With the offseason almost completely unfolded, and just a few weeks away from the start of training camps, we can finally start looking ahead to the upcoming NBA season. This year’s free agency is on the books, with few remarkable athletes remaining in the market, and the 2021 Summer League is through, with the Miami Heat winning the tournament.
As we draw close to the regular season tip off, we can start projecting the favorites to win the championship in the 2021-22 NBA season. And two of them were also the overwhelming favorites last season: the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers. Both teams entered the 2020-21 season as the highest-ranked teams with sportsbooks and analysts, but several injuries rendered their chances of a title shot.
In Brooklyn, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie picked up many injuries throughout the season that sidelined them for several weeks. In Los Angeles, both LeBron James and Anthony Davis suffered severe injuries in the final stretch of regular season, leading the team to fall in the Western Conference rankings, which would eventually put them in the way of future conference champions Phoenix Suns.
For the upcoming season, the Los Angeles Lakers went through a complete rebuild, bringing in Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and several other important players, and traded core members like Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Brooklyn, on the other hand, hasn’t made many roster changes, but the team was able to re-sign Kevin Durant on a contract extension, and sign 15-year veteran Paul Millsap and Olympic bronze medalist Patty Mills to improve the rotation and aid their Big 3 on a playoff run.
With these recent additions, however, both rosters also got older and health will remain a major concern for these franchises. The two teams will feature 10 players from the 2015 All-Star Game, and the only starter from the 2013 All-Star Game to not currently be on the Lakers or Nets is Chris Paul.
According to analysts and sportsbooks listed on USGamblingSites.com, the Brooklyn Nets are the odds-on favorites to claim the title at the end of the season with +220 odds, while the Los Angeles Lakers are at +380 odds to win their second title in three years and finally overcome the Boston Celtics as the supreme champions in the NBA.
The team to beat
Despite the frustrating elimination in last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals, when the team lost Game 7 because of a few extra inches on Kevin Durant’s foot, the Brooklyn Nets are still the team to beat. If they are able to remain healthy throughout the season, there’s no doubt that the Nets can make their way to the NBA Finals.
The team essentially returns the same roster from last season, with a few helpful additions. Patty Mills slipped into Jeff Green’s salary slot, and could prove to be an excellent option coming off the bench as a secondary ball handler and sharpshooter. The Nets also announced recently the signing of Paul Millsap, to serve as a backup four and an experienced leader for the Nets’ second unit.
“I think it was an opportunity for me to turn the page on a new chapter,” said Mills in his introductory press conference. “And speaking about Brooklyn, and everything that I’ve learned – on the court, off the court – the culture of the city I think it was something that was very attractive to me and my wife. […] I think it was very intriguing to me and interesting.”
But the Nets could already be considered winners in this offseason just for retaining the best player on the planet. Last month, the team reported to have reached a deal with Kevin Durant to re-sign him on a four-year, $198 million maximum extension.
But more importantly, the team didn’t screw things up by overthinking the offseason and making unreasonable deals. They signed Durant to a huge extension, and are expected to do the same for James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
It’s safe to say that the scariest version of this team has yet to be seen.
The new (old) Los Angeles Lakers
After winning the 2019-20 NBA Championship, the Los Angeles Lakers significantly improved their roster by adding important players like Dennis Schroder, Marc Gasol, and Montrezl Harrell, and were expected to be on their way to back-to-back titles. Several injuries, however, made the team struggle in key moments of the season, which eventually culminated in the elimination to the Phoenix Suns.
Therefore, in this year’s offseason, general manager Rob Pelinka had a difficult task ahead of him. He traded Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell to the Washington Wizards, for All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. He also signed free agent Carmelo Anthony, and promoted the return of Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, and Rajon Rondo, apart from a few rotation players.
“My first time being in the building, at the facility, on the court, still trying to get my bearings wrapped around my head the fact that I’m wearing this purple and gold,” said Melo after putting in his first workout in Lakers gear. “But my first workout went great today. Again, it’s just like any other court, but that purple and gold is different.”
The Lakers, however, got old, and that will be a major concern throughout the season. All those stars are aged 30+, and the team might struggle to remain healthy in this arduous NBA season. But the Lakers’ roster currently features seven players with at least one All-NBA selection, and this is by far LeBron’s best shooting Lakers team – historically, his most successful teams were those that had enough three-point efficiency to stretch the floor and create multiple threats – so if they remain healthy, these Lakers’ offense can also cause a lot of damage in a potential title run.