.
Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner's Time to Launch
You'd have been hard-pressed to find Indiana Pacers fans complaining about much of anything last season. What ostensibly should have been a rebuilding year leading them into the post-Paul George era instead became a 48-win campaign punctuated by a seven-game, opening-round fistfight against the eventual Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers.
What got a bit lost in the shuffle, though, was former lottery pick Myles Turner's failure to launch. He entered the season as the odds-on favorite to become the Pacers' new franchise face. He wound up exiting it with career lows in field-goal percentage (47.9), per-36-minute points (16.2) and per-36-minute rebounds (8.2).
But this is already shaping up to be Turner's year of redemption. He not only enters with a newly chiseled frame, he also has the security of a four-year pact that could be worth up to $80 million, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. Armed with the unicorn skill set of shot-blocking and outside shooting, Turner might catapult up to his towering ceiling just yet.
Los Angeles Clippers: Flexibility at Forward
You know that double Spiderman meme? That's what the Los Angeles Clippers hope they have in Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari, two multifaceted forwards capable of causing matchup problems to bigger and smaller defenders alike.
"They both are effective together," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. "They play off each other. They create switches on their own offensively. It causes problems for other teams."
Ideally, L.A. will give headaches to opposing wings for reasons beyond the Harris-Gallinari duo. Mike Scott's offensive eruptions are always sights to behold, Luc Mbah a Moute is a menace defensively (and underrated on offense) and the Clippers' bevy of backcourt options could mean some interesting three-guard lineups are in the works.
Los Angeles Lakers: Everything
As the preseason ratings can attest, the 2018-19 Los Angeles Lakers might be more compelling than anything you'll find on TV this year.
Where do we even start? LeBron James, obviously, both for his initial venture into the Western Conference and that little fact about him perhaps being the best player we've ever seen. But the storylines are almost too numerous to mention: Lonzo Ball's sophomore season, Brandon Ingram's potential breakthrough, the funky supporting cast being all the way funky.
You get the drift.
Oh, and it's probably worth mentioning the Lakers have a chance to be pretty decent, too. James hasn't missed the playoffs since 2005 (or the Finals since 2009), the youngsters displayed tangible growth last season and the veteran acquisitions are oozing with experience and toughness.
Memphis Grizzlies: Return to Grit-and-Grind
The best Memphis Grizzlies teams in recent memory haven't always been the easiest on the eyes. But when Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are playing together, the style just works.
It's easy to forget now since the season fell apart, but do you remember how the Grizzlies opened the last campaign? They not only had five victories to show for their first six contests, but three of those wins came against the Warriors and Rockets—by an average of 10.7 points.
Memphis has modernized some with better shooting and more versatility. No. 4 pick Jaren Jackson Jr. epitomizes that better than anyone. But as long as Conley and Gasol are around, the Grizzlies will try to wear out opponents with precise offense and relentless defense. That's always fun to watch.
Miami Heat: The Changing Puzzle
It's easy to look at this Miami Heat group and think, Been there, done that. It's not necessarily wrong, either, since the 14 players to crack the opening night roster all spent last season in South Beach, too.
But the Heat could spend this campaign in a constant state of evolution. Josh Richardson looks ready to make his leap, and if Justise Winslow and/or Bam Adebayo follow his lead, that could have huge implications for the rotation. (Or maybe a Jimmy Butler trade?) If the youngsters rise, which veterans fall? Dwyane Wade in his swan song? A potentially pouty Hassan Whiteside? A suddenly super-expensive Tyler Johnson?
Head coach Erik Spoelstra has a ton to figure out. This roster has a lot of redundancies. President Pat Riley has said the club has "too many good-to-great players." Some might alter that to "too many average-to-good players," but the point stands. Minutes, roles and even rotation spots could be fluid from night to night, and it'll be fun seeing how Spoelstra tries to manage this.
Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Unleashed
Forget about the back-to-back All-Star appearances and All-NBA selections. You've never seen Giannis Antetokounmpo the way you're about to.
As Bleacher Report's Dan Favale detailed, it's less about the Greek Freak himself than it is the Milwaukee Bucks finally building the right environment around him:
"The Bucks have never pieced together a better supporting cast for Antetokounmpo. The nucleus of the roster remains the same, but the additions on the margins will go a long away. Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez bring dependability and spacing to a frontcourt carousel that needs both. Pat Connaughton and Donte DiVincenzo subtly arm Milwaukee with increased three-point output.
"Head coach Mike Budenholzer is the most important newcomer of all. The personnel around Antetokounmpo is set up to maximize his end-to-end pull, and he's just the mind the deploy it."
Without those changes, Antetokounmpo averaged 26.9 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists last season, before helping the Bucks push the Boston Celtics to seven games in the first round. With better-fitting pieces around him and more room to work offensively, it's possible he pushes himself to the front of the MVP line and his team straight through the LeBron-less East.
Minnesota Timberwolves: The Jimmy Butler Watch Party
Soap opera writers can't script what's gone down between the Minnesota Timberwolves and disgruntled star Jimmy Butler.
High-level players requesting a trade ahead of a contract year is nothing new. But how often have we heard about this much disconnect between ownership and front office execs? And when's the last time we received a practice story as wild as the one from Butler's initial post-request appearance?
"Butler was vociferous and intense throughout the scrimmages, targeting president of basketball operations and coach Tom Thibodeau, general manager Scott Layden and teammates, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported.
It feels both like a trade could come at any time or that Thibodeau might convince himself he can manage the drama for an entire season. (If owner Glen Taylor doesn't intervene, that is.) And despite the drama, Butler remains the Timberwolves' most important player for as long as he's in the Gopher State. All angles of this story are riveting.
New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis Gunning for the No. 1 Spot
Remember the soul-snatching run Anthony Davis embarked on after DeMarcus Cousins went down last season? If not, there was a six-game stretch in which he averaged an unbelievable 41.5 points on 54.2/39.1/82.2 shooting, 15.0 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 3.0 steals.
Apparently, that may have been a warning about Davis' next act—his NBA takeover.
"Honestly, I see myself as the best player in the league, the most dominant player in the league," he told ESPN's Rachel Nichols. "I just think it's time for that step. You know, you only get a short window, and I don't want that window to close, so I think my time is now."
If everything we've seen to date—five All-Star appearances, three All-NBA first team honors, two top-five MVP finishes—was just an appetizer, what in the world is Davis about to serve up as the main course? Who knows, but it's sure to be spectacular. With Cousins out of the equation, Davis will be front and center for an offense that could play at the league's fastest speed.
New York Knicks: The Youth Movement
While there will always be some level of pressure for the New York Knicks to perform, this season feels different. With Kristaps Porzingis out indefinitely (ACL) and no other All-Star on the roster, it seems the 'Bockers are finally comfortable with the idea of a developmental year.
Minutes are sure to come fast and frequently for any youngster on the roster. That's a group headlined by 2018 draft picks Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson and 2017 lottery selection Frank Ntilikina, but it also includes undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier, free-agent pickup Mario Hezonja, former lottery pick Trey Burke and some combination of Emmanuel Mudiay, Ron Baker, Damyean Dotson and Noah Vonleh.
Part of the fun with letting prospects loose is the intriguing nature of the unknown. Who's better than initially thought? Who's worse? Who's daring enough to make regular appearances on the highlight and lowlight reels?
But there's another side to this story. The Knicks aren't simply seeing what they have, they're also showcasing potential teammates to prospective 2019 free-agency targets. A healthy Porzingis and the booming New York market will still be the primary draws, but a quick-climbing youngster might become more than a supplemental part of the recruiting pitch.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Westbrook-George, Part II
Year one of the Russell Westbrook-Paul George pairing was more successful than you'd think. The Westbrook-George-Andre Roberson-Steven Adams quartet was a monster (plus-12.0 points per 100 possessions). If the Oklahoma City Thunder hadn't lost Roberson to a ruptured patellar tendon, they'd have been a scary playoff matchup for anyone.
Westbrook and George proved natural fits. The former averaged a triple-double for the second straight season. The latter had the best three-point shooting season of his career (244 makes at a 40.1-percent clip). Together, they bested opponents by 7.0 points per 100 possessions across 2,328 minutes.
They could prove even more dynamic the second time around. OKC's roster is more athletic and versatile than a year ago. The offensive hierarchy will be clearer without Carmelo Anthony, and the defense could be ferocious when George shares the floor with a healthy Roberson and Jerami Grant. If enough wild cards pan out, this supporting cast should support its stars much better.
"I think George and Westbrook will spread their wings together and be more comfortable in their system without Carmelo Anthony there," one scout told SI.com. "That trade was big addition by subtraction."
Orlando Magic: The Many Different Frontcourt Faces
Is there such a thing as having too many big men in the modern NBA? While we'd answer with an emphatic "Yes!" we're still curious to see how the Orlando Magic plan to prove us wrong.
This season, they'll be spending $34.3 million on Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic. Over the past two drafts, they've spent the No. 6 pick on both Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba. Maybe the Magic see something different, but this looks a lot like four players capable of filling just two spots: power forward and center.
That said, the talent level is pretty clear. Gordon took a big jump toward stardom last season (17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds, and Vucevic has been a walking double-double for six years now. Bamba boasts impossible length and a smooth stroke from distance. Isaac might have the highest ceiling of all for his combination of length, athleticism and versatility.
There are bound to be some wonky moments, but there might be others when you feel like you're seeing the future of basketball.
Philadelphia 76ers: Best Young Duo in the Business
Last November, NBA.com had five of its writers weigh in on which of the Association's young duos was the best. All five respondents selected the Philadelphia 76ers' talented twosome of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, with David Aldridge calling the latter "Olajuwony" and Steve Aschburner dubbing the former "the most legit tall point guard since ... Earvin [Magic] Johnson."
To be clear, the piece published Nov. 1, 2017. In other words, it was way before Simmons became just the second rookie to average at least 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and Embiid showed what he can do when (mostly) healthy with 22.9 points, 11.0 boards, 3.2 dimes and 1.8 blocks.
With Embiid's footwork and fluidity and Simmons' blend of size and skill, we're catching glimpses of things we haven't seen in decades. Oh, they're bulldozers together, too, blasting opponents by 15.6 points per 100 possessions in 1,306 minutes together last season. When these two are rolling, they aren't many better shows in basketball.
Phoenix Suns: The Devin Booker-Deandre Ayton Connection
The Phoenix Suns clearly think they have something special in the Devin Booker-Deandre Ayton connection. And why wouldn't they? Booker is racing toward his first All-Star selection and nearly averaged 25 points, five boards and five assists last season—as a 21-year-old. Ayton, meanwhile, blitzed through his lone season of college ball with nightly contributions of 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.
Ayton sees "Shaq and Kobe 2.0" potential for them. That isn't happening, but there's enough offensive potential here for them to keep defensive-minded coaches up at night.
The rest of the roster is...strange. The Suns made a slew of win-now additions (Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Jamal Crawford) on the heels of a 61-loss season. They don't know what they have in Josh Jackson or Dragan Bender yet, and their point guard rotation looks like the league's weakest by far. But maybe that just makes them lean heavier on Booker and Ayton, who should key some fiery scoring displays.
Portland Trail Blazers: Backcourt Buckets
People can, have and will continue to debate whether the Portland Trail Blazers have taken the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt as far as it can go. But that's not our focus here.
If you're watching the Blazers this season, you're doing so to marvel at the magical offensive gifts between them. Lillard just averaged at least 25 points, six assists and three triples for the second time; only James Harden (twice) and Stephen Curry (three times) have ever done that. McCollum is one of seven players to average 20 points and two long-distance makes each of the past three seasons.
Each can lead an offense or burn defenders as an off-ball sniper. Both can conjure up monstrous stat lines on any given night (Lillard had 25 games with 30-plus points, McCollum added seven more). Lillard dazzles with limitless shooting range, explosive athleticism and unwavering confidence. McCollum has dizzying handles and a soft touch from anywhere. They are offensive showmen, and they're really good at what they do.
Sacramento Kings: Organic Growth
Word of advice to Sacramento Kings fans: Try to go this entire season without ever looking at a scoreboard or the league standings. If you can separate the process from the results, you should be able to appreciate the steps the Kings seem to be taking in the right direction.
There are still too many bigs and too many guards on this roster, which not coincidentally shows a shortage of wings. But there's also a growing collection of intriguing prospects, headlined by the 20-and-under trio of De'Aaron Fox, Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley III.
Given their youth and athleticism, these three should be acrobats in the open floor, especially when surrounded by shooters like Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic. As long as the logjams don't interfere with the youth development, the Kings will pack some fun moments into another loss-filled season.
San Antonio Spurs: Adjusting to Post-Kawhi Life
While no team wants to be forced into trading a possible top-five talent, it's not all doom and gloom for the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich still calls the shots, and the roster added a 29-year-old four-time All-Star in DeMar DeRozan.
But they are as mysterious as they've been in decades. Manu Ginobili rode off into the sunset, and Tony Parker took his talents to Buzz City. Danny Green left with Kawhi Leonard, and Kyle Anderson joined the Grizzlies. Potential shot leaders DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay all play a ball-pounding style that's not synonymous with what we've come to know as the Spurs Way.
So, what are the Spurs? Well, that's Pop's job to figure out. The rest of us can kick back and enjoy seeing one of the sport's greatest minds adjusting on the fly. Maybe there aren't enough pieces to make sense of it all—losing Dejounte Murray (ACL) was brutal—but it's been a long time since this franchise went down without a fight.
Toronto Raptors: Going All in on Kawhi
In sports, there are all-in gambles, and there's the offseason the Toronto Raptors just had.
In case the particulars are a tad fuzzy at this point, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times has the details:
"They traded their all-time leading scorer and the best friend of the team’s star point guard. They fired their coach, a man who has won more than twice as many games as anyone else on the Raptors’ sideline.
"They traded for a mysterious superstar coming off of a more mysterious injury-plagued season entering the final year of his contract. They hired a first-time NBA head coach, someone who made a name for himself in the British Basketball League, to make sense of it all. And they did this, all of this, after a 59-win season, most in team history."
Basically, the Raptors have given themselves contend-or-detonate stakes heading into this season. It very well might pay off. A healthy Leonard is an all-world talent, Kyle Lowry aces the role of All-Star sidekick, the roster runs as deep as any and their army of long-limbed, agile defenders might be perfect to combat even the best small-ball lineups.
But there are myriad ways that this could go south. And if it does, you could see a complete rebuild as soon as next summer—or maybe even a Leonard deal at the deadline.
Utah Jazz: Donovan Mitchell's Encore
Donovan Mitchell could do no wrong as a rookie.
He was just the seventh freshman to average 20-plus points in the 2000s and only the second to do so for a playoff participant (Carmelo Anthony). Mitchell was the top scorer and third-best distributor on the 48-win Utah Jazz, but even that undersells his importance. Utah's offensive efficiency dropped 6.8 points per 100 possessions when its prized prospect took a seat.
Mitchell already looks like a franchise-changer for the Jazz. They were supposed to be post-Gordon Hayward rebuilding last season, but Mitchell helped power them into the Western Conference Semifinals instead. And he has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
"I want to get better at the areas of my game that don't involve scoring," Mitchell told Tony Jones of The Athletic. "I want to rebound the ball more. I want to make more plays for my teammates. I have to become more of a point guard."
Washington Wizards: John Wall's Redemption
It'd be a stretch to call 2017-18 a lost season for John Wall. He was selected as an All-Star for the fifth time, made his fourth playoff appearance and averaged better than 19 points and nine assists for the third consecutive year (a distinction shared only with Westbrook).
But Wall also lost half the year to injury, posted the lowest field-goal percentage since his rookie year (42.0) and suffered the first first-round postseason series loss of his career. And people took notice. He didn't get a single vote as the league's best point guard in NBA.com's general managers survey. ESPN ranked him 32nd coming into this season; we had him at 29th.
Wall noted what was said.
"I write them down," he told NBC Sports Washington's Chase Hughes. "It's my motivation."
A motivated—dare we say angry—John Wall seems like quite the compelling character, no? And don't forget: His supporting cast was strengthened over the summer, plus the East's biggest roadblock left the conference. Throw in the fact that his supermax contract kicks in next season, and it might be impossible to overstate what's all at stake for Wall and his Washington Wizards.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.