NBA basketball is just around the corner and the time has come for me to unveil my annual preview. I think it’s going to be an interesting season where many surprises will happen. Here we go with the preview starting with the Western Conference!
The reigning NBA champs are looking to do it again. Led by MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Dubs have basically brought back most of their team from last season and added Jason Thompson to the mix. Draymond Green will continue his defensive prowess and will try to make the All-Star team for the first time as well. Coach Steve Kerr will be absent following back surgery and assistant head coach Luke Walton will fill in during the interim. My biggest worry for this team is that the players might have trouble without Coach Kerr there. Other than that,this team is for real.
The Rockets were a series win away from the NBA Finals and are looking to get back to their first Finals since their last championship in 1995. MVP candidate James Harden and Dwight Howard will be tapped to try and lead Houston back to championship contention. They resigned point guard Patrick Beverley to a four year,$23 million deal and Ty Lawson came over from Denver. The Rockets aren’t in short supply of depth and big names,but can they improve their rebounding and limit their turnovers? The turnovers are what hurt them in the Western Conference Finals and Kevin McHale can get these guys to improve in those two areas and if they can stay healthy, I think we have a pretty good team here who can absolutely contend for a championship.
If there’s a franchise that is the model of consistency in the NBA,it’s the Spurs. Even if they have an off year like last season was,they’re still getting things done. Signing Kawhi Leonard to a new deal before free agency even begins after winning the Defensive Player of the Year was smart. Also, the team signed LaMarcus Aldridge via free agency and brought in David West as well. Manu Ginobili is also back for another year. I don’t see the Spurs leaving the world of the NBA elite anytime soon,even after Tim Duncan retires. The system they and coach Gregg Popovich have is just too big to fail.
Though they have a terrible new logo and even worse uniforms, the talent wearing those uniforms is still pretty good. Coach Doc Rivers along with Chris Paul,Blake Griffin,and DeAndre Jordan are out to prove that they’re contenders in the West. In the offseason, Lance Stephenson was added along with 74-year-old Paul Pierce (Okay,okay,he’s 38!) to provide depth on the bench along with deep three-point shooting. Also added was Josh “My family can’t live on $7 million a year” Smith to help the frontcourt. Overall,I think this team will be very good,but am skeptical on whether or not they are championship contenders.
The Grizzlies seem to be a consistently good and talented team. Much of the same core guys are back. Zach Randolph, Mike Conley,Marc Gasol are back to try and get Memphis over the hump. Gone is Kosta Koufos who went to Sacramento,but arriving are Matt Barnes and Brandan Wright to help improve the defense,which should be one of the best in the league. The thing that the Grizzlies need to improve is their shot selection,while they do create enough offense to win games,they have been sloppy at times when it comes to shooting the ball. I do think,however,that this team will be very good as they always are and will be in the Western Conference mix.
Last season was bad for the Thunder. Kevin Durant was hurt for most of it,leaving Russell Westbrook and company to try and get back to the postseason without him. That didn’t happen,Scott Brooks lost his job and Billy Donovan came in to replace him. Not only that,but several other Thunder players were hurt as well, including Westbrook,Steven Adams,Serge Ibaka,and many more. This year,Oklahoma City brings back a healthy squad yearning to get back among the NBA’s elite teams,a hard task in the Western Conference these days,but the task nonetheless. Also on their agenda, trying to re-sign Durant as he is a free agent after this season who will no doubt attract several suitors. I think the Thunder come back to the playoffs but as a sixth seed because they have a new coach and a new system that they have to learn to adapt to,that’ll take time.
The Pelicans were happy to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011 but were bounced in a competitive first round match-up with the Warriors. Now,they want more. Alvin Gentry,their new head coach,will try to help guide a team with Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans,and Jrue Holiday past the first round of the playoffs. Keeping this team healthy will be the key to New Orleans’ quest for a second consecutive playoff berth as Holiday,Ryan Anderson,and Eric Gordon (who has to be made of glass) missed at least 20 games each during last season. The offense will be fine,but improving the defense will be the biggest task to keep the Pelicans competitive in a crowded Western Conference.
Yes,that’s right,I have the Sacramento Kings in the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Is it a homer pick? Probably. But here’s why I picked them to make the postseason: George Karl. He will be in his first full season in Sacramento and with talent like DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo and Ben McLemore on the floor together, it has to come together. Add in role players like Marco Belinelli (who should improve the team’s three-point shooting woes), Kosta Koufos,and rookie Willie Caulie-Stein and you’ve got a team that is going to grind out wins and play competitive basketball. Now,some sites are saying the Kings will crash and burn like they have in years past,others say they’ll surprise the league and win 50 games,but I’m gonna meet them in the middle at 45 wins. Remember,it’s been a decade since their last playoff berth and their biggest baby step will be here as an eighth seed. Plus what a way to close out Sleep Train Arena,right?
Here is a team that might actually make the playoffs, but I have the Jazz falling just short. Don’t get me wrong,they were a pretty tough group following the trade of Enes Kanter to Oklahoma City and guys like Rudy Gobert stepped it up defensively following the trade. What I think will be Utah’s weakness and ultimately keeps them from postseason play is their offense. Sure,they have Gordon Heyward,but what else ya got? I think the Jazz are hoping Dante Exum takes a big step forward and develops into their point guard of the future. Even Trey Lyles,their rookie from Kentucky,should be able to contribute off the bench and learn from guys like Derrick Favors and Gobert. It won’t be a surprise if Utah somehow barges into the postseason,but for now,I have them knocking on the door waiting for entry.
What a tough offseason the Mavericks had. After thinking they secured the services of DeAndre Jordan,he chickened out and went back to the Clippers and signed there. They were able to get Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams to commit to playing with talented guys like Chandler Parsons and Dirk Nowitzki,but overall they lost more than they gained. I do think that signing Zaza Pachulia after missing out on Jordan was big for them because he has a nice defensive presence,but overall Dallas didn’t do much to improve themselves to maintain a strong postseason presence. I think too many teams got better for them to be in the postseason conversation. Yes,they have a coach in Rick Carlisle that can get them there,but it’s gonna take a lot.
The Suns have been on the outside of the playoff spectrum for as long as I can remember. Last year I thought they’d get in after having a surprise season that ended without a playoff berth,but that didn’t happen. They did sign Tyson Chandler in the offseason to help improve their defensive presence. I would say that Phoenix’s glaring weekness coming into the season is shooting. They’re gonna need Eric Bledsoe, Markieff Morris,and Brandon Knight to make significant improvement in their three-point shooting. If they can do that,their play in the paint should be easier for them and harder for their defenders. I think the Suns have what it takes to make a playoff run,but until I see it happen with my own four eyes, I have them on the outside looking in yet again.
Losing LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs was bad. Very bad. Combine that and the loss of several role players to free agency or trades and the Blazers are now in rebuild mode yet again.But they still have Damian Lillard who is now the unquestioned face of Portland sports and they did bring in veteran big man Gerald Henderson. They will lead a young Trail Blazers team that consists of Noah Vonleh,C.J. McCollum and Al-Farouq Aminu and try to lead a group of inexperience to a third straight playoff berth. Scoring is going to be the big weakness of this team with Lillard being the only player on Portland’s roster with consistent double digits points per game averages. They’ve gotta find guys who can score and take the pressure off of Lillard to carry the whole offense on his back. I expect them to take a giant step back this year before they can take the next step forward.
The Nuggets were not that great last season. Ty Lawson is gone and rookie Emmanuel Mudiay is in. He will try to compliment a Denver squad with guys like Kenneth Faried (A Sports Geek favorite), Danilo Galinari,and Wilson Chandler rumoured to be on the trading block. Jameer Nelson and Darrell Arthur did come over via free agency,but that may not be enough to make the Nuggets more competitive. If a Faried trade brings a player over that’s a big name,then the Nuggets might be better for making that happen. I don’t see that happening anytime soon and I see them being as good as they were last season,not very. Although if GM Tim Connelly wants to send Faried to Sacramento,I’m all for it!
The Lakers had their worst season in franchise history. Kobe Bryant,who has to be pushing 70, was out most of year (again) and the team was left with leftovers like Nick Young,Jeremy Lin,and Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson did however have a strong rookie campaign. Julius Randle comes back after a leg injury that cost him his season after playing in one game. The Lakers shocked everyone by selecting D’Angelo Russell from Ohio State with the second pick in the draft. He should be an exciting young talent and heir apparent to Bryant once he retires (which I think will be after this season). Roy Hibbert also comes over from the Pacers to add some size to the lineup. If Bryant remains healthy, I think Los Angeles will be a much better team, but I don’t think it’ll translate to more wins. They’re a year or two away from being good again.
The Karl-Anthony Towns era in Minnesota is upon us and he joins Andrew Wiggins ,Ricky Rubio and a really young T-Wolves squad (save for 81-year-old Kevin Garnett and 85-year-old Andre Miller) who is trying to improve on a 16-win season. Towns should be able to provide a better inside precense, a glaring need for Minnesota. Wiggins,along with Kevin Martin and Rubio should help ignite a scoring offense designed to surprise some teams this season. I think this is another learning year in Minnesota. I don’t think they’ll be bad enough for yet another top overall pick in next year’s draft.
Now we move to the Eastern Conference!
The Cavaliers won the Eastern Conference last year as expected when their native son,LeBron James,came back after a four-year stint in Miami. While he brought the Cavs back to the Finals,they fell just short to the Warriors in what was a very competitive series. But they do bring back Kevin Love,Matthew Dellavedova (another Sports Geek favorite), and Kyrie Irving is back from his injury in the Finals. Love was also injured during the postseason. Mo Williams was added in the offseason to provide some veteran leadership on the team along with James. The big question is if Tristan Thompson plays at all this season in Cleveland. He and management are far away from a new deal to keep him in town and his jersey is not being sold in the team store. If the team can solve the drama with Thompson and keep him there then I see no reason why the Cavs can’t do what they did last season.
The Hawks had an incredible season last season. Sixty wins and a 19-game winning streak during the regular season made it even more incredible. They got to the Conference Finals for the first time since they moved to Atlanta in 1968 where they were swept by the Cavaliers. Most of the roster from last year is back,which included re-signing Paul Millsap but departing is Demarre Carroll,who went to Toronto. Tiago Splitter was brought in to provide some more front court size. One thing the Hawks need to do is not run out of gas down the stretch,they did that towards the end of last season and it showed. Sure,there were many freak injuries,but that doesn’t excuse it. Atlanta needs healthy bodies in those new uniforms with puke green trim to be able to compete and compete well for another long postseason run. I think they’ll be fine.
Some people think the wizards took a step back in the offseason when Paul Pierce left for Los Angeles, I think they’ve taken a step forward. They brought in Gary Neal who has been a three-point threat in the past as well as Jared Dudley who was traded to Washington from Milwaukee. Drew Gooden was also signed to bring some size and a veteran presence in the locker room. John Wall,Nene,and Bradley Beal will continue to lead the way in DC and Otto Porter seems to be coming along better than his rookie year. The team also drafted Kelly Oubre Jr. From Kansas. Overall this team should be really,really good should everyone stay healthy and I think they’ll be more than capable of making a long postseason run much like Atlanta and Cleveland did last year.
Last season was supposed to a year where the Bulls took a big leap and maybe,just maybe,would make their first Finals appearance since the Jordan-era. That didn’t happen. They were instead eliminated by the Cavaliers in the second round and Tom Thibodeau got fired. Fred Hoiberg is now tasked to try and get Derrick Rose,Jimmy Butler,Joakim Noah,and Pau Gasol deeper into the playoffs. I would say a healthy Rose is the key for the Bulls to get to the next level, but we all know that this isn’t the case. Even without Rose this team manages to be as strong without him in the lineup for whatever injury he’s sustained at that moment in time. Unfortunately they just don’t have the depth of teams that are better than them in the East.
5. Milwaukee Bucks 49-33
After winning a measly 15 games in 2013-14, the Bucks went out and changed everything,most notably their head coach. Jason Kidd came in and helped the Bucks add 26 wins to their previous win total to 41 and a date with the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. But that first round exit isn’t going to be where the Bucks stop. They went out and signed Greg Monroe and were able to keep Khris Middleton from going elsewhere as well as John Henson to help a squad with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams,and Jabari Parker,whose rookie campaign was cut short due to injury. With a healthy Parker coming back in addition to their strong offseason, I see Milwaukee being something special. I think they can even win a playoff series or two. This team should be fun to watch!
Despite the Raptors setting records for regular-season wins in back-to-back seasons, they were soon followed by quick postseason exits. The team hopes it doesn’t happen again as they signed DeMarre Carroll away from Atlanta for some defense and help with shooting. Kyle Lowry has to finish the season strong as his production dropped off immensely during the second half of the season and in the playoffs last year. Demar Derozan, Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas also need to step their games up in order for Toronto to get past the first round. They’re a beneficiary of being in a bad division so they should make the playoffs again,but not as a higher seed.
The Celtics had a huge second-half surge last season that vaulted them into the playoffs last season and are hoping to get further this year. In the offseason the Celtics traded for David Lee and brought in Amir Johnson to provide some size in the frontcourt. Isaiah Thomas (Miss him yet,Kings fans?) and Marcus Smart will continue to man the backcourt. Kelly Olynyk will continue to be a force when stretching the floor. I also think Tyler Zeller will have a very good season. Sure,the team is without a true superstar player for Brad Stephens to have out there on the court,but until they do,this is a good team with some nice pieces that will contribute nightly and will grind their way to wins any way they can.
At some point the Pistons have to be able to put it together and reach the postseason again,right? Yep,I think this is the season Stan Van Gundy and his players get back. They did trade for Marcus Morris in the offseason and drafted Stanley Johnson, but Johnson will need some time to develop in the pro game. Detroit is also hoping Aron Baynes will emerge as a great all-around player. They also added Danny Granger (I was wondering what happened to him) and Steve Blake for some veteran backcourt presence to help Reggie Jackson,Kentavius Caldwell-Pope,and Andre Drummond. While this doesn’t look like a good team by any stretch, they are benefitting by being in the Eastern Conference. I think they do win just enough games to make the postseason this year. It may be a quick stay there,but at least you get that foot in the door.
I really wanted to put the Magic in the playoffs. I really did. And there’s still a chance that this can happen, but this is still a young squad with a ton to prove. Tobias Harris re-signing with Orlando is a good sign that the team is heading in the right direction. He’s a great young athletic forward who’s a monster on defense as is Nikola Vucevic,who may get an All-Star bid if he plays as well as he did last season. You also have young guards in Victor Oladipo,Aaron Gordon,and Elfrid Payton and veterans Channing Frye and C.J. Watson. Coach Scott Skiles is tasked with making the pieces of this roster fit and to be cohesive. I think their youth and inexperience will have them on the outside looking in as far as postseason talk goes,but this is the Eastern Conference and almsot anything can happen.
Year two of life post-LeBron begins in South Florida. Last year I picked the Heat to get back to the postseason even though James had left for Cleveland and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh still remained. But Bosh was injured for a giant chunk of the year and Wade breaks down in stretches during the year. Hassan Whiteside came on strong at center while Bosh was gone. The team may be better if everyone is healthy and they did sign Goran Dragic to a long-term deal in the offseason. The biggest weakness on this team is consistency and for the roster,as talented as they are, are going to underachieve big time.
After being among the East’s best and elite teams for years,the Pacers took a step backwards after missing Paul George for 76 games due to injury. Also missing a combined 73 games were David West,George Hill,C.J. Miles,and Roy Hibbert. Despite that,Indiana won 38 games but did not qualify for the postseason. Hibbert and West have gone to Los Angeles and San Antonio,respectively. The Pacers did acquire Monta Ellis in the offseason to play alongside Hill in the backcourt. I do like that they drafted Myles Turner who should give them some size as he develops and learns the pro game. It will more than likely be a rebuilding year for Indiana,but I expect them to be in the postseason again in a season or two. I do like that Rakeem Christmas’ number is 25, very appropriate!
Gosh,where do we start? Brooklyn had a mass exodus of players leaving,some of it began last season with Kevin Garnett going back to Minnesota via trade. The only two guys left from the Nets’ first years in Brooklyn are Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. Now they’re surrounded by a team of castoffs and young players who have yet to make their way in the league,which include Jarrett Jack,Thaddeus Young,and Andrea Bargnani. I don’t see this group heading to the postseason this year,but they do have a ton of cap space to get players to come there next year. Anything can happen!
They’ve been sacrificing wanting to win the last two seasons and it appears fans in Philadelphia are headed for a third. Yes,the team has a great young frontcourt in Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor,but they need more than that. They did pick up former first-rounder Nik Stauskas from Sacramento who should give the Sixers some better shooting as should Robert Covington who comes over from Houston. Joel Embiid is still not ready to make his debut after recovering from a broken foot and one has to wonder if he ever will play in the NBA. I think the Sixers will win a few games more than last season,but that’s about it. Expect them to rack up yet another high lottery pick next May.
The Hornets last season gambled on Lance Stephenson making a big impact on the team and it didn’t pan out. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is out for the season with a shoulder injury,leaving Kemba Walker to lead a team with role players such as Marvin Williams, Nicolas Batum,Jeremy Lin,and Jeremy Lamb. I think the big thing that Charlotte needs to do is to see how these players fit together and I think that’s going to take some time. I do like them drafting Frank Kaminsky from Wisconsin,though.
What else can you say about the Knicks? It’s been a rough go for Phil Jackson as general manager and keeping Carmelo Anthony happy is anything but in the realm of possibility at this point. Sure,they added Aaron Afflalo and Robin Lopez,but I don’t think those guys will be enough to help New York turn things around overnight. In fact,if anything, I see Anthony being traded near or at the deadline. The best thing for Knicks fans to do is hope for the team to get another high draft pick that they can boo on draft night…again!
Western Conference First Round
Golden State over Sacramento
Houston over New Orleans
San Antonio over Oklahoma City
Memphis over L.A. Clippers
Eastern Conference First Round
Cleveland over Detroit
Atlanta over Boston
Washington over Toronto
Milwaukee over Chicago
Western Conference Semifinals
Golden State over Memphis
San Antonio over Houston
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Cleveland over Milwaukee
Washington over Atlanta
Western Conference Finals
San Antonio over Golden State
Eastern Conference Finals
Cleveland over Washington
Cleveland over San Antonio in 7 games
Enjoy the season!