In this year's NBA postseason, this much is already clear: There will be a new champion.
A lot of first-time champions, too.
The second round of the playoffs start Saturday night, and nowhere to be found are the franchises that have combined to win almost two-thirds of the titles awarded in league history. Instead, there are what could be considered new faces: the Phoenix Suns, who are in the second round for the first time since 2010; the Brooklyn Nets, who advanced for the first time since 2014; and the Atlanta Hawks, moving on for the first time since 2016.
Plus, when the NBA gets down to its final eight teams, there will be no more than eight players and possibly as few as five who have previously won a championship ring.
So for virtually everyone left in the playoffs, this is a whole new world. New teams. New faces. New stories. And in the end, of course, there will be a new winner and a whole lot of guys who get their fingerprints on the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the first time.
"I don't think it matters one way or the other," said Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers, who will be one of only two coaches left in the second round to have guided a team to a title, with either Rick Carlisle (Dallas Mavericks) or Tyronn Lue (Los Angeles Clippers) the other. "I think people love great NBA basketball, and that's what they want to see."
And this might be great — but it will definitely be different.
This is only the third time in NBA history the finalists from one season — in this case, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat — were not among the last eight teams standing in the playoffs the following season. At least five of the final eight teams in last season's restart bubble are done for this season. Of last year's final four in the NBA, only the Denver Nuggets are back in the final eight this season.
"Our goal is much bigger," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Among the teams nowhere to be found right now: the franchises that have combined to win 36 of the past 37 NBA championships. Or 47 of the past 49 titles. Or 68 of the 74 ever awarded. The Lakers, who last year celebrated the 17th NBA crown in franchise history, exited in the first round this time, limping to elimination with a Game 6 loss to the Suns late Thursday night. The Heat's reign as Eastern Conference champions ended with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks.
"It's been draining," Lakers forward LeBron James said. "Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally draining. ... Every team has to deal with it, obviously, but with us and Miami, going the long haul in the bubble and then coming right back on short notice to this season, it's been very draining."
James missed the playoffs in 2019 because of injury. Other than that, he had been to the NBA Finals in every season since 2011. That run is over.
The second round starts in Brooklyn, where the second-seeded Nets host third-seeded Milwaukee on Saturday to tip off an Eastern Conference semifinal series. The other East semifinal series starts Sunday, with fifth-seeded Atlanta visiting No. 1 Philadelphia. In the Western Conference, the top-seeded Utah Jazz will meet either the Clippers or the Mavericks, while second-seeded Phoenix will take on third-seeded Denver starting Monday.
Maybe the absence of the usual suspects from the past two decades or so — the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs join the Heat and the Lakers on that list — is surprising. But the way this first round went also can't be a total shocker, because the top three seeds on both halves of the bracket made the conference semifinals, and no worse than a No. 5 seed will fill out the fields.
While having the new faces in the next round might be good for the league, those still playing aren't exactly wasting time on a big-picture perspective.
"I'm not even going to go there," Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan said. "I'm not going to go and talk about what's good for the league. My focus is on the Hawks and facing Philadelphia."
Entering Friday, there were eight players left in the playoffs who were part of a team's winning trip to the NBA Finals: Philadelphia's Danny Green and Denver's JaVale McGee are three-time champions, Brooklyn's Kevin Durant and Clippers teammates Kawhi Leonard and Rajon Rondo each have two rings, and Brooklyn's Kyrie Irving, the Clippers' Serge Ibaka and the Sixers' Dwight Howard have one title apiece.
And nobody has won a ring, obviously, with his current club.
It all means the path to the NBA Finals is wide open for the first time in years and a breakthrough awaits someone.
"We have a chance to do something special," Jazz center Rudy Gobert said.
Green has talked to teammates about what winning a ring is like, but his lessons more often are about the years when his teams fell short — and how to avoid those moments.
"I think a lot of the world is surprised that the defending champions and Miami went out as early as they did," Green said. "It happens. Injuries happen. It's a long season. ... As a fan, I love watching basketball, watching competitive basketball and rooting for underdogs. I love to see certain teams make it farther than they do.
"But as a player, I'm not focused on or worried about any other team."