With the NBA restart officially underway, teams and their stars will finally get closure on the 2019-20 NBA season. And though people have their ideas as to who will move on to win the title, teams will have the chance to write out their own destiny in the next few weeks and months to come.
But we'd be lying if we said the pressure to succeed wasn't greater for some stars than others and, on Twitter, ESPN analyst/insider Stephen A. Smith wrote out the five players he believes have the most pressure to perform during this Orlando restart.
The full ranking goes as follows: Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and James Harden.
Westbrook was included for obvious reasons. After his time in OKC ended, he had little to show for his efforts other than a few personal accolades and a long string of highlight plays. When he was traded to Houston, he was seen as the "savior" in a way, and his arrival signaled the last chance for the Rockets to finally overcome their obstacles. If he fails to perform, or the Rockets get bounced early, he could find himself on the chopping block for the second straight summer.
Smith put Kawhi at fourth. And even as he comes off a Finals MVP victory with the Raptors, there is some real pressure for him to cement himself as an All-Time great and end the Clippers' long-running dry streak. If he wins this year, he will prove to the world that his stint in Clipperland will yield powerful results.
As for LeBron, this may really be his last chance to win a title. As he continues to grow closer to 36, it only grows more likely that his game will decline. Furthermore, with no promise that A.D. will stay with the team long-term, a poor performance in the playoffs could dissuade him to return next season. It will be up to Bron to help keep him in town, cement his legacy as the GOAT, and go out with a bang before his inevitable decline.
In Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo has all the makings of a true superstar but has yet to win at a high level. Without a title to call his own, Antetokounmpo will never truly be considered on even ground with guys like LeBron, Steph, and Kawhi.
But out of all superstars playing in the bubble, Smith picked James Harden as the one with the most pressure, and it's hard to disagree with him there. James is an exceptional performer from October-April, but when it's time to compete for a chip, he has a knack for falling short. If Harden continues his trend of poor playoff performances, and the Rockets fail to lift-off yet again, it may be more than his reputation on the line, it could be his future with the Rockets.
Needless to say, how these players will respond to the pressure (and the return to action after such a long layover) will be one of the highlights of the Orlando restart. We've got an exciting few months ahead of us, folks.