The NBA season is barely a week old, yet a few dramatic storylines involving some of its biggest stars and marquee franchises are already emerging.
The Los Angeles Lakers (0-4), Brooklyn Nets (1-3), and Philadelphia 76ers (1-4) have stumbled out of the gates after entering the year with in-house aspirations of a deep postseason run.
Los Angeles’ winless start was somewhat expected given the difficulty of their schedule and the poor construction of their roster. Russell Westbrook’s rapidly declining play has not helped the team and makes it even more difficult to find a new home for the 2017 NBA Most Valuable Player via a trade.
The presence of LeBron James and Anthony Davis left some hope that they could cobble together a win or two to kick off the year, but the individual talent of this duo has not been enough to overcome their team’s shortcomings.
It is clear that Los Angeles needs fresh blood on its roster, though their reluctance to part with their future first round draft picks in a deal has made it difficult for them to gain any meaningful momentum on this front.
Meanwhile, the slow start of the Nets and 76ers is a little more unexpected.
Brooklyn’s revamped roster has not been able to find a rhythm and Ben Simmons’ struggles have unsurprisingly been an easy scapegoat for this. The three-time NBA All-Star has not looked like himself and is averaging 5.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 3.3 turnovers over the first four games of the season.
It is true that Simmons has been underwhelming, but he is not to blame for their record. Like the Lakers, their supporting cast is an ill-fit with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The delayed season debuts of Seth Curry and TJ Warren have exacerbated this problem, yet even their return will not be able to correct the Nets’ inability to play defense.
The most shocking team in this bunch is Philadelphia. Some pundits had them as their favorite to win the Eastern Conference this year and while they could still end up doing so, their first few games have revealed some striking flaws on their team.
Although Joel Embiid and James Harden remain arguably the most potent offensive one-two punch in the NBA and Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris have provided them with solid contributions, the rest of their team, like Los Angeles and Brooklyn, is rather bland.
Their key offseason acquisition PJ Tucker is starting to show his age and their second unit is filled with players who profile as eighth men at best. The Sixers’ lack of playmakers beyond Harden (Maxey is still more of a scorer at this point of his career) is glaring and their bland offensive sets have bogged down what could have been one of the most potent scoring teams in the league.
These three teams have swung big with their acquisitions of big names and now have to live with the consequences of gutting their rosters for them. The importance of role players and their fit alongside a team’s stars should not be overlooked. For example, the Lakers won the NBA title in 2020 by surrounding James and Davis with three-point shooters–the opposite of what they have done with this current team.
The NBA may be a star-driven league, but the players surrounding them matter just as much when it comes down to winning time.