*The following article is a transcribed presentation from the NBA’s bi-yearly writers meeting. Traditionally taking place in the basement of Adam Silver’s Rhode Island summer home, a secret team of writers collaborate to script the upcoming NBA season’s best drama.*
The NBA has been renewed for its 77th season, premiering on October 19. Last year was a smash hit; the good guy (Steph Curry) won again, some new characters got a storyline push (Morant, Edwards, Brunson), and the next generation of superstars is looking to be better than ever.
That said, we need to keep the product fresh. We can’t recycle another ‘Harden wants out’ side-plot, viewers might be onto us if we did.
Where does Donovan Mitchell land?
A few days ago I would’ve worded this as “Does Donovan Mitchell get traded?”. After seeing Utah’s team store sell his jersey for an insane $30 as a “former player”, it feels like the nail is in the coffin.
So the Mitchell era is over, what’s next? This situation seems like more than it really is, we’re not even sure if Mitchell is a superstar. He’s an undeniable offensive talent but an absolute wet rag on defense. His singular NBA achievement is boosting Jalen Brunson’s value to a 104 million dollar contract by letting himself get blown by for six straight playoff games.
Nonetheless, Mitchell getting traded will dominate NBA headlines as soon as it happens. He’s the biggest star that could still conceivably get moved and the looming threat of him shaking up the league can’t be ignored.
The Gobert Gamble
The Donovan Mitchell plotline cannot be written without discussing his former contemporary, Rudy Gobert. Gobert is among the most divisive athletes in league history, some saying his lack of offensive skill makes him unplayable; others saying he’s a historically great defender. What makes the Gobert argument so compelling is that both could be true.
Being traded to Minnesota puts the Gobert argument on its highest pedestal yet. He can no longer hide behind slow team development and general irrelevance in Utah. This trade was made to get HIM, and only HIM, with the T-Wolves sacrificing most of their future to ensure it. It’s the biggest test of his career, and everybody knows it too. How will Minnesota integrate him into their offense, if at all?
What’s going on in LA?
The Lakers and the Clippers have never been harder to assess. One team is relying on group therapy phone calls to realign themselves, while the other doesn’t even know if their best player is going to play for them. It feels like a lifetime ago when we wrote that “Battle of LA” red herring into the 2019-20 season. Spoiler alert: the two teams never faced off in the playoffs and didn’t even make the postseason last season.
Where are we at in 2022? The Lakers insinuate that they are sticking with their LeBron-AD-Westbrook core, if you can even call it that. The whole organization is sick with an uneasy feeling that change is impending, but we don’t know how soon. Could they pull off a Kyrie trade? Buddy Hield one year late? Are the days of coasting with LeBron completely over?
On the other side of Crypto.com Arena, the Clippers remain mercurial. I could be talked into a 53-29 top three seed behind a healthy Paul George season and Kawhi with new batteries. I could just as easily be talked into a disappointing 40-42 regular season despite Reggie Jackson morphing into prime Allen Iverson on a random weekly basis. Confusion is the way of the Clipper, and it doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.
Is this the best the NBA’s ever been?
Let’s take my worst-case scenario for the Clippers listed above, and let it marinate for a bit. My interpretation of a ‘really bad’ Clippers season is just two games under .500 with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard still on the roster. In almost every year in the past decade, that team would be looked at as a legitimate title contender. In 2022, they’re almost totally forgotten about.
For maybe the first time in sports (or at least NBA) history, the ‘bad teams’ are still really good. Let’s say the Pistons, Blazers, Magic, and Thunder are the four worst teams at the end of the year.
Pistons: All signs point to Cade being a real star in this league.
Blazers: Still have Dame + addition of Jerami Grant
Magic: Super fun young core, Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Paolo Banchero
Thunder: Same as the Magic, except bigger and weirder.
All four are still a very unique viewing experience and have genuine assets/stars on the roster. We’re long past the days of Robert Sacre starting an NBA game. The end-to-end talent pool has reached an insanely high level with the recent influx of Europeans and certain players already playing at a near professional level through G-League Ignite, Drew League, AAU, etc.
Writhing For Wembanyama
After singing the praises of the deepest talent pool in decades, one of the league’s biggest influences hasn’t even been drafted yet. Make yourself familiar with the French Freak, Victor Wembanyama. Standing 7’3, with a 7’9 wingspan, (yes, seven feet nine inches) he can move like Kevin Durant and defend like Bam Adebayo. To say we’re looking at one of the best prospects of all time isn’t hyperbole.
As such, expect some of the supposed “really good” teams to phone it in towards the end of the year for the 18 year old Frenchman. The most intriguing of which could be OKC, who sport an ungodly trove of 38 future draft picks. If drafted to OKC, the team could roll out the biggest lineup in NBA history featuring 7’3 Wembanyama, 7’1 Chet Holmgren, and 7’0 Aleksej Pokusevski, all of whom move and play like guards. Prepare for things to get freakier than ever next season, to the likes of which no sports league has ever seen.
Boston goes all-in
Brad Stevens and company seem committed to making sure their title window stays wide open. After last season’s Finals run, they’ve signed 3 and D wing Danilo Gallinari and floor general Malcolm Brogdon. The two new assets fill the exact holes that befell the Celtics in the Finals. For as much as Marcus Smart brings to a team, he cannot lead a halfcourt offense as a traditional point guard. Brogdon has made a whole career doing just that. On the other hand, the Celts fell apart without their starters in. The second unit just cannot score on its own, and Golden State was allowed back into every game because of it. Insert Gallinari, certified flamethrower from downtown who gets to play with wide spacing. As of now, Boston is the heavy favorite for next year’s title and I don’t think it’s particularly close.
Speed Round Sideplots:
- The Hawks traded for Dejounte Murray from San Antonio and people were more interested to see if Woj or Shams reported it first. Murray is a great player, but I think Tim Duncan was on the roster last time people actually watched a Spurs game.
- Kenny Lofton Jr. reincarnates Memphis’ ‘grit and grind’ bullyball spirit. He is to be known as Gen Z-Bo
- James Harden takes a ‘team friendly pay cut’, only accepting 30 million dollars a year. Yet another selfless act from the Beard. Sorry, we tried to get as far as we could without making fun of Harden but sometimes this stuff just falls in your lap.
- The Mavs are going to feel the Brunson loss a lot more than people realize. Losing your second option turns Luka’s heliocentric offense into complete dependence. I’m expecting every Mavs game ball to be totally flat by the end of the night after Luka dribbles the air out of them for 48 minutes.
With these six storylines, the Association seems ready as ever for its 77th season. Hit my line for any questions regarding this year’s script. And yes, the Kings are gonna suck again. Don’t bother asking.