The NBA, more than most other sports, is a mobile league.
Players, teams, and coaches are constantly moving around. While that makes things extremely exciting for us, it also adds a lot of pressure to stars who ditched their teams in an effort to up their legacy. When players move, the pressure placed on their soldiers to perform is built even higher than before.
The same can be said for those guys coming off a relatively sub-par season. They need to prove that they can still play at an elite level.
This has me wondering who, exactly, are those guys for this season? Which superstars are entering the 2018/19 campaign with more to prove than anyone else? This list is my attempt to answer that question…
5. Gordon Hayward (Boston Celtics)
It’s been absolutely wonderful to hear that Gordon Hayward’s recovery is going well. It’s been almost a year since last season’s devastating injury, and we should expect to see him healthy for training camp in a few weeks.
Yet, even in the midst of this great comeback story, I’d be lying if I said he didn’t have any pressure to perform this season. True, there will be a level of patience handed to him as he works his way back into game shape, but if he doesn’t revive his All-Star level play soon, his minutes and role might be swallowed by one of Boston’s many young stars.
If it were any other team, the story would be different. With the Celtics, though, Hayward can’t waste too much time. Not with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown climbing the latter of stardom.
4. Paul George (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Paul George is in a unique situation. Rather than feeling the pressures of joining a new team, PG is feeling the pressures of staying.
He chose Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, and Oklahoma City over LeBron James, a slew of talented youngsters, and the bright lights of Los Angeles. After crying for an entire summer about wanting to be a Laker, his decision to stay with the Thunder was shocking to pretty much everyone who cared.
For these reasons, it will be up to PG to prove to himself and the world that he made the right choice this summer. Whether that’s putting himself in the MVP discussion or taking the Thunder to the Finals, he’s got to have a spectacular year, or he might become the league’s biggest laughing stock.
3. DeMarcus Cousins (Golden State Warriors)
It’s unlikely that Boogie Cousins has ever faced a scenario this complicated in his career.
After an Achilles tear last spring, DeMarcus missed what could have been a golden opportunity for him this past summer. Rather than earning the max contract he desired, that injury (coupled with a fractured reputation) had him begging for something above the veteran minimum.
Now, he’s pissed off the whole league by signing with the Warriors for almost nothing at all, and he’s got to give people a reason to believe in him once again. With the Dubs, he must show teams he can work with others (even in a reduced role), while still being the dominant force he used to be.
2. Kawhi Leonard (Toronto Raptors)
Kawhi Leonard is another star who’s situation is a bit bizarre. He literally forced his way out of San Antonio, in what became the most talked about, drama-filled story of the summer.
Not only did folks hate the way he did things, they questioned his loyalty and dedication in ways that I haven’t quite seen before.
After being shipped off to Toronto, Kawhi has got no more room for drama at this point. People are sick of his act.
Additionally, it’s been nearly an entire season since we’ve seen Kawhi play top-level NBA ball. Who’s to say he’s even still the same player?
Clearly, Leonard will have to show us that he’s a grown-up while also proving he’s still the top-five player we all remember him to be. And it won’t be an easy task.
1. LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)
As the best player in the world, and arguably the greatest of All-Time, LeBron James will always face pressure… even despite all the amazing things he’s already done.
Moving to the Lakers will only increase that pressure, especially because he had other options.
On a mostly young team surrounded by role-playing veterans, nobody is making the Lakers the favorites to win it all this year. Still, expectations will be high and if LeBron fails to meet them, he’ll be the one to pay… as usual.