Now that the NBA season is underway, it’s time to take a look at the league and who will make it to the playoffs and who is favored to win the NBA title.
1 BOSTON CELTICS…The return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Heyward will make the Celtics one of the deepest teams in the NBA. Point guard Terry Rozier came into his own in the playoffs averaging 16.5 ppg and nearly seven assists. Expectations are extremely high in Boston and anything less than the NBA finals will be a huge disappointment. Brad Stevens is perhaps the “BEST” coach in the NBA today.
2 TORONTO RAPTORS….The defending division champs acquired Kawhi Leonard in the off-season but lost four-time all-star DeMar DeRozan. Leonard may be a one-and-done in Toronto since he has a player option following the season. Another question is his health after playing only nine games last season.
3 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS….The Sixers improved from 28 to 52 wins in just one season thanks to the play of Center Joel Embiid and Forward Ben Simmons. If Simmons is to take this team to the next level, he must improve his perimeter shooting. Philadelphia didn’t add a huge free-agent name in the off-season but did sign 6’9” Forward Wilson Chandler from Denver.
4 NEW YORK KNICKS….The Knicks continue their re-building after missing the playoffs for the fifth straight season. Drafting Guard Kevin Knox out of Kentucky is a good start. Forward Kristaps Porzingas is the cornerstone of the franchise averaging 22.7ppg.
5 BROOKLYN NETS…The Nets saw an eight game improvement last season and if they can improve another eight games they are on the right track. Signing Forward Ed Davis will bring a veteran presence.
1 INDIANA PACERS….The Pacers won 48 games last season and have the mix to win more and take the division. Victor Oladipo became an All-Star for the first time and will be joined by free-agent signees Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott and Kyle O’Quinn. Evans averaged 19 ppg with Memphis. The Pacers are one of the deepest teams in the NBA.
2 MILWAUKEE BUCKS….The Bucks are counting on continual progression in hopes of being a contender in the Eastern conference. Former Atlanta Hawks mentor Mike Budenholzer was hired in the off-season as the new head coach. The face of the franchise Giannis Antetokounnmpo is arguably one of the top five players in the NBA. He has increased his scoring average in each of his first six seasons in the league.
3 DETROIT PISTONS….Detroit ended the Stan Van Gundy era with one playoff appearance and zero postseason wins in four years. The Pistons finished in ninth place in the East last season and hired former Toronto head coach Dwane Casey to run the show. Casey was named the NBA coach of the year after leading Toronto to the best regular – season record in the Eastern conference. Having Blake Griffin an entire season will be a huge lift in Detroit.
4 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS…Cleveland will be without LeBron James for the second time. They decided to sign Kevin Love to a four – year, $120 million contract extension. Love must stay healthy if Cleveland is to contend for a playoff spot this season. He missed 45 regular – season games over the last two years. He must also show that he is the #1 option in Cleveland.
5 CHICAGO BULLS….Chicago tanked last season, but may be headed in the right direction. The Bulls netted the #7 overall pick in the NBA draft and selected Duke forward Wendell Carter Junior. Carter averaged almost 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in the NBA summer league. He will be joined by last season’s rookie surprise in forward Lauri Markkanen who averaged 15.2 points per game. This is a young team whose future looks bright.
1 WASHINGTON WIZARDS…Washington has hovered around the .500 mark or better for five straight years and making the playoffs in four of those seasons. This middle of the pack franchise added forwards Dwight Howard, Jeff Green and guard Austin Rivers. Howard is a definite upgrade averaging 16.6 points per game and 12.5 rebounds for Charlotte last season. Rivers had his best season in a Clippers uniform averaging 15.1 points per game.
2 MIAMI HEAT….Miami GM Pat Riley refuses to let this team to tank. They are good enough to make the playoffs but they don’t have enough talent to go deep into the playoffs. Point guard Goran Dragic earned his first All-Star selection last season and was better in the playoffs averaging nearly 19 points per game. Getting guard Dion Waiters will be a huge key. When healthy, he gives Miami a scoring boost.
3 CHARLOTTE HORNETS….Charlotte hasn’t seen much success under Michael Jordan as an executive. The Hornets finished 36 – 46 last season and hasn’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs since the 2001 – 02 season. They now have a new general manager/basketball operations and a new head coach. They are hoping that this year’s first-rounder Miles Bridges from Michigan State, can be an impact player.
4 ORLANDO MAGIC…Orlando is looking for stability and hoping another new coach will bring a winning formula to this franchise. Orlando hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2012. They have hired their fourth head coach in seven seasons. This is a team with plenty of young talent and potential, but they have struggled because several of their first – round picks haven’t come through.
5 ATLANTA HAWKS….The Hawks are another team with a new head coach and several new faces. Atlanta made a draft – day trade with Dallas to acquire Oklahoma point guard Trae Young. The Hawks will give young every chance to succeed after trading Dennis Schroder to Oklahoma City. Overall, there’s not enough talent across the board for Atlanta to make a playoff run.
1 OKLAHOMA CITY…Forward Paul George decided to stay in Oklahoma City joining guard Russell Westbrook as a potent 1-2 punch. Adding Dennis Schroder from Atlanta will give the Thunder a potential Sixth Man of the Year contender. He averaged 19.4 points per game with the Hawks last season. Oklahoma City is hoping he will live up to his potential. The problem is there’s not enough talent to overcome the Warriors or the Lakers.
2 UTAH JAZZ….Utah had the second – best finish of any team in the NBA last season and took Oklahoma City out of the playoffs in the first round. The Jazz have a solid young core and will continue to cause fits for teams in the Western Conference. Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, Rookie of the Year runner-up Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors are an excellent trio to build around.
3 DENVER NUGGETS…Denver hasn’t reached the playoffs in five – years and haven’t won a series since 2009. Despite the gloom and doom, Denver fans are excited about a brand-new season. If forward Paul Millsap is healthy, the Nuggets have every chance to improve on their 46 – 36 record. They re-signed Nikola Jokic and Will Barton. Combining Jokic and Barton with Gary Harris and Jamal Murray form a young core for this franchise. Denver also signed Isaiah Thomas to a one-year contract in the off-season.
4 MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES…Minnesota has perhaps two of the top 15 players in the NBA, but one of those players doesn’t want to be there. Jimmy Butler continues to ask for a trade, and as of this writing, he is still wearing a Minnesota uniform. 7-foot center Karl-Anthony Towns is the cornerstone of this team after averaging 21.3 points and 12.3 rebounds last season. Forward Andrew Wiggins is loaded with athleticism, but has yet to live up to his #1 overall billing. Defense is a liability for Minnesota ranking 29th in field – goal – percentage. Stay tuned as the Butler saga continues.
5 PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS…Portland was exposed in the opening round of the playoffs when they were swept by New Orleans 4 – 0. They have now lost 10 straight playoff games over the last three seasons. Guard Damian Lillard averaged nearly 27 points per game last season. He is the cornerstone of this franchise and will be joined by guard CJ McCollum as one of the best backcourt’s in the league. Portland wasn’t able to add much this summer because they were virtually capped– out.
1 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS…Golden State keeps on rolling and seems to be getting more formidable and better every season. They added big man DeMarcus Cousins to a lineup that has Stephen Curry, Kevin Durrant and Klay Thompson. After consecutive seasons of 67, 73, 67 and 58 wins, the Warriors are primed for a run at their fifth straight appearance in the NBA finals.
2 LOS ANGELES LAKERS…adding Lebron James makes the Lakers one of the favorites in the Western Conference. He will be joined by a young, talented roster that includes Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball. It’s a loaded Western Conference and the Lakers made things much more interesting with the addition of James.
3 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS…Former NBA great Jerry West now runs the Clippers and he was very serious about cleaning house in the off-season. The entire core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are all gone. West was unable to sign Lebron James so he’ll have to count on Lou Williams (22.6) and Tobias Harris (18.6). It will be tough for the Clippers to match 42 wins of last season.
4 PHOENIX SUNS….Phoenix had the number one pick in last year’s NBA draft and selected Arizona Center Deandre Ayton. The 7’1” Bahamian put a big numbers for the Wildcats, but struggled during his NBA Summer League stint. Getting to the playoffs will be a stretch for Phoenix, but they are beginning to close the gap.
5 SACRAMENTO KINGS….Sacramento won only 27 games last season. With so much talent to compete with in the Western Conference, the Kings are going with a “big” formula. Eight players on their projected roster stand 6’9” or taller. Adding Marvin Bagley III out of Duke will give Sacramento the size and skill they have needed for several seasons. It’s been 12 consecutive seasons without hope of a playoff run. Keep an eye on Sacramento this season.
1 HOUSTON ROCKETS…Houston had a 3 – 2 lead on the Warriors with two chances to close out the defending champions and game seven on their home court. The problem was they didn’t have a healthy Chris Paul in the lineup. In the end, the Warriors won the series and the NBA championship. With a healthy Paul and MVP James Harden returning, the rockets feel they have a chance to celebrate a title this season in Houston. They also feel the missing piece could be Carmelo Anthony.
2 NEW ORLEANS PELICANS…New Orleans lost the services of the Marcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo to the Los Angeles Lakers. General Manager Dell Demps didn’t panic and added forward Julius Randal and Elfrid Peyton. They will team with Anthony Davis allowing the Pelicans to play the faster pace. Davis is one of the top five players in the NBA averaging 28.1 points per game and 11.1 rebounds. Davis could sign a super – max contract next season making him the highest paid player in the NBA.
3 SAN ANTONIO SPURS…Things are not the same in San Antonio! A franchise that is used too low – profile consistency and an image worthy of all NBA teams blew-up in the off-season. Kawhi Leonard wanted out of San Antonio and got his wish in a trade with Toronto. The Spurs received All-Star DeMar DeRozan in return. They still have forward LaMarcus Aldridge to build around, but a string of 21 straight playoff years could be in jeopardy.
4 MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES….Memphis struggled through an injury filled 60 – loss season and it appears losing 60 again this season is likely. Their key players are getting old and the young players aren’t ready to take the lead role. Forward Jaren Jackson has all the tools to be a rim – protector on defense and has enough range to knock down three – pointers. It will still be a long season in Memphis.
5 DALLAS MAVERICKS…Dallas one only 24 games last season, the fewest since the 1998 – 99 season. There isn’t enough talent to make a serious run to the playoffs in the Western Conference. Adding rookie guard Luka Doncic may have been the steal of the draft. The multi-talented player from Slovenia won the Euro-League title with one of the top clubs in the world in Real Madrid. He was also named the Final Four MVP. Dallas is hoping adding his talent along with last year’s top pick Dennis Smith will give them solid nucleus to build around for the future.
1 GOLDEN STATE
2 LA LAKERS
5 NEW ORLEANS
NBA CHAMPIONSHIP: GOLDEN STATE VS. BOSTON