Through forgettable NBA season games, epic playoff performances, and unexpected off-season developments, the NBA always boasts a surplus of storylines.
Therefore, it’s a difficult task to narrow down five that need the most attention throughout the NBA’s upcoming 2023-24 season. Inevitably, new storylines will emerge both expected and unexpected.
Nevertheless, with that said, here are the top five storylines that will likely bear the most significance, evolving developments, and unpredictability when the new season kicks off this week.
Will continuity or major trades determine the next NBA champion?
Shortly after the Denver Nuggets won their first championship in franchise history, both the defending champions and a handful of viable contenders decided which lane to pursue in hopes of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy next June. Is it better to make a blockbuster deal or lean on what you already have?
The Nuggets kept their championship core together (Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon) while leaning on youth development to mitigate a few departures (Bruce Brown) amid salary cap restrictions. After Denver swept them in the Western Conference Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers adopted the same strategy by investing in LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and a strong supporting cast that spurred a post-trade deadline run.
The Golden State Warriors split the difference by further leaning into their championship core (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) while adding a future Hall-of-Fame point guard (Chris Paul) at the expense of an intriguing albeit inconsistent young player (Jordan Poole).
Others went all in on making major deals. The Phoenix Suns constructed the next super team by acquiring Bradley Beal to pair with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker before convincing serviceable role players to join at relative discounts.
The Milwaukee Bucks acquired an elite point guard (Damian Lillard) to pair with their two-time MVP (Giannis Antetokounmpo) at the expense of a proven two-way play (Jrue Holiday). Portland flipped Holiday to Boston, which wanted more defensive depth after dealing Marcus Smart to Washington for a versatile front-court player (Kristaps Porzingis).
As always, those teams’ health will mostly determine the next NBA championship. After that, though, the talent vs. continuity debate will play out in real-time. What makes this situation even more unpredictable? Even for the teams that made major trades, they still have relative continuity. Though that presumably will reduce any chemistry hiccups, it may not match the teams that mostly boast the same roster from last season. We’ll see if that even matters, given the strong talent spread out throughout the league.
Will the James Harden situation ever get resolved?
So far, Harden has lived up to his threat that he will never play in a game with the Philadelphia 76ers. So far, the Sixers have lived up to their promise that they would only deal Harden if they found a trade package that ensures they remain in championship contention.
The Clippers announced Terance Mann as their fifth starter after refusing to make him available in any trade package for Harden. In fairness to the Sixers, they only had interest Clippers’ intriguing role player if it included other assets. Nonetheless, they viewed the Clippers’ refusal to include Mann in any deal as further confirmation that there is no use negotiating with a team that doesn’t have any available assets they even want.
What does that mean moving forward? The Sixers’ front office and coaching staff appear currently comfortable with starting the regular season without Harden. They know that any absence could result in reduced paychecks. They have confidence, at least in the short term, that the Sixers can win without his presence. Who will blink first? Will Harden soften his stance after absorbing possible fines? Or the Sixers will labor through a slow start?
Which NBA stars will stay healthy during NBA season?
James and Durant hope they can continue their on-court brilliance while minimizing Father Time’s punch. Paul hopes to avoid a major injury in the playoffs. And New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson hopes he can just stay available consistently.
All four of these players have nursed injuries recently for various reasons. James enters his 21st NBA season after ending the season both feeling burned out from a heavy workload and in pain from a right foot injury. Durant enters his 16th NBA season as the league’s most efficient scorer, but still limited about four years removed from his right Achilles injury.
Paul enters his 19th NBA season still effective with his passing and smarts, but has struggled with staying durable. And Williamson has shown he can become an NBA star if he can ever correct his body composition and conditioning.
All four players have a pathway toward success. James and Durant, both of whom are currently healthy, have a stronger supporting cast this season. Paul will likely take a reduced role on a Warriors team that still will feature mostly Curry, Thompson, and Green. And Williamson has had time to heal his right hamstring after staying sidelined since January.
Unfortunately, all four players could become vulnerable with their bodies failing them at any moment.
Who will have a bigger impact – Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson?
Don’t be surprised if the NBA’s Rookie of the Year race stays neck-and-neck between these two prospects all season. Wembanyama will use his big man’s body to block shots and dunk while leaning on his point-guard skills to shoot and pass. Henderson will mitigate Lillard’s absence with incredible athleticism and playmaking. Which player will experience the most success, though?
How quickly can Henderson improve his inconsistent shooting? How soon can Wembanyama adapt to the game’s physicality? Will Portland’s playoff-contending roster relieve the pressure on Henderson? Will the Spurs’ young team under a Hall-of-Fame coach (Gregg Popovich) ensure that Wembanyama develops the right way?
All of these possibilities will likely happen. It will become intriguing, however, to see which developments unfold much quicker.
Will the In-Season tournament become successful?
The NBA will oversee its inaugural in-season tournament in hopes of adding more excitement and purpose around the regular season. But will teams actually embrace it?
My early read? Young and rebuilding teams will like it. Players can experience winning. Coaches and front office members can ensure more job security. And organizations can sell hope. As for title-contending teams? They may shrug at this after already experiencing the ultimate high with champagne baths and championship parades in June.
At the very least, though, this new format can at least reduce both resting and complacency during the regular season. It can also help the NBA compete against the NFL and college football considering the general public usually hasn’t paid much attention in past seasons until the Christmas Day games.