Oct. 27, 2016
2017 NBA Season Preview Part 5: The Contenders
The fifth and final part of the 2017 NBA preview will feature the contenders. These three teams are the most likely to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the conclusion of the season.
3. San Antonio Spurs
For the first time in 19 years, the Spurs will open a season without Tim Duncan on their roster. But even when some things change, they remain exactly the same. The Spurs sill have the core of the team that won 67 games a season ago. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge still serve as one of the best forward combos in the league. Oh and Greg Popovich is still coaching this team. So the goals remain unchanged for this organization.
To replace Duncan, the Spurs brought in Pau Gasol to fill the void. While no one can really fill the shoes of Duncan, Gasol is probably as good as the Spurs can get. His ability to score in the post, shoot from mid-range and pass will fit perfectly into their system. David Lee is another new acquisition who will try to provide a rebounding punch from the bench. The real key to the Spurs success are their two new franchise pillars. Leonard played at an MVP level last season and will have to continue to progress as a player and leader for the team. In the West, he is the favorite to win the MVP. Aldridge will likely be more comfortable in his second season in San Antonio. A 20 and 10 output from hims isn’t beyond grasp. Even without Duncan, the expectations are high for San Antonio. If you’re hoping for the Warriors to fall short of the Finals, this is the team that may be your best bet.
Best Case Scenario: The Spurs capture the top seed and use that to advance to the Finals.
Worst Case Scenario: They fail to beat the Warriors or even make it to the conference finals.
2. Golden State Warriors
So how does a 73-win team get better after choking away the NBA Finals? They add in another top-five player and maintain most of their core. Seriously, the Warriors replaced Harrison Barnes with Kevin Durant. The Death Lineup looks more like Death Row with their who’s who of deadly players. Imagine a lineup of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Durant. Early preseason indicators look phenomenal. And to top it off, the core four in question are in the prime of their careers. The goal and the expectations are simple: anything short of an NBA Championship is a clear failure. And if this team comes together as expected, it’s tough to pick against them.
Getting Durant came with a price. Replacing Barnes with Durant is a clear victory, but it cost the Warriors their bigs and a portion of their bench that helped them win the title and reach the finals over the last two years. Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli were the rim protection and rebounding for this team. Granted Bogut got hurt and Ezeli didn’t play well in the Finals, their loss will be felt. If I can point out one weakness with this team, it would be the same weakness that cost them the Finals. Their lack of bigs and rebounding could cost them late in the season. To attempt to offset that, the Warriors went out and got effort big men like ZaZa Paculia and David West. They also kept Anderson Varejao around. The sneakiest thing thing the Warriors did was bring in JaVele McGee. McGee has shown flashes throughout his career, but could never put it all together. His job will be simple: run the floor, rebound, block shots and dunk. If he can buy into that and become obsessed with the things I just listed…it’s too scary to even think about.
Best Case Scenario: The team quickly solves any chemistry issues and McGee does what I listed above. If those things happen ( staying healthy), this team may not be stopped on their way to the NBA tittle.
Worst Case Scenario: See the 2011 Miami Heat. All the hype and bravado in the world. Then it all comes crashing down in an embarrassing way in the Finals (or even before the finals).
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Notice that there’s only one Eastern Conference team listed in the contenders tier. That’s simply because LeBron James has had a stranglehold on the East for the last seven years. Wherever he goes, the road through the East shifts. And there’s nothing anyone in the East can do about it. The Cavaliers are ranked number one out of respect. Yes Golden State looks unstoppable on paper, but to be the man you have to beat the man. The Cavs are the team with the crown right now.
Roster changes have been kept to a minimum for the defending champions. The most notable losses is probably Matthew Dellavedova and a retiring Mo Williams. The biggest additions are Mike Dunleavy and another former member of the Heat Chris ‘Birdman’ Anderson. Dunleavy provides another shooting specialist for the team that LeBron or Kyrie Irving can kick to. Birdman is an energy big that will crash the boards and defend the rim. An easy replacement over Mozgov. Expect to see the Cavs in cruise control through most of the season, but this also leads to my bold prediction. I believe Irving will be the win the 2017 MVP award as he’ll be called upon to carry most of the load as LeBron saves himself for the playoffs. Other than that, everything will remain the same for the Cavs including their style of play and their spot in the NBA Finals.
Best Case Scenario: The Cavs repeat as NBA Champions and make it two in three years (four in eight for LeBron).
Worst Case Scenario: They’re soundly beaten in the NBA Finals.