Grateful For Our Hoops Delight

It's Thanksgiving week in the U.S. At some point over the four-day holiday, most of us will get together with family or friends or both and reveal what we are appreciative of. The NBA is no different. Sure, players will share time and at least one meal with those they cherish. My main point is that a month into the 2019-2020 season, fans will offer up what they're grateful to see on the court.

For Celtics fans: A return to the "turmoil" of two seasons ago.

When Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving arrived in Beantown, New England figured that the pieces were finally in place to overtake Cleveland and challenge for an NBA title. That went sideways less than a minute into the regular season, with Hayward suffering a gruesome leg injury before getting a chance to settle into the opener. Irving hurt his knee late in the campaign, which ultimately led to him missing out of the postseason run. Even with their two stars out, the C's managed to reach Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against said Cavs.

Last season, Boston worked all season to get back to whole. Irving was on the floor from the jump, while Hayward eased back in. But the chemistry was off, as was the team's play. In 2018-2019, they ended up with less wins (55 down to 49), a worse seed (2nd down to 4th), and, ultimately, an earlier exit (Conference Semis) than the season before. Now, Kyrie is off in Brooklyn. With Gordon getting back to full bore, the Celtics whisked their way to a 7-1 start. Hayward's currently out for a few more weeks with a broken hand. However, this team may have shown their impact at full strength. That's a welcome sight in the current "City of Champions."

For Heat fans: Jimmy Butler seems to be the missing piece.

What started out as a story of determination to reach star-level status has turned into a journeyman's trek, in a way. Butler is on the fourth team of his career. Things didn't end rosy in Chicago. I'm all too familiar on how things finished here in Minneapolis. He appeared to make hay in Philadelphia. It seems, though, like Miami is the best fit for the two-way forward.

Following the years of the Big Three on South Beach, the Heat have basically floundered. There was one good season (48-34 in 2015-2016), but the other four have been decent-at-best. With Butler now in the fold, the fire is burning hot once again. As of their 12-4 start, Miami is 6th in margin of victory, 3rd in defensive rating, and 7th in net rating. Butler's been looking for his opportunity to be "The Man" of a franchise. He's finally getting that shot. So far, he's making good on that.

For Raptors fans: They're more than just one piece.

You could say that there's no time limit on how long Canadian fans will be grateful (that country's Thanksgiving was October 14th). Their 2018 gamble paid off in two ways. Trading DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard was the more stable risk. Promoting Nick Nurse to head coach was the less-assured one. However those decisions were thought of at the time, the rewards certainly justified them. The first part of that equation is gone. Even with that departure, the defending champions left enough in the cupboard for the second half of the equation to prove his worth.

Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet were part of the Raptors organization during some of the postseason low moments. They were also part of the glory that showered over the city (and the country) last June. There's a lot of relief north of the border. There's also hunger to prove that the title they hold wasn't a one-man, flash-in-the-pan occurrence. A 12-4 record is a good start. A good record over an eight-game stretch (starting Wednesday) that includes Utah, Miami, Houston, Philadelphia (road), and the Clippers would only increase the warm fuzzies.

For Pacers fans: The new lineup's holding on without its star.

Victor Oladipo has emerged as the star of the Indiana franchise. The promise that he flashed in college never came together in Orlando. And there wasn't a lot of time for that to shine in Oklahoma City. In 2017-2018, he finally appeared to find that flow. Maybe it was his new situation, playing just miles from those Indiana Hoosier roots. Whatever the reason, his pro career took off during the first round of the 2018 playoffs.

After keeping the rhythm into last year, a quad injury sidelined him just after the halfway point. The team held strong, garnering a second straight 5-seed in the East. As of Wednesday morning, the Pacers find themselves at 10-6. That's good enough for 6th in the conference, and it's come without a single play from Oladipo. When the star guard returns, he'll find a new running mate in free agent signee Malcolm Brogdon. It may take Oladipo time to return and get back to full speed, but there are possibilities and hope for followers of this team.

For Mavericks fans: The team traded Trae Young away.

To be honest, Young hasn't been too shabby for the Hawks. His numbers in 97 overall games as a pro (20.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 8.2 apg) have only blossomed early during his sophomore season (26.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 8/7 apg in 16 games). However, the Mavericks have been in this situation before. In 1998, they conducted a draft night trade for an intriguing, but largely unknown forward from Europe. Jump ahead 20 years, and the recently-retired Dirk Nowitzki is a lock for the Hall of Fame.

Twenty years after Dallas grabbed the rights to Nowitzki, they pulled off another Draft night trade to get an intriguing, but slightly less unknown point guard from Europe. Eighty-nine games into his NBA career, Luka Doncic is showing that the hype was worth it. His overall career numbers (22.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 6.6 apg in those 88 contests) are really getting a boost from the opening 17-game stretch of this season (30.1 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 9.5 apg). More substantial is the fact that he's trending the Mavs toward their first postseason berth since 2016 (yes, I know it's still early). Who knows what the future has in store for the 20-year-old from Slovenia, but Dallas fans believe another star has been launched in the Heart of Texas.

For Los Angeles fans: Once again, the stars are aligned.

The Clippers don't have the pedigree of the Lakers. But, for a brief minute, the stars based in that locker room of the Staples Center made the franchise relevant. Before that, the star parade seemed only for the Lakers to coordinate. For the first time since both organizations occupied the same city, they can honestly say that each one sports "megastar" credentials.

LeBron James kicked this off in the dummer of 2018. When he chose the Purple and Gold, the clock started ticking. It wasn't just for the Lakers to add enough pieces to contend. It also started for the Clippers, who had to counteract with a plan to steal some of that spotlight back. Over the last few months, three top-flight players also decided to call SoCal home. Anthony Davis' months-long saga finally ended when New Orleans found a deal that they liked, trading the all-star out West. The move has turned out to be an early boon. Going into Wednesday's slate, LAL was on an 8-game winning streak and had the best record in the Association (15-2).

In the recent back-and-forth regarding James' and Kevin Durant's status as the best player in the league, Kawhi Leonard offered enough credentials to become a write-in candidate. The 2019 playoffs provided his campaign staging. Now, Leonard may have nosed ahead as he returned to his hometown to, hopefully, play the role of postseason hero ... the sequel. Paul George had his ascendence delayed by that horrible broken leg at the USA Basketball Trials. His return to the spotlight was stunted last season due to a shoulder injury. He's back and — cross your fingers — fully healthy. With this duo finally getting the chance to bond, the 13-5 Clippers could be scary once April and May come around.

So, as you enjoy the turkey and all the fixin's, remember to be thankful. Thankful of family ... thankful of health ... and thankful that hoops are back on the screen.

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