Last night’s dramatic and pettiness-filled Celtics-Sixers game proved that the upcoming NBA playoffs will be an insane couple of months, filled with all kinds of emotional tension, competitive chippiness and mind-blowing basketball. But it also raised the bar for the coming off-season, which is probably going to be the most unprecedented off-season in league history.
So many stars—full-blown stars—could be on the move, from boldface MVP-caliber names like Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard to less heralded (but increasingly important) secondary stars like Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton. As everyone in the NBA has watched LeBron James and the Lakers prove that you can’t build a playoff team around one player, no matter who that player is, the chess match of who goes where—and with whom?—has been playing out behind the scenes. From Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant palling around at All-Star Weekend to the Lakers’ thirsty pursuit of Anthony Davis, the league’sconstellations are about to shift. But how, exactly?
Last night’s Sixers game—as well as the Sixers’ nationally televised showdown with the Bucks on Sunday—gave us a working example of the current power dynamic. If the Sixers, and their top-heavy team alignment, handle both those teams in the playoffs, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Boston or Milwaukee go back to the drawing board. Today, we’re highlighting a few under-the-radar story lines that will serve as important undercurrents for the NBA’s equivalent of Avengers: End Game.