Influx of team restructuring leaves NBA title in air

Photograph by Nicole Nagamatsu

With many superstars past their prime, eyes fix on incoming rookies to make difference to make a difference in the 2021 season

The National Basketball Association’s seventy-fifth season is bound to be an exciting one. Past-prime legends such as Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Lebron James are continuing to perform at a high level, while up-and-coming superstars like Luka Dončić, Ja Morant, and Jayson Tatum are gradually stealing the spotlight. A whole slew of players, ranging from Giannis Antetokounmpo to Stephen Curry, are also in various stages of their prime. In 2019, the Warriors’ dynasty ended with an off-season dispersal of talent across the league, reinjecting the excitement of possibility into fans. With the two potential superteams, the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, both plagued with possible chemistry issues, the 2022 championship is up for grabs. Although they finished  sixth in the NBA Western Conference last year, the Portland Trailblazers will have a tough road ahead of them to make it to the NBA playoffs again this year. 

Damian Lillard, for all his talent, has not proven he can carry a team to the promised land. The Blazers’ underwhelming 2020 roster has only lost talent over the 2021 offseason. With Lillard and CJ McCollum not getting any younger, the absence of Carmelo Anthony, Enes Kanter, Zach Collins and Rodney Hood will hurt them. The Blazers have been in a difficult place for years. Lillard has consistently been exceptional, getting them to the playoffs and making some noise. They still have not been a real championship contender in the Lillard era since the front office has failed to pair him with an all star since LaMarcus Aldriddge left. This year will unfortunately be no different.

Many expect the Lakers to prevent the Blazers from any real playoff success. Their roster includes seven former all-stars and two former MVP’s: Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo. On paper, especially five years ago, this team would have been unbeatable. However, almost all of these players are now past their prime. 

This is not the first time aging stars have joined a dynamic duo to ring hunt in Hollywood. In 2003 Gary Payton and Karl Malone joined Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, and in 2012, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard joined Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Neither team netted a championship, and both had players depart in the season after. 

In all likelihood, the 2021-22 Lakers will face a similar fate. Last season they signed Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schröder, the 2020 sixth man of the year and sixth man of the year runner-up, respectively. In addition, Marc Gasol joined the team after a successful season in Toronto. Markieff Morris and Wesley Matthews signed up for significantly less money than they could find elsewhere. Many thought Rob Pelinka had somehow convinced every free agent to join the Lakers for a pay cut. The Lakers were defeated in the first round by the Phoenix Suns, who had not made it to the playoffs in a decade. Additionally, they were fresh off of playing in the most recent NBA finals. While it may look like they have a great shot at winning a title, but with big name players come with bigger egos and a surplus of those players makes those egos clash. Rondo, Howard and Anthony all have a history of criticism for their locker room presence, and when multiple of these falling stars overlap positionally, it will be interesting to see if they are able to piece together a successful season.

A sleeper team to watch out for this season is the Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum is only 23 years old and Jaylen Brown is only 24. Both were all-stars last season and are only on pace to improve. They are lethal both offensively and defensively. Last year the Celtics suffered from a lack of depth, but with the addition of Dennis Schröder and Josh Richardson, and re-signing of Enes Kanter and Al Horford, depth should not be an issue. Plus, Robert Williams III, Romeo Langford, Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith are getting older and more acclimated to the league. In order for a roster with Marcus Smart to work, he needs to be the worst offensive player on the court. And with the added depth and development of young talent, that could be the case. The Celtics now have star power, depth and defensive power in an unpredictable Eastern Conference.

There is so much talent and many exciting young players circulating the league that almost every team has playoff potential. The seventy-fifth NBA championship could go to anyone. 

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