October 27, 2020

Ranking the 5 Most Interesting NBA Offseason Storylines

Following an NBA season unlike any other, the offseason appears to be just as strange. 

The Player Empowerment Era has transformed the NBA into a year-round business that is never lacking drama. There is always something to talk about, even in a crazy year like 2020.

With the upcoming NBA campaign potentially starting in December, the offseason could be crazier than anticipated. The NBA Draft is set for Wednesday, Nov. 18 while free agency could start soon after that. 

What should you expect in this protracted offseason? Well, other than fireworks, here are the five biggest storylines in the basketball world. 

5. What Will the Rockets Do?

Houston, we have a problem. Apologies for the overused cliche, but the Rockets are in big trouble. The Rockets lost their coach, Mike D'Antoni, and general manager, Daryl Morey this offseason; they disappointed in the playoffs once again; and they have an aging core with no salary cap space along with little-to-no assets. Did we forget anything? 

New GM Rafael Stone is largely unknown, and owner Tilman Fertitta has proven to be erratic, and despite his constant denials, unwilling to spend into the luxury tax.

The Rockets have about $118 million in salary tied up next season to Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Eric Gordon, Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker, leaving them precious little room to make any improvements. That leaves few options for Stone, who could look to the trade market to improve his squad. 

It could be hard to find any takers for the Rockets' hefty salaries in Westbrook and Gordon. It's unlikely any team that has the cap space to take on their contracts would do so without receiving valuable assets that the Rockets simply don't have. 

Fertitta has said that the Rockets will keep the band together and go for another championship, but this group isn't getting any better or younger. He might not have a choice to blow it up, and that could mean potentially trading James Harden to the highest bidder. 

4. Do the Thunder Rebuild or Reload?

After an inspiring regular season and gritty seven-game war with the Rockets, the Thunder are facing a fork in the road for next season. After pilfering the Clippers and Rockets of a treasure chest of assets, OKC could easily build around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the endless waves of picks washing ashore for the next decade.

Then again, Danilo Gallinari is a 32-year-old free agent, and if the Thunder elect to re-sign him, they are going to further burrow themselves into a maxed-out team payroll. Chris Paul is also 35-years-old, and while he’s coming off a fantastic campaign, it's the perfect time to trade him. 

Sam Presti is one of the best general managers in the game, but it's a pivotal decision for the future of the Thunder franchise. Does he go for another playoff run with Darius Bazley, CP3, Gallinari and SGA or will he hit the reset button? 

The Thunder could wait another year and make another run, but this could be their last chance to get CP3's remaining $85.6 million off their books while adding even more assets. 

That's what makes the Thunder so fascinating this offseason. 

3. Will the Greek Freak Sign The Supermax This Offseason?

ESPN's Zach Lowe recently said on the Lowe Post Podcast with Bill Simmons that he doesn't expect the Greek Freak to sign a supermax contract extension with the Bucks this offseason.

It's hard not to blame Giannis Antetokounmpo, either.

The Bucks have one star in Khris Middleton, and then a lot of solid, albeit aging role players on big contracts. This is the same ownership group that refused to extend Malcolm Brogdon in order to duck the luxury tax. Players don’t forget that stuff.

While Giannis is a loyal dude, he's also an extremely competitive player who clearly wants to win multiple championships. Can he do that in Milwaukee? 

If Antetokounmpo declines the Bucks' contract offer, that puts Milwaukee in quite the bind. They could spend the season competing for a championship while trying to convince arguably the best player in the NBA to re-sign with the team that drafted and developed him, or they could put the Greek Freak on the trade block and get a plethora of assets instead of losing him for nothing.  

Either way, the deer should be scared. 

2. What Are the Warriors Cooking Up?

Despite missing the playoffs last season, the Warriors could be back in the championship hunt with the return of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson from injury. Thanks to their unique position as a contender with a high pick (2nd overall), the possibilities are endless for the Dubs

There is always the simple, and most likely course of action: draft James Wiseman, who will likely be available after either Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball is selected with the first pick. Wiseman barely played at Memphis thanks to outdated recruiting violations, but he displayed the ability to dominate on the boards and protect the rim while flashing nascent scoring ability in the post. Again, three games is as short as Vinyl’s run on HBO, but Wiseman scored 1.7 points per possession on put-backs, which was good for 100th percentile in the country. If the Warriors draft him, he’s going to have a lot on his plate as he'll be relied upon by the Dubs if they want to win another championship. But Golden State's collective talent and pristine floor spacing should him make his transition a little easier.

If the Warriors decide that the team needs a more NBA-ready infusion of talent then they could use the second-overall selection, the Timberwolves' 2021 first-rounder and Andrew Wiggins to go star hunting on the trade market.

Blake Griffin, Al Horford, Andre Drummond, Myles Turner and even Rudy Gobert could all be available this offseason, and some of those guys could be gotten without giving up a ton of assets.

The draft is quickly approaching, which means it’s nearly decision-making time for the Warriors. 

1. When Will Next Season Start?

While massive moves could be made this offseason, none of it matters if teams can’t play ball. The latest rumor, according to ESPN, is that the league is pushing for a pre-Christmas start date to kick off a 72-game season.

Why would the NBA start the season so soon? Here are a few reasons.

  • By starting earlier and reducing the total amount of games, this leaves room for a play-in-tournament and would result in the season finishing before the Summer Olympic Games in Japan
  • The NBA gets to play their marquee Christmas Day slate of games
  • By finishing next season at a reasonable date, the league would be able to revert back to its preferred schedule for the 2021-22 season, which has fewer overlap in playoff games with other leagues such as the MLB and NFL, which should help ratings

As of now, this is looking like the most likely outcome unless there is an unforeseen roadblock. If this is the case, almost everybody wins: fans get basketball back sooner, the broadcast partners have their Christmas day slate, the league gets back on schedule. Who wouldn't want to come back this soon? Potentially NBA players. We'll what the players union decides, but we suspect that they'll be fine with a December start so it won't hurt revenue.

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration