5 Things We Can All Root For This NBA Season
Amid the bitter rivalries that make NBA basketball so great is an appreciation for players and coaches that can transcend team affiliations. Throw in rooting for small market darlings and the like, and we have plenty of things to celebrate in the Association independent of hometown pride.
While James Harden burns Houston to the ground and the sting of Klay Thompson’s absence continues to linger, let's jump in and identify the 20-21 NBA season’s most endearing and enjoyable storylines.
(Note: The only outcome that matters for this year is keeping as many players, coaches, personnel, and fans safe from COVID as possible. The thing we are all rooting for above all else is a safe ride for the NBA.)
1. John Wall and Boogie Cousins together at last
A decade after playing together at the University of Kentucky, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins find themselves as teammates once again, this time with the Houston Rockets and both with something to prove.
Maligned by injuries and tough breaks, Wall and Cousins are two of the bigger unknowns heading into this season. They are both elite talents with limited hardware to show for it.
Their friendship, though, hasn’t waned in their time in the NBA. Though they’ve never even played in the same conference, Wall was a groomsman at Cousins’ wedding. They’re buddies, through and through. Their former Kentucky coach John Calipari said as such recently.
“First of all, they care about each other,” Calipari said “They have a bond, they’re family, and that’s going to help the process…
...they’re playing for something and they know they need each other to get what they’re trying to get out of a situation. They want to win, they understand winning matters, they understood that here. And as they go forward, when they’re healthy they’re both All-Stars, it’s just what it is.”
Both Wall and Cousins have big, exciting on-court personalities. Both are immensely charitable in their private lives. Both have been the victims of poor NBA front offices and injuries alike.
However the James Harden situation resolves itself, if Wall and Boogie can remain healthy and on the court together, it will be a tremendous outcome for the NBA (even if it doesn’t result in too many Rockets wins).
2. Karl-Anthony Towns finding success
One of the sleeping giants in the NBA is up in Minnesota. Karl-Anthony Towns - the star center for the Timberwolves - could be the next great player to really make some noise.
Towns’ life has been turned upside down by COVID. We know him to be a quiet, humble young man. You wouldn’t wish COVID on your worst enemy, but for someone like KAT, who is still just 25, to be so disproportionately affected is simply heartbreaking.
Beyond the tragedy, though, Towns is a wonderful person and a monstrous offensive weapon on the basketball court. He’s so easy to root for, and as he begins his sixth season as a pro, it would be truly spectacular to see him find success in the pros.
Towns has made the postseason just once in the NBA, and this season the West is as crowded as ever. Even if he has a career year, a shot at the playoffs is far from guaranteed. Best of luck, KAT
3. Freedom for Blake Griffin or Kevin Love
Let’s be careful to not cry and crocodile tears. There are far, far worse outcomes in life than being handsomely paid to hang out in Detroit or Cleveland.
Still, neither the Pistons nor the Cavaliers are going anywhere fast this year. Both on the wrong side of 30, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin deserve to be playing meaningful NBA basketball.
Moving either of these former All-Stars won’t be easy. Their massive contracts and injury histories will make it difficult for a winning team to bring either of them into the fold - Love has three more years on his deal, and Blake has a $38.9 million player option for next season.
A James Harden or Bradley Beal trade could see Love or Griffin brought into the mix for the purposes of matching salary. However unlikely, never say never.
When healthy, both of these players are high-impact players on and off the court. They’re among the NBA’s best mental health advocates, and given their experience with the likes of LeBron James and Chris Paul, know what does and doesn’t make for a toxic locker room.
4. Tsunami Papi the Splash Cousin
Kelly Oubre has come a long way in the Association. From the hot-headed kid who once picked a fight with Kelly Olynyk, Oubre became something of a rising star in Phoenix last season.
Tsunami Papi as he’s known - easily one of the best nicknames in the NBA today - now plays for the Golden State Warriors. This was a smart move by the Dubs in the abstract. Now with Klay Thompson lost for the year, it becomes much more intriguing.
Oubre averaged 18.7 points as a member of the Suns last year, shooting a respectable 35.2 percent from three. He and Andrew Wiggins will be tasked with filling the hole left by Big Smokey (another tremendous NBA moniker).
Between Steve Kerr, Steph Curry, Kent Bazemore, and others, the Warriors already have an undeniable charm and appeal. The highly charismatic Oubre will fit in nicely in Golden State, especially if he shows up to play.
5. Giannis and the small market heroes
The NBA has long, long been dominated by star players and big markets. When smaller cities and franchises land a generational talent, the pressure to produce rings is massive.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is this generation’s big fish in a small pond, much like Kevin Durant or LeBron James before him. Whether he chooses to extend with Milwaukee is entirely his prerogative, and there’s plenty of reason to seek green, higher-profile pastures.
For now, though, Giannis headlines a group of young stars keeping the small market teams in the NBA in the national spotlight. Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, Trae Young, Domantas Sabonis, and others mean so much to their respective franchises. For the health of parity in the league, their success is ours.