As the NBA propels itself into what can safely be described as the second-most unique season in its history, everyone within the league is continuing to grapple with the realities of attempting a return to normalcy under decidedly abnormal circumstances.
We now have a 2020-21 schedule - at least the first half of one - that generally mimics one of a normal season. That schedule factors in an abundance of COVID-related precautions, including smaller travelling parties, daily testing, a nearly two-week return timetable following positive tests and time allotted for make-up games, all of which are intended to help maintain health and safety as much as possible.
As we have seen with other leagues attempting a similar feat, Bubble-level perfection over the course of a non-Bubble season is impossible, and reports of 48 positive tests over a one week period reinforce the reality of that situation.
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Add the compounding factor that this has been the shortest offseason in NBA history, and the need for - and passive approval of - planned rest makes health and safety the underlying theme of this season.
Therefore, depth (or, more accurately, quality depth) is even more crucial than usual for teams pursuing a playoff spot. The COVID reality is that rotations are going to be in flux, players will miss time and the teams that are able to adapt will be the ones who thrive.
Some teams are better prepared to handle the difficult realities of this season than others. These first four teams have more than enough depth to handle everything this season throws at them.
Depth is no problem
The Raptors clearly lost some important pieces this offseason but the quality players they added, combined with this franchise's track record of turning overlooked talent into quality NBA players, has earned them more than enough benefit of the doubt.
Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka leaving for Los Angeles was a blow, but Aron Baynes and Alex Len look to be quality replacements. Plus, re-signing Chris Boucher for just $6.5 million per year was a fantastic value move.
Retaining Fred VanVleet was obviously the most important piece of business this offseason and now that he's back, he, Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell will continue to be one of the best backcourts in the league. Stanley Johnson and first-round pick Malachi Flynn may get thrust into uncomfortably large roles should any rotation player miss time, but this team has the experience to handle any bumps that come their way in the regular season.
Los Angeles Lakers
There's not much analysis needed for the Lakers offseason beyond saying that the rich got much, much richer.
After bringing back everyone they wanted to, LA went out and added Marc Gasol, Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell. That is one future Hall-of-Famer plus the reigning top-two finishers in Sixth Man of the Year voting, the latter of which no longer plays for their cross-arena rivals, all added to a championship core. Not a bad start to 2021.
If forced to pick a nit, this team is probably a wing or two short. That hardly matters when LeBron James is playing but, considering this team will be heavily load managed, the Lakers will find themselves in a few shorthanded games this season. In the grand scheme, however, this team is so talented that they have very little to worry about until the playoffs.
Miami had an understated offseason but it has emerged from it with an even deeper roster than the one that won the East a year ago.
Jae Crowder and Derrick Jones Jr. both left in free agency but Avery Bradley and Mo Harkless were two excellent under-the-radar signings. Precious Achiuwa is an unknown quantity at the NBA level but, given how Miami's last two picks in the teens worked out, it's a decent bet that he will factor into the rotation sooner rather than later.
Given Miami's truncated offseason, expect a good amount of scheduled rest for its vets. Even factoring that in, Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson should be able to shoulder the load most nights and keep this team healthy until they get back in position to pursue another East title.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers are probably the surprise in this group but they are now even more talented on paper than the roster that led them to the West Finals 19 months ago.
Hassan Whiteside left for Sacramento but Harry Giles and Enes Kanter are upgrades at backup center. After signing Derrick Jones Jr. and trading for Robert Covington - in what may have been the best value trade of the offseason - Portland now also has its deepest wing rotation in years.
If Gary Trent Jr.'s Bubble performance is even slightly indicative of his play going forward, he is the perfect backup to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and the Blazers may just be the West's sleeping contender.
Staring down a short bench
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors had plans for a 2015 revival tour this season but Klay Thompson's injury changed everything for this team. Without Thompson, the Warriors are a step behind the contenders in the West and, suddenly, have almost no margin for error.
Brad Wannamaker was a solid signing to back-up Steph Curry but if either miss time the Warriors will need a lot of minutes out of Jordan Poole and Nico Mannion. Trading for Kelly Oubre was admirable considering he came with over $82 million in tax payments, but the cupboard is pretty bare after him, Andrew Wiggins and Kent Bazemore.
The question with this roster is clearly at centre. Marquese Chriss and Kevon Looney are solid rotation players and James Wiseman will be the long-term starter, but asking him to play a big role right away is too much for someone with just 69 minutes of competitive basketball under his belt since high school.
If healthy, these Warriors are a playoff team - and a comfortable one at that - but if any piece misses time, this rotation falls apart very quickly.
At first glance, Denver appears like one of the deeper teams in the league.
Jamal Murray and the newly-extended Monte Morris are a great point guard tandem. Gary Harris, Will Barton and Michael Porter Jr. make up a solid wing rotation as well. Even without Jerami Grant, Denver is set at power forward with JaMychal Green and Paul Millsap.
The Nuggets are on this list for one reason: they don't have a single proven backup for Nikola Jokic. Bol Bol could be that player in theory, but that can't be assumed until we see him play more than 108 minutes at the NBA level.
Denver may go small quite a bit when Jokic is off the floor but, until we see it, this is a pretty glaring hole in its rotation.
With all the Rockets have going on at the moment, you'd be forgiven for overlooking their depth issues.
If John Wall and James Harden are indeed the backcourt of the '20-21 Rockets, then this team is going all-in for a playoff spot. Signing DeMarcus Cousins and Christian Wood give them not one, but two actual centres on the roster, but the questions begin after those four players.
With Austin Rivers now in New York, who is going to back up Wall? After trading Covington and losing Jeff Green, who are the wings on this team other than Danuel House and Ben McLemore? Employing centres was a savvy, outside-the-box move but where does that leave PJ Tucker?
There are a million questions surrounding this Rockets team right now, the vast majority of which we can't answer. If this roster looks exactly as it does now on opening night, however, depth is going to quickly become a concern.
The Celtics were one of the deepest teams in the league a year ago but removing a Gordon Hayward-sized piece has suddenly made the Jenga tower quite a bit wobblier.
As a result, Boston needs either Romeo Langford or Aaron Nesmith to step into Hayward's role behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. If neither claims that spot, Brad Stevens probably has to look to either Marcus Smart or Grant Williams to play out of position.
Adding Jeff Teague was a great move to provide a safety net for Kemba Walker, but it's unfortunate that he will be called to action before the season even begins. On the positive side, Tristian Thompson was a fantastic signing and now the centre position, after being the weak spot for years, is Boston's strength.
If Walker is healthy, the Celtics are still talented and relatively deep. The reality is, though, their margin for error has all but evaporated.
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