An Idiot’s 2021 NBA Preview

And just like that we are back! Feels like only yesterday we were watching Giannis ascend to the pantheon of gods both Greek and Basketball. It has been a tumultuous off-season because the NBA doesn’t really have any other kind. It has become even more chaotic in recent days as player vaccinations have become the focal point in the lead up to the season openers. How do you judge what the Brooklyn Nets will be when there is an increasingly real chance that Kyrie doesn’t even play this season? How long will Ben Simmons play for the 76ers? Will injuries to key players derail certain contenders like the Clippers and Nuggets? How quickly into the season will my Pelicans fall apart? By the time this goes up the answers to all those questions will probably be answered in the most boring ways possible. (I’ve already re written this intro 3 times because of updates to Simmons and Kyrie).

On top of those questions, many NBA fans will get to watch their teams with new looking rosters or at least reasonable aspirations. There is a very limited number of teams that don’t have anything to play for this season, with most teams going all in on contending or chasing the play-in games at the very least. What this will inevitably lead to is a lot of disappointment if things aren’t clicking early on. Exactly the type of environment that could lead to big mid season moves and firings. Ben Simmons is out there waiting for you!

As this is now the second annual(?) NBA preview I’ve written for the site I will do so in much the same format as before. Going team by team and trying to keep it short and sweet for each. I’ll go by conference and divisions so as not to put all the contenders at the top even though I think there’s good reasons to keep up with every team this year. I literally flipped a coin so we’ll start with the Eastern Conference.

Eastern Conference

Boston Celtics

Boston had a disappointing year last year. Injuries and covid ran havoc on them and they finished 36-36 before being unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs by the Nets. To be honest I pulled up their additions and subtractions and came away rather unimpressed. They moved on from Kemba Walker and brought back Enes Kanter and Al Horford. The sneaky addition of Dennis Schroder after his market disappeared was a great get. Their biggest moves were in the front office however, as Brad Stevens moved from being the head coach to president. Tatum and Brown are still genuine stars on the cusp of superstardom but we’ll have to see if the team can bounce back and re-join the contenders at the top of the East with new coach Ime Udoka. Good health will go a long way for them.

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Brooklyn Nets

Whether Kyrie is playing or not is going to go a long way in determining what the Nets truly are this year. Even without him its still hard to bet against Durant and Harden if they are healthy. Their roster is going to look a lot different on the margins but the core is still here. Patty Mills is a rock solid veteran addition. If everyone is playing and healthy they are easily the favorites but those are suddenly looking like big ifs. I would expect them to be in the news a lot at the very least.

New York Knicks

The Knicks were…competent last year? Julius Randle absolutely exploded and Knicks fans have something to look forward to for the first time in a while. Kemba Walker is here now too as well as Evan Fournier. It will be interesting to see if they can build off their momentum, maybe even with some more improvement from RJ Barrett. I don’t think they’re close to truly contending but they’ll be rock solid and good.

Philadelphia 76ers

Hoo boy where to even begin? The number 1 seed in the East ended up falling to the upstart Hawks in the playoffs and every NBA fan knows what has occurred since. Doc and Embiid did everything but outright blame Ben Simmons afterwards and now he wants a trade. The Sixers may also want him out, but there does not appear to be a deal in sight given how huge the reported asking price has been. There is just no way to predict where this is going. The actual basketball on the floor is currently the least interesting thing about them. The reality is a healthy Joel Embiid is an MVP candidate and they’ll likely be a good team even without Simmons. Stay tuned.

Toronto Raptors

Basically a lost season spent in Tampa last year so its hard to judge. Its truly the end of an era as Kyle Lowry is gone. Instead they’ll be turning the keys over fully to their squad of solid rotation players and their new draft pick Scottie Barnes. The thing is there are a lot of players I like on this team and I think they get to actually play their home games this year. I’m gonna throw out a guess and say they end up as a mid to bottom range playoff team.

Chicago Bulls

Perhaps the biggest roster changeover in the league? Lonzo, Caruso, DeRozan and Derrick Jones Jr join Zach Lavine and last year’s mid season addition of Nikola Vucevic to create a roster that will look very different from last season. I have heard mixed reviews on the moves but personally I like them. The essential question is if the new look Bulls will have enough to be more than just another playoff team. I think seeing how this all works out makes them one of the most interesting teams in the league.

Credit: ESPN

Cleveland Cavaliers

Sexland! Darius Garland and Colin Sexton’s continuing development alongside rookie Evan Mobley is what you are here for. Though personally I hope they keep Kevin Love for him to chuck basketballs at his own teammates in the middle of every game.

Detroit Pistons

Cade Cunningham.

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers have actually become one of the more popular potential Ben Simmons landing spots for reasons I’m not sure I totally get. They are largely unchanged from last season. Brogdon, Sabonis, Turner and LeVert are all good players but its also possible they’ll be making a move and trading away at least one.

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks looked dead and buried at least 3 times in the playoffs and each time they came back to win the series en route to a championship. Their roster is pretty awesome without any obvious flaw. With good health they’re a top contender again. Their biggest loss is PJ Tucker who unlocked some peak Giannis at center lineups. DiVincenzo’s return to health and hopefully good form should help them out as well. At their absolute best there’s probably something like 2-3 teams max that will hang with them. Other teams are going to get more attention but the Bucks are a top 3 team in the league.

Credit: USA Today

Atlanta Hawks

The upstarts of the Eastern Conference playoffs that grew right before our eyes into a potential contender. Trae Young could reach MVP candidate level and the supporting cast has really come into their own. After Nate McMillan took over as coach last season the Hawks were one of the best teams in the league the rest of the way. Whether that leap was real and whether they can find yet another level will determine just how far they good go. A popular saying I’ve heard regarding the Hawks is that they’ll be a better team that won’t get as far.

Charlotte Hornets

The LaMelo Ball show continues. Charlotte could be better than people expect while still being far away from competing. They had an 8 player turnover in the offseason, gaining 8 and losing 8. They drafted 4 players while acquiring Kelly Oubre. They also lost Graham, Monk, Zeller and Biyombo.

Miami Heat

It felt like the Heat had a disappointing year last year. Herro didn’t quite make the leap many wanted from him and they were unceremoniously thrashed in the first round by the Bucks. This year they add Kyle Lowry to join Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. They’re good. We’ll see exactly how good.

Orlando Magic

They added Robin Lopez and E’Twaun Moore. Yeah I’m leaping out of my chair too. What they really did is draft Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner.

Washington Wizards

They made the big Russ trade with the Lakers and in total have added Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Spencer Dinwiddie, Montrezl Harrell, Aaron Holiday and Kyle Kuzma plus their draft picks. Bradley Beal is the player the entire world wants traded but he has shown steadfast loyalty so far.

Contenders: Bucks and Nets but a lot of solid teams a tier below that. Sixers (I say tier below because who knows what the final roster is) Hawks, Celtics, Heat, Bulls

Western Conference

Denver Nuggets

This team is dope and have reigning MVP Nikola Jokic leading the way. Jamal Murray being hurt is an absolute shame so well wishes to him for an effective recovery. This team will still be good and with Murray gone expect to see a lot of Michael Porter Jr.

Minnesota Timberwolves

In the time since I’ve started writing this the front office has been going through a lot of turmoil but we’ll see if that affects anything on the court. Karl Anthony Towns is awesome and we’ve got year 2 of Anthony Edwards to look forward to. They have aspirations of making the play in and have a shot at making it.

 Copyright: 2021 Hannah Foslien

Oklahoma City Thunder

Perhaps the only team in the league not really playing for anything. Shai Gilgeous Alexander is great but they may put him on ice half way through the year.

Portland Trailblazers

You already know its the Dame show. Hopefully Nurkic can stay healthy. Lots of trade rumors swirling around CJ McCollum it feels like. You know these guys. Perpetually good but not good enough. Larry Nance Jr is a good addition.

Utah Jazz

The Jazz have reached that dreaded point of being a great regular season team that will have to get over the playoff hump if they want to win a title. As always they’ll need to stay healthy but they also have to figure out their gameplan with Gobert come playoff time.

Creator: Brandon Dill | Credit: Getty Images
Copyright: 2019 Getty Images

Golden State Warriors

Steph is still out here doing mind blowing things. If they can hold on until Klay gets back they’ve honestly got a shot to make some noise. They’ve brought back whatever is left of Andre Iguodala and have have also added Nemanja Bjelica and Otto Porter Jr. They also have interesting young players with rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody joining sophomore James Wiseman. They are a bit of a strange mix of young and old. Keep a close eye on Jordan Poole especially while Klay is out. Did you know Andrew Wiggins is still only 26 years old?

Los Angeles Clippers

Losing Kawhi in the middle of the playoffs was heartbreaking but Paul George and a red hot Reggie Jackson almost got them through anyway. Its hard to talk about teams like this because everyone knows the goal is to do the best they can until they can get Kawhi back. Even then who knows what he’ll look like if and when he is back. They are similar to the Nuggets in that way where they are missing a star but the team should still be good, we just know its not the full team.

Los Angeles Lakers

Injuries caught up the Lakers last year and they were bounced from the playoffs early. The story here is obviously how will Russell Westbrook fit with LeBron and AD. Expect a weekly story on how its working or not working and lots of growing pains before coalescing into whatever level of playoff team they end up being. To be honest you can count me on the list of people who don’t like the Russ fit but I’m literally nobody. Anyway aside from LeBron and Davis the entire rest of the roster is different. Typical of teams like this they have reloaded with a ton of aging veterans I’m not going to go through. They’ve got title hopes and unless the Russ fit really does fall apart on the court they should contend.

Phoenix Suns

The Suns with Chris Paul exploded last year and made an awesome run that at the very least turned me into a fan. My favorite types of teams are the ones that seem to just have a “collection of guys” and this Suns team fits the bill. Devin Booker and Chris Paul lead the way but Ayton looked awesome last year as well. Then you have guys like Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Cam Payne, Jae Crowder and they’ve even added Elfrid Payton and Landry Shamet this year. The question will be whether last year was their best opportunity or if they’re settling in to being contenders for a few years.

I couldn’t not steal this. Credit: Clutchpoints

Sacramento Kings

The Kings are still the Kings with all that entails and they’ll most likely slot into their usual spot of competing for the play in. Fox and Haliburton are both fun and they drafted Davion Mitchell who already looks like he may be able to shut down anyone he wants. They are likely trading Buddy Hield at some point this year. This may be Marvin Bagley’s last year to make an impact for the Kings.

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs are a popular pick for an overachieving leap team. Luka may be the MVP favorite entering the season. Rick Carlisle is gone as coach and….oh my god that’s Jason Kidd’s music! Yup, Jason Kidd is here in what will likely be his last chance as a head coach if it doesn’t work out. Kristaps is also still here and I’m sure this is the year he’ll stay healthy and return to form. Some real talk? I just don’t love this team except for Luka and of course Boban. That could end up looking really stupid in a few months though.

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Houston Rockets

They are playing for nothing and are going to let all the young guns run, namely Jalen Green, while playing John Wall 40 million dollars to basically be an assistant coach.

Memphis Grizzlies

Ja Morant is dope. Jaren Jackson Jr might be dope. Dillon Brooks is dope. They need someone to make a leap if they want to get out of the log jam in the West though.

New Orleans Pelicans

Excuse me for a moment. *sobs in corner. Okay I’m back. Zion had an off season surgery no body seemed to know about and who knows when he’ll be back. As the resident Pels fan here I’ll just say I love our draft pick, Trey Murphy Jr, already. I want him, Ingram, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker out there raining in shots as they somehow weigh a combined 1 Zion. Jaxson Hayes got tazed by police in the off season so he continues to be my hero.

San Antonio Spurs

This is such a Spurs roster but its missing the stars to carry it. There’s a guy named Jock Landale on this team apparently. They’ve got so many 6’4 kinda weird wing players and I love them.

Contenders: Well injuries mess with this a lot so I don’t know lets go with Suns, Lakers, Nuggets, Jazz, Clippers, Warriors depending on injuries and comebacks. The race for the play in may be just as exciting honestly.

And there you have it. Everyone have fun and check back in a year to see how wrong everything I said was. Kyrie for Simmons straight up who says no?!