With the NBA regular season beginning next Tuesday, for those who do not remember, you may ask : Where did we leave off?
Well in June, the Golden State Warriors, led by league MVP Stephen Curry and rookie head coach Steve Kerr, defeated a depleted and injury-plagued Cleveland Cavalier team, which had won the Eastern Conference. They had been led by their own rookie coach, David Blatt, and the game’s top player LeBron James.
Six months later, the landscape in the NBA has changed with new coaches, management and rosters. Once great teams from the previous year will now be fighting for the lottery instead of the Larry O’Brien trophy and vice versa. And the rookie class looks the strongest in years as the NBA is about to enter its 70 year.
Looking at the two competitors in last season’s championship, Cleveland is the favorite in the Eastern Conference. The return of stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will mean the return of the Cavs offensive firepower which was absent in the NBA Finals.
Signing Mo Williams as a backup point guard means scoring and a veteran presence off the bench. The addition will certainly help with the backup guard play, as the team’s lack of depth was exposed last June.
However, the inability of to sign Tristan Thompson to a long-term deal will hurt the team’s rebounding ability when it comes time to play among the elite bigs in both conferences. Fortunately, this will not harm Cleveland that much, as there is not a team in the East who can beat a healthy Cleveland Cavaliers team.
As potential rivals to Cleveland, the Chicago Bulls seem to be imploding with the infighting between stars, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose. Replacing head coach Tom Thibodeau, who was replaced by Fred Hoiberg, will also likely see the Bulls regress, as management was unable to agree with their best coach in nearly two decades.
The Atlanta Hawks, the major surprise last season, are built similar to the elite Spurs, without the player talent and experience of the Spurs players and coaches. The Washington Wizards collapsed during the second half of last season and are now without the veteran presence of Paul Pierce who led them throughout the postseason. Out of all the teams in the East, the only one that can challenge the Cavs in a seven game series would be his former squad, the Miami Heat. Last season, a blood clot to All-Star Chris Bosh kept him out for the second half of the season and the Heat out of the playoffs. Now, with a new big three comprised of Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Goran Dragic and the deepest Miami roster in four years, a Miami- Cleveland Eastern Conference Finals would be an exciting series to watch.
In the West, for the Golden State Warriors, with all due respect, that team did receive some luck in their championship run. They did not have to play the San Antonio Spurs or the Los Angeles Clippers, who both have knocked out the Warriors in the past two postseasons. Against the Memphis Grizzlies, Mike Conley Jr’s injury to his face limited him throughout the series. Then in the NBA Finals, LeBron had to shoulder the load without Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving. However, they still are a talented team with a championship pedigree and are bringing back the same roster as last season. That being said, the other elite teams in the Western Conference have bulked up to challenge Golden State.
The biggest winners of free agency were the San Antonio Spurs. They landed the biggest name of the summer with LaMarcus Aldridge and were able to resign Kawhi Leonard to a long term deal to build the foundation for the future. Veterans Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili both signed two years deals after a season many believe would be their last. David West took less money to become the backup power forward for the team, giving them more depth than any other team in the NBA.
A close second for the summer was the Los Angeles Clippers. The signings of Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson adds depth and offense on a roster that needed it. The signing of Paul Pierce illustrates that the Semifinal collapse in May has been learned and dealt with by bringing in a championship tested veteran. Still, the biggest story of the offseason was the DeAndre Jordan re-signing, after verbally committing to the Dallas Mavericks days prior. The defense and finishing abilities of Jordan was a much needed factor the Clippers could not lose.
Like the last couple seasons, the Western Conference will be a fifty car pile up on the highway, as there are still more elite teams who could easily win the conference. Oklahoma City will return to form with a healthy Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, giving them the best duo in the league. The Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets remain a steady contender in the Conference, while the New Orleans Hornets have shown to be on the steady rise, being led by Anthony Davis.
With the season starting next Tuesday, with so many storylines in each conference, less than it is safe to say that this season is shaping up to be one of the more interesting in years.