Generally, 2020 was equal parts forgettable and something to be remembered. For the National Basketball Association, it was something truly unique. There was the death of an NBA legend in January, a pandemic that put the kibosh on an NBA business as usual, an isolated NBA postseason bubble, and a wildcat strike from the top-ranked team in the Eastern Conference all before the 2019-2020 season saw a champion crowned. In the end LeBron James claimed his fourth ring with a third team and Anthony Davis lived up to the hype that had followed him from New Orleans to southern California.
With a new season already underway and teams playing in empty or nearly empty arenas, the time is now to look forward to the 2021 calendar year. Already there are a litany of upsets and surprises (who would have seen the Magic and the Heat atop their conference as the last two unbeaten teams? And the Suns and Kings top three in the West? Wild). But we here at Upside Hoops are invested in hoops, and have put together a list of things we want to see in the new year. 2020 is dead; long live 2021.
Tanner Russ’s wish: Power Shifts.
We saw this to some extent at the end of the 2018-2019 season when the Golden State Warriors, armed with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson fell to the Toronto Raptors (and injury). Last year saw the Los Angeles Lakers have their superstar duo bring in the franchise’s 17th championship after a 10 year drought. This year I’m hoping more teams will surprise and exceed expectations. Part of the reason the NBA is such a joy to watch is the possibility of an upset, and a narrative getting rewritten. Imagine seeing the Kings or the Suns in the playoffs after a combined 24-year-drought? Returns to glory are just as fun to watch as sustained dominance and late-playoff upsets. For me, at least. Here’s to surprises.
R.E. Leonard’s wish: Betting Kiosks in NBA Stadiums
I would love to see Betting Kiosks in NBA stadiums (in states where betting has been legalized, of course). Think about it: your team is down by double-digits at halftime, and you get up to go to the bathroom or get food. On the way, you see a sign flashing the live odds for your team: +500. You proceed to take out your phone, scan the QR code on the betting kiosk, and bet $25 on your team to come back and win the game. There’s nothing more exciting that watching your favorite team play, with the ability to make some cash from just watching.
I’ve been waiting on this for a couple years, and I think this can become a reality during the next NBA season. As of this post, 18 states have legalized sports betting. By the end of 2021, I’d expect this number to rise to around 30. There’s no reason why states won’t legalize betting, other than some absurd “moral” argument about protecting people from themselves. If you’re an adult, you should be responsible enough to make your own decisions. The states won’t want to miss out on the extra tax revenue that will come from legalizing sports betting, because the house always wins. I’m confident that Betting Kiosks in NBA stadiums will become a reality in the next 5 years, and I would love to see it implemented in the next season.
Nick Andre’s Wish: Golden State makes the Conference Finals this season
As a Warriors fan, it hasn’t been the easiest journey over the last few years. We lost Kevin Durant to free agency. Also, we lost Klay Thompson to both an ACL and an Achilles tear. But even though we have a few fallbacks as a franchise, we seem to get back up and become extra motivated for the opportunity ahead.
The good news is that Stephen Curry is back and seems to slowly get into his groove. He’s still displays his effortless shooting ability and is helping his new teammates get into a groove in the system. It’s been a struggle to begin the season. But with a little more time together on the floor, this team has the ability to be dangerous.
The Western Conference is tough. But the Warriors’ championship experience makes them tougher. There are numerous teams with the talent and skill set to become a contender. But the question is how will they last through a seven game series? That’s where the Golden State Warriors can possibly have an advantage against certain teams. If everyone can stay on the same page, we will see a Warriors Lakers Western Conference Finals series.
Logan Guenterberg’s Wish: Seeing the fans back in full before the end of the season
By this point, COVID is perhaps the most hated word in the history of, well, ever. It took away March Madness, cancelled MLB Spring Training, and postponed the NBA and NHL seasons. With several vaccines being more openly available and distributed with every passing day, the light at the end of the tunnel is nearing.
While we may not be able to ever resume our way of life before the virus, there is lots of optimism in the air. Many frontline workers are receiving the vaccine and there are hopes that the US will reach herd immunity levels before summer. This puts us on track to maybe see large attendances of fans sometime this season. While many will be skeptical or nervous about attending or having a packed stadium, it isn’t out of the question. Watching games last season just was not the same, with the stands looking like those of a bottom dweller Division 3 school, not an NBA team.
My hope is that we will be able to go in person by the time the playoffs roll around, and anything better than that would be a blessing. May we hope that there will be faces in the crowds during the NBA Finals, and not cardboard cutouts.
Clint Alexander’s Wish: NBA Awards are decided based on consistent standards and merit.
Each year the NBA Awards are a hot bed of inconsistencies. This not entirely the fault of the voters. Without specific criteria set for each award, it is largely left to the imagination of the voters to decide what merits an award. The perfect example of this is the “narrative factor” that goes into selecting the MVP winner. It is widely discussed and accepted that “narrative matters”. LeBron James was seriously considered as an MVP candidate last season in spite of Giannis’ statistical dominance.
The MVP Award is not the only award subject to the insanity either. The NBA’s Sixth Man Award is essentially a competition between bench players that average the most points per game. Defense and overall impact are largely ignored. So while, it’s not likely to change – here’s hoping.