Never has there been this much uncertainty entering an NBA off-season.
As of now, no one knows when free agency will officially start. There’s not as much existing data on the available players in the NBA draft, after the college regular season was cut just short. And – there’s no official word yet on how much the salary cap will decrease, due to the China controversy and the Covid-19 disruption.
Still, in the NBA’s Western Conference, there’s some certainty about this:
It will be incredibly competitive. This is a conference stacked with individual talent and solid teams.
The Lakers are champions. The Clippers have a new coach to guide their elite, if unconnected, talent. Plus, the Nuggets have a second star now in bubble breakout guard Jamal Murray.
What is the key issue for each of these strong contenders, to remain ahead of the healing Warriors and Blazers, the still-dangerous Rockets, the rising Thunder, the defiant Jazz, and more?
Let's take a look now, and try to answer this and many other questions.
Lakers: Is Kyle Kuzma the third star?
It didn’t seem so during much of the regular season, and then his minutes declined in the postseason from 25 to 23 as he averaged just 10 points. Kuzma remains on a cheap rookie scale deal and could be attractive to a team looking to part with a disgruntled star.
Los Angeles doesn’t have much cap flexibility because of what LeBron James and Danny Green will earn ($55 million) and with the Anthony Davis extension coming. So Kuzma may be headed elsewhere, maybe to Indiana, as part of a package for guard Victor Oladipo.
Clippers: Can they get Paul George’s head right?
Of all the problems the Clippers had in the bubble (Lou Williams’ chicken wing trip, Trez Harrell’s absence, Pat Beverley’s struggles, since-fired coach Doc Rivers odd rotations), the biggest problem was Playoff P.
Paul George seemed more focused on social media than on being Kawhi Leonard’s sidekick, shooting under 40 percent in the postseason, and appearing to lose the confidence of others on his roster.
The Clippers gave up their future for George’s present. He has rallied before, coming back from a significant injury while a Pacer. But this may be harder. He has enormous pressure on him, and the Clippers have no choice but to get him fixed.
Denver Nuggets: Can Michael Porter Jr. be consistent?
If so, the Nuggets will be set for another deep run. Nikola Jokic was exceptional in the postseason, as expected, but Jamal Murray’s step toward true stardom wasn’t seen coming.
Porter? He’s now the X-Factor.
He’s still deficient defensively, though he had some bubble moments. But as a scorer, there’s major upside here. The Nuggets have had a lot of nice players around Jokic, but in Murray and now possibly Porter, they could have a true Big 3. It just needs to be nightly.
We'll have much more NBA coverage and predictions in the weeks ahead.
Check out the latest futures odds on winning the 2021 NBA championship at SPREADS.CA
-- by Juicy J
Photo(s) Credit: Getty Images