It’s been one of the craziest offseasons in NBA history, with almost half the league switching teams. Some teams improved dramatically, some teams left us scratching our heads, and some teams managed to fall into both buckets. So I’d thought I’d take some time and offer my opinions/prediction on how everything is going to turnout. As always, delusional messages telling me how I’m an idiot and your team is going to the finals is always welcome @aelderbaum. Let’s start with the Western Conference.
- Los Angeles Clippers: They added two premier scorers who also happen to be two of the best defensive players in the league. They still have Patrick Beverly to make opposing point guards miserable, a great roll man in Montrazl Harrell, and sixth man extraordinaire Lou William’s. They also have quality depth with Landry Shamet, Rodney Mcgruder, Moe Harkless, Ivica Zubac and Jerome Robinson. The Clippers should be able to manage both superstars workloads and match up with any opponent. LA will be the top seed in the west.
Utah Jazz : That’s right Utah will be the second seed in a brutal conference. By replacing Ricky Rubio with a point guard who could shoot the Jazz would become a contender, by replacing him with Mike Conley they are a legit championship caliber team. Along with Conley they also added a scorer with playoff chops in Bojan Bogdanovic, a quality back-up big man in Ed Davis, and a serviceable back up guard in Emanuel Mudiay. I can see Knicks fans rolling their eyes, but he had his moments for the team, and imagine him with actual NBA caliber teammates. Utah also still has Defensive POY Rudy Gobert, the underrated Joe Ingles, and Donovan Mitchell who maybe someday will measure up to the man the Knicks passed on him to take.
Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets did what they always do and quietly added one of the best available players in a trade by acquiring Jerami Grant. Grant can play defense, is a career 37% three point shooter, and will play multiple positions. Adding him to a team that had the second best record in the west is only going to raise their ceiling. Nikola Jokic is an MVP candidate and maybe Jamal Murray wont soil himself in the post season this year. If Michael Porter can add anything and avoid spending time in a wheelchair this team is a legit title contender.
Houston Rockets: This is the team I had the most trouble figuring out. Theres a reason every team Chris Paul has been part of has underachieved and had horrible chemistry. Removing him and the 30 games he was going to miss and replacing him with Russell Westbrook is a win for the Rockets. He and Harden will figure out how to coexist, and keep in mind Harden begged for this trade. He is going to be much more willing to play off the ball, defer to Russ, anything to make sure Houston is a better team. With teams having to try to stop the new superstar duo Eric Gordon and Clint Capela should be able to shine. Remember these guys almost took out the Warriors the last two years.
Portland Trailblazers: The Blazers made the conference finals last season, and while I dont forsee an encore, they will still be a playoff team. With Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum they still boast one of the leagues best back courts, and have a ton of solid role players in Rodney Hood, Zach Collins, and Ken Bazemore. Hassan Whiteside should be able to man the middle until Jusuf Nurkic returns from his leg injury and the team is very high on second year guard Anfernee Simmons. Portland probably maxes out at a second round exit.
6.Golden State Warriors: Is it possible to call this team a sleeper? I think reports of their demise are greatly exaggerated. They still have Steph Curry, and by adding D’angelo Russell they have an all star caliber band-aid until Klay Thompson returns. Thompson is big enough to guard the opposition’s best wing player so him coexisting with Russell and Curry is not a ridiculous idea when he comes back. They still have Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and Alfonzo Mckinnie from last years team and I really like the Willie Cauley-Stein addition. I think he can be a rich mans Festus Ezeli, and an even better defender. If Klay does make it back they could be dangerous in the post season.
- OKC Thunder: Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari , Steven Adams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Andre Roberson. Dennis Schroeder, Mike Muscala, Pat Patterson and Terrance Ferguson off the bench. OKC has built a sneaky fun roster while stockpiling approximately 450 picks in the next 5 drafts. Paul already has a chip on his shoulder, and now hes been exiled to Oklahoma, and everyone is saying he is stuck there because he is too old and expensive for anybody to want him. I think he will have his best season in the last few years just to prove people wrong, and he is on the perfect team to do so. Some talented role players, a borderline all star who can play unselfishly, and some young talent to mentor. I think it will be a struggle but they will sneak into the seventh seed.
New Orleans Pelicans: Lonzo on a team that will let him be this generations Jason Kidd, Brandon Ingram getting the chance to be a scorer and creator, and Zion electrifying crowds with his dunks and playmaking. In addition to that they have Nickeil Alexander-Walker looking like the steal of the draft, and Jackson Hayes being much further along then anyone planned. Jrue Holliday is an all star caliber two way guard to pair with Lonzo. They also added veteran shooter JJ Reddick and Jazz big man Derrick Favors. This is a fast rising team that seemed to make all the right moves this offseason and may arrive a year earlier than expected.
Los Angeles Lakers: Right now the Lakers starting five is DeMarcus Cousins or Javale McGee, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green and Lebron James. Lebron will turn 35 in December and is coming off the most serious injury he’d had in his career, so naturally he will be the starting point guard. Their bench is the washed Avery Bradley, the never actually been that good Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the even more washed Rajon Rondo, and probably should have retired Jared Dudley. There is noone on this roster to guard any of the Blazers or Warriors backcourt, or big athletic wings. Lebron will break down and this team will not make the playoffs.
San Antonio Spurs: They are running back essentially the same team in a stronger conference so I don’t see them finishing much higher than this. I’m more intrigued by the new Knicks/Spurs dirty tricks subplot. Popovich is ex military, he may arrange for Marcus Morris to have an “accident” forcing the Knicks to sign yet another power forward.
Sacramento Kings: This one pains me, because I actually really like this team. Fox and Hield compliment each other perfectly, Nemanja Bjielica and Bogdan Bogdanovic provide spacing, and who doesent want to see Harry Giles stay healthy and have good year. Dwayne Dedmon and Trevor Ariza were perfect additions, and Marvin Bagley seems poised to make a leap. The Harrison Barnes contract is the first big issue I have, as he is being paid like an all star while hes at best slightly above average. They also dont have a true big defender, and on the wings Ariza is a little old to be your lockdown guy. I think Sacramento is a year and move or two away from really making some noise.
12: Dallas Mavericks: I think Porzingis and Luka are going to be an awesome combination, and I dont get why Dallas backed out of adding Goran Dragic. Your not going anywhere this season, why not go full Euro and bring in Luka’s buddy for a year. Maybe it goes great and Dragic resigns on a modest deal next season. Instead you add Delon Wright and resign Maxi Kleber with the money? Meh. Dallas has refused to tank in the past out of respect for Dirk, but now that hes gone, one lost year may not be the worst thing. They finally have their cap under control, adding another good young player and then building around Doncic, Porzingis and said player makes the most sense to me. I know Cuban and Carlisle always want to compete, but when your competitors have Paul George and Kawhi…maybe sit this one out.
- Memphis Grizzlies: Another team on the rise, I just want to see Ja Morant play in games before I fully leap on the bandwagon. I dont have any real concerns and wish he would have landed in NY, but noone had concerns about Markelle Fultz either. I’m not sure what they’re doing at shooting guard with Josh Jackson and Grayson Allen, league sources tell me they are looking to add Jayson William’s for additional depth behind those guys.
Minnesota Timberwolves: So umm do YOU have any interest in picking up Andrew Wiggins?
Phoenix Suns: “So you know how theres tons of free agents right now, well were totally getting a new starting point guard!”
“Who? Kyrie? Kemba? Brogdon?
“Ummm not exactly…”
Click here for part 2, the eastern conference.