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  • Samuel Johnson

2020 Most Pressure to Win Teams

What teams are under the most pressure to win it all this season?

Every team in the NBA is under intense pressure to win at a high level. Okay, maybe not OKC, but the point remains: the Association is a high-pressure environment.

For some clubs, though, the temperature has been turned up just a bit for the 2020-21 season. High preseason expectations coupled with looming free agency decisions or trade possibilities are some of the driving forces pressing the following teams into maximum pressure situations for the season:

The 76ers

We are in year four of the Embiid and Simmons era. Sure, they are only 24 and 26 years old, and injuries have derailed a few of their seasons, but the shelf life of a contender is limited. Four years is approaching an eternity.

Philly perhaps turned a corner (before the nuclear option of trading Embiid or Simmons) last off-season when they fired their coach and replaced him with Doc Rivers. And it looks like the roster built around the club’s two stars might finally make sense.

The Sixers have had many capable role players come and go in recent years. Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Josh Richardson, JJ Redick have all served in Philly, while even former All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Al Horford auditioned for Philadelphia.

Tobias Harris - the epitome of slightly above league average player, despite the contract - has historically not been the difference maker. Still, maybe the thing Embiid and Simmons need most is time and consistency.

Despite being very young in terms of NBA All-Star duos, this pairing has seen quite a bit of shuffling pieces around them. The 2020-21 season is no different - Philly brought in Danny Green and Seth Curry and has seen great early results.

The Sixers have started the year like a bat out of hell, and look like bonafide contenders. Is this the year everything clicks? If not, I think Philadelphia will seriously consider (if they aren’t already) splitting up Simmons and Embiid.

The Clippers

Kawhi Leonard can become a free agent this season. That’s the story.

Granted, he worked hard to get to LA, and is unlikely to leave, but what if Paul George’s evil alias Wayoff P shows up in the playoffs again? What if the locker room implodes again?

Could Dallas lure the Klaw to go and play alongside Luka Doncic? The Miami Heat are always looming. There are plenty of teams that could offer Kawhi an exciting change of scenery if things go south for the Clippers.

LA’s supporting cast is on the older, more expensive side. In fact, even if Kawhi left this summer, the Clippers would likely still function as an over-the-cap team in 2021-22, meaning they would have no real cap space to replace him outside of the tax-payer mid-level exception. I’m sure nobody has forgotten that the Clippers surrendered five(!) first-round picks, as well as two pick swaps to acquire Paul George.

If Kawhi walks, things get dicey for the Clippers in a hurry. To say the team is under pressure to win this year is an understatement.

Like the Sixers, LAC is out to a nice start. They have big wins against the Lakers, Nuggets, and others, although they did lose to Dallas by 51. I expect the Clips to have a great year (I have them in the Finals), but there’s no denying the enormity of the task at hand.

The Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo just signed the supermax, but that doesn’t mean the Bucks can relax. Jrue Holiday is due to hit unrestricted free agency this summer, and given how the 2021 free agent class has dried up in a hurry, he is going to be seeking the max. Maybe Holiday and the Bucks have a wink wink agreement on an extension already (illegal!) but if they don’t, I wonder if the Bucks are truly going to be paying for this roster for years going forward.

Milwaukee already owes $114 million to Khris Middleton, Giannis, and Holiday alone in 2021-22. This team will almost definitely pay a hefty luxury tax, a tough pill for a small market team to swallow. Unless it is for a championship team.

On top of the looming tax issue, there has got to be pressure (internal and external) on Giannis to at least get to the Finals. I always despise the choking narrative and do my best to push back on it for young stars. However another early exit in the playoffs could start to cement an irredeemable reputation for Giannis.

The Greek Freak is on the heels of back-to-back MVPs, and basically just completed two destruction tours of the regular season, but both ended prematurely in the postseason. Miami’s throttling of Milwaukee last year was particularly eye-opening.

So far, Milwaukee is back to absolutely pulverizing opponents. While I am intrigued to see how their new starting lineup meshes together with Holiday and Donte DiVincenzo, this team really won’t prove much to me until the playoffs come.

Is Jrue the missing link come June? Will Milwaukee’s weak bench come back to haunt them, or will their top-line talent carry them through? Even though Giannis has re-upped for five seasons, I still think this team is under massive pressure to succeed right away. Jrue’s impending free agency, the team salary going forward, and the weight of the recent postseason demons will keep the Bucks pressing to prove themselves on the biggest stage this season.

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