Why does a three-time champion, two-time MVP and the greatest shooter ever need to score 62 points in a regular season game to silence the critics?
Forget the drab atmosphere of last season’s fanless NBA games, we could have starless ones in the next. Expect a disappointing start to the regular season if wounded All-Stars, players suffering from a bubble hangover, and LeBron James all take extended leave.
The short turnaround to a December 22 tip-off will mean that many of the game’s best could sit out the early part of an otherwise hotly contested 2020-21 season. Heck, LA Lakers champions might still be washing champagne out of their sneakers.
One such player, Danny Green, speaking on The Ringer’s ‘Real Ones’ podcast suggested that we should expect to see his former veteran teammates sit out for prolonged periods of time to recover.
More shocking, he said it would be surprising to see LeBron, a renowned ironman of the league, suit up before February.
Despite the stiff competition anticipated for mid-next-year, here’s why the first part of the basketball calendar could be as boring as bat you-know-what.
Kawhi Leonard has infamised taking rest days, missing a combined 37 games over the past two years. Along with Leonard, other injury-prone stars like Kristaps Porzingis will be loading up on load management following a truncated break, exacerbated by an increase in back-to-back games this upcoming season.
On top of this, superstars returning from injury like Kevin Durant will probably be on minutes restrictions. Who knows if Zion Williamson will finally be let loose either.
A healthier league is fantastic for what should be one of the most hard-fought playoffs in living memory. Nonetheless, the routine resting of the NBA’s premier talent will make for some lacklustre regular-season games.
Ask yourself genuinely, is it the same watching an LA derby that doesn’t feature LeBron or Kawhi? It doesn’t even feel the same in the absence of Anthony Davis or Paul George, no strangers to wearing street clothes on the bench. There’s a mystique missing when we don’t get to witness the best go up against the best.
Further, we cannot presume that players who expressed the mental anguish they endured in the pandemic-induced Orlando bubble will jump head-first into a proposed regional-bubble format a couple of months later. They shouldn’t be expected to.
Paul George, self-named as ‘Playoff P’, and perhaps too harshly mocked as ‘Wayoff P’ after his disappointing shooting performance, voiced explicitly the depressive thoughts he faced in the bubble.
“I underestimated mental health, honestly”, George said. “I had anxiety. A little bit of depression. Just being locked in here. I just wasn’t there. I checked out.”
While commended for his guts in speaking out about his struggles, irascible LA Clippers fans might coin ‘Stayoff P’ if he decides to sit out for too long to recharge.
Also expect other stars who were injured during their playoff runs to ease their way into the season, including Ben Simmons, Domantas Sabonis and Jamal Murray, who limped his way out of Orlando after logging 40 minutes per game.
Essentially, save your popcorn for after the All-Star break, if we’re lucky enough to get one. Juxtaposed to the intermittent playtime of the NBA’s biggest drawcards in the earlier months of the season, the latter half will be like night and day.
Five different teams are sitting at less than $10 odds to take the ‘chip – the longest of these, a three-time championship Golden State Warriors that added Andrew Wiggins and the No. 2 overall pick. That’s scary. Oh, and the Miami Heat, last season’s runners-up, are the seventh most backed to take it out. Basketball fans know this could produce one of the tightest championship races in decades, with a bevy of genuine contenders.
Once teams are fully loaded, we’re in for a treat.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown and all that. LeBron and the Lakers’ masterminds will have many restless nights planning how to thwart a resurrected Golden State squad, an unguardable Brooklyn Nets and a revengeful Leonard from snatching the Larry O’Brien trophy. Throw the Milwaukee Bucks into the mix after they recently added Jrue Holiday to their backcourt.
What’s more, we might even see the return of fans to NBA arenas as Ramona Shelburne reported a planned experiment to bring back spectators with rapid COVID testing. The capacity to do so would become available by around March according to the report. A hair-raising atmosphere to go along with this compelling post-season would only be fitting.
It’s a bit like a TV-show that after a bad first season, gets astronomically better throughout the series – you just have to stick it out. But unlike many mentionable dramas, the finale of the upcoming NBA season won’t disappoint.