NBA Title Favorites: Who They Are + Why They’ll Win (or Lose)
Undoubtedly, the biggest story of this NBA offseason has been the saga of Kevin Durant. Amidst the fireworks and barbecues across the country, Durant announced his (heavily criticized) decision to sign with the Golden State Warriors on July 4th. As he joins forces with superstars like Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and CoachUp's Stephen Curry, many believe that the Warriors are a lock to hoist the championship trophy next June. While Durant’s decision will most certainly put the Warriors in a favorable position, LeBron James is still in Cleveland and flanked by the same core group that won the NBA Finals last year, so counting them out would be a mistake.
Elsewhere, some other teams across the league have put together competitive rosters as well -- so be careful before you crown the Warriors again. Here’s a list of a few teams that none would be too surprised to see make a run at being crowned NBA Champions at the end of the season, headlined by the new foes of the league, Golden State:
Golden State Warriors
No surprises here, folks. Curry, Thompson, Green, Durant, and Andre Iguodala sound like the starting lineup for an All-Star Game, not one that gets to play 82 games together. With the additions of David West and Zaza Pachulia, along with KD, the Warriors seem like a team destined for their third-straight NBA Finals, despite having to slog through the tougher Western Conference again. Expect to see some eye-popping offensive numbers this year -- can Curry beat his three-point record once more? --and, overall, a really fun team to watch. The question is this: can each star get their share of shots with so many offensive weapons on the floor at once? If they can, this could be a scary team for another 5+ years.
It feels wrong to put the Cavaliers in the #2 spot considering they brought home the city's first major title since the Browns did it in 1964. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and the aforementioned James return to see if they can repeat again this year, although the task will certainly be tougher this time around. James remains, arguably, the most dominant player in the league, but the Cavaliers will have to replace the scrappy Matthew Dellavedova and big man Timofey Mozgov. There's no debate that Cleveland will be very formidable again, however, this team could face some depth issues if anybody suffers a long-term injury.
San Antonio Spurs
Anytime you have Gregg Popovich on the sidelines calling the shots, you have a chance to win the title. The Spurs lost a shoo-in Hall of Famer with Tim Duncan's retirement, but managed to replace him with another future Hall of Famer in Pau Gasol. The Spaniard will join Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Kawhi Leonard as they set out to prove they can best their Western Conference juggernauts again.
On paper, the Spurs are certainly old in today's modern NBA, as Leonard is the only star in the rotation that'd be feasibly considered young -- but with Popovich, that means very little. Popovich likes to rest his players throughout the season, and he may need to do so more than ever if he hopes to contend with Golden State. There's no doubting the Basketball IQ of this team, but they will have to be at their best this season to compete come playoff time -- can Popovich psych them up for another deep run?
This may come as a surprise to see Boston so high on this list, but the Celtics could be one of the most exciting teams to watch this year. Boston added a forgotten superstar in Al Horford at power forward, and drafted a versatile rookie with the no. three overall pick in this year’s draft, Jaylen Brown. These two join a young and talented team featuring Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Jae Crowder. Danny Ainge, the Celtics' general manager, and Brad Stevens, the head coach, preach a team-first mentality, but are they still one max contract player away from challenging Cleveland for supremacy in the Eastern Conference?
Los Angeles Clippers
The self-proclaimed “Lob City” hopes to join the conversation of NBA elites this year. With Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Reddick, and Blake Griffin now fully healthy, they form one of the league's most well-rounded cores. There is no doubting this team’s highlight reel capabilities each night, however, they seem to be a victim of injuries and poor playoff performances. With Paul on the final year of his contract, this might be the Clippers' last chance in this window -- can they make it count? Veterans like Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce certainly hope so.
Sleeper Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder
Yes, Kevin Durant is gone. Yes, Serge Ibaka is gone. But are the title hopes for the Thunder gone too? No -- in fact, this team may be hungrier than ever after getting burned by Durant. Russell Westbrook should be your no. one fantasy target this year and we could see some unprecedented individual performances from him -- as we've seen in other seasons, without Durant on the floor, Westbrook can put up some pretty insane statistical lines. The Thunder will have to outperform expectations to even reach the playoffs in the crowded Western Conference, but on the back of Westbrook and the new addition of Victor Oladipo, this team could go far.
Regardless of who ends up as champions in June, expect some major fireworks this year. With the biggest storylines set, we just have a few more lingering questions: no longer the villain of the league, can James become the hero that (again) defeats the even stronger superteam in Golden State? Or can teams like the Celtics and Clippers take the next step? Or will Westbrook remove his jersey to reveal a Superman cape?
Thankfully, however, the NBA is back and stronger than ever, so we won't have to wait long to find out.