From the Atlantic to the Pacific: Two NBA Divisions May Hold the Keys to the NBA’s present and future
With everything that has happened in the last month, the events of last year almost feel like they happened a decade ago. The Atlantic and Pacific Divisions were in the center of the spotlight all of 2019. From the Raptors and Warriors battling it out in the Finals, to Kawhi Leonard going from the Atlantic to the Pacific Division and teaming up with Paul George in LA for the Clippers, along with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving teamed up in Brooklyn. And near the end of the offseason, after months of rumors, the Los Angeles Lakers made a blockbuster move for Anthony Davis. The major, league changing transactions that transpired that summer were supposed to move the league on from the era of Warriors dominance.
And the season we got up until this point was shaping up to be an exciting one, in both divisions. In the Atlantic, the Raptors (46-18) were 2nd in the East after losing Kawhi Leonard, thanks to Pascal Siakam and the great coaching of Nick Nurse. The Celtics (43-21) were not far behind, with their new all-star point guard Kemba Walker and rise of Jayson Tatum. The 76ers (39-26) were victims of free agency this past summer, losing JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler, two key pieces. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons having injury issues throughout the season, there were many question marks around a team that was still considered to be one of the most talented teams in the East, despite being a 6th seed at the time play stopped.
The Pacific Division was just as captivating, even with the fall of the Warriors (15-50) due to Klay Thompson’s Torn ACL in the Finals AND Steph Curry’s hand injury at the start of the season. The Los Angeles Lakers (49-14), led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, were a treat to watch every game, leading the West while fighting off the Los Angeles Clippers (44-20). Even while being out of the playoff hunt, the Kings (28-36) and Suns (26-39) were a fun watch, with rising stars De’Aaron Fox and Devin Booker putting on a show every night.
Both of these divisions are possibly going to have representation in this year’s NBA finals if the season resumes. The West was largely seen by fans and the media as a battle between the teams of LA, and the standings and games they fought against each other reflect this. The East has been dominated by the Bucks all year, but the Raptors are the reigning and defending champs, and are great even without Kawhi. And if the season resumes after this extended layoff, the injury issues that plagued the Sixers may be healed, and if they can get it together, they have a chance of giving the Bucks a run for their money.
If this season does not resume, there are so many captivating storylines for next season. KD and Kyrie have still not played a game together, and if they click they could be the team to beat in the East. The Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid relationship is one to watch, as if it does not work out this year or next year, there is no telling who could be moving out of Philadelphia. The Raptors have been a great story this year, and the further development of Pascal Siakam will be a joy to watch. Even though the Celtics do not have the most talented team on paper, with Tatum, Kemba, and Jaylen Brown, Brad Stevens can make the rest work and has always put out a well run team. Even the Knicks have some hope with new GM Leon Rose and plenty of flexibility in the coming years.
Out in the West, the power struggle between LeBron and AD’s Lakers and Kawhi and PG’s Clippers will (hopefully) be something we get to watch for years. The Kings were a sleeper team the season before this one and they have a chance of becoming one once again with some offseason moves. The Kings and Suns are both likely to pick somewhere in the late lottery (10-14). Obi Toppin is a guy out of Dayton who can really score, and with a lack of depth of forwards on the team, the Suns may look to get him. An option for Sacramento might be Saddiq Bey. Harrison Barnes is a fine player, but Bey is a really resourceful and crafty scoring forward, which the team may need if Buddy Hield decides he wants to be traded. If he falls to their pick, Saddiq could be a great piece next to Fox and Marvin Bagley III.
Overall, these two divisions might be the two most exciting divisions in the league. Both have the star power, the history, the storylines, and guys for the future. The teams and players on these teams could help shape the league for years to come. Hopefully, we will get to see them continue doing so soon.
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