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Giannis, Bucks, Devin, Suns, may not get the break they need to succeed in next NBA season

Will we see Chris Paul and Devin Booker in the NBA Finals again next year?

Will we see Chris Paul and Devin Booker in the NBA Finals again next year?
Image: Getty Images

The Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns will have exactly ten weeks — 70 days — between the conclusion of their NBA Finals battle and the start of training camp for the 2021-22 NBA season, set for September 28. And, if this sounds like enough time to prepare for an NBA season, allow for some perspective.

Start here: the NBA Draft is next week.

Before COVID rattled all of our schedules in a way that caused us to rearrange everything, it was typical to have three or more months between the end of the NBA Finals and the start of training camp. In 2019, after the Toronto Raptors finished off the Golden State Warriors on June 13, they didn’t attend camp until September 28 — 117 days later. The Warriors and most other teams didn’t need to report until October 1. The Warriors swept the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2018, ending the series on June 8. Training camp didn’t begin until September 25 for most of the NBA, 119 days later for the finals combatants. You get the idea.

Last year, the NBA shut down on March 11, as did many other businesses across the country. And then, teams reported into the Orlando Bubble beginning on July 7. Haters and others who lack perspective assumed NBA players just all had basketball courts in their backyards or some kind of hoop access amid the early days of COVID, which wasn’t the case. A bunch of players live in condos, understandably, so given that there is more annual roster turnover than ever before, and it required adapting to at-home workouts, as many of us did. The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers were in the bubble from beginning to end amid the height of a deadly pandemic, the three-month isolation away from home, and most importantly, the nationwide battle for social justice, the ripple effects of which were felt in the Bubble.

After three months in that Bubble, the Lakers defeated the Heat, 4-2, in the NBA Finals, ending the latest championship ever (duh) in league history on October 11. They reported to training camp on December 1, just 51 days later, or seven weeks. Only two weeks earlier, the Boston Celtics were eliminated by the Heat, and the Denver Nuggets were ousted by the Lakers. No need to completely rehash how that affected this season, but all four teams were broken down by the end, whether it be injuries, COVID, fatigue, or all of the above. And the “Bubble Final Four” never were quite the same throughout the regular season leading up to the playoffs.

Next year, the Suns and Bucks will have about as much time as the Celtics and Nuggets did… but there’s still the Tokyo Summer Olympics, which have not been canceled (yet). Among many others, the games will feature Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Devin Booker playing on Team USA, the third, fourth, and fifth most important players from the NBA Finals. As of now, they’re still expected to make the abrupt turnaround and be in Tokyo, where Team USA opens group play against France on Sunday, facing Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, and Nicolas Batum, among others. Team USA lost two scrimmages, but France also just lost to Japan. More athletes are testing positive for COVID heading into the Olympics, which will end on August 8, and the host site is in a state of emergency and on its fifth wave.

The first Bubble scrimmage was played on July 22, almost a year to the day that the finals for the following season ended. And less than one year after the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, we’ll already be having scrimmages and nearing the beginning of the 2021-22 season. A lot of basketball has been crammed into these last 12 months, and the ripple effects have been felt with one of the most injury-plagued seasons in recorded history. Now, moving the schedule on time, while COVID isn’t at all in the rearview, will be a big ask for NBA players to move along as was customary before March 11, 2020.

Furthermore, simply, this league is immensely difficult. The Lakers, Clippers, Nets, Nuggets, Heat, Celtics, Warriors, Mavericks, and Hawks are all trying to win now. The Blazers could swerve in either direction depending on what they do regarding Damian Lillard. The 76ers have an enormous choice to make on Ben Simmons. And who knows what the big market Knicks are capable of after getting a taste of the playoffs?

Generally, we expect players like Giannis Antetokoumnpo to continue their ascension. Or player tandems like Chris Paul and Booker to simply “run it back.” But this is no ordinary time in basketball or in the world. It won’t be an impossible task, but the likelihood of a repeat isn’t high, which is a shame because these NBA Finals were intensely enjoyable. 

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