What a difference a year makes.
Last year, I titled my season preview "The Season of Absolute Chaos", and looking back, that title was clearly spot-on, just not in the way I, or anybody else, intended. The coronavirus pandemic has changed everyone's lives and it's completely changed the NBA's landscape as well. The "Bubble" was introduced and was a major success, as the NBA created a safe environment for players and personnel, was able to spotlight serious racial injustice issues, and produce some unforgettable moments from the NBA's brightest players and teams. From Phoenix's unfathomable 8-0 run, to remarkable performances from Luka Doncic, Jamal Murray, and Jimmy Butler, and the overall dominance of the Los Angeles Lakers leading to their 17th championship, the Bubble was proof that sports could be controlled through a raging pandemic, and Adam Silver deserves a lot of credit for achieving this.
The Bubble will not return for this upcoming season, and for the most part, neither will fans. The virus is likely to affect many teams this season, as well as the limited amount of rest that certain teams will be receiving due to last season ending in October. With preseason underway, many faces are in new places, and some teams look completely different than they did just three or four months ago. With that being said, let's dive into the current condition of each team before the season officially begins, and see which players are going to make their impact felt this upcoming season.
MVP: Trae Young
X-Factor: Cam Reddish
Biggest Addition: Danilo Gallinari
The Hawks had a fairly disappointing season in 2020, but that seems sure to change as 2021 approaches. The Hawks enter this season with a perfect blend of young prospects and impactful veterans, and seemed to replace non-factors on their roster with players that can receive valuable minutes right away. The Hawks seem like they are following the Warriors' model, and adding shooters like Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari in the off-season help confirm that statement. The signings of Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn flew under the radar, as they provide defensive intensity to a roster that lacks it, and Rondo should be a great mentor for Trae Young. I'm very interested in the development of De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, who both played very well towards the end of the regular season. This is still Trae Young's team, and for the first time in his short career, he now has the pieces around him to make a playoff push in the East.
MVP: Jayson Tatum
X-Factor: Romeo Langford
Biggest Addition: Tristan Thompson
The Celtics had a true opportunity to strike gold and advance to the Finals for the first time since 2010, but they were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals by Miami. Their roster is still mostly intact, but the loss of Gordon Hayward will hurt, as he is coming off of one of the most efficient seasons of his career. The loss of Hayward should provide a bigger opportunity for both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who both had career years in 2020. More importantly, this gives a greater opportunity to young guns such as Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, and rookie Aaron Nesmith to cement their place into the rotation for the Celtics and further their development. The Celtics were able to sign Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague to low-cost deals, and both of them address Boston's primary needs: rebounding and secondary playmaking. Plus, the Celtics still have a $28 Million trade exception they can use this year, so if a disgruntled star finds himself on the trade block, you know that the Celtics will be in the rumor mill. The Celtics have proven to be capable of obtaining playoff success with their improving young core, but is this team good enough to finally get over the hump and reach the Finals?
MVP: Kevin Durant
X-Factor: Caris LeVert
Biggest Addition: Kevin Durant
We are finally able to see Kevin Durant play in a Brooklyn Nets uniform this season, and I'm very excited to see him back in action. He's one of the most dominant players of all-time, and he makes the art of scoring look effortless. Outside of KD, the Nets are always finding themselves in drama, whether it's Kyrie Irving referring to the media as "pawns", or the constant trade rumors that swirl around the Nets' supporting cast. While trading for a player like James Harden would be a scary sight, sticking with supplementary players like Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jarrett Allen should be a preferred decision for Brooklyn. LeVert has a chance to truly break out as the Nets' third option, as he was exceptional in the Bubble and garnered the attention of many. The Nets also overhauled their coaching staff, and brought in the "7 Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns to coach this squad. Steve Nash gets his first chance to be head coach, and I think he's a great fit for the Nets. He's had plenty of experience with Durant in Golden State, and I get the impression that he's respected by his players. Mike D'Antoni and Amar'e Stoudemire also join his coaching staff and provide more coaching experience, so he'll have help when it's needed. At their best, the Nets are a championship contender with Durant and Irving leading the way. However, if the ongoing drama affects their play on the court, the Nets could be a ticking timebomb waiting to explode.
MVP: Gordon Hayward
X-Factor: Malik Monk
Biggest Addition: LaMelo Ball
The Hornets certainly got better this off-season, but the improvement comes with a cost. They selected LaMelo Ball with the 3rd overall pick, and he's already shown his knack for creating shots for others in limited preseason run. His flair and fanciness will make the Hornets watchable as they'll be a highlight reel waiting to happen with Ball, Miles Bridges, and P.J. Washington sharing the court. They also signed Gordon Hayward, which would be a huge addition had they not given him a bloated 4-year, $120 million contract. Like I mentioned earlier, Hayward was very efficient last season and is still a good player, but breaking the bank for him doesn't seem like a wise move for Charlotte, especially given their recent experiences with giving veterans huge contracts (Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams, should I continue?). The three-headed backcourt of Ball, Devonte' Graham and Terry Rozier should be interesting to track, especially Graham given his recent breakthrough last season. Barring a quick and sudden development from Ball, the Hornets seem to have locked themselves in a position to compete for a lower-level playoff seed. And given their inability to be financially responsible, that seems like it may be the ceiling for this young Hornets team in the upcoming years.
MVP: Zach LaVine
X-Factor: Coby White
Biggest Addition: Patrick Williams
The Chicago Bulls come into the 2020-21 season with a similar roster from last season, with a few changes. The first, and most important change, comes with their coaching, as Billy Donovan is now the top dog in Chicago. Donovan proved all doubters wrong last season, as he helped lead a Thunder team that most expected to tank into the playoffs. Realistically, anyone hired would be an improvement over Jim Boylen, so Bulls fans should be exhilarated. The Bulls shocked many and drafted Patrick Williams with the 4th pick, and I love this selection for Chicago. Williams brings versatility and defense to a team that desperately needs it, and he's also proven to be a well-rounded player on the offensive end. Another player that is worth tracking this season is Coby White, who broke out at the end of last season and is due for a major increase in playing time this year. White and Zach LaVine have the capability to wreak havoc on the offensive end, but the defensive worries still remain for the young backcourt. The Bulls should be more competitive under a more competent coach, and could sneak in as a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
MVP: Andre Drummond
X-Factor: Kevin Porter Jr.
Biggest Addition: Isaac Okoro
The Cavaliers are a very weird team to breakdown, but one thing is certain: they're not very good. While the roster is all over the place, there are a few players worth keeping an eye on. The Darius Garland and Collin Sexton backcourt didn't produce much last season, but between Garland's improved play in the pre-season and Sexton's late-season tear before the shutdown, there are reasons to be optimistic. Isaac Okoro was a great selection in the draft, as it addressed a serious need for a defensive-minded wing. There are offensive concerns that surround Okoro, but with players like Andre Drummond, Sexton, and Kevin Porter Jr. on the roster, there's no pressure to be an offensive threat right away. Speaking of KPJ, he has a chance to be one of the gems from the 2019 draft class. He's very fluent on the offensive end, as he possesses the skills to become one of the better scorers in the league. His main issue is consistency, but with the Cavaliers not competing for much other than a lottery spot this season, KPJ can hone in on his strengths and help make the Cavaliers much more fun to watch.
MVP: Luka Doncic
X-Factor: Kristaps Porzingis
Biggest Addition: Josh Richardson
Last season, we were all exposed to the sudden dominance of Luka Doncic, who made his impact as one of the game's best players at the young age of 21. He's a walking triple-double, and has the ability to take over a game at any given moment. If there's one knack against Doncic, it's his efficiency, as he only shot 31% from three-point range and 75% from the charity stripe, but he is certainly in the running for the MVP award this season. Outside of Doncic, there are many questions surrounding his supporting cast. The first would be involving Kristaps Porzingis, who is capable of being one of the most dominant big men in the league, but has trouble staying healthy on a yearly basis. The next question would be revolving around Josh Richardson, as he replaces Seth Curry in the Mavericks' offense as a a better shot creator, but a less effective three-point threat. With Doncic on the court, the Mavericks will be always be entertaining, and time will tell if they can replicate last year's success.
MVP: Nikola Jokic
X-Factor: Michael Porter Jr.
Biggest Addition: JaMychal Green
The Nuggets proved that no series lead was safe in last year's playoffs, as they came back from not one, but two 3-1 series deficits to reach the Western Conference Finals. Led by the dominance of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic and a strong supporting cast, they made a true name for themselves and showed people that they were for real. While they lost some core pieces in Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig, they were able to re-sign Paul Millsap and bring JaMychal Green onto the squad, which still gives them frontcourt versatility off the bench. Jamal Murray wowed many in the Bubble, and should continue that progression into this season. However, if the Nuggets get major improvements from Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol, this team has a serious chance to be even better than last season. A lot of people continue to sleep on the Nuggets, as I believe they should be considered championship contenders.
MVP: Blake Griffin
X-Factor: Sekou Doumbouya
Biggest Addition: Jerami Grant
I know the Knicks received a lot of criticism for last year's offseason, but the Pistons may have just had a more tumultuous offseason this year. The one bright spot was their draft selections, as Killian Hayes as a real chance to turn this franchise around, and Saddiq Bey is a very solid 3-and-D wing player than can receive minutes right away. However, free agency was a mess. They let their most talented player in Christian Wood walk, only to replace him with a combination of Mason Plumlee, Jerami Grant, Delon Wright, and Josh Jackson among countless other non-important names. While I like Grant and Wright as players and I think they'll perform well with a brighter opportunity, this just seems like a reach for Detroit. This is a team that should be looking to rebuild, and on paper, it looks like they're trying to convince themselves that they can be a playoff team. At best, they're a fringe playoff team if Blake Griffin returns to previous form, but it's time for Detroit to escape mediocrity and embrace a rebuild around Hayes, Sekou Doumbouya (who could be in for a breakout), and Grant. I'm looking for them to be very active at the deadline, especially with veterans like Derrick Rose and Wayne Ellington.
Golden State Warriors
MVP: Stephen Curry
X-Factor: Andrew Wiggins
Biggest Addition: Kelly Oubre Jr.
The Warriors' season was doomed as soon as Stephen Curry was injured, and they were rewarded with James Wiseman, who has the potential to carry on the Warriors' success after the Splash Bros. era is over. Wiseman brings an element to the Warriors is which they've never seen unless you count Kevin Durant, which is a mobile big man that can spread the floor. Aside from Wiseman, this will also be the first full season in a Warriors uniform for both Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr., who can fit right into the Warriors fast-paced offense and be switchable wings on defense. I personally think Wiggins is in a great situation in Golden State, where he's not pressured to be "the man" and can play his style of basketball off of Curry. Adding guys like Oubre and other veterans like Kent Bazemore and Brad Wanamaker further proves that the Warriors still believe they are contenders, even with Klay Thompson for a second consecutive season. While I wouldn't consider them title contenders, I do firmly believe the Warriors will assert themselves once again as a playoff team, with health permitting.
MVP: James Harden (given he's in a Rockets jersey)
X-Factor: John Wall
Biggest Addition: Christian Wood
In case you've been living under a rock, James Harden wants to be traded. That's going to be the storyline that follows the Rockets until they decide to make a decision on Harden's future, and we've seen before that it's better to rip off the Band-Aid rather than hold off on any moves. Harden is a transcendent scorer and would make any team an instant playoff contender, even a title contender, although many have been questioning his leadership and commitment over the offseason. Outside of Harden, I'm excited to see John Wall play basketball again, and while he may digress a little, he'll still be a top contributor to this Rockets team. He's joined by DeMarcus Cousins, who's career has been severely hampered by injuries in recent years, but has looked solid in the limited preseason run so far. Christian Wood also makes his Rockets debut this season after his mini breakout with Detroit, and he has been excellent in the preseason as well. If all else fails this season, they'll still have a core piece to build around in Wood. This season could be a great success if everyone is on the same page, but there is a whole lot of room for disaster as well. And until Harden's future is decided, the Rockets' environment will only grow murkier.
MVP: T.J. Warren
X-Factor: Victor Oladipo
Biggest Addition: Kelan Martin
After another quick exit from the playoffs, the Indiana Pacers have decided to run it back this season, with their biggest move of the offseason being the resigning of Justin Holiday, who proved to be an important piece for Indiana off the bench last season. The Pacers brought in Nate Bjorkgren as their newest head coach, and it seems like he wants to embrace a higher-tempo offense that shoots more threes and a defense that is more disruptive on the perimeter. Players like T.J. Warren, who broke out in the Bubble and became a deadly threat from behind the arc, and Myles Turner, their rim-protecting big man who is also trigger-happy, should benefit from Bjorkgren's system where other players who aren't as efficient from beyond the arc like Domantas Sabonis or Victor Oladipo could be affected. This is going to be a make-or-break season for VO, as he wasn't as effective as people expected upon the return from his injury, but now that he's fully healed, hopefully he performs similarly to his production pre-injury. The Pacers are a solid team that should find themselves in the playoffs once again, but this season would only be considered a success if they were able to advance past the first round.
Los Angeles Clippers
MVP: Kawhi Leonard
X-Factor: Paul George
Biggest Addition: Serge Ibaka
After obtaining both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George during last offseason, many expected the Clippers to dominate through the regular season and the playoffs. The end result was the team becoming way too overconfident and cocky, Paul George clanking a three-pointer off the side of the backboard, Damian Lillard reserving a spot for Patrick Beverley in Cancun, and the Clippers getting knocked out in the West Semifinals by the Nuggets, blowing the dreaded 3-1 lead. Everyone on that roster, no matter what status they hold, is responsible and accountable for the disastrous implosion in the Bubble, and the Clippers need to re-assert themselves as a championship contender this season. I'm a big fan of their offseason decisions, as bringing in both Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard provide upgrades to their previous roster, and younger players like Terance Mann should see more valuable minutes this season. Both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George underperformed during the Clippers' collapse, and they both have a lot to prove this season. This is more directly affected towards George, who just signed a massive extension with the Clippers even after his tumultuous run during the playoffs. Tyronn Lue enters his first season as the head coach of the Clippers, a move that seems to be beneficial for the players, as Lue has gotten a good reputation for being a players' coach. We know that this Clippers team is capable of winning a championship with the pieces they've put together, and now is the time to prove that they a legit contender and can make an impactful playoff run in the Western Conference.
Los Angeles Lakers
MVP: LeBron James
X-Factor: Talen Horton-Tucker
Biggest Addition: Dennis Schroder
For those wondering what would happen if LeBron James were to pair up with a transcendent big man, the answer was obvious last season: an NBA Championship. The Lakers steamrolled their way to the Finals where they defeated the Miami Heat in six games, giving the franchise their 17th championship. The scariest part about the Lakers isn't their previous history, it's that they look even better entering the 2020-21 season. They replaced Rajon Rondo with Dennis Schroder, a much better offensive presence who can alleviate some of the playmaking pressure off of LeBron, and they replaced Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee with Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol, who can be spark plugs at any given moment, with Harrell being a dominant force around the rim and Gasol being a defensive anchor in the paint. Gasol will be playing right next to Anthony Davis, who re-signed with the Lakers on a max contract, basically placing the Lakers in contention for remainder of his contract. Another player worth mentioning is Talen Horton-Tucker, who finally got his chance to prove himself during the preseason and excelled during his opportunity, and he should easily find himself getting rotational minutes. Mix all of these components with LeBron James, who ages like fine wine and refuses to slow down, and it's pretty clear why the Lakers are expected to be repeat champions entering the 2020-21 season.
MVP: Ja Morant
X-Factor: Kyle Anderson
Biggest Addition: Desmond Bane
The Grizzlies were arguably the most suprising team of the 2019-20 season, as they were believed to be sitting in the basement of the Western Conference and ended up holding onto the 8th seed for the majority of the regular season. They were eliminated from the traditional playoffs by Portland, but even reaching the play-in game was viewed as a major success for the Grizzlies. Their success was directly attributed to Ja Morant's presence, as he was spectacular in his rookie season and is one of the NBA's brightest young talents. He acts wiser and plays smarter than his age suggests, and proved that he can be a leader of a team at such a young age, and he's setting himself up for a very bright future. Outside of Morant, the supporting cast of Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke, and Jonas Valanciunas impressed, and this will also mark the first season for Justise Winslow in a Grizzlies uniform, which I believe is being underestimated by the majority of NBA fans. Kyle Anderson also had a sneaky good second half of the NBA season, and his sudden presence from behind the arc is an intriguing development that could surprise many teams and fans this season. Losing Jaren Jackson Jr. for the beginning of the season will hurt the Grizz, but given the talent on their roster, Memphis will still be able to compete and be a forceful team in the loaded Western Conference.
MVP: Jimmy Butler
X-Factor: Kendrick Nunn
Biggest Addition: Avery Bradley
The Heat shocked everyone during the playoffs, as they surprisingly steamrolled past both Indiana and Milwaukee and defeated Boston to reach the Finals, where they were ultimately beaten by the Lakers. We learned that a team led by Jimmy Butler is not one to take lightly, that Tyler Herro was built for the big stage, and that Erik Spolestra should be considered one of the top NBA head coaches in the previous 20 years. Bam Adebayo broke out and had a wonderful season, earning himself a contract extension in the process, and Goran Dragic's superb run in the Bubble was also rewarded with a new contract over the fall. The Heat did lose some of their veteran presence with the departures of Jae Crowder and Derrick Jones Jr., but adding Avery Bradley as a perimeter defensive threat gives them a strong secondary backcourt. The Heat are still a very deep team that excels at so many different facets of the game, and they should be a strong contender by the time the playoffs come around.
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo
X-Factor: Donte DiVincenzo
Biggest Addition: Jrue Holiday
The Bucks were undoubtedly the best team during the duration of the regular season, but that momentum evaporated once the playoffs began. With Giannis Antetokounmpo hampered by an injury, the entire team suffered and faltered, and eventually exited from Disney World much earlier than expected. However, this season could already be considered a success, as the Bucks have already got a long-term commitment from the Greek Freak, as he signed a 5-year max contract extension. This was likely due to the activity from the Bucks' front office this summer, as they traded for Jrue Holiday, pushing all of their chips to the center of the table. A starting five of Holiday, Donte DiVincenzo, Khris Middleton, Giannis, and Brook Lopez has insane defensive potential, and is an immediate upgrade over last year's roster. Adding veterans like D.J. Augustin and Torrey Craig help preserve a fairly strong bench unit, and I'm expected DiVincenzo to take full control of that second backcourt spot next to Holiday. While the Bucks had a disappointing finish to last season, this season could come with a much more prosperous outcome with an improved and healthy roster.
MVP: Karl-Anthony Towns
X-Factor: Jarrett Culver
Biggest Addition: Anthony Edwards
The Timberwolves started off really well last season before faltering down the stretch, as their record plummeted so badly that they were able to luck into the #1 pick with the highest lottery odds. They drafted Anthony Edwards, who's verbal commitment to basketball as been worrisome, but should be a cornerstone for the T-Wolves to build around for the foreseeable future. With everything Karl-Anthony Towns has been through in the past year, I'm really hoping he can bounce back and have an excellent season, as he sometimes gets forgotten as one of the NBA's best young players. For the most part, this Wolves team is difficult to gauge, as KAT is their longest tenured players and the majority of the roster was added in February or over the offseason. There is a good chance that this defense isn't very good, but a wing trio of Edwards, Jarrett Culver, and Josh Okogie have the chance to flip the script. I also like the addition of Ricky Rubio, as he may not start because of D'Angelo Russell's presence, but he can play a similar role to the younger players in Minnesota to what he recently did in Phoenix. And Minnesota could definitely use some guidance, as they are going to have to scrape and battle for wins in the loaded Western Conference.
New Orleans Pelicans
MVP: Brandon Ingram
X-Factor: Lonzo Ball
Biggest Addition: Steven Adams
The Pelicans were disappointing in the Bubble, but there is still plenty to be excited about for this franchise's future. Starting with the obvious is Zion Williamson, the high-powered sensation that has dominated highlight reels and proved that his game is adaptable to the NBA. We didn't see much action from Zion last season, so a full season of Zion should not only be entertaining, but should make the Pelicans a much better team. Brandon Ingram also enjoyed a breakout season in his inaugural season in the Big Easy, as he received his first All-Star selection and wowed many viewers with his scoring prowess. Other complementary young pieces such as Lonzo Ball and Jaxson Hayes should continue to improve this season, and veterans like J.J. Redick, Steven Adams, and Eric Bledsoe provide a veteran presence to a young core filled with talent. Even though New Orleans traded away Jrue Holiday, this roster is still flooded with talent (and so many future picks) and definitely has the chance to make some noise in the West.
New York Knicks
MVP: Mitchell Robinson
X-Factor: Kevin Knox
Biggest Addition: Obi Toppin
The Knicks continue to be one of the most interesting teams to follow in the league, as James Dolan's incapability to run a franchise has trickled its' way down to the rest of the organization. The hiring of Tom Thibodeau doesn't make a lot of sense to me, as the Knicks would have been better off hiring a developmental coach like Kenny Atkinson rather than a "win-now" coach like Thibs. Aside from that potential blunder, this roster does have some talent on it, but when the talent will transform into wins is still yet to be answered. Mitchell Robinson is an athletic freak who dominates on the paint at both ends, and if he expand his range, he'll immediately become a dangerous threat on a nightly basis. The same can be said for R.J. Barrett, who had an inefficient rookie season but still flashed signs of upside on occasion. With most of last year's veterans gone, this season would the most ideal one to give younger players like Frank Ntilikina, Immanuel Quickley, Omari Spellman, and Obi Toppin time to develop rather than use minutes towards veterans that aren't part of their long-term plans. Besides, the real crown jewels are in next year's draft class, and the Knicks should be in the running for one of those top talents.
Oklahoma City Thunder
MVP: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
X-Factor: Darius Bazley
Biggest Addition: Al Horford
The Thunder were the most shocking team in basketball last season, as most people (including myself) expected them to be cellar dwellers in the West. Led by Chris Paul and very solid supporting cast, they wound up reaching the playoffs and pushing the Rockets to seven games, as many people realized that Paul was not washed up and still could lead a franchise to the promise land. This surprise performance also led Sam Presti to acquire about 294,321 more first round picks, as most of the Thunder's core was dealt after the playoffs. Entering this season, the Thunder are in full rebuild mode, and veterans like Al Horford, George Hill, and Trevor Ariza are not expected to stick around for very long. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had an excellent sophomore season, and he is quickly becoming one of the most fun players to watch in the league. Other younger players like Darius Bazley and Lu Dort and rookies like Theo Maledon and Alexsej Pokusevski should have many more chances to produce and develop this season, as the only thing the Thunder should be competing for is the #1 pick in the 2021 Draft.
MVP: Nikola Vucevic
X-Factor: Markelle Fultz
Biggest Addition: Cole Anthony
The Magic squeaked into the playoffs once again last season, but it ultimately led to a quick exit for the second year in a row. The appearance in the Bubble came at a cost, as Jonathan Isaac re-injured his leg and will miss the entire 2020-21 season, which is a huge blow to this Magic team. His minutes will likely be absorbed by Chuma Okeke, who also missed last year due to an ACL tear, and Mo Bamba, who has been fairly disappointing during his first two seasons in Orlando. Aside from draft night when they drafted Cole Anthony, who has looked excellent in the preseason thus far, the Magic didn't improve much in the offseason, and lost two rotational pieces in D.J. Augustin and Wesley Iwundu. This lack of improvement mixed with Isaac's injury will hurt the Magic, and it could cost them a playoff spot in the East. However, if a younger player like Fultz or Anthony has a breakout season and emerges as a strong second option next to Nikola Vucevic, the Magic could be better than expected.
MVP: Joel Embiid
X-Factor: Danny Green
Biggest Addition: Seth Curry
The 76ers were easily one of the biggest winners of this offseason, as they had a great draft and free agency experience. Tyrese Maxey fell to them in the back-end of the first round, and with some more development, he can basically provide what Josh Richardson previously brought to the table. The 76ers swapped out Al Horford and Richardson for Danny Green and Seth Curry, moves that give Philadelphia two reliable perimeter shooters, something they severely lacked over the course of the season. While this roster is still intact as the season begins, we know that this team could look a lot different if a James Harden trade is fulfilled. If the Rockets are able to land Harden without trading Ben Simmons, it would be an absolute heist for Philadelphia. But for now, Simmons and Joel Embiid remain one of the league's most dynamic duos, and Philadelphia comes into this season which a roster that more structurally appropriate for their two stars. If Philadelphia is able to make some serious noise this season, Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers deserve a lot of credit for the job that they've done.
MVP: Devin Booker
X-Factor: Deandre Ayton
Biggest Addition: Chris Paul
The Suns had a true roller-coaster of a 2019-20 season, as they started out the season on a hot streak even without Deandre Ayton, then proceeded to endure multiple losing streaks toward the middle of the season. They barely squeaked into the Bubble and absolutely dominated, going 8-0 and shocking the NBA landscape by narrowly missing the playoffs. They took complete advantage of their success and rolled out a great offseason, which was headlined by the trade for Chris Paul. Paul is absolute perfect fit for the young Suns squad, as he can play a similar mentor role like in OKC, and he style of unselfish play meshes perfectly with Ayton and Devin Booker, who is coming off a tremendous season. They were able to also lure more veterans into the Valley, as Jae Crowder, Langston Galloway, and E'Twaun Moore provide much-needed depth at the wings and backcourt slots. There are multiple players with a serious shot at breaking out, including Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson who both performed very well at the tail-end of the season, but no one has more to prove than Ayton, as Paul's guidance and wisdom should allow Ayton's game to reach new heights. Monty Williams and James Jones have done a spectacular job reviving a broken franchise, as this is the most competitive Suns roster formed since the days of Steve Nash. For the first time in a long time, the Suns have a real shot at not just entering the playoffs, but making some noise in the process.
MVP: Damian Lillard
X-Factor: Rodney Hood
Biggest Addition: Robert Covington
Damian Lillard continued to make a name for himself as one of the most thrilling and explosive scorers in recent memory last season, as he single-handedly dragged the Blazers to the playoffs, where they were made quick work of by the Lakers. But, Lillard isn't getting any younger, and it's best to try a build a contender while he's still in his prime. The Blazers look like they've made that a priority, as they had an incredible offseason that saw them improve in a number of areas, mainly their versatility. Trading for Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. give them the defensive versatility that is ideal for a playoff contender, and Hassan Whiteside's departure was patched up by the signings of Enes Kanter and Harry Giles. What was once a very thin roster now looks much more complete, and there shouldn't be as much pressure on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to keep the Blazers afloat. Just two years removed from a Western Conference Finals appearance, we could see the Blazers make a similar run this season.
MVP: De'Aaron Fox
X-Factor: Marvin Bagley III
Biggest Addition: Tyrese Haliburton
Dysfunction runs rampant in the Kings' organization, and this offseason continued that dismal trend. For one, Buddy Hield wants to be traded, and Kings have yet to deal him away even though his value is beginning to diminish. The Kings also had a sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic set up with Milwaukee, but since there was some shady business going on there, the deal fell through, and Bogdanovic ended up walking away for nothing. Also, Luke Walton is still the coach even though players, fans, and management routinely disagree with him. On the bright side, the Kings had a great draft, as Tyrese Haliburton fits very nicely aside De'Aaron Fox and has been spectacular defensively in the preseason. Marvin Bagley is also healthy entering this season, and a bounce back season would do wonders for the Kings. However, this Kings team just doesn't have enough firepower to compete with the beasts of the West, and will likely find themselves in the lottery once again this season.
San Antonio Spurs
MVP: LaMarcus Aldridge
X-Factor: Lonnie Walker IV
Biggest Addition: Devin Vassell
The Spurs enter this season with a slim chance at making the playoffs, and a rebuild looks increasingly possible with every passing day. While this team might not be the most competitive this season, I'm definitely interested in the progression of the younger guys on this roster, especially the wings. The Spurs have a wing trio of Lonnie Walker, Keldon Johnson, and Devin Vassell that are active on both ends, with Vassell being the best shooter, Walker being the most explosive, and Johnson holds the keys to possibly be the best scorer out of the three. The young guard duo of Derrick White and Dejounte Murray are also locked up for the future, and they continue to fit the Spurs' mold of two-way players. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan do have the capability to lead the Spurs to lower-level playoff seed, but it would likely be in the best interest of the franchise to deal their veterans at the trade deadline, let the younger players develop and run wild, and get another high-quality prospect in next year's draft.
MVP: Pascal Siakam
X-Factor: Chris Boucher
Biggest Addition: Aron Baynes
Even after the departure of Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors proved to still be one of the scariest teams in the East, as Pascal Siakam took another step forward and many other members of the team did the same. They almost came back and defeated the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs, but were defeated in seven games. They did lose some of their frontcourt death this offseason, as Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol both departed to Los Angeles, but the Raptors are optimistic that the signing of Aron Baynes and a bigger contribution from Chris Boucher will help fill the void left behind. The Raptors still boast one of the deepest benches in the entire league, as contributors like Matt Thomas, Norman Powell, and Terence Davis can step on the court and outplay almost any other team's bench. OG Anunoby and Fran VanVleet were just recently rewarded with new contracts, as both played the best seasons of their young careers and should continue their upward trajectory this season. Although many other teams in the Eastern Conference got better this offseason, the Raptors should still be in the playoff mix throughout this season.
MVP: Donovan Mitchell
X-Factor: Mike Conley
Biggest Addition: Derrick Favors
The coronavirus sparked a little bit of drama within the Jazz, but Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and the Jazz looked like they were all on the right page in the Bubble, where they were knocked out in the first round in an epic series with Denver. Mitchell was on another planet in that series, and if he produces similarly to his Bubble performance, we could see an All-NBA caliber season from Spida. In the offseason, the Jazz brought back fan favorite Derrick Favors, as he'll be able to provide quality minutes off the bench to back up Gobert. A player to watch out for this season is Mike Conley, who struggled with Utah last season but played very well in the Bubble. Now that he's accustomed to a new environment and a new playing style, I'm expecting him to have a much more improved season. The Jazz have been a routine playoff contender for years now, but they have not been able to get over the hump of the second round. With further leaps taken by Mitchell, Conley and others, this may be the year that Utah breaks out and makes a deep playoff run.
MVP: Bradley Beal
X-Factor: Deni Avdija
Biggest Addition: Russell Westbrook
The Wizards received an invite to the Bubble that was basically worthless, as they were bounced from playoff contention after just two games. That also marked the end of the John Wall era, as the Wizards shipped him off to Houston for Russell Westbrook, who looks much happier and motivated in his new location. A Westbrook and Bradley Beal backcourt is already one of the scariest duos in the NBA, and the supporting cast around them is quietly better than expected. Davis Bertans re-signed during the fall, as the sharpshooter broke out last season and earned himself a nice payday. Other young players like Deni Avdija, Troy Brown, and Rui Hachimura should all receive plenty of playing time to further their development as well. Scott Brooks is once again teamed up with Westbrook, which is a pairing that suits well for both parties, as they've won in the playoffs together before. And with this roster that is put together, I bleive they could be a surprise playoff teamin the Eastern Conference.
Okay, so that we've gotten THAT out of the way, let's dive right into my projected standings for each conference for this upcoming season.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
2. Boston Celtics
3. Brooklyn Nets
4. Miami Heat
5. Philadelphia 76ers
6. Toronto Raptors
7. Washington Wizards
8. Indiana Pacers
9. Atlanta Hawks
10. Charlotte Hornets
11. Chicago Bulls
12. Orlando Magic
13. Cleveland Cavaliers
14. Detroit Pistons
15. New York Knicks
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Los Angeles Clippers
3. Denver Nuggets
4. Portland Trailblazers
5. Phoenix Suns
6. Utah Jazz
7. Golden State Warriors
8. Dallas Mavericks
9. Houston Rockets
10. New Orleans Pelicans
11. Memphis Grizzlies
12. Minnesota Timberwolves
13. San Antonio Spurs
14. Sacramento Kings
15. Oklahoma City Thunder
Eastern Conference Finals: Bucks over Nets in 6
Western Conference Finals: Lakers over Clippers in 7
In the Eastern Conference, I do expect a few familiar playoff faces in Toronto and Indiana to regress, as there were many other teams in the Conference that vastly improved, such as Brooklyn and Atlanta. Another team that improved was Washington, who I believe will have a winning season with Wall and Westbrook leading the way. In the playoffs, the new-look Nets should make some serious noise, as a 7-game series with Boston would have the potential to be a classic. I have the Nets advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, but no further, as the new-look Bucks will stand to be too steep of a challenge for Kyrie, KD and the Nets. After last year's dismal playoff performance, I'm fully expecting Milwaukee to bounce back and reach the Finals.
In the West, there is a lot more to digest and determine. The Suns are the biggest jumper here, as I believe they are talented enough to not only be a top-5 seed in the West, but I believe they can advance past the first round as well. However, the West is still dominated by three powerhouses in the Clippers, Nuggets, and Lakers. I have the Clippers getting revenge on the Nuggets and finally advancing to the Western Conference Finals, but only to be beaten by LeBron, AD, and the rest of the LakeShow in 7 games. This would set up a Bucks vs. Lakers finals matchup, a matchup where we could see the passing of the throne from LeBron to Giannis. I fully expect this series to go seven games and right down to the wire, as this is a great matchup for both teams. In the end, there can only be one winner, and for the first time since 1971, the Milwaukee Bucks will be the 2021 NBA Champions.
NBA Finals: Milwaukee Bucks over Los Angeles Lakers in 7
Finals MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee
MVP: Luka Doncic, Dallas
Coach of the Year: Monty Williams, Phoenix
Rookie of the Year: Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento
Sixth Man of the Year: Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles
Most Improved Player: Deandre Ayton, Phoenix
And there you have it: those are my predictions for the 2020-21 NBA season. If you've managed to read all the way through the article, I can't thank you enough, you are an absolute trooper. Like many others, I'm very excited for what this season has to bring, and it's good to have basketball back once again. The NBA has done a great job with keeping their players safe during a pandemic thus far, and I'm hoping that can continue heading into the new season. Feel free to let me know what you think of my predictions, and feel free to give me your own predictions in the comments below or on Twitter as well. Now, let's get this show on the road and buckle up for a wild ride of a basketball season!