The Cleveland Cavaliers might be the defending NBA champions, but the overwhelming favorites to win the title in 2017 will be the Golden State Warriors, for obvious reasons. Even the San Antonio Spurs, despite or because their changes, are probably looking slightly stronger than LeBron James and co.
The Warriors have entered the last 3 years as favorites to win the league title. After going 67-15 in 2014-2015, they won the franchise’s first championship in 40 years by beating the Cavaliers 4-2 in the finals, taking advantage of Kyrie Irving missing most of the series and Kevin Love missing all of it. Of course, the Warriors hated when people suggested their opponents injuries helped them win the title, like anyone would.
Last season they were favorites to defend the championship again. They set a new NBA record, going 73-9 in the regular season, and had a 3-1 lead in the finals. On the way, they turned themselves into the biggest villains in the league (more on that later), and lost to James and the Cavaliers, becoming the first team in NBA history to lose after leading 3-1 in the finals. Obviously, they used every excuse in the book, including injuries, to try and soften the blow.
And this season? Their defense might be weaker but adding Kevin Durant is just impossible to ignore, considering how young the rest of their key players, except for Andre Iguodala, are. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Durant on the same court? At times, it’ll be impossible to defend them, even if the points come from individual ability and one on ones, not some smart, systematic passing and off the ball movement.
Where to the Cavaliers and Spurs fall into this? Cleveland have the benefit of playing in the East. The Celtics got stronger, and the older he grows the more rest James needs. The extended time between game in the NBA finals worked extremely well for James, and while it takes a season of 82 games + 12 more wins in the playoffs to make the finals, the Cavaliers and everyone else will be quite shocked if they don’t make it there for the third straight season.
The Spurs disappointed last year, and personally, I don’t think they made enough changes to trim the old fat away. Pau Gasol gives them a center who doesn’t defend all that well, but can play a full season without breaking down, and can score and pass off the elbow and post. Replacing Tim Duncan, even at his age, is impossible, but Gasol fits what the Spurs try and like to do. Tony Parker, however, might be staying as the team’s starting point guard one year too long, and the same goes for Manu Ginobili, who keeps holding off a retirement he should head into.
But this is still a team with Kawhi Leonard, maybe the best 2-way players in the league right now, along with LaMarcus Aldridge, who isn’t a young lad anymore, but should be more comfortable and aware of what he should do in this system. The Spurs remain the biggest threat to the Warriors, but they’ll actually need to make it through the playoffs to get there. They got bounced by the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder in the last two years, with Gregg Popovich exposed a time or two with some bad in-game decisions.
What about other teams, like the Clippers and Thunder? Nope. Even if the Clippers stay healthy all season long, their bench remains a problem, Chris Paul throws away games at the end, and Doc Rivers simply isn’t that good of a coach or general manager. As for the Thunder, it’s probably going to be really fun watching their Russell Westbrook solo tour, especially when they clash with Golden State, but the team doesn’t look good enough or deep enough to be considered a serious contender to the title.