5 players we can all root for next season
The 2019-20 season is coming into focus. We know all the story lines. We know who the favorites are. We even know the most exciting tilts on the schedule.
Lost in all of these headlines, however, are the many personalities and struggles that make NBA basketball so human. The league needs its stars and its villains, and somewhere in between are the players we all universally root for.
Here’s who we all ought to collectively cheer for during the upcoming season.
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DeMarcus Cousins is one of the Association’s most fascinating, and loveable stars. Sure, he’s hot-headed and tech-prone. But this stems from a competitive spirit and a misunderstood disposition.
After finally breaking free from the turmoil of his time in Sacramento, Boogie Cousins has been hit hard by the injury bug. Even when healthy, he hasn’t had the time to work on his condition, as evidenced by his rough defense during the NBA Finals.
Still, Boogie is worthy of our love. He’s charismatic, immensely talented, and one of the most charitable players in the league. And like Washington Wizards point guard Isaiah Thomas, supremely under-paid.
During his final year with the Kings, Cousins had reportedly been told Sacramento intended to sign the All-Star to a 5-year supermax contract worth north of $200 million. Instead, he was mercilessly traded to New Orleans just a few weeks later. Boogie is now inked to a 1-year, $3.5 million with the Lakers.
If healthy, Cousins has a chance to reassert himself as one of the league’s top big men, even if he has to share touches with Anthony Davis and LeBron James. I say this as a Celtics fan; I am very genuinely wishing Boogie all the best.
Jeffrey D. Allred
Dante Exum has unique athleticism and size. He’s a quality defender, can play and guard multiple positions, and has yet to reach his full NBA potential. Best of all, he’s just 23 years old.
At the same time, Exum too has struggled to stay healthy. He’s played just 56 games over the past two seasons. In March of last season he was sidelined with a partially torn tendon in his knee, an injury that could linger into next season.
His Utah Jazz have been busy over-hauling a roster that is now brimming with talent. At present, he’s slated to be the team’s primary back-up point guard behind newcomer Mike Conley. Our friend’s at Betonline.ag expect Utah to win north of 52 games next year; a sluggish or inconsistent showing from Exum might not cut it.
Exum’s $9.1 million salary represents one of the most tradable contracts remaining on Utah’s books. How the Aussie performs in the early goings of the season will likely determine where he finishes the year. A victim of poor luck and circumstance, surely we’re all going for Exum. (Note: Australian’s don’t like to use root in quite the same way as other folks. Trust me.)
All of the Pelicans
As best I can tell, there’s just about zero justification for not rooting for the Pelicans this coming year. Let’s break it down.
First, there’s the young-guns. Zion Williamson is undeniably endearing, and after last season’s “That’s all folks” drama, the crop of Lakers turned Pelicans are near NBA refugees. Free from the tyranny of Klutch Sports, the likes of Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball, and Brandon Ingram are worth cheering for.
The same can be true of New Orleans’ veterans. Jrue Holiday is just about the nicest guy in the league, and like the newly signed Derrick Favors, a beacon of professionalism. Even the team’s General Manager David Griffin is hard to dislike. That so many of these Pelicans have done battle with Rich Paul and the gang is beside the point.
There’s also a third factor here. I’m putting aside my Celtics fandom to openly root for Boogie Cousins. (And Rajon Rondo.) (And Avery Bradley.) That takes a certain cognitive dissonance. But as for the Pelicans, do they even have a rival? Is there a part of the NBA landscape that actually has it in for NOLA? I think for the foreseeable future, we are all Pels fans.
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DeJounte Murray has also had problems with injury, but that’s a secondary consideration here. Instead Murray represents perhaps the last hope as the sun sets on the Spurs dynasty.
San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich will turn 71 this season. It’s unclear how much longer he’ll remain on the Spurs’ sideline, but for the time being, the 5-time champion is NBA royalty.
Popovich has led his Spurs to a remarkable 22 straight postseason appearances. Now, however, his club faces one of the toughest Western Conferences in memory. San Antonio has a reputation for team-first basketball where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This conveniently ignores just how fortunate San Antonio is to have had players like Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard.
All of that is to say that Popovich’s secret stuff requires a heavy dose of honest-to-goodness, elite-level talent. And because we know what we’re getting with LeMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, young Dejounte Murray’s importance comes into focus.
Murray is the Spurs’ X-factor, and an exciting one at that. He’s got serious potential to become a break-out star for San Antonio this year. His success will help keep the legendary Spurs afloat in the crowded West. Who doesn’t want to see that?
As we’ve established, the NBA is a personality driven enterprise complete with heroes, villains, and everything in between. Few players have had a character arc quite like Kyle Lowry.
At times he’s been considered over-rated, under-sized, and out of shape. A maligned, fringe star player, as recently as last fall it was fair to wonder if Lowry had the chops to reach NBA glory. History would prove otherwise.
Lowry was a hard-nosed professional wire-to-wire during the Raptors’ championship run last season. He held his poise during the DeMar DeRozan trade, during Kawhi Leonard’s nagging leg injuries, and through a tumultuous postseason run.
It was Kawhi’s Larry OB to win, there’s little doubt about that. But it was Lowry who did all the little things, shaking off poor performances and proving a worthy Sancho Panza beside the quixotic Leonard.
Lowry will never be the best player on a championship team. He doesn’t need to be. He’s an NBA champion, through and through. Whatever happens to the Raptors this year, we can all vicariously enjoy Kyle Lowry’s season-long victory lap.