As the 2017-2018 NBA season approaches, it’s a good opportunity to see which teams, besides the defending champions Golden State Warriors, see themselves as candidates for a championship. They might realistically be good enough, but the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder all believe they can finish with the league title. Here’s a closer look at each team, and why they might be good enough to go all the way.
Golden State Warriors
I mean, why wouldn’t they? They’re the defending champions, with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson along with rookie Jordan Bell, Omri Casspi, Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee and Nick Young. They have arguably two of the three best players in the league, are deep all across the board and the worst thing for the league is that they’re set up to win not just this season, but for a few more years as well. Unless something tears this team from the inside, it’ll take injuries, not just one key injury, to derail their title run.
Despite the additions of Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, not everyone is so sure the Celtics actually got better than last season, when they finished with the best record in the East and made the conference finals for the first time since 2012, only to lose in 5 games to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Avery Bradley left and Isaiah Thomas was part of the trade that landed them Irving. But Danny Ainge feels it’s time to strike the iron, while it’s hot, so he gambled. A starting five of Irving, Hayward, Tatum, Marcus Morris and Al Horford is nothing to scoff about. However, a lot relies on whether Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and other less heralded bench members keep progressing.
San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard might just be the best player in the NBA, and maybe this year he’ll get the MVP recognition for it. But the Spurs title hopes hang on more than just Leonard, whose injury in the conference finals last season resulted in a sweep for the Warriors. Tony Parker is one year older and no longer good enough to be the starting point guard. Manu Ginobili is staying, although he can’t give the Spurs too much for too long. Pau Gasol contributes more, but isn’t a spring chicken either. LaMarcus Aldridge is hopefully not on too steep of a decline. This means the Spurs need to lay their eggs in a basket that includes Patty Mills, Kyle Anderson, Dejounte Murray, Danny Green, Rudy Gay and Davis Bertans, hoping it clicks under the hands of Gregg Popovich.
The Cavaliers have had a turbulent summer, that included trading Kyrie Irving away, but getting Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder in return. Derrick Rose joined on a minimum deal which means no matter what he contributes, it’s worth it, while the Cavaliers tried moving Iman Shumpert and Kevin Love but failed. So basically, this might be the same team, more or less, that reached the NBA Finals (winning one, losing twice) over the last three years, only with an older LeBron James (most people believe it’s his last season in Cleveland) and probably a better bench. For the first time in a while, it might not be enough to win the East, although as long as James continues to play at his remarkable level, it’s difficult seeing anyone knocking them off their Eastern pedestal.
The Rockets were a fun, chaotic, shooting basketball team last season, that won 55 games and took the Spurs to six games in the conference semifinals. James Harden got the keys to the kingdom and put up incredible numbers, while breaking (again) the turnover record. And the Rockets felt they need more. As analytical as Daryl Morey’s perception he is, he loves his superstars. So he threw Patrick Beverley and less important players into the wind, resulting in Chris Paul. A terrific, hall of fame point guard, but this means Harden is no longer the point guard. What will this mean for the Rockets D’Antoni-crafted run & gun style? Probably fun to watch from a certain point, especially if Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon knock down their open shots. But it’ll take something special for them to do more than last season.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder keep going with the same approach they had to tweak a bit last season. A two superstar team that had to go with one for one year is now back to two, probably for just one season. Paul George joined them and especially Russell Westbrook, the 2017 MVP. While the Thunder see themselves as a championship contender, it’s hard to look at a team with so many holes in their depth chart. Last season the Thunder played Westbrook+4, good enough for 47 wins and a quick exit in the playoffs. It’s not quite certain that adding George on a one-year rental will be enough to put them over the first round hurdle, although it should make things easier for Westbrook. Problem is, it’s a load no one knows if he actually wants to share.