Jun. 12, 2018
Warriors Win Third Title, Three Teams That Can Compete with Golden State Next Season
Over the weekend, the Golden State Warriors won thier third title in the last four years after demolishing the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 to finish off the sweep. The Cavaliers were clearly overmatched, outplayed, and outmanned by the Warriors which caused them to be unable to give Golden State a true run for their money. Yes, they had close losses in Games 1 and 3, but it never seemed like Cleveland was in control at any moment. It felt like the Warriors just had a clutch gene to them and any time the Cavaliers tried to pull away or close out in those games, Golden State would respond in a big way.
Now with the offseason beginning and LeBron James looking likely to leave Cleveland in search of a new team with the opportunity to take down the Warriors and win more titles, what five teams have the best chance to compete with the Warriors next season whether or not they have James on their roster?
Obviously, the Houston Rockets are one of the teams that could compete with Golden State next season. The Rockets had the Warriors on the ropes after they took a 3-2 series lead on Golden State following a Game 5 victory at home. However, the hamstring injury that kept Chris Paul out of Game 6 and Game 7 may have been costly to Houston's chances. Of course it does not help that the Rockets essentially shot themselves out of Game 7 with horrid shooting from beyond the arc, but Paul was a huge part of that Rocket offense and he was missed. While this is defintely one place that LeBron James could be rumored to go to in free agency, with or without him the Rockets have a great chance to take down the Warriors next season.
It is important to note that the Rockets have many key players that are unrestircted free agents this offseason who were critical to the team this past year. Chris Paul being the biggest of them all has already said he will not take a paycut to stay with the Rockets and expects a max conttract. Then you have players like Clint Capela who provided great inside presence and the three-point shooting duo of Gerald Green and Trevor Ariza who were crucial to the long range game the Rockets put together this season. So while there are definitely question marks about who will be on the roster next year alongside James Harden, should the Rockets be able to bring their key piece back to Houston they could give Golden State a run for their money.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans got taken down in five games by the Warriors in this year's playoffs, but they are not a team that should be forgotten about headed into next season. New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins to an achilles injury that had many believing the Pelicans season was over and they would be unable to make the playoffs. They proved doubters wrong, made the playoffs, swept the Portland Trailblazers, and then fell to the Warriors. Not too bad for a team that was left for dead due to an injury to a talented player like Cousins. Anthony Davis is a monster for this team in the paint and Rajon Rondo stepped up his game for the Pelicans which played a huge role in them making the playoffs. The team's mix of veteran talent like Rondon and young studs like Nikola Mirotic help make them a threat to the Warriors in the near future even if this year's outcome may not have showed it.
While Cousins and Rondo are free agents this offseason, the Pelicans GM, Dell Demps, has gone on record saying he would like to re-sign both players this offseason. With what the Pelicans were able to accompish without Cousins for half a season, imagine what they could accomplish if he is healthy for a full one. This team has a lot of upside to it and could potentially give the Golden State Warriors a challenge if the chips fall the right way for them in the offseason. They are a team that could be slept on a lot by experts and fans, but have potential to be a force in the Western Conference.
Similar to the Rockets with the Warriors, the Celtics had the Cleveland Cavaliers on the ropes after going up in the series 3-2 in Boston where they had no lost all postseason. However, after losing on the road where they struggled all playoffs, they shot themselves out of Game 7 on their home court and lost the series. But this team has a lot of young, emerging stars like Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, and Jayson Tatum who really stepped it up this season. Let us not forget, this Boston team was without superstar Kyrie Irving for the end of the regular season and their playoff run along with Gordon Hayward for the whole season. Just imagine this team when those two are healthy and on the floor together for the Celtics for a full season. Having guys like Tatum, Rozier, Brown, and Al Horford will make this team a dangerous one to come out of the Eastern Conference for many years to come. With Brad Stevens coaching this team, the Celtics will continue to shine for years to come as he has been impressive since becoming the head coach back in 2013.
It will be important for the Celtics to re-sign Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes this offseason as those two were great assets to the team as well. Baynes was a scrappy player down low who helped clean up the boards, while Smart provided help off the bench and energy to the team. Energy the team missed when he missed the end of the regular season and beginning of the postseason with his thumb injury. His presence of the floor was felt and I believe it will be important to bring him back next season. The way the Celtics are set up, should they emerge from the East next season and meet the Warriors in the NBA Finals, they will matchup well with them.
While there are other teams that could definitely be thrown on the list, I believe they have too many question marks to have a great shot at beating Golden State next season. Teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, and Portland Trailblazers were all good last season. We saw the Warriors easily dispatch of the Spurs in the playoffs and the other teams did not get a crack at the Warriors for one reason or another. While these teams went toe-to-toe in the regular season with Golden State, the playoff Warriors are a whole new beast that teams find themselves up against. Could any one of those four teams make a leap forward this offseason and challenge the Warriors a little? Of course. But it seems unlikely they would be able to match them in a seven game series like the Celtics, Rockets, or a revamped Pelicans squad could next season.
With more stars becoming stacked up in the same cities, the NBA tends to lack as much uncertainty when it comes to teams having a chance to compete for the championship compared to other major sports. But anything can happen in any given year, while teams may raise question marks at the moment, one move this offseason could change that, especially with the LeBron James Sweepstakes 2.0 coming in July.
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