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Monday, May 20, 2024

2020-21 NBA season preview

With the season on the horizon, the quick turnaround will test the league’s best

The NBA proved this past summer that, even with an ongoing pandemic, it was possible to hold a successful season while also making the health of their players and staff a priority. The famous NBA bubble in Orlando, Fla. was a memorable couple of months consisting of fan-less NBA basketball where the league’s best went at it in high-level competition. It culminated with the Los Angeles Lakers capturing their 17th NBA title in franchise history after a six-game series against the Miami Heat. With zero positive tests in the entirety of the NBA’s stay in Orlando, the league was the first to boast a successful finish to a season. However, they still had a lot of decisions to make regarding their 2020-21 season, and those came quicker than anyone thought. 

After much thought and conversation, the NBA quickly came to the conclusion that a Dec. 22 start to the NBA season would be best for all parties. Despite there only being a 61-day gap between the last game of the NBA Finals and the first preseason game, potential financial losses that would come with a January start were enough for the NBA to decide on a December start. 

There will be no bubble for this upcoming 72-game season. The NBA will embark on a journey they hope is nothing like the journey of the NFL, MLB or college football. Their start runs parallel to the rising COVID-19 cases across the country, and the league is hoping they can limit the damage. Prior to players reporting, the NBA issued a COVID-19 safety protocols guide that was 134 pages long to all 30 NBA teams. In this guide, it explains what would happen if a player tests positive, among other COVID-19 related things. For example, it describes how, if a player is asymptomatic, they must sit out for 10 days, pass a cardiac screen, and work out at the team’s facility alone for two days before they can return to team activities. Furthermore, if a positive player is symptomatic, he must sit out 10 days, then proceed to complete all protocols of asymptomatic players as well. A positive test could mean that a player misses at the very least two weeks and in some cases, possibly more. 

Similar to the NBA bubble, masks must be worn at all times, even on the bench. When it comes to travel, teams will only be allowed to take up to 45 members of the team with them.The way the NBA worked its schedule this year, teams who travel will have some games against nearby opponents in an effort to reduce the number of long trips. While on the road, players have also been given a list of what they can and cannot do. Players can only leave the team hotel for outdoor dining, fully private dining rooms in restaurants or restaurants the NBA approves. While at home or away, they cannot go to bars, lounges, clubs or visit gatherings of more than 15 people. 

The NBA believes that they have the best interest of everyone involved with these protocols. Ensuring that everyone can have a safe, secure season is the goal, and enforcing strict rules can make this season a success. 

The league has released the first half of the season schedule running from Dec. 22- March 4, with plans to release the second half sometime in the beginning of 2021. The defending champions, the Lakers, will begin their title reign on Dec. 22 against their crosstown rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers. Entering what was the shortest offseason in professional sports history, the Lakers retooled their team, adding some well-needed youth and fire power to both their starting lineup and their bench. Although they lost five key pieces of their championship team including Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard, the Lakers arguably upgraded, adding two Sixth-Man of the Year candidates Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell. In addition, they added key veteran pieces, former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol and a gritty 3-and-D player Wesley Matthews. Moreover, the Lakers were able to lock up their superstar Anthony Davis to a 5-year $190 million contract and keep Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Markieff Morris, two players who played crucial playoff minutes down the stretch last season. The Lakers hope to repeat for the first time since their 2009-10 season, and their offseason moves show that they are serious about defending their crown. 

When looking at disappointing teams in last year’s finish, both the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers stand out. Once looked at as a potential NBA Finals matchup, both teams crashed out in heartbreaking fashion. 

On the Bucks side, their 4-1 series loss to the Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat added another stain to reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo’s playoff woes in his young career. The back-to-back MVP has been criticized for his inability to show up in the big moments, and with a possible free agency on the horizon, the Bucks hoped their moves would convince their star to stay. With one of the first splashes in the trade window, the Bucks acquired two-way guard Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for a premium package of players and first round picks. Although the move may be seen as giving  up too much, it was enough to make Antetokounmpo re-sign on Dec. 15 to the tune of 5 years and $228 million. The city of Milwaukee can now exhale that their superstar is staying, but the race is on for the Bucks to achieve their championship goal during this period that they have their MVP playing at the highest level. 

On the other disappointing side, the heavily favored Clippers crashed out of last season’s playoffs, blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets. After acquiring both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last offseason, their monumentous collapse was unexpected. This offseason, they intended on ensuring one of their weaknesses and signed Serge Ibaka to a two-year deal. Ibaka’s size gives them the ability to stretch the floor while also getting the toughness on the defensive end that they were missing last season. They also retained Marcus Morris, who they traded at last year’s deadline. Although they did not get a point guard that they needed to take the load off of Leonard, the Clippers are hoping that with newly-hired head coach Tyron Lue, they will be able to make it past the second round for the first time in franchise history.

This season will mark the return of some major superstars that were missing last season. After injuring his achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals, superstar Kevin Durant will be making his way back to the hardwood this season with the Brooklyn Nets alongside Kyrie Irving, who also missed the end of last season. The Nets’ star power coupled with their solid depth makes them a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. If the team maintains their health, they will be making noise come playoff time. 

Also coming back from an injury this season is  Steph Curry, Durant’s former teammate on the Golden State Warriors. The two-time MVP and three-time NBA Champion will lead his Warriors back on the court with hopes of keeping the franchise as contenders. After his teammate  Klay Thompson suffered another major setback with an Achilles tendon tear before the season began, Curry will be with the likes of Kelly Oubre Jr., Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins. Number two pick James Wiseman is hoping to be the spark that they are looking for, as they begin this new era of Warriors basketball post-Durant.

This year will certainly be very competitive, as there are many teams that look good enough to compete for a title. As it stands, the Lakers are the odds-on favorites to repeat at +210 according to Odds Shark. Behind them are the Nets at +550 and the Clippers and Bucks tied at +600. After those four teams, there is a bit of a drop off to the Boston Celtics at +1600 and the reigning Eastern Conference champions the Miami Heat at +1800. In the annual general manager survey the NBA conducts to all teams, an astounding 81% chose the Lakers to repeat as champions. Next is the Clippers at 11%, with the Nets and Heat both receiving votes. 

In such an unprecedented time, there are no certainties with this NBA season. The quick turnaround will test all teams, but the constant threat of the ongoing pandemic will live on the front of their minds as well. Hoping to handle this situation better than other sports, the NBA’s plan for their upcoming season is an extensive one. But in the end, if the world allows it, this season can be a treat to basketball fans all over the world. 
Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org


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