The wait is over. LeBron James will play his first regular season game with the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, which will begin the next phase of his legendary career.
A three-time champion, LeBron will aim to restore one of the most prominent franchises in team sports back to glory and continue to add to his legacy as one of the greatest players of all-time.
Check out how James’ next chapter affects those around him in the video below.
After months of anticipation, the Boston Celtics finally showed the advantage they’ll have thanks to their incredibly deep roster.
Their 105-87 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in the season opener on Tuesday didn’t reveal Boston’s ceiling – the full potential of their powers will have to be realised on another night.
But in a game they won comfortably despite playing nowhere near their best basketball, what was evident was the Celtics’ floor.
The two biggest additions to last season’s surprise playoff team that got within a game of the Finals, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, played ancillary roles instead of being the 1A and 1B on Tuesday.
Irving missed all eight of his first-half attempts and finished with just seven points on 2-of-14 shooting, while Hayward – playing his first regular-season game in a year since his gruesome ankle injury – had 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
Both contributed in other ways as Irving had seven assists and Hayward had four steals, but it was Boston’s depth that was the real star of the show.
The Celtics had five players in double figures – Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier – while none of their nine rotation players logged more than 30 minutes.
On the flip side, Philadelphia were top-heavy with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons leading the way in both points (23 and 19) and minutes (37 and 43).
Whereas the Sixers need their two horses to carry the load night in and night out, Boston have the luxury of spreading the burden around thanks to their mix of veteran All-Stars, young emerging talent and deep bench.
Off-games for Irving no longer spell doom, but instead cede the floor for Tatum or Brown or Rozier to be the main scoring threat that night.
Jayson Tatum was the best player on the floor last night and he did it on just 59 touches.— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) October 17, 2018
Simmons had 111, Kyrie 82 and Embiid 75.
Impactful almost every time he touched it.
For reference, Harrison Barnes averaged 59.2 touches last season which ranked outside the top 60.
It may take some time for Brad Stevens’ squad to perfectly fit all the pieces together, but the Celtics can still keep winning in the interim off the richness of their talent alone.
That quality puts the Celtics on a level above Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference, with the Sixers now 2-8 against Boston since the beginning of last season. Both of those wins also came in games Irving missed.
There’s plenty of bad blood and history between the two franchises, but the only ‘rivalry’ right now is a theoretical one.
“This is not a rivalry,” Embiid said. “I don’t know our record against them, but it’s pretty bad. They always kick our a**.”
Until the Sixers improve their roster by adding more top-end talent, the gulf between them and the Celtics isn’t shrinking anytime soon.
FRONT AND CENTRE
If the Golden State Warriors had one weakness coming into the season, it was at centre, the only position where they don’t feature an All-Star – at least until DeMarcus Cousins returns.
But Golden State’s biggest flaw didn’t look like much of an issue on opening night, when the Warriors beat the Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder 108-100.
Damian Jones and Kevon Looney didn’t just hold their own, they actually turned heads with how well the centre combo played.
Jones started and logged 27 minutes, while Looney came off the bench for 18 minutes. They combined for 22 points on 11-of-18 shooting, to go with 13 rebounds, four assists and five blocks.
Whether it was functioning as the roll man after setting a screen, or hitting the offensive glass, Jones and Looney were critical on a night the Warriors weren’t at their best.
Steve Kerr used 23 different lineups last night, including 11 playing under two minutes. Here are the lineups that played at least two minutes.— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) October 17, 2018
Kevon Looney was a net rating hero with a +55.9 in 18 minutes (2nd was Curry at +18.3). pic.twitter.com/J3UgN5wJZQ
Looney in particular was ferocious defensively and on the boards, finishing with a team-best plus-23 plus-minus.
He and Jones helped Golden State out-rebound the Thunder by a 57-46 margin, which included 16 on the offensive end. The Warriors ranked 19th in the league in rebounding rate last season (49.7 per cent) and finishing possessions by securing the board has been a weak point for them over the years.
With David West, JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia no longer around, Jones and Looney will be counted on to provide quality minutes, especially if Cousins doesn’t look like himself returning from an Achilles tear.
So far, the young big men look up to the task.
The king is dead, long live the king!
Okay, no one has actually died, but as far as the Eastern Conference is concerned, LeBron James‘ migration to the West has left the throne vacated.
After eight consecutive years of stopping teams dead in their tracks in the playoffs, James’ reign has come to an end. But as one monarchy crumbles, another is ascending to take its place.
Even before LeBron made his decision to leave Cleveland, it was clear the Boston Celtics‘ time had come – pushing the Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward made that more than evident.
Now fully healthy, the Celtics’ collection of talent and depth is second only to the defending champions residing in the Bay. Between Irving, Hayward and Al Horford, Boston have three legitimate veteran All-Stars, while Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are rapidly rising through the stratosphere as budding stars in their own right.
The bench has starter-calibre players in Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes, and with wunderkind Brad Stevens at the helm, the questions over fit and chemistry aren’t expected to linger as the season goes on.
Boston are in the catbird seat to supersede LeBron in both the present and future, but they’re not the only show in the East.
The best player in the conference still resides elsewhere, with that honour now belonging to Kawhi Leonard.
Disgruntled in San Antonio last season, Leonard has a fresh beginning with a contender – albeit one he didn’t chose – to prove he’s still a top-five player in the league when healthy.
The upgrade from DeMar DeRozan to Leonard makes the Raptors a contender for this season, but beyond that is anyone’s guess as his stay north of the border may be nothing more than temporary if he still has wandering eyes in free agency next summer.
The other team that completes the top tier of the East is the Philadelphia 76ers, who are hoping the continued development of phenoms Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can make up for the ground they lost in the offseason as their two main competitors got better.
Philadelphia had oodles of cap space to work with, yet couldn’t land a star as James picked the glitz and glam of Hollywood, while Paul George didn’t budge from his spot in Oklahoma City.
The 76ers are banking on last year’s number one overall pick, Markelle Fultz, to join the party after he sat out nearly his entire rookie season with a mysterious injury and what appeared to be a confidence issue. If he looks like the prospect he was coming out of college, Philadelphia could have a ‘big three’ of their own brewing, but that’s a big ‘if’ considering Fultz’s slow start to his career.
Behind Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia are a host of teams that are playoff-worthy, yet uninspiring in the context of contending for a title.
The Washington Wizards improved on paper with the signing of Dwight Howard, but adding his personality to that contentious locker room may be the equivalent of throwing a stick of dynamite into a group of powder kegs.
In Indiana, the Pacers may have the best squad outside the top three, with role-player-turned-star Victor Oladipo leading a cast that has the potential to play spoilers and surprise once again.
Leonard may be the best player in the conference at the moment, but his hold on the title is tenuous with Giannis Antetokounmpo breathing down his neck. The Milwaukee Bucks star is garnering MVP hype for a reason as he heads into his sixth season after improving his numbers year after year. And with Mike Budenholzer now guiding the young Bucks, better coaching may finally unlock Milwaukee’s potential.
The Miami Heat, meanwhile, remain nothing more than plucky challengers, barring a trade for Jimmy Butler which may or may not happen.
After that, the conference drops off to the .500 level teams and the franchises who are still in tank mode.
The East can’t hold a candle to its counterpart in terms of competitiveness and drama, but what it does have it going for it is the sense of a new beginning at the top.