A great number of NBA stars who were injured and sidelined last year will take the floor healthy this upcoming season. The list includes Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and so many more. Among the group, two of them will come back with similar histories and strong expectations, facing a path aimed straight towards a championship. The two are Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant.
Both of the former MVP’s missed large chunks of last season. In their absence, their sidekicks, Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook, both advanced their game and made gigantic strides. Butler won the Most Improved Player of the Year Award, averaging 20 PPG and 5.8 RPG, and was named to the All-Defensive 2nd team for the second consecutive year, adding himself to an elite class of defenders. His remarkable season led to a great award: a 5 year, $95 million dollar contract. With Rose’s continuous injury problems and the rise of Butler’s game in Chicago many people think the franchise has handed the keys over to Butler. For Durant, it’s been Westbrook who dramatically enhanced his play without Durant by his side. Westbrook led the league in scoring, went on ridiculous streaks, including 4 consecutive triple-doubles, and finished 4th in MVP voting. Westbrook took the league by storm and proved he didn’t need Durant to show that he was a first class player and magnate of his own. Durant will not be playing alongside an All-Star next season; he will play alongside a superstar in Westbrook.
Aside from the development of their costars, both teams will begin the season with new coaches. The Bulls fired Tom Thibodeau and the Thunder fired Scott Brooks. Replacing them will be former college coaches, Fred Hoiberg for the Chicago Bulls and Billy Donovan for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Rose and Durant have been in their previous coaches network for numerous years and will have to adjust to new systems and styles of play as the season approaches.
The changes these two will have to work around as the season progresses will be no easy task. Rose and Durant, both now healthy, are expected to give their teams the main boost in order for them to win a championship. While their teams have been waiting for them to get ready, their foes have wasted no time preparing for it. The Eastern Conference has made significant strides as the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards, New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks all added significant pieces and get back healthy All-Stars. The same goes in the West; the Golden State Warriors are championship experienced, the already great San Antonio Spurs added LaMarcus Aldridge, the Los Angeles Clippers grew stronger and Anthony Davis is turning into a MVP in the distance. The Bulls and Thunder will essentially have the same roster they had last season with only minor changes. The tremendous pressure and expectations will fall in the hands of Durant and Rose. Fans are hoping both players will return healthy and to their MVP ways, tightening up for a long ride to the Finals.
Personally, these two will be the subject of much of the media’s talk. Prior to the start of the preseason, Rose was slammed with allegations of rape in a lawsuit. Not too long after, he suffered a left orbital fracture at practice and had surgery to correct it, adding to the unending list of injuries. Rose hasn’t been able to get on the good side of the news but he is optimistic he is innocent and will be fine to play come opening night. Durant, on the other hand, has faced a surplus of media attention from something that hasn’t even occurred it: his 2016 free agency. As the salary cap bursts next summer and teams get grow richer, all eyes will be on the grand forward. Durant has been the talk of next summer’s free agency for years and has already been linked to multiple teams (Washington, Miami, Los Angeles Oklahoma City). He knows he won’t be able to get away from the media as every ounce of failure, frustration and retraction over the Thunder’s season will amount to more and more questions. Mental stability is essential for both players in order to thrive. Losing will only worsen their predicaments; their missions will be no easy challenge but one to take personally.
Aware of this towering challenge, no one is looking more forward to it than Rose and Durant themselves. They know their absences affected the team vastly and prevented them from reaching their potential. Both players have been in the gym this summer, getting back to the basics and improving their game. There seems to be a consensus that Rose can’t return to his 2011 form but the energetic point guard won’t listen to any of it; his confidence is through the roof and with the positive performance in last years playoffs, he believes that the sky is limit for a healthy Bulls team. Durant has been on the edge of his seat, eager to get on the floor and bring a championship to the state of Oklahoma. He’s been to the top and fell many times but with a more refurbished team he’s certain the Thunder can handle the rough weather out West and take down anyone. If both these players can return to their MVP like ways, their teams will be dramatically better, leaving the league gasping for air. However, it’s up to the players themselves and they know that despite their team’s nominal additions in the off-season, the majority of improvement has taken place in the gym and they’ll bring the power their teams didn’t possess last season to shock the league this year. They’re ready to prove that they can be the great MVPs they once were and have the same impact they’ve had in the past, just with a more successful outcome. Whether these teams meet in the finals or don’t make it at all; whether both Rose and Durant play out of this World, they will have to adopt a win-or-fail mentality and win a championship to prove they have more to offer than in the past. Both players have been in the playoffs almost every year they’ve been in the league, making deep runs and even once reaching the finals but they didn’t fall back so far and train so hard to become content again; they need to win everything because anything short of that ultimate success will be a lost season.