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The 5 Most Intriguing Players of the New NBA Season

Will KP get paid? Will Scary Terry keep going? A look into some of the season’s best storylines, on and off the court

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Terry Rozier / Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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September 4, 2018

The NBA tips off in just two weeks, meaning our eyes will not just be glued to the competition hardwood, but also the plot lines, personalities and off-court moves of the players. More than ever, the latter has taken on a new significance in NBA fans' lives.

 

Adam Silver and the league are known for giving NBA players room to thrive off the court. And with that freedom, players have developed original personalities that the league emboldens and markets.

 

Due to this level of freedom, players are free to develop and explore business opportunities and create a personal brand. While traditional endorsements are still a big piece of the pie, athletes like LeBron and Kevin Durant have become savvy investors.

 

Here are five players with implications on and off the court this season.

Terry Rozier, PG, Boston Celtics

Rozier frightened opposing backcourts last year with his well-rounded guard play, icy stepback jumpers and active perimeter defense. Following the season-ending injury of Kyrie Irving that, at the time, seemed to have ended the Celtics’ hopes for a deep run in the East, Scary Terry stepped up. In fact, he filled the void so well that his play prompted questions around his potential role on the C’s.

 

Boston’s rotation is stacked and—especially at the guard positions—minutes will be sparse. The Celtics' front office is known to be both cold-blooded and proactive, and the manner in which they move forward with Rozier will largely be determined by his play this season. If Rozier, a free agent after this season, continues to prove he can be a starting guard on a contender, he may merit a max contract in a free market. The Celtics (who are roughly $25M over the salary cap) will need to either free up cap space to make room or trade him by the deadline.

 

Of course, the elephant in the room here is Kyrie Irving. There’s a chance—if Rozier balls out and Irving gets injured—that the Celtics front office doubles down on Rozier and deals Irving. I would not want to be the guy betting against Rozier (or Danny Ainge, for that matter).

 

Off the court, after his success this year, Rozier dodged the larger shoe companies to sign with up-and-coming Puma.

 

“Me signing with Puma is basically letting you know, I'm taking over the Puma world,” Rozier told Bleacher Report. “You got guys taking over Adidas, you got guys taking over Nike… Whatever. I'm competing with the Puma world and I'm taking over that shit.”

Luka Doncic, SF, Dallas Mavericks

Doncic is the most hyped and accomplished European guard ever to enter the NBA Draft. At 19 years old, he led his team to the EuroLeague title and was the youngest ever to be named EuroLeague MVP. And yet, he fell to the fifth pick in the draft and then got traded—the Mavericks drafted Trae Young with the third pick and then dealt him to Dallas for Doncic (and a 2019 first rounder).

 

The implications of Doncic’s success this year are as follows: the beginning of a career-long comparison between him and Trae Young, the way European guards are evaluated in all future NBA Drafts and the potential of a date with Jennifer Aniston.

Lonzo Ball, PG, Los Angeles Lakers

Intentional or not, Ball is at the forefront of a generation of young NBA players opting not to settle for a comfortable paycheck from a large corporation that lacks any connection to the player’s brand. When he was drafted, Zo reportedly turned down a potential $15 million over five years ($2 to $4 million per year). According to Chris Ngo, the co-owner of Leverage Showroom, the agency that handles marketing and fulfillment for Big Baller Brand’s ZO2 Collection, Zo surpassed the projected dollar amount that he turned down via income from his BBB during his rookie season.

 

If Zo and BBB can continue the momentum into his sophomore NBA season, he will have successfully exceeded his market value without relinquishing any control of his personal brand that is mandated by larger shoe corporations. Big Baller Brand is the most visible example of a family betting on themselves and, in that sense, it’s an exciting development.

 

Of course, in order to really maximize BBB’s potential, Zo will have to continue to grow into an All-Star guard.

C.J. McCollum, SG, Portland Trailblazers

In the past year, McCollum made two decisions with potential to impact the personal brands of players throughout the league. Alongside ESPN Insider Jordan Schultz, McCollum launched the Pull Up Pod, a basketball-themed podcast where McCollum speaks more candidly than one might expect a current player to.

 

While many NBA players have invested in their media presence on platforms like YouTube and Instagram, they tend to temper their opinions when it comes to opponents, teammates or the league. However, McCollum, the former editor of the Lehigh University student newspaper, does not let the fact that his opponents may be listening deter him from giving his own take. Hopefully, his candor lasts through the season and even spurs some more headlines. And for the sake of the fans, we hope other players follow suit.

 

In addition to his pod, McCollum signed a multi-year deal with Chinese shoe company Li-Ning. After Dwyane Wade, McCollum is the most marketable player to join the company, and like Wade, McCollum credited the size of the Chinese market as well as the creative control offered by Li-Ning. “I think that Li-Ning is the right brand for me, allowing me to be more involved with the brand and with that Eastern influence, allowing me to get into that market in China,” he told SLAM.

 

If McCollum can flaunt a signature shoe within the next year—only 17 NBA players have a signature shoe—to supplement the leg up in the Chinese market that he has on the rest of the NBA, we could see more NBA players heading East for endorsements.

Kristaps Porzingis, PF, New York Knicks

As the NBA continues to increase in popularity internationally, American brands have begun to recognize the commercial influence of foreign-born players. Adidas, specifically, doubled down on the Latvian seven-footer in 2016 and signed him to the richest shoe and apparel deal for a European player in NBA history. No pressure, but KP’s ability to move product will affect the way international stars are perceived by American brands moving forward.

 

Besides Adidas, however, KP has chosen to align himself with challenger brands where he will be able to help close the gap against former Fortune 500 giants. He signed with BodyArmor in 2015 at the start of his first season, which has shot up in valuation since. Additionally, Porzingis invested heavily in Zing Bars, a nutrition bar, where he will function as a brand ambassador in hopes of a serious ROI.

 

This season holds heavy implications on Porzingis’s future as a New York Knick. His brother and agent, Janis, has made it clear that money will not be the sole factor that determines where he will play following next season. Because KP will be out until December/January, the Knicks’ playoff hopes are bleak, meaning the best they can do to impress the unicorn (and effectively, the success of their franchise) is show signs of competitive potential upon his return. If Porzingis (and his brothers) look disgruntled come April, it may be an unfortunate indicator for the future of the Knicks.