Connecticut is a state without an NBA team (although there is a WNBA team, the Connecticut Sun).
Given this reality, Hilltopper NBA fans usually rally to nearby teams, such as the Knicks and Nets in New York, and the Celtics in Boston. All three of these teams are on very different trajectories, yet, nonetheless, are beloved by Hilltoppers.
The New York Knicks are the most valuable franchise in the NBA but lack recent success. Despite being the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference last season, the Knicks missed the playoffs entirely this year, even missing the play-in tournament. According to Axel Fine ’24, “This year was a disappointing one.” Despite this disappointing year, Fine, like many other Knicks fans, believes that 23-year-old RJ Barret has superstar potential. Julius Randle was an All-NBA second-team player in the 2020-21 season, yet in the past season Fine remarked that “if there was a most unimproved player, Julius Randle would’ve won it."
The Knicks’ disappointing season landed them the eleventh pick in the first round of the draft. This pick can be used to select one of the best young prospects in the world. Whichever young player they select will have a significant impact on the team, and, hopefully, send them on an upward trajectory.
Their pick, combined with R.J. Barett, and Julius Randle, could bring the storied franchise back to relevance, and possibly dominance. Another strategy would be to, as Fine put it, “ trade some picks and recruit stars.” The allure of the Big Apple has attracted superstars before, and some combination of those assets can yet again get a star to the Knicks.
According to Amir McFerren ‘24, the Nets' season was “extremely disappointing.” In order to understand the expectations set for this team, and why they could not deliver, the last few years must be taken into account. In the offseason before the 2019-2020 season, the team acquired superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the offseason. Their Nets tenure got off to a rocky start, as they both missed many games due to injury. On the bright side, young players such as Jarret Allen and Caris Levert were allowed to develop.
The team in 2020 had a much stronger start, with Durant and a healthier Irving alongside those excellent role players. The expectations for the team rose even more when they traded Levert, Allen, and multiple picks for former MVP James Harden. Despite Harden’s reputation, some fans, such as Riley Foushee ‘23 were concerned: “I didn’t like the trade, especially with giving up all those picks and Jarrett Allen, as they have been getting beaten by bigger players, like Giannis [Antetokounmpo].”
The big three of Harden, Irving, and Durant seemed on paper to be unstoppable, yet, due to injury and lack of depth, the Nets fell in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals to the Milwaukee Bucks. There was still hope before this season, as the Nets remained title favorites. However, due to Irving’s unvaccinated status, he missed most home games. Durant missed numerous games due to injury. The biggest hit to the Nets was Harden forcing his way out of Brooklyn, as he was traded for a package centered around Ben Simmons, a player who did not play for the entire 21-22 season. Even though the talented team played four close games, the Nets were swept in the first round, a far cry from the lofty expectations set for them. McFerren said that he “still [has] hope” for the team, yet “[is] a lot less optimistic than [he] was last year.”
The Boston Celtics are the most successful of the three franchises this season. Like many Celtics fans, Preston Parker ‘24 “[feels] very confident in the immediate future of the Celtics,” yet this short-term confidence was not always well-founded. Despite having a promising young core of All Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, as well as Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, the team had a disappointing start. The Celtics struggled, posting a 25-25 record in the middle of the season. Then, the team caught fire. The Celtics only lost six of their last 32 games, finishing with the second seed in the Eastern Conference. The team, riding this wave of momentum, swept the Nets, followed by a 4-3 series victory against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. That win “felt like it secured [The Celtics] as a real contender in the postseason,” according to Parker. Parker, who was at Game 7, noted that “The energy in the stadium was unbelievable. ”At press time, the Celtics were playing the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.