Well, I think it’s safe to say the 2019-2020 NBA season is one we won’t soon forget. Think about all that happened in the NBA since the season tipped off nearly a year ago on October 22, 2019. Rudy Gobert became the NBA’s patient zero back in March. The truly unbelievable bubble setup (s/o Adam Silver, that man just gets it). The NBA community’s inspirational collective response to police brutality against Black Americans, specifically George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, and more. The Bucks’ unprecedented decision to boycott a real NBA playoff game, which propagated a chain reaction of similar boycotts all-around professional sports. I mean, what an absurd roller coaster of a season. Can’t wait to watch the 30 for 30 in a decade or two.
Oh yeah, and I didn’t even mention any, you know, on-court basketball stuff! We watched young stars like Luka Doncic, Devin Booker, Jamal Murray, Donovan Mitchell, and Tyler Herro make the leap. We watched in shock as the Clippers and Bucks imploded before our very eyes on the biggest stage. We watched as Jimmy Butler emphatically erased his reputation as a combative hothead whose talent didn’t equate to his big mouth. Finally, we watched as the GOAT (yeah I fuckin’ said it) won his fourth title with his third franchise. Even with the volume of compelling off-court storylines, the on-court product was everything we could have asked for and more.
Now that the 2019-2020 season is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead to 2020-2021 (or maybe just 2021?). Here are my top five storylines I’ll be especially invested in as we head into the offseason.
WHAT THE FUCK DO THE CLIPPERS DO NOW?
I’m still not convinced that the Clippers have more than 14 fans in total but imagine you’re a Clippers fan. After decades of disappointment and shitty teams, you finally got rid of an old, racist, sack of shit owner. You replaced him with Steve Ballmer, the richest owner in pro sports, who actually cares A LOT about the team. You brought in Lawrence Frank and Doc Rivers, two well-respected legends, to coach the team and oversee the operations department. And most importantly, you COMPLETELY mortgaged the future of your franchise to land superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. I mean, that all represents the foundation of a franchise that’s ready to win rings RIGHT NOW.
But sheesh, talk about an absolute trainwreck in the playoffs. Kawhi and especially PG-13 (Playoff P? Lmao) disappeared in clutch moments while the locker room culture disintegrated. Doc Rivers got fired. Players complained about team chemistry after they were eliminated. Steve Ballmer reportedly “went ballistic” after the Clippers got eliminated, screaming about his desire to trade every player and fire every staff member. What a mess.
Heading into what will be a busy offseason, the Clips certainly have more questions than answers. Will they hire a younger, analytics-focused coach? Or a respected, old-school coach that more fits the Doc Rivers mold? Do you re-sign UFA's like Montrezl Harrell, Marcus Morris, and Reggie Jackson? Does their internal panic force them to explore trades for PG-13? This Clipper team will look very different when next season tips off, and I can’t wait to see how they respond to their embarrassing playoff exit in the Conference Semis.
OBLIGATORY GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO MENTION
For the past couple of years, I’ve HATED the endless media speculation about Giannis’ free-agency decision this offseason. In my mind, it’s always been a no-brainer that Giannis would sign a supermax extension to stay in Milwaukee. From an on-court perspective, the team has been historically great in the regular season, the front office has catered the roster to Giannis’ strengths, and Giannis has had tremendous individual success (2x MVP, 1x DPOY, 2x 1st-Team All-NBA, 4x All-Star, etc.).
It makes sense for Giannis to stay in Milwaukee from an off-court perspective, too. First off, the Bucks can offer Giannis a five-year supermax contract, which will likely be between $220M – $250M. Other teams can only offer him four years and around $135M – $160M given their respective cap space. Second, Giannis has settled down in Milwaukee. He and his girlfriend, Mariah, purchased a home in Milwaukee and welcomed their first son, Liam, into the world back in June. Yes, it’s cold-ass Milwaukee, but Giannis has never struck me as a guy who cares about having a great social life in Miami or Los Angeles.
But now, after the Bucks got absolutely dismantled in five games in the Conference Semifinals, I’m not so sure what Giannis should do. Do the Bucks finally realize that Eric Bledsoe isn’t a championship lead guard? Do the Bucks need a splashy move to show Giannis they’re all-in? Do they trade for Paul George, creating a superteam of playoff bed-shitters?
If you ask me, I think Giannis should still stay. But instead of focusing on roster moves around him, he should take his $250m and learn how to consistently hit an open jumper. Either way, there’s officially a legitimate debate to be had: will Giannis stay in Milwaukee, or will he make a run for greener pastures?
WILL THE NBA SEASON RETURN TO THE BUBBLE?
I can’t overstate it enough: the NBA bubble was an unbelievable accomplishment. No COVID-19 cases in 172 GAMES, no concerns about ending the season early, etc. However, I think I speak for literally everyone when I say the bubble should be retired. It cost a shit ton of money for the NBA, the players and coaches hated it, and the lack of fans definitely impacted the viewing experience in a negative way.
The only problem is that there’s still a global pandemic with no available vaccine. Adam Silver originally said he’d like to start next season on December 1 or Christmas Day, but that seems extremely unlikely at this point. Recent reports say that Silver wants to delay tip-off until February or March, in hopes that fans can attend games by then. But in this unpredictable world… who the fuck knows? Will there be a vaccine by then? Will fans feel comfortable attending games without one? Will players feel comfortable playing with fans in a closed-air environment, particularly the ones with high-risk family members? The next few months will be fascinating to watch as the NBA makes its decision on what next season will look like.
CAN DOC RIVERS HELP THE SIXERS GET OVER THE HUMP?
I personally dislike the 76ers, but they’re so intriguing from a basketball standpoint. The combination of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in their respective primes is tantalizing enough before you add other valuable pieces like Josh Richardson, Shake Milton, and even Furkan Korkmaz. By firing coach Brett Brown and bringing in Doc Rivers, Sixers GM Elton Brand is making a statement that he still has championship aspirations for this team.
But let’s not beat around the bush, the Sixers have two GLARING problems. Their names are Tobias Harris and Al Horford. Harris is rocking a 5-year, $180m deal, the same AAV that the Heat gave to Jimmy Butler. YIKES. Meanwhile, Horford signed a 4-year, $109m deal last offseason, then promptly rewarded the Sixers by putting up his worst PER since his rookie season back in 2007-2008. Both players will need to step it up in a big way if the Sixers want to compete. They already went out and got a championship-caliber coach with a chip on his shoulder following the Clippers’ brutal collapse. Can Doc help this team realize their potential and compete for a championship?
HOW WILL THE NETS AND ROCKETS APPROACH NEXT SEASON?
The Nets and Rockets share a lot of similarities. They both have superstar duos with relatively little experience playing together. They both will enter next season with new coaches. And in my mind, they certainly won’t be favorites in their respective conferences, but they both absolutely have the potential to win a ring.
Let’s start with the superstar duos, which feature some of the truly unique personalities in the NBA. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant need no introduction. It’s just a question of when, not if, the weirdo media interviews and mood swings start to cause major distractions in Brooklyn. In Houston, everyone created a narrative last offseason that James Harden and Russell Westbrook will have great chemistry due to their childhood friendship and their time together on the OKC Thunder. I’m still not convinced that they fully trust each other yet. Can they build their chemistry in Year 2, both on and off the court?
And now that Mike D’Antoni is gone, will the Rockets still play the most extreme version of small ball the league has ever seen? Will they still launch 8,000 threes a game? Will their new system allow Harden to rack up astronomical stats in points, dribbles, stepback threes, usage rate, etc? And will Harden and Westbrook be able to adjust together? Or will growing pains turn into legitimate beef? How will Steve Nash manage the personalities on his roster? Good luck to both coaches as they try to find answers to those questions.