NBA training camps are right around the corner, which means two things: 1) It’s that time of year where we can really start dressing! and 2) the NBA season will start soon, so you should refresh yourself with what’s happening around the league.
I’ll forgive you if you kind of forgot about the NBA since early August. You can only watch so many offseason workout videos before realizing you should probably be spending more time with your loved ones. But if you’re like me, a Miami Dolphins fan with a deep concern for the future livability of our planet, the NBA is really all you have to look forward to. So here are the most interesting stories to keep an eye on as players slip off their fanny packs and lace up their practice shorts.
What Will the New Rotations Look Like?
My current biggest pet peeve about the NBA is how teams often don’t start games with their best five players on the floor. Remember when the Warriors had something called the Death Lineup but they wouldn’t start those guys together until the playoffs? I know coaches are smart and they use, uh, science and stuff to properly preserve their players during a grueling regular season. But I just want to see the best hoops possible at all times. This is a long way of me saying, I wonder how rotations are going to shake out for all the newly constructed teams.
It’s important to note that we won’t get a full picture of what rotations look like during training camp. We’re not going to know the Lakers’ substitution patterns after Media Day. But usually there are enough breadcrumbs left on the ground for us to pick up to get an idea of where things are going. For example, there were already reports this summer that LeBron James is going to shift to point guard “full time,” so will we actually see that come to fruition? Who are the Lakers going to start in their first preseason game? What if Dwight Howard kills it in training camp and supplants JaVale McGee as starting center?
Meanwhile, in Phoenix, Deandre Ayton said power forward is his “born-and-raised position,” which is notable, because he currently plays center. I swear, once a year there’s a story about an NBA player who either feels they are playing out of position, or makes it clear they don’t want to play a position that maybe makes the most sense on paper. (Like Anthony Davis not really wanting to play center!) While these player preferences may not affect closing lineups, when teams finally do put their best five on the floor, it certainly will affect the early lineup combos for all the teams we’re most excited to watch. Squads like the Lakers, Clippers, Nets, Rockets, and Sixers may have some fun new pieces at their disposal, but training camp is the time when we’ll start to learn at least a little bit how each of their respective puzzles fit together. The lineups that seem like obvious moves in September aren’t always the most successful groups come the spring.
Hey, What Are We Doing About the Nets?
The Nets had one of the strangest offseasons in NBA history. On one hand, they signed arguably the best player in the NBA. On the other, that player likely won’t be available to play in a professional basketball game until October 2020. This is going to be a very strange season for the Nets, who will be a Kyrie Irving-led squad for the next year or so as Kevin Durant recovers from the Achilles tear he suffered during the NBA Finals. With all the excitement around the league and Durant still very much maintaining a public presence, I feel like no one is really talking about the Nets enough! What’s their ceiling supposed to be this season? How comfortable is the front office making Kyrie the lead guy for a year? Is this team, as presently constructed, better or worse than last year’s Celtics team that kind of flamed out?
Brooklyn is in a bit of a weird spot where maybe the expectations won’t be super high, but it will still face a national scrutiny that the franchise has mostly avoided since magazines were putting their entire starting five on the cover. (Er, sorry about that one!) The Nets obviously had a summer to be proud of, but not everything is hunky dory as the season approaches. How everyone involved here deals with the increase in eyeballs, plus the Kyrie experience, plus the Durant redshirt year is going to be fascinating.
Will the Sixers Chill Out for a Second?
This time last year, the Sixers entered training camp with a starting five of Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid. Since then, Philly (deep breath) traded for Jimmy Butler before trading him to Miami for Josh Richardson, traded Landry Shamet (among other pieces) for Tobias Harris before re-signing Harris to a five-year, $180 million contract, traded former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz, let JJ Redick leave in free agency, and signed former Embiid stopper Al Horford to a four-year deal. The Sixers have undergone three roster transformations in the course of a year, and they are hellbent on accelerating their timeline as championship contenders. Whether all the tinkering was smart remains to be seen, I’m more curious if Philly will actually stop tinkering at this point. Are Elton Brand and the front office finally content? Will Brett Brown actually get some time to spend with this roster as opposed to dealing with a major change every few months? How will Philly react if its big, new-look starting five gets off to a slow start?
I’m really not sure if the Sixers ultimately settled down the right path after all the roster combinations that were at their disposal. Their end-of-game offense seems to be in an even more confusing state since the end of the playoffs. And the concerns about the fit of Embiid and Simmons together will linger as long as they look a little disjointed in high-leverage moments. The expectations for the current group are super high, and I’m curious to see how everyone here—from Brown to the entire roster—responds to that pressure when the front office has shown it’s not really willing to be patient.
What’s the Deal with Michael Porter Jr.?
Let’s talk about my Denver Nuggets, 2019’s most heartwarming team. The Nugs exciting core finally experienced the playoffs last season, playing in two thrilling series before bowing out to the Blazers, a run during which Nikola Jokic truly established himself as one of the top ten players in the league. Denver didn’t have a crazy summer, though the addition of Jerami Grant was sneaky clutch. The Nuggets' biggest offseason acquisition may be their 2018 first-round pick, Michael Porter Jr., who missed all of last season recovering from back surgery. If MPJ looks healthy during training camp, the gamble the front office took in selecting him could pay off big time.
The Nuggets could certainly use a little more length and athleticism on the wing. Porter may be too big to play small forward regularly, but if he becomes a reliable contributor, he helps Denver match up better with rangier forwards while also helping to preserve an aging Paul Millsap. This is a big deal for the Nuggets, who kind of need to find out what they have in Porter before this team gets too expensive to keep together. Millsap and Grant are in the last years of their deals. Malik Beasley is going to get paid at some point. Jamal Murray’s max extension kicks in next season. A show of good health from Porter as early as camp could have a significant short and long-term effect on the Nuggets, who not only need another impact player on the wing, but need to figure out how to maximize the talent around Jokic moving forward.