The 2015-2016 NBA season opens with six teams on the first night: Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Pelicans, Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis and more come to mind, considering the first games and the entire season as well.
One name: LeBron James. The rest always feels like some sort of changing background to the main star and feature of the NBA. Believe it or not James is entering his 13th NBA season. While he’d love to take it easy for some chunks of the schedule, right now he can’t. Kyrie Irving is out until December (or maybe a bit longer), Kevin Love needs to get used to playing basketball again and Iman Shumpert will be out for the next two months as well. That means the Cavaliers are once again almost completely dependant on James on both ends of the floor, hoping to avoid last season’s start. Mo Williams and Richard Jefferson joining the same roster (that went to the finals) as last year will help, but they can’t do what Irving and Shumpert do.
Golden State Warriors
Can they repeat? Of course they can. The same championship core has stayed together. They seem hungry, confident and willing to fight not just on the floor, but through the media, not liking any sort of criticism on their impressive title run. But like it or not, luck was part of the story last season. Avoiding injuries is often about misfortune being averted. That, and the West having three others teams (or more) that might be good enough to knock them off their perch.
The big question around this team is whether or not making a change at head coach without adding anything to a roster that made the conference semifinals last season except Bobby Portis (rookie out of Arkansas) can actually take a step forward, which means beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs, which means getting past LeBron James. The other question related to the big one is whether Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and other gentle players can finally stay healthy for an entire season. While being healthy and fit in the playoffs is the most important things, it does feel like the Bulls getting home court advantage could mean a lot for them in the postseason, especially against James and co.
New Orleans Pelicans
The interesting conundrum about the Pelicans this season is that they might actually be better, with Anthony Davis developing further and having Alvin Gentry on the sidelines, and still not make the playoffs. They barely made it last season (on the last day infact), and haven’t gotten better in terms of adding significant players. So, to review, the entire premise is Davis is going to be better (MVP’ish even) while Gentry improves the team by bringing his offensive prowess from the Bay Area to Louisiana.
The most interesting thing about the Hawks this offseason had nothing to do with basketball (the Thabo Sefolosha lawsuit). Sefolosha himself is going to be back from his injury sometime in the next few months. Meanwhile, last year’s best regular season team in the East is filling the shoes of the very important DeMarre Carroll (left to the Bucks) with Kent Bazemore, while hoping that adding Tiago Splitter to the bench adds a little bit of much needed toughness to the team. Even if it doesn’t, watching Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and Al Horford with a bench filled with shooters should be fun, even if it’s not going to be as good as the first time.
The Pistons haven’t been to the playoffs since 2009. Stan van Gundy is into his second season of building this team from the ashes of the terrible Joe Dumars finale and signing Josh Smith. Is a team with Reggie Jackson as its main scorer and the developing Andre Drummond as its rock good enough to make the playoffs in the East? Well, no Greg Monroe means there’s finally no clog in the paint, Marcus Morris has looked very good in preseason, Ersan Ilyasova might give his career a nice little revival in the right role and Stanley Johnson should have good rookie season. The bench feels kind of empty, but without any serious injuries, this conference is weak enough so this team battles for the final postseason spots, especially after Brandon Jennings comes back from his injury. He’s hoping it happens before Christmas.