The NBA regular season is exactly one week away! The preseason is winding down and teams are cutting down their rosters to no more than 15 guys. With each NBA season brings new excitement, new players, and highlights, and most importantly new questions. Here are ten burning questions that will be answered by next June, as we prepare for yet another NBA season:
1. Can the Cleveland Cavaliers repeat as NBA Champions? In the words of Mike Breen moments after the buzzer sounded in the final seconds of Game 7 of the NBA Finals, “Cleveland is the city of champions once again!” After a painful 52-year long drought, Cleveland finally won another championship in one of the four major professional sports leagues.
In what will be the third year of the Big Three era of Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, the Cavaliers will be looking to successfully defend their NBA crown. The team finally agreed to terms on a new contract to bring back J.R. Smith and added veterans Mike Dunleavy and Chris “Birdman” Andersen in the offseason. Most importantly, Lebron James agreed to return on a new 3-year, $100 million contract, which means the Cavaliers will remain in the championship picture for at least the next few years.
2. How well will Kevin Durant fit with the Golden State Warriors? Despite not being able to follow up their record-setting 73 regular season wins with a second straight NBA Championship, the Warriors were able to win the Kevin Durant sweepstakes, signing the 4-time scoring champion and former MVP to a 2-year, $54 million contract. The Warriors had to undergo a drastic roster makeover to create the cap room necessary to make the signing work. However, the Warriors couldn’t be happier to add Durant to a team that already boasts 2-time MVP Stephen Curry, and All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. How quickly Durant can find his role on the team will determine how quickly this team can reach their dominance.
3. How will the San Antonio Spurs fare in the first year of post-Tim Duncan era?For the first time in two decades, the Spurs will open their season without the name “Tim Duncan” occupying one their roster spots. After announcing his retirement after 19 seasons, the Spurs are officially ushering in the post-Big Three era. With Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili 34 and 39 years old respectively, there is no telling how much longer the other two members of the Big Three will remain. However, the emergence of 25-year-old Kawhi Leonard and a full year with the Spurs under Lamarcus Aldridge’s belt will keep the Spurs’ engine running. Replacing Duncan will be 6-time All-Star and 2-time NBA Champion Pau Gasol, who is 36. With Gregg Popovich returning for his 21st season as the Spurs’ head coach, the team still figures to be among the league’s elite, but the loss of Duncan will surely take some adjustment.
4. Will the New York Knicks’ offseason transactions pay off? The Knicks have been arguably the most active team this offseason. After missing the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, the Knicks wasted no time looking for ways to improve their roster, trading for former MVP Derrick Rose just days after the end of the NBA Finals. In addition to that, the team also signed Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, and Brandon Jennings to free agent deals. Health will be a major factor in determining how well this team performs this season, however adding those players to the core of elite scorer Carmelo Anthony and sophomore sensation Kristaps Porzingis could be the recipe to a successful season.
5. How far can Russell Westbrook lead the Oklahoma City Thunder? The free agency departure of Kevin Durant changes everything for the Thunder. A perennial title contender for the past five years, the Thunder will be in uncharted waters when this season opens. Many believe the Thunder will be a low playoff seed at best, while others believe they may miss the playoffs altogether. However, the team did a good job in acquiring athletic guard Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka in a draft night trade, preparing for a possible Durant departure. Despite Durant’s departure, the elite status of Russell Westbrook, the improvement of young big men Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, and the coaching chops of Billy Donovan, this team will remain one that must be dealt with.
6. Can the Los Angeles Clippers finally get over the hump? We are now entering Year 6 of the Blake Griffin–Chris Paul–Deandre Jordan era and Year 4 of the Doc Rivers era of Clippers basketball. Despite having one of the most talented starting lineups for much of that time, however, the team has never been able to reach the Conference Finals. Injuries have definitely played a role, among other things. The free agent additions of Raymond Felton, Brandon Bass, Marreese Speights, and Alan Anderson gives the team depth they didn’t previously have. However, with this being the final season before Paul and Griffin can both enter free agency next summer, the team will feel an even higher sense of urgency to win.
7. How will the Toronto Raptors follow up their record season? Before last season, the Raptors suffered two straight early first-round playoff defeats with home court advantage. Going into last season, not many people knew what to make of the team, however by the end of it, they made believers out of everyone. They won 56 games en route to being the Eastern Conference’s second seed and continued their success in the playoffs. Despite needing two Game 7s to make it happen, the Raptors reached their first-ever Conference Finals, giving the eventual champion Cavaliers all they could ask for before bowing out in six games. After their most successful season in franchise history, it’ll be interesting to see how they’re able to follow it up this year.
8. How will the Chicago Bulls rebound from disappointing season? The Bulls completed the first offseason trade this summer after a disappointing season last year, trading former MVP and face of the franchise Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks, getting Robin Lopez in return. However, they’ve also since added Rajon Rondo and Chicago native, the 3-time NBA Champion Dwyane Wade to the mix. Their most recent trade for guard Michael Carter-Williams will add yet another interesting dynamic to their team. The team has many new pieces and it will be interesting to see how they all fit together. However, this team will go as Jimmy Butler goes. Despite the impact Rondo and Wade will surely have on the team both on-and-off the court, Butler will be the main catalyst for determining how successful the team will be.
9. Which non-playoff team(s) can make the jump up in the standings? Each year there is at least one team from last season’s postseason to miss out the next year and vice versa. This season will be no different. With the amount of roster turnover we’ve seen this offseason, teams who missed the playoffs will be looking to enter the playoff pack. Meanwhile, teams who did make the playoffs will be looking to get better and maintain that playoff seeding. Might teams with long playoff droughts like the Timberwolves and Kings enter the playoff pack? Might teams with long playoff streaks like the Grizzlies or Hawks drop out? Or what about teams just one year removed like the Wizards and Bucks, can they enter or remain out? That’s what the games are played for.
10. Which rookie(s) will set themselves apart from the rest of the pack? The injury to No. 1 pick Ben Simmons does put a damper in the Rookie of the Year race, however this year’s rookie class is filled with talented young players just waiting to make their mark. From Brandon Ingram to Kris Dunn to Buddy Hield to Jamal Murray, and even 2014 No. 3 pick Joel Embiid, these rookies are all starving to start strong in what they hope will be a long, successful career.