What is your favorite storyline headed into this season?
Eric Hayrapetian: With an offseason chock-full of Woj bombs, who would have thought James Harden would be the one having NBA X (Twitter) in a chokehold? After a second-round exit in last year’s playoffs, Harden did not hesitate to ask for a trade. However, the 10-time all-star settled on his $35.6 million player option in hopes of being traded out of Philadelphia. After 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey seemed to have aborted the idea of trading the former MVP, Harden went on to publicly bash Morey at an Adidas-sponsored event in China: “Daryl Morey is a liar, and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of.” Harden is coming off of a respectable season — he averaged 21 points, 6.1 rebounds and a league-high 10.7 assists. These numbers are capable of remaining an offensive focal point. Harden still remains a Sixer, but my X notifications will remain to see how this situation pans out.
Joaquin Ruiz: Kyrie Irving vs. himself. After forcing his way out of Brooklyn, Irving landed in Dallas, where the Mavericks never clicked and ultimately missed the Play-In tournament last year. The eight-time NBA All-Star re-signed with the Mavs this offseason for $126 million over three years, but who knows if Irving will abide by his signature? As talented as Irving is, he’s joining his fourth team — and isn’t a guarantee to suit up every night. Since winning a title with Lebron James and the Cavaliers in 2016, Irving has been linked to divided locker rooms and questionable off-the-court associations. Even though his numbers should be elite, I’ll be following Irving throughout his likely turbulent first full season in Dallas.
Michelle Moshkovoy: The battle for the top of the east between the revamped Celtics and Bucks will be exciting to see unfold throughout the season — let’s pray for no injuries. I’m not counting out the Miami Heat, especially considering Jimmy Butler led it to the finals last season as a No. 8 seed. However, the Celtics and Bucks are unquestionably favorites on paper. The Celtics’ addition of Jrue Holiday makes the matchup more personal — as Holiday said, “I’m a Buck for life” — a day before being traded. That drama aside, Holiday’s tenacity on defense will only invigorate Boston — he’s arguably a better version of Marcus Smart. Boston trading for Kristaps Porzingis is also interesting. I’m curious to see how he will pair with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. And of course for Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks, they now have Damian Lillard. Those are arguably two of the best players in the NBA. It’s scary hours in the east.
Kenzo Fukuda: I am a Jordan Poole apologist, so I’ll be here every step of the way for the Poole Party experience in the nation’s capital. Will the Wizards be good? Probably not. Will I be entertained by Poole and Kyle Kuzma’s stadium entrance walks every game? Definitely. Poole has a chance to put up some ridiculous numbers on a Wizards team completely dependent on his offensive output. I think people underrate what Poole did for the Warriors — when one of the big three was out with injury or load management, he stepped in. Poole played all 82 games last season, alongside Kevon Looney, and was strangely the most consistent thing about the Dubs last season — turnovers and all. There might be an adjustment for Poole after leaving Stephen Curry’s monstrous gravity, but he did average 26.1 points per game in 26 games without the two-time MVP last season. This is a long-winded way of saying I’m buying a Poole Wizard’s cherry blossom city edition jersey.
Jane Kenny: The NBA is basically a reality show — from James Harden’s public feud with his own organization to the never-ending LeBron-led Lakers spectacle, there is a circus of storylines. Amid all the background noise, I am most excited to see the 2023 draft class take the court to begin their NBA careers. Namely, how Victor Wembanyama will fare with the Spurs after essentially being labeled a prophet of basketball and an incoming GOAT, with the sheer amount of hype surrounding his name. In all honesty, I am buying into it too — his rim-protecting capacity with his 7’4” frame, guard-like skill set and remarkable athleticism make a long, impactful career foreseeable from the get-go. But then 1again, I hardcore vouched for Lonzo Ball as a generational point guard amid his 2017 draft hype — and goodness does that sound embarrassing now. Anyway, Wembanyama could be the real deal, and his rookie campaign will be an entertaining story to follow.
With all of the player movement from free agency and blockbuster trades this offseason, who is one player you are particularly excited to watch play on their new team?
EH: Kung fu Jrue. After dropping game seven in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Heat, the Celtics traded away their former Defensive Player of the Year, Smart, for the 2015 fourth overall pick, Porzingis. How does a team recover from losing one of the league’s best perimeter defenders? Easy! Go out and trade for Holiday — an arguably better all-around defender. Though it took a boatload, Holiday might be what Boston needs to reach their second Finals in just three years. It goes without question that Holiday will fill the defensive void left by Smart, but I’m curious to see how much of an offensive role he will receive. Holiday’s defense overshadows his playmaking and scoring ability, but he is more than capable of facilitating an offense. The acquisition of Holiday also feels like a response to the Bucks trading for Lillard, so the matchups between these two will be ones to mark your calendar for.
JR: Christopher Emmanuel Paul. The Warriors shocked many this offseason by trading their young microwave scorer Poole for an older facilitator in CP3. It’ll be interesting to track Paul’s tenure with Golden State, as the team is crowded at the guard position with Curry and Klay Thompson likely starting for another season. Paul, an 18-year veteran, isn’t too familiar with coming off the bench, so his usage under head coach Steve Kerr will be new to everyone. During the Warriors’ media day, Paul appeared to be open to any and all ideas that would help his team win games, so I’d consider him to be approaching his new club with a team-player attitude.
MM: “Dame-Time” in Milwaukee. After being the Portland Trail Blazers franchise player for 11 seasons, seven time all-star Lillard finally requested to be traded to the Miami Heat in July. While Lillard didn’t end up under the bright lights of Miami, which upset Butler so much so he became emo, playing with two-time MVP Antetokounmpo isn’t too bad of an alternative. When Lillard was asked on X to pick one player he’d like to make a playoff push with in May 2022, he answered simply: “Giannis.” Now, two of the most prolific scorers in the NBA have a chance to do just that this season. Lillard averaged 32.2 points per game and Antetokounmpo averaged 31.1 points per game, respectively. It’ll be exciting to see Lillard compete on a championship-caliber team, and make no mistake, no one is stopping that pick and roll between him and Antetokounmpo.
KF: I don’t know if excited is the right word, but I’m certainly intrigued by the Dillon Brooks era beginning in Houston. The guy went from the most hated player in the league — even being told by the Memphis Grizzlies themselves that he would not return “under any circumstances” — to earning a monster contract with the Rockets and becoming the maple leaf hero of Canada after dispatching the United States in the FIBA World Cup third place game. It’s certainly hard to forgive a dude who wacked Gary Payton II on the head, which consequently led to GP2 injuring his elbow, but I’m intrigued by his fit with these young Rockets players. If there is one thing admirable about Brooks, it’s how competitive he is on the hardwood. He brings a winning mindset — if you can call a second round exit and two first round exits ‘winning’ — to a young Rockets team that has never tasted an inch of high stakes competitive basketball. It’s possible for Brooks to lead the Rockets to the play-in tournament, but it’s also possible that he shoots 29 percent from the field on 17 shot attempts a game on a 30 win team.
JK: Two thoughts — I am intrigued to watch how newly acquired stars will mesh with superstar counterparts. Namely, the Bucks’ new point guard Lillard next to Giannis and Bradley Beal in tandem with KD and DBook in Phoenix. Not only has Lillard been placed in a championship-contending organization after seasons of suffering for the sake of loyalty, he’s been positioned in one half of the league’s most high-potential, cohesive pairs. I anticipate a successful showing of offensive production from the duo — and while Lilliard’s defensive skill set in place of Holiday’s established on-ball pressure is a downgrade — championship prospects are not unwarranted. Averaging 32.2 points and 7.3 assists last season for the Blazers, Lillard’s ability to form drives for himself and his teammates will be one of the most entertaining spectacles in the East this year. As for the Suns, I have some reservations about the collaboration of ball-dominant starpower. Although I do have faith in their supportive pieces in Eric Gordon, Yuta Watanabe and Jusuf Nurkic, it is highly possible that Beal’s alliance to the trio is a backfiring recipe that crumbles under championship expectations.
Quick, make a Finals prediction!
EH: Lakers sweep the Bucks! Austin Reaves for Finals MVP!
JR: Clippers over Bucks in 7.
Michelle: Bucks over the Lakers in 6.
KF: Every single year, the Daily Cal puts their favorite West team against the Bucks. And I am not above that! Warriors over Bucks in 6.
JK: The Bucks will take down the Nuggets in 6.