Of all the American sports leagues, the NBA is the one which relies most heavily on its superstars.
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are largely credited with reviving the league in the 1980’s. Michael Jordan became a global sports icon in the 90’s. And Kobe Bryant and LeBron James filled the void after Jordan’s retirement.
Now, a large portion of the younger generation of NBA fans are more interested in following individual players than a specific team. The NBA knows this and markets their stars better than any other league.
But now the stars are hurting.
The league reportedly came $1.5 billion under their revenue projections for last season, a financial loss which surely played a role in their desire to start the 2021 season as quickly as possible.
The NBA “bubble” in Orlando didn’t come to a conclusion until October because of the play stoppage caused by the coronavirus. What followed was the shortest offseason in league history — 71 days — which is less than half of the traditional break. While the players union and league agreed to the shortened offseason terms, it was widely reported that the NBA’s broadcast partners were pushing hard for an early start. NBA games on Christmas Day have long been a source of significant revenue for the league and their partners, so it’s not hard to see why the NBA was adamant about an early start, given the potential losses in revenue would’ve reportedly been anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion.
The quick turnaround was not received well by the players, and concerns of a potential increase in injuries due to lack of rest were at the forefront of many player conversations.
The players may have been right.
The NBA has been gutted by injuries this season. In a year that is already less interesting due to the absence of fans in the arenas, major injuries to the league’s stars have added to the lack of intrigue.
While there isn’t yet any empirical data which points to the shortened offseason as the reason why there has been an uptick in injuries this year, it’s not hard to see the correlation. There are simply too many high-profile names shelved by injuries to turn a blind eye.
Here’s a list of teams that have been hit hardest by the injury bug:
The Nets quickly became one of the most feared offensive units of all-time when they acquired James Harden from the Houston Rockets in January. Add in the return of Kevin Durant from an Achilles tear and the playmaking ability of Kyrie Irving, and the Nets have the makings of an historically lethal offense. The problem is that the three stars have barely had a chance to play together.
The three superstars have logged just 186 minutes together across seven games. Durant and Irving have only been paired in the starting lineup 14 times this season and Durant missed 23 consecutive games due to a hamstring injury. Now Harden, who was looking like the MVP frontrunner for a short period of time, is currently dealing with his own hamstring injury.
While we can see the potential for an unstoppable offense, we haven’t had enough opportunities to watch the three stars in action to fully gauge their ceiling.
After a deep run in the bubble — the Nuggets lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals — Denver looked like they may finally have the roster to reach an NBA Finals.
The Nuggets made a big splash at the trade deadline by acquiring Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic. Denver won its first eight games with Gordon in the lineup and were looking like a legitimate threat to the Lakers and LA Clippers in the Western Conference. And then the injury bug bit.
Jamal Murray — the perfect second option to Nikola Jokic — suffered a catastrophic knee injury late Monday night in Denver’s game against the Golden State Warriors. As feared, the Nuggets confirmed that Murray suffered a season-ending ACL tear. All hopes of a deep playoff run were dashed in an instant.
Los Angeles Lakers
The defending NBA champs started the season as the prohibitive title favorites, but an early season Achilles and calf injury to Anthony Davis set them back. Add in a high ankle sprain for James, and the Lakers are searching for answers. In an interesting twist, the early injuries to the Lakers stars may actually be beneficial if both James and Davis are able to return for the playoffs.
Star center Joel Embiid missed 10 games with a bone bruise on his left knee. Embiid has a long history of injuries and the Sixers would be wise to be careful as he works his way back into shape.
Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has missed the Bucks last five games and has no timetable to return from a knee injury. Antetokounmpo has been largely healthy throughout his NBA career, so the Bucks should not be overly concerned. Even so, an injured Antetokounmpo would dash Milwaukee’s title hopes.
Perhaps no NBA team has been hit by the injury bug quite like the Blazers. CJ McCollum suffered a fractured foot in January and missed 24 games due to the injury, while Blazers center Jusef Nurkic suffered a fractured wrist in January and missed 32 consecutive games before returning from the injury.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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