Tuesday October 17th begins the new NBA season. It will kick off with some solid matchups and a lot of familiar faces in new places. The defending champion Golden State Warriors look largely the same (ridiculous), while the rest of the league has been scrambling to either form teams to compete or to start building for the future. A few contenders have emerged, but another championship is essentially Golden State’s to lose.
Let’s start by looking to the East, where most of the offseason changes happened at the very top. Last year’s Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers swapped star point guards with the #1 seed Boston Celtics. Kyrie Irving now looks to lead Boston alongside fellow newcomer Gordon Hayward, a first time All-Star last year for the Jazz. Isiah Thomas, some other guys, a 2018 first round draft pick, and a washing machine were traded to take Irving’s place. Oh, and the Cavs added James’ buddy Dwyane Wade too. Multiple Finals appearances were not enough to make Irving want to stay with LeBron in Cleveland, and we won’t have to wait long to see the two clash, as the two teams face each other to tip-off the season.
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The Raptors, Wizards, Bucks, and Heat bring back squads that resemble what we saw last year. The young Bucks are another year older and hope that Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton can stay on the floor all year to help them challenge the top teams in the East. The Wizards finally got a healthy season from shooting guard Bradley Beal and are going to continue to lean on their strong backcourt. The Hawks, Pacers, and Bulls appear to be entering a rebuilding stage, while the Philadelphia 76ers try to emerge from one. After multiple years of tanking to acquire draft picks, the 76ers have built up a very solid team of potential stars. Only time will tell how quickly they can grow and compete.
Out in the Western Conference, as I mentioned, it is the Warriors who look to reign supreme. Last year’s addition of Kevin Durant took the already star-powered team to unheard of heights. By the time the playoffs rolled around, they were clicking and a 70+ win season could be on the horizon this year. The 61-win Spurs remain much the same, though they did add Rudy Gay to fill in some of the scoring void left by an under-performing LaMarcus Aldridge. They will again be lead by the man with the world’s largest hands: MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard.
The Clippers dealt Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets for some role players, highlighted by Patrick Beverly and Lou Williams, who alongside newcomer Danilo Gallinari, will look to keep L.A. relevant after losing Redick and Crawford as well. The Rockets will be a top team in the West again led by bearded scoring savant, James Harden. They hope to see young center Clint Capela become DeAndre Jordan-esque when paired with Paul. The Thunder made plenty of moves as well, acquiring Paul George and Carmelo Anthony while only giving up essentially a rack of basketballs and half a pair of Jordan’s. Adding these pieces to MVP Russell Westbrook’s squad could put them near the top of the standings, though they will have depth issues to address.
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The Denver Nuggets, with the improvement of Nikola Jokic and addition of Paul Millsap will fight to enter the playoffs, which they just missed last year (arguably due to the legalization of marijuana). The Pelicans hope to see their frontcourt tandem of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins pay off as well. The Timberwolves will likely be one of the most improved teams, having added Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague to their young core of talented players. The Jazz and Grizzlies will both take steps back, as the Lakers and Suns look to take steps forward as they develop their young players. Lavar Ball will have beef with everyone.
This was undeniably the busiest NBA offseason as far as big-name player movement. “The Decision” by LeBron to go to Miami in 2010 seemed to have kicked off a new era in the NBA in which the players choose to exercise more control of which team they are on. So many players on new teams will be a little nuts. We will also be seeing some small logos on many team’s jerseys, which is a first. The league has cut down on back-to-back games for teams and has put punishments in place for teams who rest star players for nationally televised contests. Teams have also been given slimmer chances at top draft picks for losing, to discourage intentional tanking. The format for the All-Star game has changed in hopes to make it more competitive. There have been some other tweaks, but you’ve probably already stopped caring.
This should be a wild season! I’ll be tweeting about it pretty constantly, so don’t forget to tune into the games and follow your favorite blogger on Twitter @WilHarrington