The NBA just had its shortest offseason in history, but most NBA fans are completely fine with that. Instead of waiting the usual 127+ days, we only had to wait 72 days since the Lakers and Heat last tipped off in October.
On Tuesday night, the first game outside of The Bubble will tip off in Brooklyn, between Kevin Durant's Brooklyn Nets and Steph Curry's Golden State Warriors. It will be the first game in almost 300 days for a tattered Warriors team that hadn't missed the playoffs since the 2011-2012 season- when Steph was just 24-years-old, Klay Thompson was a rookie and Draymond Green was still at Michigan State.
NBA Season Opener: Warriors @ Nets at 7 PM ET
Former-Warrior Kevin Durant and Steph Curry dominated the NBA as teammates in Oakland for three straight seasons. During KD's complicated tenure in the Bay Area, he and the shorter of the Splash Brothers went to three straight NBA Finals - winning 2 of them without much opposition.
Then, in a turbulent season for both organizations, the two All-Stars went down with horrific injuries. Both are expected to make their long-awaited returns to an echoing Barclays Arena in Brooklyn, where fan-attendance is very limited.
Here are the three things I'll be watching out for in the NBA's season-opener:
Superstars Return From Injuries
Kevin Durant is coming off of one of the worst injuries that any basketball player can go through - a torn achilles tendon. It caused Pistons Legend, Isiah Thomas, to go into early retirement. And another legend, Kobe Bryant, noticeably lost a bit of his athleticism after his achilles tear in 2013 - which eventually led to his retirement.
Trying to come back from this injury makes this a huge moment for Durant, perhaps something that marks a shift in his Hall-of-Fame career. Has he lost his athleticism? Will he be timid in his step-back or his attack to the rim? Will he be the same Slim Reaper that takes over late in a game?
From what we've seen in the preseason, it seems like nothing has changed, but we will have to wait until 7 PM ET on Tuesday to get a real answer. The same goes for Steph and Kyrie. Although their injuries are not as major, tonight against the Nets could show a hint of whether they can be the MVP-level players they have been throughout their careers.
Can Kyrie Be Kevin's Russell? Can Kevin Be Kyrie's Lebron?
Everyone knows that the Nets have had one of the best supporting casts in the NBA. In the last two years, they have been one of the most entertaining teams to watch. Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris Levert, D'Angelo Russell before his trade to the Timberwolves, and Joe Harris could all take control of a game any given night.
But, without a superstar, nobody was taking the Nets seriously as Eastern Conference. This year is different though. They have two superstars that are known to come through when the lights burn the brightest - Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Both are great individual players, but each has never been able to get it done without a facilitator alongside them. Kyrie had Lebron when he was at his best during his time in Cleveland - and Kevin Durant relied on Russell Westbrook to open up the floor in Oklahoma City and was grilled when he joined four other All-Stars at Golden State.
This year, both players will have to adjust to make a championship run together. They will have to get all of their teammates involved throughout the game and take over when they need to. If they do this they could end up representing the east this year in the NBA finals.
A Single Bench Player Can't Replace Klay - But Two Could
Last year, the Warriors looked out of their league. They were getting blown out almost every single night, and it was an overall mess. Even when Curry played, there was no difference because the supporting cast was sub-par.
This year, after the longest offseason in Franchise history and a lot of moves across the league, the aging Warriors will be built to support their superstars. With Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green returning this year, a classic Golden State lineup with a few fresh faces looked like a contender to take down the Lakers in the Western Conference in 2021.
They started their offseason by drafting James Wiseman, which filled their need at center - an exciting young rookie to watch against the Nets. Then, just a day after the draft, Klay Thompson went down with an Achilles injury that quickly ended his offseason and chances of returning to the floor in December.
Just like that, they went from championship contention to a fringe playoff team this season. They went into panic mode and traded for Kelly Oubre for a protected first-round pick. Alongside Oubre, they brought in Brad Wanamaker to back up Steph and Kent Bazemore for some wing dept.
From the outside, this team looks like they could make a playoff push, but the West is really good - and getting better. The Suns got Chris Paul. Rookie sensations Zion Williamson and Ja Morant are only going to get better with time. The Kings are healthy. And the Timberwolves have a completely different team.
The Warriors cannot afford to get off to a slow start in an abbreviated 2021 season. Or by the end of the holiday season, this team could already be making plans to watch another NBA playoffs from the couch. They need players like Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre to take turns filling Klay Thompson's shoes to have any real chance at a playoff run.