If it feels like the most-recent NBA season just ended, well, it did. The strangeness of 2020 engulfed the association, but it led to one of the more innovative ideas of the COVID-era: the bubble. (Mostly) quarantined, teams competed with nary a hitch at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando. The season ended in the fall instead of its customary June, but nevertheless, the NBA is back on Dec. 22. As usual, we enlisted our expert musician panel to preview what's shaping up to be yet another unpredictable NBA season. Mark Lanegan Los Angeles Clippers Travis Keller What’s your prognosis for the season? Will they ever get over the hump? At this point, I’m slightly jaded as far as the Clips are concerned. I always go into the season optimistic and the same when they hit the playoffs but the relentless beat down of their inability to get out of the second round has me saying whatever. Do you have confidence in the new coach? With Kawhi and Paul George, this has to be the year, right? Every year I think it’s their year. Who’s your player to watch this year? Lou Williams is my guy. Playoffs? No idea. NBA Finals prediction and why? Anyone but the Lakers because they are so heavy with success. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? We’ll see. There is the vaccine coming. Mandatory vaccine complete with non-optional tracking. Steve Sladkowski, PUP Toronto Raptors Amanda Fotes What’s your prognosis for the season? After a whirlwind year, the team's future seems to still be pretty damn bright, right? I have absolutely no idea. It feels like the Lakers just won the championship and now all of a sudden there are preseason games happening -- Giannis isn’t going to be a Raptor -- so my whole understanding of the basketball world is a little disjointed, to say the least. I think the Raptors have absolutely set themselves up as the type of San Antonio Spurs-type organization that will be a model organization. It’s no longer an afterthought in free agency even if they didn’t get Giannis. Plus, Kawhi’s a free agent next year! The Raptors probably put a lot of the doubters to shame last year. Do they have enough to make another deep run in the playoffs? I think it hinges on a breakout performance from OG Anunoby. I think he’s still going to catch a lot of people by surprise, even after that Bubble 3 against the Celtics, as he is an insanely great two-way player who only gets better in every game. If he becomes another legitimate frontcourt threat beside Siakam they could shock a lot of people. Who is your player to watch this year? I’m very excited by the early play of Malachi Flynn (obviously). But I’m equally stoked for the unhinged Twitter account associated with Aron Baynes, so I’m hoping he has the kinda season he was showing flashes of last year in Phoenix. Playoffs? Feels far away given the state of the pandemic still raging out of control but… they will probably play anyway and I think the Raptors will be there! What's your NBA Finals prediction? Lakers-Bucks, Lakers in 6. Marc Gasol giving Giannis nightmares again? Can’t wait to see it! Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? They… probably never should have done anything other than the bubble but that’s capitalism, baby! Tori Kelly Los Angeles Lakers Kevork S. Djansezian/GC Images What’s your prognosis for the season? Can't top last season, can they? RUN IT BACK! Thoughts on LeBron? Finally a 'real' Laker? What about AD? Is the future bright after this run? LeBron and AD will go down in history as one of the greatest duos we’ve ever seen! Who’s your player to watch this year? THT! Talen Horton-Tucker. We might have a hidden gem there. What's your NBA Finals prediction? Lakers in 4. Duh. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? My guess is the players wouldn’t want to be apart from their families again for that long. Dave Hartley, The War on Drugs Philadelphia 76ers Daniel Fox What’s your prognosis for the season? Do you trust Morey's process? Prognosis: optimistic. While it's true that Simmons and Embiid don't fit together very naturally, forcing them to share the court with Al Horford was... sub-optimal. The Tobias Harris contract is an albatross but he's a fine player, and with other shooting and playmaking on the court (hello, Danny Green and Seth Curry), there should be enough room for Embiid to operate and for Simmons to get to the hoop in transition. Morey is one of the most influential GMs of all time -- having him in charge of our personnel gives me a sense of ease. He will find quality players in the cracks and make sure we always have tons of shooting... just please please please don't trade for James Harden. Is their window still open to keep contending? Will Simmons and Embiid ever take control of this thing and take the next step? To be determined. I'm honestly not incredibly optimistic about Embiid's career path, both from the standpoint of his conditioning and injury potential. He has never been sufficiently in shape.. and perhaps that's due to his size and all the injuries he's dealt with, but it also doesn't seem to be a priority for him and the rumors of his diet/etc aren't helping my anxiety. I think the obsession with Simmons shooting is a little overblown--it would be nice if he took a few 3s every game, but it's been such a necessity because our roster was so ill-formed. If we have the right players around him he should be able to get his buckets in transition and create for others, including Embiid. Also, this team is about defense! Embiid and Simmons, when healthy, are both top 10 defenders in the league. Who’s your player to watch this year? LeBron James. Have you heard of him? The first time I ever heard of Lebron James, I was on a treadmill at the gym at my university... he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated ("the Chosen One"). He's been the presumptive best player in the world pretty much uninterrupted since then. I'm now 40 years old.. and he's still the best player in the world. It's just wild how long he's been great, and how consistently he's done it. Playoffs? Lakers are the team to beat. They leveled up. The only thing holding them back are potential injuries and Lebron's age (at some point he has to slow down.. though I think he will be elite for another two or three years). I also like the Nuggets and the Celtics to take steps forward--continuity is so important in this league, and they have it, as well as young players who are improving. There is so much focus in the media on acquisitions and trades, but the best way for a team to get better is from within--young players who enter their primes. Guys like Tatum, Murray, Jokic... etc. I'm also curious to see what Doncic does this year, after showing out so beautifully in the bubble. What's your Finals prediction? Lakers/Celtics. Lakers in 6. The Lakers had five clowns on their roster last year: JR Smith, Dwight Howard, Dion Waiters, Javale McGee and Rondo (no disrespect to these guys who are all varying degrees of solid -- but they've been involved in clown-ish activities during their careers, as well as fiascos/etc.) and the Lakers STILL won. None of those guys are coming back and they shored up their roster nicely with Gasol/Harrell/Schroder. I like the Celtics because Tatum and Brown have gotten better every year and will continue to do so. Fingers crossed that Kemba's knees can hold up. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? Nah, no chance. I think they really tested the goodwill of the players with the bubble -- by all accounts, it was not the most fun post-season for those involved. I am glad they did it--the level of play was high and personally I needed the distraction! It was also a divine social experiment and proved how effective and valuable things like testing and masks can be in controlling a pandemic. Pretty sad how much more leadership the NBA had than our entire country. Alison Wonderland Los Angeles Lakers Gilbert Sanchez What’s your prognosis for the season? Can't top last season, can they? Well, it’s hard to top last season. But I’m excited that the roster is even better than last season. They added Schroder, Harrell and Gasol. Schroder is an extra scorer and Gasol is just a good basketball player and would fit in any team and Harrell has a huge motor. If they mesh they should be even better… but who knows! Thoughts on LeBron? Finally a 'real' Laker? What about AD? Is the future bright after this run? LeBron will be LeBron, we know that, but surely he slows down at some point. He’s a true Laker for sure. With AD signing for five years in his prime, there is going to be a cornerstone to build on for a long time. Lakers can always get people in free agency when they have a cornerstone, even after LeBron’s peak. Playoffs? Surprise teams for the playoffs I’m thinking Phoenix and Washington. What's your Finals prediction? I wanna say Lakers again vs Milwaukee. And for a left-field finals Portland v Boston. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? Hmmm my money is on regional bubbles for some of the season. Breland Philadelphia 76ers Courtesy of Breland What’s your prognosis for the season? Do you trust Morey's process? I think this season has the potential to be really solid. The new additions to the team from a front office and coaching perspective seem to compliment the new talent on the court. I expect Dwight Howard to bring immediate impact spelling Embiid who has always struggled with minutes. If Simmons stays healthy, the Sixers arguably have the strongest starting five in the eastern conference this season. When you look at what Morey was been able to do in Houston, I have no doubt the team will perform well over the next several years. I believe there is a very good chance that the Sixers can finish as a top 3 team in the East. Is their window still open to keep contending? Will Simmons and Embiid ever take control of this thing and take the next step? The Sixers’ championship window is actually as wide open now as it ever has been. The East was wide open this past season, and no teams other than the Nets have made as many improvements to their roster and coaching as the Sixers. If Simmons and Embiid can both stay healthy this season, I believe the Sixers can compete with anyone in the conference and a lot of the powerhouses in the West. Simmons and Embiid may be the only combo in the East that have a real shot at guarding Lebron and AD, who I imagine will reappear in the Finals at the end of this season. If the Sixers make it that far, it will make for a very competitive series. Who’s your player to watch this year? My player to watch this year is Matisse Thybulle. I’ve been watching him since his college days and feel like he shows a lot of potential defensively and provides a real spark with his energy and level of play. Playoffs? I definitely believe the Sixers will make it to the playoffs, probably as a 3 seed behind Brooklyn and Milwaukee. I believe Miami also has a great squad and could possibly take that 3 seed, but the Sixers have as much talent as any of those teams and finally a great coaching staff to match. What's your Finals prediction? All of that said, I see a KD-and-Kyrie-led Brooklyn team being the biggest current threat in the East, and predict the Nets vs Lakers going in favor of the Lakers in 6 games. I’ve got the Sixers making it to the conference finals with a fighter’s chance to upset Brooklyn if everyone stays healthy. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? With the introduction of the vaccine, I don’t imagine the NBA will need to do another bubble, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they faced NFL-type rescheduling or college basketball cancellations. Assuming the virus is significantly better contained by April, I think the playoffs will be relatively unaffected. Eric Howk, Portugal. The Man Portland Trail Blazers Courtesy of Portugal. The Man What’s your prognosis for the season? Depth on the roster means depth in the playoffs! We’re healthy, we’re reinforced, we’re hungry, and we’re ready. Can they keep relying on Lillard as they have? Will they be able to get some help and get over the hump? Lillard was sensational down the stretch, and that was absolutely incredible to watch. We’ll be talking about those three 60 point games for the rest of our lives. Look, the help was there - the bench was eager and VERY capable, but injuries and bad luck kept us from coalescing when it counted the most. It was great to watch guys like Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. come alive on the big stage when it mattered and get mega minutes. Nurk and CJ are stars, Melo is a future Hall of Famer, and now we have those pieces reinforced and clicked in. It’s gonna be a hell of a season. Who’s your player to watch this year? Jusuf Nurkic. A whole season of Jusuf Nurkic, where he gets to operate with a team and fan base that absolutely adores him, with incredible help off the bench. Kanter is offensively brilliant, Moses Brown is a young, hungry giant, we can’t wait man. Playoffs? We’re coming in hot. The whole league is on notice. In a year full of teams making sweeping off-season roster changes and struggling for identity, we know exactly who we are. I think we’re as deadly as anyone in the West. NBA Finals prediction and why? Rip City is bringing the Larry O’Brien home this year. Change my mind. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? Not sure. I think that, at the end of the day, the bubble was a huge success, and honestly, it turned out to be the best-case scenario in a worst-case reality. If we have to go back to something like that, it’s good to know that the league has a little experience now on what to do, what not to do, and how to not fuck it up. However it ends up looking this season in reality, we’re here for it. J.I. Brooklyn Nets G*STARR ENT What’s your prognosis for the season? I feel like this of going to be one of the best seasons the Nets ever had. Will the Nets get a third superstar and will that finally get them out of the Knicks' shadow? To be honest what matters is if they make it to the playoffs and if they do make it, how good they play. A third superstar world be marvelous but I feel like KD and Kyrie got enough skill to carry a team. Now that Durant is back, what happens? Does Kyrie torpedo the team? They have to find a way to use each other's skills efficiently on the court. It’s about how many ball games could be won, not how many points each play is walking away with at the end of the night. Who’s your player to watch this year? Do you think they'll make the playoffs? To be honest I don’t know. I want to see what the Golden State Warriors have to offer this time around. I’m still excited for the Nets, I feel like we’re going to be top competitors in the East. NBA Finals prediction and why? Nets vs. Lakers or Nets vs. Golden State. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? To be honest, I hope we don’t go back into the bubble again but that’s what it’s looking like. Just hope everyone stays safe! Bruce Hornsby Courtesy of Bruce Hornsby The Road To The Lottery Is Paved With Cinder I don’t have a “favorite team” in the NBA, and since I (1.) don’t follow it that closely and (2.) played for mostly mediocre-to-bad teams in my four-year stint as a high-school baller back in the Pleistocene Epoch, I’ll focus on some perennial doormats with whom I share a psychic and spiritual connection: 1. The Bulls- my man Billy D (Donovan) is now at the helm here, so any club showcasing a Deadhead as the head coach has the support of the beautiful unwashed (including myself). Also, Simi Shittu and Adam Mokoka are back, which bodes well for the Bovid Mammals. The string music will never stop! 2. The Cavs- “Cleveland, Cleveland, city of delight, we love Cleveland ‘cause it gets dark at night;” basketball has been fairly dark in the Great Lake city lately, but with Cedi Osman and Jacob Dylan Windler returning spirits are high, glass is flying and Robinzine’s crying! The spirit of Ted Stepien fills the air, and the champagne is on ice. 3. The Knicks- Brazdeikis is back, and the Garden faithful swoons in anticipation. Any club that features 7 (!) Calipari and Bill Monroe-bred Bluegrass Wildcats is filled with confidence and a swagger born of perennial 80-90% winning records for years and years. 4. There’s this kid I know pretty well who is killing it in the top league in Germany- averaging 16.2, shooting 59.3% (!) from 3 and 100% (!!) from the line. Some of these teams might want to have a look at this shooting freak. By the way, I’m picking the Bovids to go all the way. Joey Santiago, Pixies Los Angeles Lakers Courtesy of Joey Santiago What’s your prognosis for the season? Can't top last season, can they? Why not? A lot of players are staying. They will dominate this season. Thoughts on LeBron? Finally a 'real' Laker? LeBron is a real Laker but his heart is still in his hometown and donates his time and money into Akron. What about AD? Is the future bright after this run? Anthony Davis signed a five-year deal he’s only 27. We are good. Who’s your player to watch this year? Luka Doncic. Playoffs? Lakers vs Clippers. Celtics vs Bucks. What's your Finals prediction? Lakers vs Celtics. Lakers championship. Why? Because they’re better than any team out there. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? It doesn’t sound like it. They’re getting out of the bubble. Pete Yorn Brooklyn Nets James Devaney/WireImage What’s your prognosis for the season? Will the Nets get a third superstar and will that finally get them out of the Knicks' shadow? First of all. Congrats to King James and the Lakers. Incredible. LJ is a gift to us all. The G.O.A.T.!! It seems like it was last week that the Lakers persevered in the bubble.... here we go again. The West is full of contenders. Lakers are the favorites but it won’t be easy. You can’t count out the Clippers and if Portland stays healthy ... that backcourt is a problem. Also ..Denver is a dangerous team! Coach Malone is one of the best coaches in the league. They will go deep in the playoffs. Murray is ridiculous! The Brooklyn Nets will win the East. That’s right. I said it. Kevin and Kyrie are a mismatch against pretty much any other team. When healthy ...They are the best duo in the NBA. With DeAndre Jordan, Garrett Temple, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, Caris LeVert and a 2-time NBA MVP coaching these guys .. it will be an event when they lose a game... and just maybe they figure out how to land The Beard! The Knicks will be competitive in a few years and that is good for the league but for now, it’s all about the Nets in NY. Who's your player to watch this year? Has to be Luka Doncic! He is must-see TV and makes Dallas so much fun to watch. I have never seen anything quite like it. Special player. Playoffs? In a way, I could see many teams actually making it to the finals. Nets, Bucks, Celtics, Philly, Heat out of the east and the Lakers, Denver, Clippers and even Utah out of the West. With the vaccine coming - I feel pretty good for the playoffs to be outside of a bubble in 2021 but we might see some shutdowns during the season, as we see with the NFL and college football. What's your Finals prediction? I’m going to go with the Nets and Lakers in the Finals. The Nets were playing well last season without two of the best players on the planet so we shouldn’t be surprised if they grab the number 1 seed in the east with a healthy KD and Kyrie. The Lakers are just too hard to beat in a 7-game series. Teams in the West can steal a few and maybe even three but not four. They are too good and have the perfect coaching staff for how they play. As far as in the finals — KD, Kyrie and the rest of the Nets can steal four! Nets in 7. 😉 Can’t wait to watch!! Adrian Quesada, Black Pumas San Antonio Spurs Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Spotify What’s your prognosis for the season? Are the Pop years finally winding down? I see a Lakers repeat this year, barring an injury or something dramatic. I don't see how anyone can beat them in the finals. I do indeed think Coach Pop's years are finally winding down, as sad as that makes me feel. But I hope that it leads to Becky Hammon being the first female coach in the NBA. Is this it for the Spurs? Is the run finally done? It's never going to be "it" for the Spurs, they have a built-in culture of winning and teamwork, but I think their championship runs might be on pause for some time. Who’s your player to watch this year? The player to watch is Jamal Murray, I think we witnessed him becoming a star last season. What's your Finals prediction? Lakers repeat. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? I'd imagine so, but they did a great job making that somewhat fun to watch. Eduardo Arenas, Chicano Batman Los Angeles Lakers German Torres What’s your prognosis for the season? Can't top last season, can they? Prognosis for the year? Lakers World Champions 2021, repeat. No contest. There’s a lot of good teams out there, but the Lakers are unstoppable. Lebron is killing it in his 17th season and they're playing like a team again. AD is a monster. The chemistry was so dope even the humbled Dwight Howard wasn’t tripping riding the bench in the finals. It was a crazy unique team. This year we got nastier with the addition of two 6th man candidates Schroder and M. Harrell. Marc Gasol is just a bonus. Damn. Thoughts on LeBron? Finally a 'real' Laker? As long as the Lakers win, L.A. is happy. But on the real, I dig how LeBron was real vocal during the BLM protests. It showed real leadership because superstars like him have influence, especially on the youth. He also has tweet wars with Trump. That foo is down. He’s a “real” Laker now. What about AD? Is the future bright after this run? It's a true pleasure to watch ADs beautiful game. He just signed a five-year deal with the Lakers. It would never have happened if he was on the Clippers, believe that. Who’s your player to watch this year? Too many! All the young stars like Devin Booker, Ja Morant, and Luka are changing the style of the game. But if I had to say one player it would be John Wall. Coming back from a torn Achilles and a two-year absence, he’s looking amazing. He just got traded to the Rockets and reunited with his college teammate Cousins so that chemistry is there. Plus, if Harden wants out John Wall can perform under the spotlight. That's who I’m watching this year. Playoffs? Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID Bubble? Last year’s playoffs were weird because of the isolation in the bubble but the level of basketball was some of the best I had ever seen. It was like basketball camp, some teams staying up to three months in the bubble. Seeing the Denver Nuggets battle it out with the Jazz and the Clippers was a definite highlight. This year’s playoffs are gonna be just as crazy. Brooklyn Nets will make it since Durant and Kyrie are back and hooping at a high level, especially after injury rehab. Phoenix has a chance with the addition of CP3. Boston is returning with a vengeance. And Miami will probably creep up under the radar at the Eastern Conference Finals because Jimmy Butler found a team where he can breathe. I don’t think players will go back to the bubble this year. Even though Covid cases are through the roof, there is too much money involved in this business for that to happen again, despite the health risks. NBA Finals prediction and why? Lakers in 6, against anybody. Probably to Miami again as they grit their way to the finals. But the Lakers starting five is Lebron, AD, Schroder, KCP and Marc Gasol. Can you believe this shit? Lakers 2021. Robert Randolph New York Knicks Ira George, Movements Los Angeles Lakers Courtesy of Ira George What’s your prognosis for the season? Can't top last season, can they? Last season reignited my love for basketball. I don’t know if it was the bubble or the virtual fans, but I feel like the playoffs were more exciting than ever. I think this season will feel like an extension of that for a lot people, including me. It also helps that I have been a diehard Lakers fan all of my life. Thoughts on LeBron? Finally a 'real' Laker? What about AD? Is the future bright after this run? Coming from a Lakers' fan, the answer is a yes, for me. He led a team that won us a championship in one of the most unique and tough playoff atmospheres ever. No home court advantage, no fans, players playing at the top of their games with no distractions. I’ve never seen so much doubt from non-Lakers fans going into the bubble and even into the playoffs. They overcame it all. The same goes for AD as well. Both will cement themselves as Lakers legends before their careers are over. The future is very bright. I actually feel like the Lakers got even better this offseason. Who’s your player to watch this year? Michael Porter, Jr. Watching him absolutely tear up every team in the playoffs for the Nuggets this year, it’s hard to not be excited about seeing what next steps he will take. The dude is an absolute beast and I feel like he’s been in the league forever but it’s only been a few years. I think he will be the star of that young Denver team and push them deep into the playoffs. Until they run into the Lakers, haha. Playoffs? Should be insane. So many stars in the making and super teams that are about to light up the league. Harden and Durant with the Nets, Trae Young and the Hawks, Tatum who is a superstar for the Celtics. The West is even more stacked. Porzingis, Doncic and the Mavs scare me the most out of any team in the West right now. What's your Finals prediction? Going out on a limb here but I think it will be a classic Lakers/Celtics finals. As much as I want to think the Nets will be there, I don’t know if they have enough role players to get them past some deep teams in the East. The Celtics are so balanced and SO deep. Plus Tatum, Brown and Kemba are a true “Big 3.” I think they match up well with anyone in the East. But all in all, the Lakers will win back-to-back championships. The Lebron and AD combination is almost unstoppable and I don’t see anyone in the West that can remotely compete with those two. Plus, we’ve added some insane firepower this offseason in Schroeder and Harrell. It’s crazy to think that the Lakers are going to be even better than they were last year. Finals prediction. LAKERS over CELTICS in 5 games. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? I think it would be smart to do, but I doubt it will happen. I’m sure it was so tough on the players. Being away from family for that long would be detrimental to so many players' mental health. Adam Silver is one of the most innovative commissioners in all of sports so I believe they will find a way to play all 82 games this season with or without the bubble. Benny Horowitz (Mercy Union, The Gaslight Anthem) Brooklyn Nets Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns via Getty Images What’s your prognosis for the season? I don’t believe the Harden hype, Nets will start the season with LeVert as 3rd option. I could see an upgrade during the season using quality, young players on expiring contracts like Dinwiddie and Allen as trade-bait. Prognosis: if Nets have health on their side, the sky is the limit. Will the Nets get a third superstar and will that finally get them out of the Knicks' shadow? In reality, the Nets will never be NYC’s team, the same way the Clippers are on a fool's errand to take over L.A. Up until seven years ago, we had a fox named Sly as a mascot (whom I loved) and Danny Aiello was our most famous fan. We need to ignore what’s going on over the river and create our own culture and legacy. Now that Durant is back, what happens? Prior to the injury, KD was making a run as the best player in NBA, at least in the top 3 discussion. If he is 80% of what he was, that’s still an all-star 7 footer who hasn’t shot under 50% from the field since 2011 and a career 38% from 3. Don’t see him taking people off the dribble anymore, but, the numbers don’t lie, he’s still a beast. Does Kyrie torpedo the team? 50/50, we all know what Kyrie is capable of as far as shit-stirring, but the most successful he’s ever been was as a clear second option with Cleveland. This is KD’s team, and that pecking order might save the ship because he won’t be asked to be a leader, or more importantly, a spokesperson. Who’s your player to watch this year? Keep an eye on last year’s 1st rounder Nic Claxton. He showed promise of being a rotational big in moments last year. Kid has good feet, decent instincts and soft hands. Caris LeVert’s development from rotation to all-star level player could put the Nets over the top, especially with his team-friendly contract. Playoffs? In the East, Nets are a lock for a top-six bid. What's your Finals prediction? Lakers/Bucks - I don’t bet against LeBron, and his finals championship team improved while the rest of the conference didn’t make marked improvements, no-brainer. Giannis and the Bucks were the East’s best team last season and added Holiday without breaking up the core. Everything is on the line for that team and I think they play with a ferociousness this season. I predict another Lakeshow title, adding more logs to the all-time best player debate bonfire. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? Doesn’t seem the players and the players union would allow another bubble for the length of the regular season. If this shit hits the fan and plays out even worse than the NFL, we may see a bubble playoffs scenario again. Hide the lemon pepper wings. Ellis Ludwig-Leone, San Fermin Boston Celtics Courtesy of Ellis Ludwig-Leone What’s your prognosis for the season? People are saying we took a step back in free agency by losing Hayward for basically nothing, but I think it could be a less-is-more situation. It’s been clear for a while that the future is tied to Tatum and Brown, and I don’t mind clearing out space on the wing for the two of them to be the undisputed leaders. I also think Tristan Thompson was a good pick up; I always loved watching him with LeBron, and he could give them a big, mobile body to put against Bam or Giannis in the playoffs. Kemba is the one I worry about the most, it seems like his body is breaking down a bit, and he gets exploited defensively. I would have loved if Tyrese Haliburton had fallen just a few spots further to us in the draft. Who’s your player to watch this year? Robert Williams III. Honestly, I’m just invested in there being an NBA player with the nickname "The Time Lord" for as long as possible, so I hope he carves out a place in the rotation. Do they make the playoffs? Yes. I’m guessing they’ll probably end up in the 2-3 range in the East again? What's your Finals prediction? Lakers. It might be a rocky start with them resting LeBron and AD, and Harrell is a slightly overrated pickup. But they basically improved all the supporting cast positions from last season (though I love Playoff Rondo). I think LeBron gets one more with this group. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? I’m guessing they won't since it looks like vaccines are going to start being distributed through the winter and spring? But I was really proud of the NBA being basically the only sports league that seemed to give a shit about the safety of their players and staff this year, so if they did it again I would support that. It’s wild to me that the NFL is still playing with teams that have like 19 or 20 guys out with Covid. Griffin Goldsmith, Dawes Los Angeles Lakers Courtesy of Griffin Goldsmith What’s your prognosis for the season? Can't top last season, can they? My prognosis is that the Lakers win with ease and LeBron takes one step closer to being the GOAT. Last season will be hard to top for obvious reasons. It seems to me like it must have been the toughest title to capture to date. Thoughts on LeBron? Finally a 'real' Laker? What about AD? Is the future bright after this run? LeBron is ‘real’ anywhere he goes. His head is in the right place and he plays the game so intentionally that I think he should be welcomed on any team. We’re lucky to have him. The future is very bright for the Lakers. AD is no doubt the future of our team assuming he sticks around. I know LeBron is a bit older, but he’s playing some of the best basketball of his career. So I don’t expect him to step down for some time. Who’s your player to watch this year? Talen Horton-Tucker is my player to watch this year Playoffs? What's your Finals prediction? My prediction is that the Lakers cruise through to the Finals. They’re much deeper than they were last year. So they’re coming off a title with a better roster and little serious competition. Looks good to me. We will see what happens in the East though. I think the level of difficulty for them in the finals will be dictated by where Giannis and Harden lands. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? My feeling is that since they’re not starting in a bubble it won’t end up there. Of course, there will be positive tests but I don’t see them getting a bubble together on the fly. JR JR Detroit Pistons Courtesy of JR JR What’s your prognosis for the season? I’m excited to have the NBA back. Hopefully, they won’t have to cancel too many games due to Covid because nobody wants to have to discuss whether ideas such as 'asterisk titles’ are a thing again. Which team has a worse season, the Tigers or Pistons? How are we defining ‘worse’ here? The Pistons will have a terrible record, but it will at least be fun to watch new/young players out there. The Tigers aren’t great, but baseball is a sport where things only seem to happen the way they’re predicted to ~25-30% of the time, so they’ll fare... “better?" What were they thinking in free agency? I hope that there is a 5-D chess strategy here, but all I can figure is that Jerami Grant gets more opportunity and makes his trade value higher? Mason Plumlee is obviously a smokescreen to throw other GMs off the scent of what we’re doing. A real rope-a-dope strategy so that we can take everyone by surprise. Trying to out Knicks the Knicks? The Knicks are still way worse, but it’s an honor to be included in that company. Obi Toppin, if you’re reading this drop us a DM. We’re willing to head up your nicknaming committee. (’The Jedi Slamster’? ’Toppin Fresh’?… still some work to be done here, but we’ve got IDEAS…) Who’s your player to watch this year? I’m excited to see what Blake Griffin will do...off the court that is. I hear he’s made a comedy show and can’t wait to watch it. He was great on that Roast. Are they going to make the playoffs? LOL... Next question... What's your NBA Finals prediction? Lakers vs. Heat again. Both teams got better and were already really good. The Bucks are just not there yet and The 76ers are too much of a coin flip. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? If they are counting the 2020 World Series then they’ll count this NBA champ no matter what. I doubt they’ll bubble up ever again, which tbh… is kinda a bummer. The bubble was truly fascinating and some great basketball to watch. Adam Levin, X Ambassadors Los Angeles Lakers Courtesy of Adam Levin Last year I predicted that the Lakers would win the championship and they are going to win it again next year. We can definitely top last season. We've added so much talent to the roster, and the only major piece we lost is Rajon Rondo. I love LeBron and am impressed with how hard he's repping L.A. He recently said he wants to be a Laker for life and retire as a Laker. He has a few more championships in him before he's done. LeBron just agreed to a two-year extension which will see him playing on the Lakers through the 2023 season. The future is so bright for Anthony Davis, and I couldn't be more excited. He dominated last season and he's only 27. The experience he's getting playing with LeBron is invaluable. LeBron is the best leader and teammate in the league. He makes everyone around him better and doesn't care about taking the credit. As Lebron gets older and retires, Anthony Davis will take over as the leader and I think he will do a great job. My Finals prediction is Lakers vs. Celtics or Lakers vs. Nets. I'm excited to see how Kevin Durant bounces back. I don't think the NBA is planning to do another bubble for the upcoming season, but if things continue to get worse, they might have to go back to Orlando. I can't imagine being away from family for that long and I'm sure the league is doing everything they can to avoid that. Pharoahe Monch New York Knicks David Wallace What’s your prognosis for the season? Are they actually headed in the right direction or more of the same garbage? You would think with coach Tom Thibodeau, that we will at least play with an identity and the culture of being committed to defense, but I have zero enthusiasm about the season. No hope whatsoever. Do you have confidence in Thibs? Are the kids actually any good or will they be traded in three months for an aging veteran? The young players seem like they would be open to Thibodeau’s philosophy. If the narrative is making the playoffs, we are going to have to trade for better talent. Who’s your player to watch this year? The player to watch is Obi Toppin. He’s super talented. He’s a slasher and he seems genuinely excited about playing for the hometown team. Playoffs? What’s that? Ah - Playoffs? Don’t talk about - playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game! *in Jim Mora voice * What's your NBA Finals prediction? Lakers vs. does it even matter? They literally improved on the team from last year that just won the championship. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? Absolutely. GirlzLuhDev Brooklyn Nets Mark Peaced What’s your prognosis for the season? Will the Nets get a third superstar and will that finally get them out of the Knicks' shadow? I don’t think they will get a third star but If they do it will be hard and then they’re gonna one thousand percent win! The Nets are nowhere near the shadow of the “Knicks.” The Knicks are boo boo and won’t make the playoffs. Now that Durant is back, what happens? Does Kyrie torpedo the team? Now that Kevin Durant is back what happens is Kyrie is now gonna be happy. Kyrie and Kd have an immaculate bond and it shows off the court. It will be interesting to see how it translates on the court. It should be very well though. Playoffs? Nets are gonna make it. What's your NBA Finals prediction? Nets will win. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? Honestly, I feel like they might go into a COVID bubble if it continues to expand rapidly. Ruth B Toronto Raptors Courtesy of Ruth B What’s your prognosis for the season? After a whirlwind year, the team's future seems to still pretty damn bright, right? Yes! I’m a big believer in the raptors. I think they’ve finally earned the respect they deserved and will continue to pave the way. The Raptors probably put a lot of the doubters to shame last year. Do they have enough to make another deep run in the playoffs? Yes! They’re an amazing team with a lot of passionate and hard-working guys. I’m super excited to see how they play this year. Who’s your player to watch this year? I’m excited to continue to watch the team as a whole. I’m a big VanVleet fan so I’m looking forward to continuing watching him elevate his game Playoffs? I think the Lakers will probably make a come back. All I really need to say is LeBron. I hope to see them facing the Raptors!! What's your Finals prediction? there are a few ways it could go. I think Celtics, Lakers, and Nets all look really good but of course I’m rooting for the Raptors!! Go Canada! Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? I’m not sure what the future looks like. I hope things start to get better but of course the safety of players and fans should always come first. BlueBucksClan Los Angeles Lakers Louie Knows What’s your prognosis for the season? Can't top last season, can they? We expecting a lot. Expecting to shock the whole world, and get back to back championships. – DJ Thoughts on LeBron? Finally a 'real' Laker? What about AD? Is the future bright after this run? LeBron is the best, and so is AD. AD is younger and can learn from LeBron. He’s for sure the future. – DJ Who’s your player to watch this year? I’m watching a few players. I wanna see what all the players who got traded do this year. – DJ Playoffs? Lakers are going past the playoffs for sure. -Jeeezy What's your NBA Finals prediction? Definitely back to the finals. “Last year” was a warm-up! -Jeeezy Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? I don’t know. I hope not. We wanna go to some games. -Jeeezy Terra Lopez, Rituals of Mine Golden State Warriors Jeffrey LaTour The Warriors at best will make the playoffs as a seven or eight seed. I sadly don’t think they will actually make the playoffs this year. I think they need to monitor Steph Curry's minutes so they can compete next season hopefully with a healthy Klay. I don't have much confidence without Klay on being able to defend the perimeter. Runs not over but it’s delayed. The Warriors need to adapt and develop Wiseman to be able to defend Anthony Davis. It's looking like the Finals will run through L.A. for the next few years. The player to watch this year is James Wiseman. For the Warriors to be contenders he has to become a defensive presence and protect the rim. NBA Finals predictions is the Lakers and Nets. Lakers to win. The Lakers are too deep and too talented this year. That all being said, WARRIORS FOREVER. Alexander 23 Chicago Bulls Courtesy of Alexander 23 What’s your prognosis for the season? Couldn’t be more excited. So many fun and interesting teams this year. Are you feeling hopeful about the Bulls these days? Does this team inspire any confidence for you? I wish I could say I was, but I’m not. Definitely have some good pieces and I personally loved the Patrick Williams pick, but I don’t see us really making too much noise. However, I am excited to see the culture Billy Donovan brings to the team and will rock with the Bulls forever no matter what. Who’s your player to watch this year? Malcolm Brogdon! He’s my roommate's cousin so I’ve been following his career closely since the UVA days. Knowing a bit about his work ethic, I really think he is poised to make a big jump this season. Equally excited to see what he continues to do for his community and social justice at large off the court. Playoffs? I think this will be the most competitive playoffs in recent memory. There are more stars in the league than ever which creates extreme urgency for titles. What's your Finals prediction? Lakers vs Philly. I think this is the year the 76ers put it all together, but the Lakers still win it all. The Lakers were the only contender (so far) to really improve their team in free agency. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? I personally don’t see it happening. I don’t think the players will go for it again. It was a spectacle the first time around, but these guys have families and I don’t think the second time will be as charming. Problem Los Angeles Lakers Courtesy of Problem What’s your prognosis for this season? How will it compare to last season? It will be interesting to say the least. Hopefully, the world can get back to normal and ya fans can attend some games. Thoughts on LeBron? Finally a 'real' Laker? What about AD? Is the future bright after this run? LeBron is closing in on the GOAT convo. On and off the court. AD was finally able to shake the “soft” stigma. He showed up and showed out in his first Laker season. Who’s your player to watch this year? Devin Booker. He finally has an all-star level playmaker by his side. The sky’s the limit. As far as rookies, Lamello. I love his game. He looks like he’s having fun and that type of energy always spreads. Playoffs? What's your Finals prediction? The Suns will make the playoffs. Lakers vs. Philadelphia in the Finals and Lakers in 5. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? I hope so. At least for the playoffs. The level of hoops in the bubble was unmatched. Briston Maroney Boston Celtics Sophia Matinazad What’s your prognosis for the season? I think it’s going to be a really exciting season with a lot of teams that have the rosters and potential to compete for a championship. The West might have 10-12 playoff caliber teams and there’s really fun young talent in the East. I’m excited to see Kevin Durant come back and a full season of Steph Curry. Will Lamelo Ball live up to the hype? Was Miami’s finals appearance a fluke? Can LeBron win another MVP in his 18th season? All questions I’m looking forward to having answered. Going to miss Hayward? Will they finally be able to get over the hump and into the NBA Finals? Absolutely. I love his game and his hair. I’m happy for him being able to sign a big contract like that but also happy the Celtics weren’t the ones who had to pay it. And I’m not sure... we’ve got a great team. Jayson Tatum is a top 10 player in my opinion and we’ve got a strong and deep roster that has gone through a lot together. Kemba, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown are all-star level players as well. Another year of being able to grow and mesh can help them get out of the East but there will definitely be some tough competition. Bucks, Nets, Heat, Sixers are all going to be really good. Hawks will be sneaky good too. Who’s your player to watch this year? Besides Jayson Tatum who I think will have an MVP caliber season... my player to watch this year will be Trae Young. Can he take the Hawks to the next level? Playoffs? Celtics will make the playoffs and be the 2 seed. They’ll match up with Milwaukee in the conference finals but tough to say who wins. Can Giannis get over the hump? I think the Pelicans and Suns will be playoff teams in the West and I think a team like the Bulls could surprise us out East. What's your Finals prediction? Celtics bias aside, I’m going to have to say Bucks vs. Clippers in the finals and Clippers win in 6 games. The expectations on the Clippers last year were unrealistically high for a team that hadn’t been able to really play together. Kawhi and Paul George are top 10 guys who have now had some time to play together and will get into a rhythm this year. Ibaka is an upgrade over Harrell and Luke Kennard will help the second unit. The coaching change brings something fresh to the culture. I think this is the year they break through the curse and win it all. Do you think the NBA will have to go back into a COVID bubble? I hope that as the season progresses the state of the pandemic will be at a point where there won’t need to be a bubble again. I also think the NBA has generally done a great job with setting up and enforcing protocols to keep everyone safe so I’m hopeful the season goes off without any hitches. Tommee Profitt Golden State Warriors Nolan Knight What’s your prognosis for the season? Is the run over? As a fan and believer in my team, I don't think the run is over per se, I just think there are some bumps in the road that we need to get through (which seems to be the theme for the entire world at the moment). Hopefully we're able to come out on the other side once we have a strong, healthy team again! However, no team may ever look the way the 2016-2019 Warriors did... that was history! Do you have confidence in things without Klay? How do the Warriors become the Warriors again without that key component and with their new guys? Klay's injury was definitely disappointing after the previous injury-stricken season. I thought we'd finally have a healthy team with Steph, Klay, and Draymond. They won't be 100%, but I think they can do well if they find their rhythm. It'll be interesting to watch and see how the team looks this year – quite a different roster. Who’s your player to watch this year? I'm a fan of Steph. He's a sick shooter, but he's also unselfish. When he's on, there's no one better, and without Klay, he needs to be on A LOT this year! Playoffs? I for sure think the Warriors will make the playoffs! With the way the NBA got shifted around and players moved, and with the COVID bubble, it will be super interesting to see what things look like as this season gets underway. There may be a team on the map that wasn't even in the discussion before. What's your Finals prediction? I'd love to see Warriors and Lakers in the Western Finals, and just for the nostalgia of it all, if Warriors won in game seven and faced the Nets (Durant)... that would be pretty epic. Will the NBA have to go back into a COVID bubble again? I certainly hope not. I'm hoping most things can return to normal soon!