James’ Return to Cleveland Highlights Start of NBA Season

Photo Courtesy of Ohiorider, Flickr Creative Commons

The NBA is back after its four-month offseason, and there are numerous intriguing storylines to cover. But before delving into this coming season, here’s a quick recap of last season. 

The San Antonio Spurs won the NBA title in June, beating the two time defending champion Miami Heat in five games. Forward Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich earned their fifth championship rings, further cementing their hall-of-fame status, and third-year guard Kawhi Leonard took home Finals MVP honors. 

Kevin Durant, small forward, won his first regular season MVP and continued to establish himself as the second best player in the game, while the league’s best player: well, let’s just say he had a pretty eventful offseason.

As every sports fan knows by now, LeBron James opted out of his contract with the Heat following their Finals loss and made national news by going back to his hometown to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron’s decision, unlike the last time he signed a free agent contract, sent the city of Cleveland into a deserved frenzy and instantly transformed the Cavs into Eastern Conference contenders. 

The Cavaliers were not finished making startling moves, though, as they traded their last two number one overall draft picks, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, for Timberwolves all-star Kevin Love just weeks after signing James. Love and James, along with 22-year-old stud Kyrie Irving, form a “Big Three” that makes the Cavs the team to watch this year.

The Cavs will certainly be challenged in the East by the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls have not been to the Finals since number 23 left town, but this year they have the best chance to do so in the post Michael Jordan era.  The Bulls’ success this season relies in no small part on Derrick Rose, who missed nearly all of the past two seasons with ACL and meniscus injuries. 

Alongside Rose will be prized free agent Pau Gasol, rookie of the year candidate Doug McDermott, and reigning defensive player of the year, Joakim Noah.  The West is more wide open, as the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and Warriors all have a legit shot to get to the Finals.

Though James was the first domino to fall in free agency, many other notable players will be calling a new city home this season. Among the biggest names to sign with a new team are Gasol (Bulls), Paul Pierce (Wizards), Lance Stephenson (Hornets) and Chandler Parsons (Mavericks), while Carmelo Anthony (Knicks), Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh (Heat) and Dirk Nowitzki (Mavs) all chose to re-sign with their old team. 

On the injury front, Pacers standout Paul George will likely miss the season after breaking his leg in the FIBA World Championships. Thunder MVP Durant is out six to eight weeks and Lakers point guard Steve Nash sadly will retire after being forced to miss the entire year with a back issue.

On paper, this NBA season could be the most exciting in a while. Fans will hope it lives up to expectations on the court.