There’s a reason the NBA is as popular as it is. As great as the action is on the court, everything that happens off it is what makes the league a complete entertainment package.
From locker room feuds to social media beefs and everything in-between, the NBA is so much more than just which team is winning and who’s scoring how many points.
With that said, here are the biggest personalities to follow as the new season gets under way – players who will be interesting for what they say and do, just as much for their play.
It seems obvious starting with the best player in the league, but highlights aren’t the only thing LeBron provides season after season.
Ever since he joined the Miami Heat in 2010, James’ teams have had no shortage of drama every year. That’s because even though they inevitably reach the Finals, it’s seemingly always a roller-coaster ride getting there.
Plus, he’s LeBron, so of course every move of his is going to be under the microscope. Still, he doesn’t do himself any favours when he subtweets teammates or throws shade in interviews. And now that he’s in Los Angeles with a group of divisive personalities, things could go to another level this season.
James is also one of the most outspoken people in the league when it comes to social issues, so when it comes to being more than just a basketball player, there’s no one better.
As far as personalities who are simply fun, there’s no one that comes close to matching the Philadelphia 76ers centre.
Embiid isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers with his non-stop trash talk on and off the court, or ask out A-list celebrities like Rihanna (can you blame him?) on social media.
While most athletes present a guarded, refined version of themselves on social media, Embiid has no issue being completely himself and saying what’s on his mind.
Follow him on Twitter if you haven’t already. You won’t be disappointed.
Russ makes this list on his wardrobe choices alone, which are must-see on social media before every Oklahoma City Thunder game.
in honor of russ' big night, my favorite russell westbrook outfits: pic.twitter.com/VuobSKaLxy— Becca Laurie (@imbeccable) April 8, 2017
If his rim-rocking dunks and triple-doubles weren’t enough to draw your eyeballs, then his carefree pregame dances, prickly interviews and general unintentional hilarity should do the trick.
NICK YOUNG, J.R. SMITH, JAVALE MCGEE
These three misfits deserve a category of their own because they almost solely exist in the NBA zeitgeist due to their antics.
Unfortunately for Young, Smith and McGee, we’re often laughing at them and not with them. But they bring a lot of it upon themselves, whether they’re having in-game gaffes, getting into a war of words with their peers, or just leaning into their goofiness.
Find a more meme-able trio, I’ll wait.
The star guard was expected to be one of the most sought-after players in free agency next summer when his five-year, $94 million contract comes off the books, but Irving isn’t planning on going anywhere.
At an event for Celtics season-ticket holders at TD Garden on Thursday, the 26-year-old verbally committed to re-signing with the franchise as he told the fans in attendance: “I’ve shared it with some of my teammates as well as the organisation as well as everyone else in Boston. If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here next year.”
What Irving shared with the crowd is the same message he’s given the Celtics’ front office over the past few months, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
The public declaration on Thursday was the most definitive Irving has been about his future, but he’s implied his intentions in interviews over the past month leading into the season.
“Who wouldn’t be a part of this?” Irving said told ESPN in a story published two weeks ago. “Who wouldn’t want to be a part of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and Al Horford and Gordon Hayward?
“People keep saying, ‘Why won’t he commit to Boston?’ Well, there are financial implications involved.”
Those financial implications refer to the discrepancy in money Irving can earn if he waits until free agency to re-sign, rather than inking an extension now. The difference could be nearly $80 million in Irving’s favour if ends up signing a max contract next summer.
Still, it’s somewhat surprising to hear Irving so forthcoming because nothing is set in stone until he officially re-signs. In terms of leverage, Irving gains nothing by making his intentions so clear this early.
However, by getting out ahead of all the rumours of where he could end up, the move may strengthen the Celtics’ chemistry even more heading into the season. With the questions over Irving’s future likely to die down, Boston will have one less distraction to deal with as they vie for a championship.
Irving’s proclamation may also allow the rest of the Celtics players to feel comfortable as they find their roles in a stacked roster. Young guys like Tatum, Brown and Terry Rozier should no longer feel as if they’re stepping on Irving’s toes by having an aggressive mindset, for fear of chasing him away.
With one of their primary concerns for the future already solved, Boston couldn’t be in a better position going forward.
When James joined the Lakers this summer, many assumed another star would be on the way. Instead, Los Angeles signed a bunch of veteran role players, seemingly putting all the pressure on LeBron’s broad shoulders.
However, the second star the Lakers are searching for could come from within if Ingram makes a jump in his third season.
The former second overall pick looked like a potential franchise cornerstone last season, when he averaged 16.1 points on 47.0 per cent shooting from the field and 39.0 per cent from deep, along with 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists.
At just 21, Ingram’s ceiling is sky high, and if the limited sample size playing next to LeBron in the preseason is any indication, the two could have a symbiotic relationship on the court.
After James and Ingram showed a nice rapport in the first preseason game, the Lakers’ young gun really impressed with his showing in Thursday’s 128-123 win over the Sacramento Kings.
Ingram filled in as the starting point guard and put his ability to score and be a playmaker on display, finishing with 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go with nine rebounds, three assists and three steals.
James, who has spoke highly of Ingram ever since arriving to Los Angeles, continued his praise after the Lakers’ first preseason victory.
“I thought he was great,” LeBron said. “His pace, his ability to play the point and play the wing, he’s a very special talent, and we’re definitely happy to have him on our side.
“I know what I see in him, and he’s looking for his opportunity to make the next jump in his third year. There’s a lot of upside in that kid. I’m happy to try and give him as much as I can.”
Ingram may never be Dwyane Wade or Kyrie Irving for LeBron, but the potential to get there is undeniable.