Illustration by staff illustrator Sakura Siegel.

On October 11th, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat in six games to claim the NBA Championship.

Sixty-eight days later, the new season is just a few days away, setting a league record for the shortest offseason of all time. After free agency, it seems like all of the title contenders from last season improved, with a few new contenders now in play.

Miami Heat

After coming off a final appearance, the Miami Heat are determined to prove that their historic run was not a fluke.

Haron Dardouri, 19, was elated to watch his team make it to the finals. He said he noticed the work ethic of certain Heat players along with their team culture, so Dardouri decided to become a fan.

His favorite player is Jimmy Butler, who is the leader of the team.

Butler is a five-time All-Star, and three-time All-NBA player. He signed with the Heat in 2019, following a season where they failed to make the playoffs.

Originally expected to be a solid playoff team, Butler and the Heat defied odds and made it to the finals, taking out the first, third, and fourth seed Eastern teams on the way.

“He’s not exceptionally good at one thing, but he is hard-working, which ties into the Heat’s culture and is why he fits there so well,” said Dardouri.

Dardouri admitted that he did not expect his team to end up in the finals. However, he knew the Heat knew how to exploit other teams’ weaknesses, which is how they dismantled their first three opponents.

The Heat are currently rumored to be pursuing former MVP James Harden and Dardouri has conflicting feelings about it. He enjoys Harden’s game and would be happy if his team traded for him, but he also doesn’t believe that Harden fits their system.

The Heat are known for having unselfish, hard-working players that hold each other accountable. Harden does not fit that standard.

When asked about a potential roster move that would cement the Heat as a true threat for years to come, he suggested that they trade for Harden.

He believes that the Heat can contend for a title next season, but they will have a much harder path. Teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets have improved, appearing to be the top two teams in the East.

Despite this, Dardouri is confident that the Heat can make the Eastern Conference Finals again.

Brooklyn Nets

After signing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in 2019, the Nets established themselves as one of the top threats in the league. Unfortunately, Durant missed the entire last season due to injury, while Irving was limited to twenty games.

Souleyman Keita, 20, is a fan of Irving, leading him to support the Nets.

Irving is a six-time All-Star, two-time All NBA player, and a 2016 NBA Champion. He is known as one of the best point guards in the league.

The Nets have a loaded roster, and Keita doesn’t believe that they need to make any changes to it. With superstars Durant and Irving coupled with excellent complementary pieces, the Nets are arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference.

The Nets have also been rumored to be pursuing Harden. But Keita wants them to keep their team as is and focus on building chemistry.

According to Keita, possible teams that can defeat the Nets within the Eastern Conference are the Bucks, Raptors, Celtics and Heat.

In the past two seasons, all four of these teams made the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, the Nets are looking to beat all of them.

Keita has hopes that the Nets will make the finals and will likely face off against the Lakers or Clippers. He thinks they have a really good chance at capturing the 2021 Championship.

Los Angeles Clippers

Though widely expected to win the 2020 Championship, the Clippers failed to do so, shocking the NBA as they fell to the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs after being up 3-1 in the series.

At the helm of the team was Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard received much praise for leading the Toronto Raptors to the championship in the previous year, and many believed he would do so again.

Leonard is a two-time NBA Champion, two-time Finals MVP, four-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA player, and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Hashim Ahmed, 20, has been a fan of Leonard for years. He believes that Leonard was not at fault for the Clippers’ collapse last season, instead suggesting the lack of team chemistry and ineffectiveness of Paul George, the second star.

“The lack of depth was the Clippers’ demise. They relied too much on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Kawhi delivered and Paul George failed,” said Ahmed.

Unlike the Heat and Nets, the Clippers were active during the off-season, making a few roster changes. Most notably, the Clippers lost their reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Montrezl Harrell in free agency.

Ahmed believes that the Clippers got worse after losing Harrell.

With the season approaching, Ahmed does not believe his team has what it takes to win.

“I’m hoping they make the finals as any fan of a team would. However, their lack of depth and inability to acquire a reliable bench makes me think they will not make it far,” he said.

With the current roster, Ahmed thinks that the Clippers’ ceiling is the Western Conference Finals.

He reiterated that the Clippers need to acquire better supporting players to complement their two stars, and until they get said players and develop team chemistry, they cannot compete for a title.

All three of these teams will be major contenders this season, and with the league being balanced, there is no clear favorite to win the title.

During the 2020 playoffs, fans saw how unpredictable the NBA could be, and it will be just as unpredictable in this upcoming season.

The NBA kicks off its new season on Dec. 22.

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