Mark Bacon—Main Event Sports DC
Monday, today, is like Christmas Day, to some of us. Like me. Monday marks the beginning of most teams’ preparations for the 2018-19 season (the Mavericks and 76ers began Friday). Not all teams can compete for a championship this season, but it’s still the time of year when optimism runs rampant, reason abandons Wizards’ fans in a seasonal fit of insane hope, and the possibilities of what is to come are exciting for all.
What are some of the biggest questions waiting to be answered between now and the start of the regular season in three weeks, beginning with a certain disgruntled star in the Land of a Thousand Dances, er, Lakes:
What happens with Jimmy Butler?: The situation in Minnesota, which already had the potential to be ugly, got rancid when Butler submitted a trade request to the Timberwolves last week. Butler has been excused from attending media day, and while Coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau would prefer not to deal the four-time all-star, owner Glen Taylor has told him and General Manager Scott Layden to get a deal done, and things appear headed in the direction of him playing elsewhere sooner rather than later.
Even if Butler is traded, this entire saga has made the Timberwolves into a story people will be watching all season. Now the wait is on to see whether Butler will have to show up at some point, or if Minnesota will accede to his wishes and trade him before the season begins.
Will Kawhi Leonard play — and how will he look?: The last time we saw Leonard in an NBA game was back in January. He then spent the final few months of last season sidelined with the quad tendinopathy that limited him to just nine games before he was traded from the San Antonio Spurs to the Toronto Raptors in July. With one year remaining on his contract, Leonard will try to prove he is back to being the best two-way player in the world — unquestionable before last season’s injury issues. Toronto, meanwhile, will be hoping to convince Leonard that he should re-sign there when he becomes a free agent after the season.
Will Carmelo Anthony start?: When asked about coming off the bench last season in Oklahoma City, Anthony’s response created an Internet meme. But following a disappointing season for the Thunder, Anthony landed with the Houston Rockets, with whom the possibility feels very real. Chris Paul, James Harden, P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela will all be starting for the Rockets. The fifth starter will either be Anthony or James Ennis, a 28-year-old rangy wing who is a better approximation of the role departed free agents Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute played a year ago. Regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench, how Anthony handles an undoubtedly reduced role — and how he performs in it — is a scintillating waste of time.
How will the new-look Lakers fit together?: After months of anticipation about what the Los Angeles Lakers will look with LeBron James, the next few weeks mark the first chance to find out. Adding further intrigue is the oddest damn combination of players around LBJ on the Lakers roster. It’s like Baltimore filmmaker got a chance to be a GM, and here’s what he chose weird.
Will Lonzo Ball be healthy enough to play? If he is, will he start ahead of Rajon Rondo? How much time will mercurial talents Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson get behind James, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma? Will JaVale McGee be a competent starting center? Will young big men Moritz Wagner and Ivica Zubac be able to contribute? The Lakers begin their season Oct. 18 in Portland, so stay tuned.
Who will start in Boston?: Or does it matter? With Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back from injuries, the Celtics have a great problem on their hands—trying to find minutes for a roster of talented players. Irving will start at point guard, and Al Horford will start at either power forward or center. The other three spots? Those remain to be determined.
Celtics Coach Brad Stevens won’t be lacking in options, with Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes all at his disposal, not to mention both Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart, who will be the backup backcourt (but could start for many teams) and Daniel Theis, who was a very respectable big last season before his own season-ending injury. Having too much talent is a problem any team would be happy to have. It is one Boston actually has to deal with.
Is John Wall healthy and in shape?: Two years ago, John Wall was a borderline MVP candidate and the Washington Wizards were one win away from the Eastern Conference finals. Last year, he missed half the season with knee issues, the Wizards wound up as the eighth seed and subsequently lost in the first round. In Washington, the world revolves around Wall. Given he doesn’t even enter into the four-year, $170 million contract extension he signed last summer until next year, it will for quite some time. If he’s healthy, the Wizards will have a chance to make noise in the East. If he isn’t? Well, the Wizards won’t want to think about that. But likely will have to.
How good are Luka Doncic and Trae Young?: After the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks made a blockbuster trade on draft night, Young and Doncic will be linked forever. The next few weeks will be our first chance to see how two of the most anticipated rookies in recent history will look in an NBA setting.
Doncic has already earned plenty of plaudits from people in Dallas, where he is expected to start at power forward and serve as a co-primary creator offensively alongside second-year point guard Dennis Smith Jr. Young, on the other hand, has been given the keys to the kingdom in Atlanta before a single game has been played, with General Manager Travis Schlenk placing an extremely large bet on the point guard from Oklahoma being able to live up to the hype that he engendered with the Sooners.