With the NBA season right around the corner, there are plenty of captivating storylines that fans are eager to see play out. Some are bigger than others, but here is every team’s most compelling narrative heading into the 2023-24 season:
Boston Celtics: Can they really win with Tatum and Brown?
Conversations surrounding the duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been circulating ever since the start of last season. Brown had a poor 2023 postseason, and it put even more pressure on him when he got a record 5-year, $303.7M supermax extension shortly after their Eastern Conference Finals loss.
Now, the duo is joined by All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, who provides both an offensive presence and elite perimeter defense. Not to mention, Kristaps Porzingis is another former All-Star trying to prove he can contribute to a winning organization. At this point, the stakes are higher than ever for the C’s. If they can’t win it all this year, it might be time to seriously consider breaking up the core.
Philadelphia 76ers: Now or never with Embiid
Philly’s headliner would’ve been centered around James Harden, but now the former MVP is with the team and looks to play this season. So that means the focus shifts back to the reigning MVP, Joel Embiid. The big man has the talent to win in Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris, but the recurring theme is disappointment in the playoffs.
“The Process” died years ago, and now the Sixers have more pressure than ever to succeed with their superstar. If they can’t show any true strides this season, another “process” might be around the corner.
New York Knicks: “Prove it” year for Randle
Jalen Brunson proved in last year’s playoffs that this is his team. Julius Randle proved that his seat is even hotter after two disappointing playoff performances. The 2021 Most Improved Player seemingly regresses in the postseason, shooting the worst field goal percentage out of any player in the history of the playoffs (with the minimum number of attempts) in 2023. He has to prove himself this year. The Knicks have playoff aspirations once again, but the team, and more notably their fans, won’t settle for mediocrity.
RJ Barrett is no longer a rookie, nor a sophomore, having two playoff runs under his belt. He needs to show he can be the third option on a contender, and take a big jump. Tom Thibodeau is also in a “prove it” season, especially after reports came out that some players (Obi Toppin and Evan Fournier) were expressing displeasure with his coaching.
New York didn’t do much to alter their roster, besides trading Toppin and signing veteran Donte DiVincenzo. These moves don’t thrust the team into contention, nor do they deplete the team out of the postseason conversation, by any means. That also means that there’s even more pressure on the team’s shoulder to show strides of improvement, though.
Brooklyn Nets: Free from the drama, just have fun
At long last, Brooklyn is free from the drama that plagued their franchise for the last three years. No more complaining from superstars, no more trade requests, no more criticism from all corners of the NBA community. The Nets can just hoop. Their roster is now led by Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Ben Simmons (kind of, we’ll get to that). It brings similar vibes to the 2018-19 team led by D’Angelo Russell: just have fun.
The reason this team can “just have fun” is because they have no real title expectations, and they have enough young pieces as a cushion in case they miss the playoffs. The only person in the organization that really has any pressure on their shoulders is Simmons. A once-promising All-Star, Simmons has regressed to a player that, while providing defensive versatility, lacks any sort of offensive presence. He needs to prove that he can be an integral part of Brooklyn’s offense, and if he can do that, he can revive his career.
Overall, though, this team just wants to have fun. The Nets added so many young players via free agency and the draft, and even though they lost some names like Joe Harris and Seth Curry, it still looks to be a stress-free season in NYC.
Toronto Raptors: Might be time to blow it up
It’s been weird for the Raptors these past few years. After winning it all with Kawhi Leonard in 2019, they’ve kept some pieces from that team, but traded some pieces, and ultimately aren’t in a good spot right now. With All-Star Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and new-signee Dennis Schroder, they aren’t bad enough to tank, but they certainly aren’t good enough to be a lock for the postseason.
I didn’t like the fact that Toronto parted ways with Nick Nurse following a Play-In loss to the Chicago Bulls. Sure, there were some disappointing seasons following Kawhi’s departure, but his basketball mind is elite and the 76ers were lucky to get him. As for the Raptors, they need to figure things out quickly. Don’t be surprised if they either go all in for a superstar or trade everyone mid-season.
Milwaukee Bucks: Can Dame win ring number one with Giannis?
In a shocking move, the Bucks traded Jrue Holiday and Grayson Allen (plus picks) for Damian Lillard. At the time, this made them the favorites to make it out of the East. Of course, then Holiday would make his way to the Celtics and even out the playing field between the two teams, but Milwaukee’s offensive firepower can’t go overlooked.
Lillard is a top-five, perhaps top-three point guard in the NBA, and when you pair him with the best power forward in the game in Giannis Antetokounmpo, plus former All-Star Khris Middleton, PLUS Brook Lopez and a great cast of role players, you have a recipe for success. All Adrian Griffin has to do is utilize these players to their strengths: let Dame and Middleton handle the perimeter while Giannis can slash, with Lopez rotating in and out to the space on the floor. With this, however, stakes are higher than ever for both Giannis AND Dame, so we’ll see how year one of the experiment plays out.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Contract year for Spida
Although a bigger storyline would be the fact that this team made the playoffs last year for the first time since the end of the LeBron James Era, and they can build off of their youth and potential, most Cavs fans should be worried that Donovan Mitchell turned down a contract extension this past offseason, and is set to become a free agent in 2024. That is stressful for a team that just traded a haul to get this guy, and it means they need to prove they can do more than what the Utah Jazz did when they had Mitchell.
For Spida, it’s been stagnation: first or second-round exits, nothing more, nothing less. His teams don’t change and now, he’s not a young player anymore. The 27-year-old is entering his prime, and Cleveland needs to capitalize. They kept their core, and the defense and slashing is certainly there. However, the Cavaliers were 24th in three-point attempts last season, which especially hurt them in their first-round loss to the Knicks this past postseason. They brought in Max Strus and Georges Niang to help with their shooting struggles, so now it’s do-or-die for the Cavaliers and Mitchell, and it’s sooner than anyone thought.
Chicago Bulls: The rebuild is imminent
I’m honestly shocked that the Bulls didn’t blow it up this offseason. A team that has been plagued with mediocrity for the past three years, with an aging star in DeMar DeRozan, and no real youth besides Ayo Dosunmo and Dalen Terry? That screams rebuild. Chicago is in the worst spot it could possibly be in if you’re an NBA team: the goal is to contend, but there’s no way you can with the current personnel. My expectation is for the team to sell at the deadline if they aren’t in a playoff spot.
Lonzo Ball said on media day that he’s confident he’ll be ready to suit up at some point this season, and if he does, that’ll be a big help in their push for the playoffs. When Ball was playing at the start of the 2021-22 season, they got out to a hot start, good for first in the East before his injury. His playmaking skills are extremely underrated, but if he’s not on the floor, we’ll see a repeat of last year. Similar to Toronto, don’t be surprised if they sell DeRozan or Zach LaVine by the trade deadline.
Indiana Pacers: No real pressure, but can Haliburton lead this young team?
This team is still very young, and with the addition of Bruce Brown, a key contributor to the Denver Nuggets’ championship run last year, they should only get better with added talent and development.
The Pacers acquired Obi Toppin via trade and drafted Jarace Walker, which should fix their lingering problem at the power forward spot. Toppin’s general stats don’t look too enticing, but when you look at his numbers in the 15 games he started with the Knicks, 20.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists really makes you think why the hell New York would trade him for two second-round picks.
Tyrese Haliburton locked himself into a five-year extension over the summer, making him their franchise point guard for the foreseeable future. He should be worth every penny because 20.7 points and 10.4 assists at 23 years old is incredible. He is no doubt a top-five playmaker in today’s game, and the Pacers certainly have Play-In hopes this season.
Detroit Pistons: Young core + new head coach = Play-In bound?
Last season, I thought the Pistons were ready to compete and make the Play-In Tournament. Clearly, that wasn’t the case. Now, though, with the added personnel to their organization, I think they can start their push for the postseason, for REAL this time. Monty Williams was signed to a six-year, $78.5 million contract to become the highest-paid head coach in NBA history. Williams was the head coach of the Phoenix Suns during their rise to becoming a contender, including their 2021 run to the NBA Finals. That’s a big signing because if he was a key piece in developing players like Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, he can certainly do good with Cade Cunnigham, Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, and Ausar Thompson.
That core alone should be enough to get this team to the play-in. Thompson, a rookie, looks to provide elite playmaking and defense to a team that has two players with elite scoring potential. Cunningham was shut down early last season with an
injury but averaged 19.9 points in year two, and Ivey averaged 16.3 points in his rookie season. The future is certainly bright in Detroit with all of their pieces coming together.
Miami Heat: Simply put, Jimmy has less help than last year
The Heat lost Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, two starters in their run to the 2023 NBA Finals. They did add Josh Richardson and Thomas Bryant, but it won’t be as impactful as their players were last season. Bryant fixes their backup center problem, and Richardson is a good shooter. However, his minutes will be limited with the return of Tyler Herro.
Herro is coming off of an injury to his shooting hand, suffered during round one of the playoffs last season, and the Heat certainly missed him when their run ended at the hands of the Denver Nuggets. Jimmy Butler looks to prove he can lead this organization to a championship for the first time without LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, but it’ll have to come with big support in Bam Adebayo and key role players in Erik Spoelstra’s offense. Their defense in the postseason was incredible, and their offense certainly took a jump when April rolled around, but they were dead last in points when you take the entire season into account, at 109.5. We’ll see how they fare after the moves they made (and didn’t make) over the summer.
Atlanta Hawks: Trae tries to scrape up another playoff run
The 2021 playoffs seem like ages ago, but that was actually the first time Trae Young made the postseason, and it’s been the deepest run he’s had thus far. The Hawks did a great job in adding perimeter defense going into the 2022-23 season in Dejounte Murray, but since then, they’ve lost John Collins and a plethora of players, replacing them with virtually nothing. Patty Mills and Wesley Matthews were great role players in their primes, but it’s 2023, and they aren’t what they used to be.
Atlanta hopes to claw itself out of being a perennial Play-In team for the foreseeable future, but it’ll take more than the roster they currently have. Quin Snyder became the head coach in February, so we’ll see how he’ll get this team together in his first full season.
Washington Wizards: Forget this season, tank for next year
I applaud the Wizards for finally deciding it was time to get rid of Bradley Beal and tank. Sure, it was long overdue, but Washington has plenty of young pieces to build around or build value for: Jordan Poole, Bilal Coulibaly, Deni Avdija, and more. Not to mention, Kyle Kuzma and Daniel Gafford are both going to have bigger roles from last season now that Beal and Kristaps Porzingis are gone.
I say all of these positives, but don’t be mistaken, this team has no expectations of any kind. Washington was sinking for years and they finally decided to jump ship at the last minute by selling their assets. For Poole, expect averages between 25 and 30 points. For the team, expect under 30 wins.
Orlando Magic: Continue developing the core
It seems like the Magic keep adding young talent year after year but always end up at the bottom. Will this season be a repeat? It’s hard to tell but nevertheless, they’re heading in the right direction. Orlando has so many young pieces: Paolo Banchero, Cole Anthony, Wendell Carter Jr., and Franz Wagner just to name a few. They drafted more guards in Anthony Black and Jett Howard, which was a little questionable, but it looks to be insurance if they ever decide to trade Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, and Markelle Fultz.
While Carter Jr. is certainly a great young talent, their backup center is either going to be Moritz Wagner or Goga Bitadze. It would’ve made sense to draft a big, so there’s a hole already. I don’t think anyone has any real expectation for this team to make any noise unless Banchero takes a major leap and the team starts playing mature, winning basketball. The plan is simple: continue to develop their players and then go from there.
Charlotte Hornets: Fix this mess!
The Hornets are a complete dumpster fire when you look at their offseason. Aside from their draft, they added Frank Ntilikina and… no one else. Kai Jones went on a social media run that can only make you worried for him after getting waived before the start of the season. It makes you wonder why he gets cut for putting out weird tweets, but Miles Bridges can come back and play for the team after being charged with a domestic violence case. He signed the $7.9 million qualifying offer in July but recently turned himself in after criminal summons were issued.
I feel sorry for LaMelo Ball, who has to witness this mess unfold around him while playing on a roster with virtually no talent. Sure, Gordon Hayward is a nice piece, and Brandon Miller and Nick Smith Jr. could work well, but that’s IF they live up to expectations. Hayward has no business being on a rebuilding team and will likely be traded at some point. Hornets fans, the season might be over before it starts.
Denver Nuggets: After a crazy offseason, can they run it back?
Don’t let Denver’s championship distract you from the fact that the organization did NOT have a good offseason. They lost their most valuable players off of the bench in Bruce Brown, Jeff Green, and Thomas Bryant, while failing to replace their productivity. Of course, this is the team that just won the whole thing, so they’re obviously going to be one of the favorites to run it back. It might be a tougher challenge than expected, however. The West is only getting better, with teams like the Suns, Lakers, and Warriors within an arm’s reach.
Nikola Jokic looks to continue his routine dominance of 30-point triple-doubles, with Jamal Murray having proven he can be a second option on a championship team. As for the rest of the roster, there are ups and downs. Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope round out the lineup, all being phenomenal role players. However, the bench is looking really dry, with their sixth man being a toss-up between Reggie Jackson and Christian Braun.
Minnesota Timberwolves: KAT’s last season in Minnesota?
There were rumors all offseason of Karl-Anthony Towns getting traded, but he remains on the team as of now. If you look at their roster, Minnesota shouldn’t be this mediocre. They have a rising superstar in Anthony Edwards, plus two dominant bigs in KAT and Rudy Gobert. They have a great veteran guard in Mike Conley and replaced their only significant loss in Taurean Prince with Shake Milton. So, what’s the deal?
The problem is that the offense is pretty lackluster with two centers in the starting lineup. Their defensive rating last year was good for tenth in the NBA at 113.1, but their offensive rating was 23rd at 113.3. Ant continues to grow into who we thought he would be, but this team lacks any pure shooters. They’ll need to make some changes, because if they can’t improve their spacing, KAT might be on his way out.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Chet is finally here, with a talented young core
Chet Holmgren, the second overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, is finally making his NBA debut after missing his first season due to injury. Coming out of Gonzaga, he had comparisons ranging from Kristaps Porzingis to Kevin Durant. There’s no doubt the expectations are high, and being paired with a talent like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will only make things easier for him.
Shai is coming off of a season where he averaged 31.4 points and 5.5 assists, being named to the All-NBA First Team. There is a very real chance this duo turns into what Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were, and they have the rest of the team to develop as well. Josh Giddey continues to thrive as an elite playmaker, and Luguentz Dort is a great perimeter defender. While OKC seems like a fringe-Play-In team, don’t be surprised if they improve and establish themselves as a playoff squad. It all depends on if Chet is who we think he’ll be, and if the rest of the team can come together and play winning basketball.
Utah Jazz: Can they be consistent?
For a good chunk of last season, the Utah Jazz were in the postseason picture. They eventually fell out of it, but it’s a good sign for the future. 2022-23 was their first season without Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, and instead, Lauri Markkanen took the reigns and looks to continue to impress after previously averaging 25.6 points and 8.6 rebounds. Not to mention, they have a developing Walker Kessler to go along with Jordan Clarkson, Collin Sexton, and Kelly Olynyk, all great role players.
Is it good enough to make the Play-In? Time will tell because this team was so up and down last year. Statistically, the offense was ninth-best in the league, and but their defense was 23rd. They don’t necessarily have the big names, but if they can capitalize on their strengths, and play gritty and selfless basketball, they will be a sleeper for the playoffs.
Portland Trail Blazers: Rebuilding team with plenty of assets
The Blazers, despite trading their franchise star in Damian Lillard, were one of the winners this summer. They turned Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday into Deandre Ayton, Malcolm Brogdon, Robert Williams III, and five first-round picks. That’s a really good haul, and now they have a sense of direction, leaning on their young pieces in Scoot Henderson, Anfernee Simons, and Shaedon Sharpe.
Similar to other teams that have recently dismantled their hopes to contend, Portland can just have fun and watch their players develop. They’re similar to the Nets in that they have the insurance to go into a full rebuild if need be but don’t be fooled by their trades, this team has the talent to surprise some people. Ayton is a top-ten center in the NBA, Brogdon is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, and if Scoot lives up to the hype, he and Simons can be a scary duo, resembling what Lillard and CJ McCollum had in years past.
Sacramento Kings: Build off of last season
Last season, the Kings finally became a playoff team. After having a record good for third in the West, Sacramento looks to build off of its success and compete in a loaded conference. They’re led by the fun duo of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis and a great selection of role players.
With having no real losses in the offseason, but no significant gains besides maybe Chris Duarte, Mike Brown comes into his second season as the head coach with virtually the same roster. It’ll be tough to have similar success, though. Again, the West is loaded, and the conference only got better over the summer. The Kings are seemingly being slept on again, so their biggest question mark is: can they prove the doubters wrong?
Phoenix Suns: Championship or bust
At this point, Phoenix is all in. Devin Booker is the only remaining player from their 2021 Finals team, but this team is looking even better than that one. They now have Booker, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, and so much more. A big problem with the team was depth. They lost in the second round last season because they had no significant pieces on the bench that could hold similar production to the starters. Now, with players like Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, Eric Gordon, and more, they are looking scary.
A great roster like this comes with great expectations, though. Durant is 35 years old, and Booker isn’t a young player anymore. He looks to be entering his prime, with Beal stepping into the role of a third option. It’s simple: championship or bust.
Los Angeles Clippers: All or nothing at this point
The Clippers are in a similar spot to the Suns, but their core is even older and they’ve had more years together. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are entering their fifth season in LA, and all they have to show is one Conference Finals appearance. This is a duo that each played just 52 and 56 games last season, and both suffered injuries before the playoffs. If you can’t be on the court enough, how valuable are you?
If you presented me with this roster five years ago, they would’ve been the sure-fire pick to win it all, but it’s tough when you have a past-his-prime Russell Westbrook, an injury-riddled duo, and the same bench. This realistically could be the last year we see either George or Leonard in a Clippers uniform if they don’t find immediate success.
Golden State Warriors: How much longer does this core have?
Stephen Curry isn’t showing any sign he’s slowing down. He’s entering this season as a top-five player once again and looks to hunt for yet another championship. This time, he does it with an added piece. Chris Paul, a rival of Curry’s for so long, was traded to Golden State for Jordan Poole. Paul provides the veteran presence for a bench that consists of young players like Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody.
The starting lineup should be the same: Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, and Kevon Looney. While it’s impressive, they lost with that same core in the second round of the playoffs last year. The core is aging, and everyone is wondering if they can still hold up because while Curry and company are still producing great numbers, it means nothing without another ring.
Los Angeles Lakers: Can Bron and AD get back over the hump?
The Lakers completely retooled their roster at the trade deadline last season and then retooled it AGAIN over the summer. The core of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves, and D’Angelo Russell remains, but now they have even more in Gabe Vincent, Christian Wood, and Taurean Prince. This team had the best record in the NBA post-trade deadline and made it to the Western Conference Finals. If you erase the dysfunctionality of the first half of the regular season, this team is top-three in the West and a title contender.
James and Davis are getting older, entering their fifth season as a duo, so there isn’t much time left before The King retires The Brow is left pondering his future as a Laker. That being said, this may be the best-looking roster we’ve seen in LA’s LeBron Era, so we’ll see if this team can bring glory days back to the City of Angels. The window is closing, however, and they play in a LOADED Western Conference.
Memphis Grizzlies: No Ja, no problem?
The Grizzlies season ended with disappointment in April after being eliminated by the Lakers in the first round. The despair continued as Ja Morant was hit with a 25-game suspension after repeatedly showing reckless behavior and having it displayed across social media. That means that Memphis will likely start either Derrick Rose or Marcus Smart at point guard to open the season. While those options aren’t poor, it doesn’t compare to a top-five point guard in the NBA.
The Grizzlies lost key contributors in Dillon Brooks and Tyus Jones over the summer but replaced them with Smart and Rose. Their defense won’t take a hit, with Jaren Jackson Jr. being the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and Smart winning the award before him. The issue is that this team could take a major hit without Morant for more than a quarter of the season. I wouldn’t expect this team to repeat its regular-season success from last year.
New Orleans Pelicans: Zion is back
People are so quick to forget that at one point in the middle of last season, the Pelicans were the number one seed in the West. That was before Zion Williamson got injured and missed the rest of the season, forcing the Pelicans to fall to a Play-In team. Now, he’s back, and with enough talent around him, Zion wants to turn heads.
New Orleans has a good enough supporting cast to be a playoff team. With guys like CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, and Jonas Valanciunas, don’t sleep on this team when healthy. That’s the big if, though. Health has been a major issue with this squad, especially with Williamson. When he’s healthy, he’s a contender for All-NBA First Team. The fact of the matter is that he’s missed more games than he’s played. Even when he isn’t on the floor, the team is good enough to surprise some people but imagine the noise New Orleans could make when Zion’s at his peak.
Dallas Mavericks: First full season of the Luka-Kyrie experiment
Dallas straight-up collapsed after the trade deadline, getting rid of their most important role players to pair Kyrie Irving with Luka Doncic. Was the offense great? Yes. So why did this team miss the playoffs? They had ZERO defense. Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie were not only reliable shooters/scorers but brought a defensive presence as well. It didn’t help that Maxi Kleber only played 37 games, either.
Now, we will witness the first full season of the Luka-Kyrie experiment. The Mavericks added players to support the defense and shooting. Grant Williams, Richaun Holmes, and Seth Curry will look to do their part in helping this squad get back to the playoffs. If it doesn’t work, however, they have a problem on their hands, because going from the Western Conference Finals in 2022 to missing the playoffs is a HUGE problem.
Houston Rockets: Solid pieces, but still young and chaotic
The Rockets’ offseason showed that they really want to compete for a spot in the postseason as soon as possible. However, they may have rushed a bit, signing Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks to huge contracts, as well as trading for Victor Oladipo. It’ll be hard to work those pieces in while developing Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., Amen Thompson, and Cam Whitmore.
Last season, this team played young, inefficient, and immature basketball, aside from Sengun. He has a feel for the game that rivals any NBA vet, and hopefully, his maturity can rub off on their other young pieces. The biggest upside is that all of the players Houston got or already has can score in big numbers. The downside is that it may come while giving up just as many points to the other team. Brooks and Thompson are probably the best defenders on the roster, and Thompson hasn’t even played a game in the NBA yet.
San Antonio Spurs: Welcome to Wemby’s World
After all of the pre-draft hype, Victor Wembanyama has finally arrived. His preseason was definitely impressive, and his future in this league is as bright as anyone we’ve ever seen. The rest of the Spurs aren’t going to make a difference in helping the team win games, so don’t expect this team to make any noise just yet. Fans just need to watch as Wemby does his thing and attracts crowds while posting the numbers we expect out of him.
Is he going to be the next LeBron or Jordan? I don’t know. I wasn’t buying into the hype at first, but after watching his preseason against the likes of Chet Holmgren and other NBA bigs, I have to say I’m impressed. The length and athleticism are what really impresses me. We knew he had a great outside shot but he can move so well and defend any position, or so it seems. Time will tell how Wemby writes his story, but it makes it a hell of a lot easier that he’s playing for one of the greatest coaches ever, Gregg Popovich. He has experience coaching legendary bigs like Tim Duncan and David Robinson, so Wemby should just be another to add to the list.