Every NBA season begins with high hopes and expectations for most teams. When approaching a new season, the plan is to compete at a high level and win games. Putting together a talented roster is a significant step in the right direction, but the one thing that can impact a team negatively is player availability. The Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, New Orleans Pelicans, and the Denver Nuggets all shared this problem.
Los Angeles Lakers
After going 42-30 during the 2020-21 NBA season, the Lakers decided to shake things up. That summer LeBron James and company executed a trade that landed them Russell Westbrook. It was an incredibly bold move that left many Laker fans confused. The shared problem began for the Lakers quickly, and we never got a chance to see them at full strength. Injuries derailed James and his crew early and often.
When the star trio of James, Westbrook, and Anthony Davis were on the court together, their chemistry was an issue. Even though that dilemma was apparent, the biggest problem with the team was still injuries. James, Westbrook, and Davis only played 21 games together and were 11-10 in those games. As a result, the Lakers missed the playoffs when the season concluded and finished the year with a 33-49 record. A championship wasn’t in their future if healthy, but if their stars were active, they would have been much better.
Another team that had this shared problem was Kevin Durant’s Nets. The season began with Durant and James Harden leading the way without their All-Star teammate Kyrie Irving. However, unlike the Laker’s situation, Brooklyn’s big three was healthy. Irving wasn’t allowed to suit up for the first 35 games of the year because of refusing the Covid-19 vaccine.
Once Irving was cleared, fans hoped for smooth sailing, but that wasn’t the case. The Durant, Harden, and Irving trio played just two games in the 2021-22 season. Then, on Jan 15th Durant injured his MCL, and shortly after, Harden requested a trade. He went to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for their All-Star Ben Simmons, who didn’t play a single contest with Philly that season.
Durant missed over a month with his MCL injury, while Irving played for the team in only away games. Eventually, the two superstars shared the court and did enough to make it into the playoffs. However, the lingering problem of availability never left. Simmons didn’t play a game for the Nets. They discovered a back injury that held him out the entire season when he arrived.
With Irving and Durant running the show, they showed glimpses of greatness, but without Simmons and stars in and out of the lineup all year, Brooklyn couldn’t get the job done. They got swept in the first round by the Boston Celtics, and availability has everyone wondering what if.
New Orleans Pelicans
Unlike the other two teams mentioned above, the Pelicans were overachievers. Although they were without their star Zion Willamson, New Orleans managed to improve last season. The squad led by Brandon Ingram went through the play-in tournament and earned a spot in the playoffs.
The Pelicans are a young, aggressive team that gave the #1 seeded Phoenix Suns problems. They took the Suns to six games before running out of gas but seeing the impressive performance and improved play from Ingram and other role players have fans excited about the upcoming season.
If the Pelicans had this much success without their young All-Star, it makes you wonder what they can do with him. An entire season with Willamson would make a squad nobody wants to see in the postseason.
Then there is the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic’s troops, the Denver Nuggets. They finished the season as the sixth seed with a record of 48-34. Denver achieved this with Michael Porter Jr. playing nine games and Jamal Murray missing the entire season. They ran up against Stephen Curry and the champion Golden State Warriors in the first round and left with one victory in that series.
The Joker dominated in the absence of his running mates. He averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 7.9 assists according to basketball-reference.com. When you have superstar talent, you always have a chance to be good. That’s what Jokic and the Nuggets showed last season, but going into next season good isn’t the goal. So instead, the Nuggets will be searching for more.
If Murray comes back half as good as he was before injury and MPJ continues to improve, the Nuggets will be one of the Warrior’s biggest threats to win the title next season.