By RYAN BRAUCH
After an eventful offseason, the NBA is ready to tip off its season as 30 teams begin their race for a playoff berth. Kevin Durant was the highlight of this year’s free agency, as he had the entire league’s attention when he announced he was leaving Oklahoma City to join Steph Curry in Oakland.
Alongside Durant, many other big name stars switched teams during free agency, such as: Al Horford, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Chandler Parsons and Dwyane Wade. As these players prepare to lace up for their new teams, they intend to make a splash as the season begins on Oct. 25.
With the new season vastly approaching, here is what you need to watch for as your favorite team starts their journey to the postseason.
New Coach, New Mindset:
During the offseason, several franchises made a coaching change as they looked to take their team to the next level. One team that took advantage of finding a new coach, was the Houston Rockets. In the wake of firing head coach Kevin McHale last season, the Rockets deteriorated from the inside out and went on to be one of the league’s worst in opponent points allowed, allowing 106.4 points per game.
This is likely due to the Rockets’ roster, which consists of a vast majority of athletic offensive play makers, not specifically known for their defense. Leading the Rockets is James Harden, a talented shooting guard known for his impressive offensive skills, but is also notoriously labeled as a lousy defender.
To solve their defensive woes, the Rockets hired head coach Mike D’Antoni, known for his fast paced and high tempo offense. This season Houston intends to rely on their offensive weapons to outscore their opponents.
Another team that is heading into the 2016 season with a new head coach, is the Indiana Pacers. Last season, the Pacers squeezed into the playoffs by narrowly receiving the seventh seed, in which they went on to frustrate the Toronto Raptors by forcing them to a Game 7 in the first round.
Despite Frank Vogel’s impressive track record with the team, the franchise decided it was time to look elsewhere and found head coach Nate McMillan. Along with installing McMillan as their coach, Indiana also acquired Jeff Teague, Thad Young, Al Jefferson and Aaron Brooks in the offseason.
These acquisitions not only provide the Pacers with a talented starting lineup, but also give them a very deep bench.
These are just a few teams that recently hired a new head coach, other franchises heading into the season with a new coaching staff include the Sacramento Kings, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards and Orlando Magic. They will all be looking to start fresh and become playoff contenders as the season tips off.
With Kevin Durant joining forces with the Warrior squad, this cracks the MVP race wide open. Particularly for Durant’s former teammate Russell Westbrook, as he will lead Oklahoma City by himself this season, as the Thunder have also traded away power forward Serge Ibaka.
Although they lost one of the biggest stars in the game, the Thunder should not be worried because Westbrook has proven himself to be a dynamic threat without Durant and Ibaka.
The MVP favorite almost led the team to the playoffs without his two counterparts in 2015. This in mind, Westbrook has also proven himself on the stat sheet as he has averaged 8.7 more
points without KD on the floor over the past eight seasons. Westbrook will without a doubt be a top competitor in the MVP race and will likely win as he is a triple-double machine and will carry his team on his back.
Rookie of the Year:
After the number one overall pick, Ben Simmons, had ankle surgery that will set him back until at least January, second overall pick Brandon Ingram will take the reigns as the Rookie Of The Year favorite. The Duke product will be used to fill the scoring void left by the future Hall-of- Famer Kobe Bryant. The Los Angeles Lakers have high hopes for their rookie, especially after Kevin Durant voiced his opinions on the young small forward as he said it was ‘like I’m looking in the mirror.”
With high praise from one of the league’s biggest stars, Ingram intends to lead the Lakers back to being a playoff-caliber team alongside Julius Randle and second year point guard D’Angelo Russell. If Ingram takes advantage of Simmons’ absence and learns from Russell’s rookie mistakes, he can easily become the NBA’s next Rookie Of The Year.
Despite the countless trades and free agent signings, it looks as if the NBA Finals might be a repeat of the last two years. As LeBron seeks to get a repeat with the Cavaliers and Kevin Durant longs for his first championship ring, the two will likely face off in the Finals.
The two stars have not played each other in playoffs since they matched up against each other in the Finals in 2012. If the Warriors and the Cavaliers do face off in the Finals, history will likely repeat itself in which “super teams” will not have what it takes to win it all, which would give the Cavaliers a second straight title.
With regular season games tipping off this week, keep these predictions in mind as the NBA launches a brand new chapter. Keep track of the every single buzzer beater, ankle breaker and slam dunk as each team competes for the championship.