NBA 2020-21 preview

Joe Flynn, The Delphi Editor

The NBA season is back, already. After just 71 days, the NBA is starting the regular season, so get ready for the older players to take naps while on the bench or, as Dwight Howard likes to call it, any other season.

This season has some great storylines, like whether the Lakers will repeat as champions, if the Heat will once again exceed expectations, if the Warriors can start another dynasty, and if Kyrie Irving can now claim that the moon landing was fake.

In my “professional” opinion, this NBA season won’t be that great. James Harden is barely going to try since he wants out of Houston, Russ is in Washington (cue me vomiting), Klay Thompson is hurt, and the Knicks suck. But, there are some interesting teams, like the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers are more dysfunctional than the Corleone family.

What’s the over-under on Joel Embiid giving Doc Rivers the Fredo speech halfway into the season? There’s going to be a game where the 76ers will be down 102-75 against the Magic, and Embiid is going to yell, “Why don’t you revolve the team around me Doc?! I’m smaaart,” while Dwight Howard is eating a Philly cheesesteak on the bench, and Ben Simmons is posting on his Instagram.

The 76ers are such a mess, and I’m enjoying it every second mainly because I know a guy who is trying to say he’s a Heat fan, but really he’s a 76er fan and hates the fact that the team will be rebuilding any day now. For whatever reason, they signed Dwight Howard, who is my least favorite player in the NBA, but I’ll get to him later. Tobias Harris is in purgatory; it’s sad when you know a player is wishing he was back on the Pistons, and Ben Simmons is a point guard who can’t shoot and can’t lead a team to a win. Simmons is a great defender who should’ve won defensive player of the year last year, but Giannis was more marketable.

Doc Rivers is the new coach and is more clueless in the playoffs than Jack Tripper in an episode of Three’s Company. I imagine the 76ers make the playoffs, as the 6th or 7th seed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they implode and start the rebuild…again.

While writing about teams in purgatory, let’s discuss the Wizards. The Wizards idiotically traded for Russell Westbrook, giving up John Wall. Essentially, the Wizards traded for a better version of John Wall but amassed a 40+ million dollar contract for two years. The Wizards have Bradley Beal, who has jumped from a great sidekick to a superstar, back to a sidekick. Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal both love the ball in their hands, which always works out…not. It didn’t work out when James Harden and Russell Westbrook were teammates, or when LeBron and Kyrie were teammates, or when James Harden and Chris Paul were teammates.

While on the topic of James Harden, let me just say, collectively from fans of the NBA, deal with it. James Harden is a prima-donna who gets a foul call every time he shoots a three. Not only have I left the pro-James Harden team, but I have also embraced the anti-Harden team, which consists of anyone who misses when travels were called. James Harden has gotten anything he’s wanted; when he wanted Chris Paul, he got Chris Paul. When he beefed with Paul and wanted Westbrook, he got Westbrook. When he beefed with Westbrook, he got John Wall. After all of that, Harden is saying that he wants out of Houston.

Harden is an MVP and one of the greatest scorers of all time, except when the playoffs come around. If I were the Knicks or the Hawks, which are pretty much the only teams that can afford him, I would say no thanks on Harden. He can’t get it done in the playoffs, he goes ice cold in key moments, and he also refuses to listen to the coaches and his teammates. It’s official, James Harden is the new Gilbert Arenas: both talented players, both unwanted because of their personalities. 

I’ll stay on the topic of individual players and circle back to Dwight Howard. As I mentioned before, I despise Dwight Howard. He’s a terrible player and a terrible teammate. Howard, unfortunately, won a ring with the Lakers a couple of months ago, but I argue that he shouldn’t get a ring because of his terrible play and his lack of playtime. Nevertheless, Howard decided to leave the Lakers, probably because LeBron didn’t want him there anymore, and signed with the 76ers.

The 76ers are showing that they didn’t learn their lesson with Al Horford, and that they will learn a new lesson: don’t encourage Dwight Howard. Howard has a reputation for being a coach killer, a bad teammate, and not caring about basketball ever. When he was good back in Orlando, he made the NBA finals but faced Kobe and the Lakers and lost in 5 games. It could have gone to 6 games if Orlando closed out game 2, but Dwight can’t close.

After the 2009 NBA finals, everything went downhill for the Magic and for Howard. Howard attempted to get Stan Van Gundy fired (I recommend you click on Van Gundy’s name; it leads to an awkward clip). After that, he promised to sign with the Magic long term, but with the first chance he got, he went to the Lakers where things didn’t work out.

Howard has been called lazy by dozens of teammates, he ripped off the Superman nickname from Shaq, and as I mentioned before, he doesn’t seem to care about basketball. Howard is known to pull juvenile pranks like the time he farted in the film room. And you might be thinking that I’m being too harsh and it sounds funny, and I say none of his teammates thought it was funny because all of his ex-teammates dislike him strongly. 

Back to NBA teams, the Toronto Raptors are looking the same, and I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. The Raptors lost a tough game 7 to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. They fought hard in that series, coming back from a 2-0 deficit and forcing a game 7, just to lose by three points. The Raptors are coached by Nick Nurse and led by aging veteran Kyle Lowry. The Raptors have stars like Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and incoming starter OG Anunoby.

They have a decent enough bench, but not good enough for their main core to get efficient rest. Kyle Lowry is getting up there in age and has a lot of mileage on him, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets injured or has to be handled like Kawhi Leonard and given every other game off. Pascal was terrible in last season’s playoffs, but hopefully he gets his mojo back and has another great season.

Fred VanVleet will never be a superstar, but he’s a confident shooter who knows how to handle the pressure of the playoffs, so I can only imagine his stats will go in the right direction. The schedule is only 72 games, so whatever the equivalent to 53 wins in an 82 game season is how many the Raptors will win this season. I doubt the Raptors win a championship anytime soon; once they stock their bench a little more, and get a replacement for Serge Ibaka, I’ll say they’re a contender. 

Staying in the Eastern Conference, let’s discuss the totally functional Brooklyn Nets. Like everything else in Brooklyn, the Nets have been gentrified. They have two future Hall of Famers in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. They have emerging star Caris Levert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, and some great role players like DeAndre Jordan, Joe Harris, Jeff Green and Landry Shamet. The Nets are a deep team, who would make the playoffs if they weren’t coached by “nice guy” Steve Nash, and Mike D’Antoni, not to mention Kevin Durant is coming off of a torn Achilles so he’s going to be a liability on defense.

Irving hates to be the sidekick, and I’m 100% sure that once the honeymoon phase is over, these two superstars will clash. I would bet a farm that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant sign somewhere else once their contracts are up. Not my farm of course, mainly because I don’t own one. The Nets will win a lot of games if their core stays healthy and will most likely make a deep playoff run, but can they outlast teams like the Celtics or Raptors? 

The Celtics are looking great heading into the season. Everyone is healthy and everyone seems happy, which is the problem. After the Celtics were eliminated in 6 games by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, they acted happy in the post-game interviews. They were basically saying, “It was a great season, I’m so glad we made it this far,” when they should’ve been angry as can be.

The Celtics have been to the Eastern Conference Finals three times in the last four years, but they haven’t made the NBA finals since 2010. Many of the guys currently on the Celtics were on those teams that suffered heartbreaking losses, and every time they lose they don’t show the fire needed to win a championship. Jayson Tatum was either a dud or a star in the playoffs, so I have to question his ability to win in the playoffs. I also question Kemba Walker’s ability to win in the playoffs because he was atrocious in the playoffs: worse than Eddie Murphy in Showtime. That’s how bad he was. The Celtics have great players like Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart, and they have a good enough bench to make a deep playoff run, so don’t be surprised if the Celtics make the playoffs. 

Before I get to the Bucks or the Heat, I want to take a quick moment to ask if the Knicks are on the right path. They have a good coach in Tom Thibodeau, upcoming rookies like Obi Toppin (aka our savior), RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and even Dennis Smith Jr. However, the Knicks still find ways to lose. In fact, they invent ways to lose, so I can’t say that the rebuild train is on the right track just yet. They have Julius Randle who is taking away playing time from Mitchell Robinson, and Frank Ntilikina, who is a great defender, but he can’t shoot consistently. And the Knicks are the Knicks, so you know something bad is going to happen. I’ll be happy if I see the Knicks win 33 games, Obi Toppin shows that he’s the real deal, and RJ improves his shooting. 

Now for the Bucks, who just re-signed Giannis to a 228.2 million dollar contract, keeping him in Milwaukee for the next five years. The Bucks spent their off-season trying to keep Giannis by acquiring Jrue Holiday, a talented shooting guard and a great leader. They have fellow star Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez (who’s a bad three-point shooter), Donte DiVincenzo, D.J. Augustin, Torrey Craig, and Pat Connaughton.

Let me say that the last four players mentioned aren’t that great, but they are good enough role players to be mentioned. The Bucks are coached by a totally competent Mike Budenholzer, whose hands get sweaty when the word playoff is mentioned. It was looking like Giannis was getting ready to leave Milwaukee; he unfollowed all of his teammates, and he wouldn’t comment on his feeling towards re-signing to the press. I thought he was going to pull a LeBron and join a super team. Instead, he pulled a LeBron by re-signing to an irrelevant team as of 2016, and my bet is Giannis will keep on choking in the playoffs like LeBron. 

The final team in the Eastern Conference that I’ll be reviewing is the Eastern Conference champs, the Miami Heat. The Heat were smart, they kept their core, and the didn’t make any foolish moves. They are led by untouchable coach Erik Spoelstra and by a great core of players like Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, and veteran Andre Iguodala.

The Heat took the Lakers to six games before losing in a valiant effort and a superhuman performance by Jimmy Butler. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Nets and Heat face off in the Eastern Conference Finals, and I would have to favor the Heat. The Miami Heat are made up of scrappy players and are led by a coach who emphasizes hard work and preparation over anything.

Jimmy Butler scares opponents more than Rudy Giuliani scares the makeup department. The Heat are a team of selfless players, and great leaders like Udonis Haslem, Jimmy Butler, and Goran Dragic. I can see the Heat beating the Bucks and the Nets in the playoffs, and I think we all want a rematch of Celtics vs. Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Moving onto the West, I first want to talk about the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs are headed by superstar Luka Doncic, star Kristaps Porzingis (cue every Knicks fan vomiting), and Hall of Fame coach Rick Carlisle. The Mav’s biggest problem is that after Doncic and Porzingis, they don’t have a “third guy.” They barely have a second guy in Porzingis because he’s always hurt. Tim Hardaway Jr. is alright, but he can’t be trusted in big games. Willie Cauley-Stein certainly can’t be the third guy, and as much as I love Boban, he isn’t the third guy. The Mavericks are in a tricky situation with their cap space, so they can’t go out and get that third guy. They will most likely make the playoffs if Luka and Porzingis stay healthy enough, but they won’t be making a deep run until they get that third star.

And while I’m talking about the Mavericks, I want to bring up Luka’s constant crying to the refs. It was so annoying last year in the playoffs that even the announcers were saying that he won’t get every call if he whines every time. Luka is a great player, who stat pads a little, but for the most part, he is great. He just needs to man up. 

On the topic of teams that won’t make a deep playoff run, let’s hop over to New Orleans. The Pelicans have the next player that will be in the G.O.A.T. conversation Lonzo Ball. Nah, I’m just joking. The Pelicans have a generational talent in Zion Williamson, who will undoubtedly be an MVP winner someday and a champ. The Pelicans also have star Brandon Ingram, who just got a nice contract, Lonzo Ball, Steven Adams, JJ Redick, Eric Bledsoe, and promising rookie Jaxson Hayes.

The Pelicans aren’t looking too bad this year. They have a good enough coach in Stan Van Gundy. If Zion stays healthy and Ingram elevates his play again (and Lonzo stops trying to be a rapper), they will exceed expectations big time. Again, they won’t make a deep playoff run, but they will probably make it as a 7 or 8 seed. 

Now for a dangerous team: the Golden State Warriors. Are they going to suck? Are they going to start another dynasty? I don’t know, and I don’t think the Warriors know either. The Klay Thompson injury was tough, especially since everybody likes Klay. He was supposed to come back and shoot 900 three pointer’s and make 45% of them. But sadly, once Klay comes back from his injury he probably won’t be the same. I predict that his defense will be completely gone and his shooting will be slightly affected.

It’s all up to head coach Steve Kerr and Stephen Curry. They have an aging Draymond Green, Kelly Oubre Jr., Andrew Wiggins (for the time being), and James Wiseman. The Warriors are not looking too great, but they are not looking too bad. They won’t have the dynasty they had years ago, which is sad to see, but the Warriors will make the playoffs, and if they let “Chef Curry” cook, it will be interesting to see what he makes. 

Before I get to another team, I’ll talk about some players like Chris Paul, who was traded from OKC to Phoenix, and now gets to play with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. It will be interesting to see what this trio does. CP3 turned OKC into a good team last year. Let’s see if he works his magic on the Suns this year.

Anthony Edwards, Karl Anthony Towns, and D’Angelo Russell are going to try to turn the Timberwolves into a good team for the first time in 17 years, and Damian Lillard is going to try to keep the Blazers afloat with his spectacular shooting and will be helped by players like CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony.

This will also be the year to see if Ja Morant can take the Grizzlies to the playoffs and elevate his status as a player. Finally, the Denver Nuggets will try to recreate the magic they had from last year and pull off some miraculous wins in the regular season and the postseason. 

Back to teams, and this is the team all three people still reading this article have been waiting for, the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers are still a hot mess. They have superstars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but they couldn’t get it done all year last year, especially not in the bubble. In the offseason, the Clippers signed Serge Ibaka to replace Montrezl Harrell, who they just gave up on, and re-signed Marcus Morris Sr. The Clippers still have former Sixth Man of the Year, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverly, and big man Ivica Zubac.

The Clippers’ locker room is dysfunctional, even more dysfunctional than the Soviet Union in their final years. The locker room was so bad Harrell got out of there as soon as possible and Lou Williams is giving the press anything they ask for. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard probably said about five words to each other after the playoffs ended, which is weird because we all know how gregarious Kawhi Leonard is. On top of that, they fired Doc Rivers, who gave up on them just like he gave up on the Celtics 7 years ago. They hired Tyronn Lue who is a good locker room guy but a downgrade from Doc Rivers. The Clippers will make the playoffs, but I doubt they make any sort of legitimate run. 

The final team to be reviewed is the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers will be defending their title and did a great job in the offseason to keep their dynasty going. The Lakers have the third greatest player of all time in LeBron James, they have superstar Anthony Davis, and likely-former goth kid Frank Vogel as their coach. In the offseason, the Lakers acquired Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol, making the Lakers’ roster LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Alex Caruso. The Lakeshow is looking good this year, and I know it’s early to predict the NBA finals winner, but it will be the Lakers. 

That recaps the NBA preview. For anybody still reading this, I conclude with a Bababooey to y’all.