The 2016-17 NBA season is set to tip off this week making this time of the year the absolute greatest, as all 4 major sports are in action. Last year we witnessed the LeBron James led Cavaliers defeat the “greatest regular season team of all time” Golden State Warriors in 7 games, to bring Cleveland their 1st NBA championship. Let’s take a look at what this year has in store for us.
The “The Yellow Brick Road” Eastern Conference
Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs spent the majority of this off season under the radar and as defending champions they were better off for it. They return basically a carbon copy roster from last year’s title team and get another 82 games for James, Irving and Love to continue to build their on-court chemistry. LeBron James is still the most dominant and impactful player in the world, this team will have no major issues in the regular season and will once again be the #1 seed in the East.
Toronto Raptors: The Raptors are coming off their first 50-win season in franchise history and are looking to improve. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan their two NBA All-Stars will be their leaders but look for the additions Jared Sullinger and their 9th overall pick Jakob Poeltl to have an impact. This team took the Cavaliers to 6 games in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, if Jonas Valanciunas can stay healthy they remain a top threat in the East.
Boston Celtics: The way this team has rebuilt since the deconstruction of the Big Three + Rondo is remarkable. Brad Stevens is one of the brightest coaches in the NBA and the Celtics will be serious contenders in the East this year. The addition of Al Horford who is coming off of back to back All-Star appearances will provide much needed interior scoring. Adding Jaylen Brown, the 3rd overall pick in the draft makes the Celtics have one of the deepest and most talented back-courts in the NBA. Expect the C’s to matchup with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Chicago Bulls: Rajon Rondo, Dwayne Wade and Jimmy Butler will get this team into the playoffs but do not expect them to make a deep run. It is unknown what this team’s identity will be this year with Rondo and Wade coming in. The development of Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine will be exciting to watch.
Detroit Pistons: The double-double king Andre Drummond claims he has a secret formula that will help boost his putrid 38% free throw percentage (We’ll see). Drummond and front court mate Tobias Harris are an extremely tough cover for opponents. Expect Stanley Johnson to be a breakout candidate this season and the Pistons will hope to grab a possible 6 or 7 seed in the East.
Indiana Pacers: The addition of Jeff Teague and junkyard dog Thaddeus Young will take much of the pressure off of Paul George. The excitement around this team resides in the development of their second year big man Myles Turner. This team will make the playoffs and possibly push the Raptors or Celtics but they don’t have enough yet to beat them.
Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks lost Al Horford but replaced him with Dwight Howard. If this was 5 years ago then the Hawks would be serious contenders in the East. Unfortunately, it isn’t but expect the Hawks to once again have a successful regular season but pose no real threat in the playoffs next Spring.
Milwaukee Bucks: The most underrated team in the East, despite the loss of Kris Middleton to hamstring surgery expect this team to surprise people this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo the “Greek Freak” has continued to improve since coming into this league. The return of Jabari Parker is huge, Greg Monroe and rookie Thon Maker provide so much length in the interior. Adding Matthew Dellavedova will help Jason Kidd run his offense and possibly guide this team to an 8 seed.
Charlotte Hornets: This team flew under the radar last season winning a franchise best 48 wins but don’t expect them the replicate quite the same success. Kemba Walker proved he was top 5-point guard in the league last year. The departure of Al Jefferson will hurt more than they think but expect Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to become key cog for this team on both ends of the floor. The Hornets will compete for the 7th or 8th seed.
Washington Wizards: This team will go only as far as John Wall and Bradley Beal can take them. Their declining chemistry on the court is cause for concern. Otto Porter Jr is the breakout player on this team and expect them finish the season around the .500 mark.
New York Knicks: Super-team talk in the East is about a team living in retrospect. The Knicks adding Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Brandon Jennings will help this team improve but it’s a little too late in all their careers to make a serious impact. This is still Carmelo’s team and watch out for Kristaps Porzingis to build off of his impressive rookie year campaign. If all things go well they do have an outside shot at a playoff spot.
Philadelphia 76ers: The process is formalizing but injuries are piling. #1 overall pick Ben Simmons will be sidelined at least 3 months with a foot injury and Nerlens Noel will join him in street clothes as their defensive stopper will need knee surgery. Joel Embiid is PLAYING however and Dario Saric has finally flown over. Jahlil Okafor is back playing after off season knee surgery in March. Have patience Sixers fans.
Miami Heat: Dwayne Wade has left the building. Chris Bosh has unfortunately been ruled unable to play so expect it to be cloudy in South Beach this season. The bright spot is Hassan Whiteside who is a top 5 big man in the league.
Orlando Magic: The franchise has been in decline ever since dealing away Dwight Howard. Adding Serge Ibaka in the off season to join Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic in the front court makes them formidable but expect another sub .500 season.
Brooklyn Nets: The NBA Draft Lottery is May 16th.
The “You Can’t Sit With Us” Western Conference
Golden State Warriors: Kevin Durant has joined the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. Expect some chemistry rough spots on the court early on, but the Warriors will be on cruise control this regular season. A potential 3rd rubber match in the NBA Finals lurks in the distance, but look for Steve Kerr to keep his team focused this season and avoid any pressure from outside media.
San Antonio Spurs: The Tim Duncan era has come to an end but the addition of Pau Gasol gives this year’s Spurs team the best chance to knock off the Golden State Warriors. Following Spurs protocol, this team will handle their business during the regular season. Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Gasol are the new Big 3 in San Antonio, Parker and Ginobili are just hoping for a shot at their 5th ring.
Los Angeles Clippers: It’s the same song and dance for the Clippers who basically trot out the same roster as last season. This team has won 50+ games in the past 4 seasons but have failed to reach the Western Conference Finals in any of them. The only question is will Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan finally get over their playoff hump and become true contenders.
Utah Jazz: The best keep secret in the West just might be in Salt Lake City. A team that narrowly missed out on the playoffs last year has added the veteran presence of George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw in the off season. Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors are the engine to this team. A healthy Dante Exum returns and Rudy Gobert provides the interior defense. Expect this team to be a dark horse contender in the West.
Portland Trailblazers: The Damian Lillard show in Portland will carry on. His 5 year $140 million extension he signed in the off season is a testament to that. The Blazers added Evan mid-range Turner to the group. Key to success this season will be if CJ McCollum can build off of his impressive season last year. The Trail Blazers should capture a 4 or 5 seed for the postseason but still don’t pose a major threat to the Warriors or Spurs.
Memphis Grizzlies: Injuries derailed this team last year as they only had two players on their roster play more than 70 games. Adding Chandler Parsons will be huge boost for this offense. With Marc Gasol, Tony Allen and Zach Randolph are over 30 years old and with Father Time whispering in their ears, this might be the last chance for the Grizz to try and make a postseason push with this group.
Houston Rockets: The departure of Dwight Howard means more shots for James Harden. Harden will have another extremely successful offensive year but he’s still not aware that there’s another end of the court. The Rockets will win over 40 games and inserting Clint Capela into the starting lineup gives them a new look. Like always with Mike D’Antoni as the skipper expect the Rockets to set the pace of the game and try to replicate what D’Antoni’s early 00’s Phoenix Suns teams were able to do.
Minnesota Timberwolves: The bright future of the Timberwolves will shine this year. Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are rising superstars in this league. They now have the best defensive coach in the league Tom Thibideau at the helm. Kris Dunn has a chance to bring the Rookie of the Year Award back to Minnesota. The first step in the right direction begins this year and expect the T’Wolves to grab either the 7th or 8th seed in the West.
Oklahoma City Thunder: The heartbreaking departure of Kevin Durant means one thing in OKC and that is Russell Westbrook will be STUFFING the stat sheet this year. While Westbrook will put up video game like numbers it will be interesting to see how this will translate in the win and loss columns. Durant and Ibaka may be gone but the Thunder did add Victor Oladipo who paired with Westbrook make up arguably the most athletic backcourt in the league.
Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets are a young team that is compiling a well-rounded starting five. Emmanuel Mudiay and Gary Harris highlight the young backcourt with the core of the team being in the front court with Nikola Jokic and Kenneth Faried. Danilo Gallinari will hope to stay healthy and provide scoring for this bunch. Playoffs may not be reachable this season but they’re on the horizon in the Denver.
Dallas Mavericks: The Dirk Nowitzki era is losing steam and just may miss the playoffs for only the second time in this millennium. They added Harrison Barnes in the off-season but this just simply does not have enough firepower with a declining Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews in their backcourt. They’re hope is that Barnes will be able to finally showcase his offensive potential now that he is out of Golden State.
Los Angeles Lakers: Luke Walton takes over for the Lakers as they are set to begin a new era post Kobe Bryant. This team is still extremely young but they should have faith in their #2 overall pick Brandon Ingram. The young core of Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle can be the future of the Western Conference. They brought in grizzled veteran Luol Deng who will help with the young guys’ growth. Have patience Lakers fans it will all come together eventually.
Phoenix Suns: With 3 former Kentucky Wildcats in the starting lineup this may be Coach John Calipari’s favorite NBA team. Devin Booker is the real deal and will be the go to guy in Phoenix this season. It will be interesting to see how first round draft pick Dragan Bender will fit into this offense. The Suns only won 26 games last year so expect improvement but don’t expect a playoff spot for a few more years.
Sacramento Kings: The Kings are locked in for mediocrity for the future. The polarizing DeMarcus Cousins is beginning to waste his best years with a franchise that has no positive playoff outlook. At least they have a shiny new arena.