The calendar flips to December on Tuesday, and with it begins NBA training camps.
It’s been an unusual year for the league — from the pandemic pushing the NBA Finals to October, the draft and free agency to November and the 2020-2021 season to December — but there’s no lack of storylines as camps kick off across the country. Here’s a look at 10:
The Lakers and Heat played the last game of the Finals on Oct. 11. Less than two months later, they are back at training camp with the regular season set to start Dec. 22. There’s usually at least three-plus months between the end of the playoffs and the start of camp, but COVID-19 interrupting the 2019-20 season has thrown “normal” out the window for the 2020-21 season. That’s even more so the case for the teams that weren’t invited to the bubble — instead of five-plus months off, they’ll be coming back from a nearly nine-month layoff this year.
Can this work without a bubble?
The NBA’s first try at playing during the pandemic was a success, getting through the rest of its season and the playoffs safely in the Disney World bubble without any COVID-19 cases. But the league will be in the real world for this season, and the NFL and MLB have shown how easily the virus can infiltrate a team. Local protocols have already forced the Raptors to relocate to Tampa, but will other teams have to do the same? Will there be teams that have to shut down because of positive cases once the schedule gets into full swing? Can they actually make it a full season without COVID-19 havoc setting in?
Will LeBron be late? Will others opt out?
Shortly after winning the title, now-former Laker Danny Green suggested LeBron James could sit out the start of the season because of the quick turnaround. Will that actually come to fruition and might others follow suit in an extreme form of load management? Plus, without a bubble, will more NBA players choose to opt out of the season like some did in the NFL and MLB?
Lakers running it back
And so the title defense begins. Even if they have to start the season without LeBron, the Lakers could be even better this season after a strong offseason, adding Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews. James won back-to-back titles once before with the Heat in 2012 and 2013. Can he do it again this season, after turning 36 on Dec. 30?
All eyes on Giannis
The Bucks have another shot to make a run at a title this year, but that may well get overshadowed by — or at least will be intertwined with — the looming question of whether Giannis Antetokounmpo will sign a super-max extension to stay in Milwaukee. The Bucks made a big trade to land Jrue Holiday this offseason, but until Antetokounmpo puts pen to paper, he’ll be facing questions about his future.
Rockets crash landing?
The Rockets are set to enter camp with James Harden and Russell Westbrook still on the roster. On paper, that looks fine, and adding Christian Wood could be a smart move as well. But new coach Stephen Silas could have his hands full as both Harden and Westbrook reportedly want out. It has all the makings of a disaster waiting to happen, with the clock ticking until Harden and Westbrook get their wish.
Big names in new places
The free-agent market lacked stars, but that didn’t stop big names from moving around the league this offseason. Chris Paul is now with the Suns after being traded by the Thunder. Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey are teaming up together in Philadelphia after the Clippers fired Rivers and Morey stepped down as GM of the Rockets. Holiday joins the Greek Freak in Milwaukee and Gordon Hayward is an even richer man who now calls Charlotte home.
Healthy stars once again
Welcome back, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and John Wall. More than a year after signing with the Nets, Durant is finally ready to make his Brooklyn debut after recovering from a ruptured Achilles suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals. Curry is back after breaking his hand in the Warriors’ fourth game last season. And Wall is set to return for the first time in almost two years — he last played on Dec. 26, 2018 — after suffering a left heel injury that required surgery and then rupturing his left Achilles in a fall at home.
The year of full Zion
Zion Williamson’s arrival to the NBA was long-awaited since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2019, but he didn’t make his debut until January 2020 because of knee surgery and then only played 24 games in the shortened season. This year, the explosive Pelicans forward should get a full season to show what kind of star he can be.
Rusty rookies thrown in the fire?
Less than a month after they were drafted into the NBA, a new class of rookies will have a welcome-to-the-NBA unlike any other. Never mind not having a summer league in Las Vegas, most of these rookies haven’t even played an organized game since March or longer after the pandemic cut the NCAA season short. That might make for more growing pains than usual as the expedited offseason could impact them the most.