The Whiteboard: Meta themes that will define the 2021-22 NBA season

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

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Hindsight has a way of shaping memory, paring away some of the connective tissue and leaving the breakthrough players and teams in stark relief. But while this may end up being remembered as the season of Kevin Durant and James Harden, or the year the Bucks repeated, or the final coronation of LeBron James — all the things that bind them together are what will really build this NBA campaign, brick by brick.

Looking beyond players and teams and offensive systems, here are the forces and meta themes that will define the 2021-22 NBA season.


Entropy is a general descent into chaos and it’s an utterly malleable force, finding the cracks and seeping into even the most thoughtfully planned and well-run organizations. Maybe your ownership and front office decide that saving some money by low-balling your 23-year-old center who just started in the NBA Finals is worth the risk. A personal slight works its way into the chemistry of the team, expanding and sending small fissures in every direction, just waiting for the right mix of pressure and heat to split it wide open.

Or maybe your front office is willing to overlook a coach’s well-documented history of disastrous on- and off-court results and toxic personality to wedge them between a transcendent star and a teammate who thinks he’s a transcendent star. Or maybe a decade of loyalty and leaving it all on the court saps the spirit of a legendary point guard who has never had a chance to see the NBA Finals. Nothing lasts forever, everything falls apart. But it usually happens in unexpected and unanticipated ways and as you’re reading this paragraph some crucial bit of organizational scaffolding is slowly eroding.


I continue to believe that joy is one of the biggest and most underrated variables for NBA success. Obviously, winning begets happiness for most professional athletes and coaches so it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But the teams that find ways to have fun, to enjoy each other and enjoy the process are going to have a big leg up this season.

Personal relationships

Friendships can conjure super teams from the aether, solidify young cores and help contenders weather all sorts of physical and emotional storms. Enmity, as an agent of entropy, can do the opposite. If Zion Williamson was obviously best friends with Brandon Ingram, Pelicans’ fans would probably be breathing a lot easier. If Kyrie Irving does decide to get vaccinated at some point, his personal relationship with Kevin Durant and James Harden will likely be a key factor. Things are going to get tough for the Lakers at some point this season and how Russell Westbrook feels integrated from a personal and personality standpoint could have a lot to do with how the Lakers respond.


Basketball is not the only important thing but there are points in the season where it demands all of you. Who will be willing to sacrifice shots or minutes for the betterment of the team? Who will be willing to sacrifice playing in a game or two for a payoff in pain-free knees come playoff time? Who will be willing to follow both the letter and spirit of the law in following COVID guidelines and keeping their teammates and support staff as healthy as possible? Which teams will be willing to sacrifice their present or future to trade for value in the opposite era?

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