This past NBA offseason has been one for the books. It was one of the most lengthy, craziest summers that the league has ever encountered. You saw the dismantling of the Cavaliers right before our very eyes with the news of Kyrie Irving wanting out of Cleveland. That ultimately led to the blockbuster Kyrie-to-Boston trade. We then saw Chris Paul do away with free agency and get traded to the Houston Rockets. And despite reports of Paul George getting looked at my a handful of teams, like a flash in the pan, the Thunder swooped in and stole PG from the Pacers. They would then go on to rob Carmelo Anthony from the Knicks. The Minnesota Timberwolves acquired All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague, adding some veteran/star power to the young squad. Paul Millsap went West and signed with the Nuggets, and so on. You get my drift, a LOT happened in just a few months.
The league got shook. Many NBA superstars settled in the West, making the conferences more lopsided than they already were. It got so pathetic that the NBA had to officially change the concept of the All-Star game. Having captains instead of Eastern/Western conference teams makes sense with the way the league is going, but it’s a shame it had to get to this point. Besides the point, let me explain to you why so much happened this offseason. All the teams that I mentioned that made huge moves this offseason (maybe excluding the Nuggets; sorry Nuggets’ fans), can be considered superteams in their own rights. These teams loaded up on superstars so they can attempt to give the Warriors a run for their money. You can say that all these teams improved, whether it be drastically or just enough to put them over the edge, but was it enough to really be on Golden State’s level? Let’s examine each team and their actual chance of being able to take down the Warriors.
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The Timberwolves didn’t want to wait a few more years to make it back into the playoffs. To fix that problem, they traded Zach Lavine and Kris Dunn for superstar Jimmy Butler. Adding Butler offers leadership, much-needed veteran and playoff experience, and is a superb defensive piece to put next to Wiggins and Towns. They then went out and signed former All-Star Jeff Teague. Although he’s not an All-Star like he was in Atlanta, Teague is still able to put up some significant numbers. His assist numbers should increase, but scoring the ball might be a lot tougher to do with so many other offensive weapons around him. His signing wasn’t just so he can put up his average numbers, but also to provide playoff experience and veteran leadership to the team, similar to Butler. Then you add on Jamal Crawford and Taj Gibson, and hey, you have a pretty deep team.
The roster didn’t change too drastically, but it’s a whole new team. They’ll be in contention to be a top-4 seeded team in the West, but in a matchup with the Warriors, I’d expect nothing less than a sweep. Wiggins and Towns are still so young and have never been close to even smelling the playoffs. If this were five years from now, this would be a different story, but until the Timberwolves get some much-needed playoff experience, they’ll be considered more of a playoff contending team than a championship contending team.
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MY Boston Celtics made moves after moves this whole offseason. They got the number one pick, traded the number one pick, drafted Jayson Tatum, signed Gordon Hayward, traded away Avery Bradley, and traded the whole damn farm for Kyrie Irving. At the end of the day, only four players have returned from a team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, that’s if Danny Ainge doesn’t wheel and deal some more two weeks before the season begins. But seriously, this team is a brand new team. A starting lineup of Kyrie, Jaylen Brown, Hayward, Marcus Morris, and Horford, with a bench of Tatum, Marcus Smart, Aron Baynes, Terry Rozier, Daniel Thies (who will be HUGE this year), and others, will cause plenty of headaches for opposing defenses. The Celtics traded for a fringe top-10 player in the league, and signed a fringe top-20 player in the league, while still being surrounded by scrappers and players with something to prove. The Celtics added years of experience to their team, whether it be from overseas, playoffs, or the Finals. That was always a big issue for this team; they had limited experience. Now that that problem is solved, they’re ready to make a serious run.
The first problem is, to get a shot at the Warriors, they got to get through the Cleveland, who will continue to be the best team in the Eastern Conference until proven otherwise. And the next problem is we traded them Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and THAT pick to them. Not only did the Cavs get deeper, but WE MADE THEM DEEPER. Sure, the Celtics took Kyrie from Cleveland, who is a slight upgrade over Isaiah Thomas, but we gave them another shooter to put next to LeBron, a pick that the Cavs can use to trade for another superstar, and, oh yeah, Isaiah Thomas, who will be playing with the most prominent chip on his shoulder if the Celts/Cavs meet in the playoffs. I love the Celtics to death, but unless an injury occurs that drastically ruins the Cavs, the Celtics won’t even make it past Cleveland to the Finals. Give it another year, then we’ll be talking Finals. The Celtics are equipped to win now, but with LeBron running the show in Cleveland, the Celtics will be stuck in the Eastern Conference Finals for a bit.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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The Thunder weren’t the busiest team this offseason, but they made the biggest moves. Russell Westbrook now has some new thunder buddies in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Kevin Durant who? Just kidding, but pairing two superstars next to the reigning MVP that averaged a triple-double last season isn’t too shabby. They still have Andre Roberson and Steven Adams who bring a lot to the table on the defensive end. Add in Paul George, who is one of the best two-way players in the league, and Westbrook, who should see an improvement on the defensive end now that he won’t be stat-padding to average a triple-double, and you have a deadly offensive/defensive starting lineup. Paul George can match up with Durant and hopefully hold him to averaging just human-like numbers, and not the insane numbers he put up in the Finals. Carmelo won’t add too much on the defensive end but is still capable of putting up, at the very least, 20 points per game. But then again, in a matchup with the Warriors, he’d have Draymond on him, and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year isn’t someone you want to mess with.
The Thunder had an unbelievable offseason, trading away lower-tier players for superstars, but at the end of the day, the Warriors will have an answer for both PG and Carmelo. This matchup will undoubtedly be far more entertaining than their matchups last season, but the Warriors will take care of business in a playoff series. The Thunder may be able to grab a win, but that’s the most I see happening. Russell Westbrook and his new team aren’t quite ready to take down his former buddy KD and company.
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Chris Paul came to Houston to join James Harden and form what many are calling the best backcourt in the NBA. I do not disagree with that statement, but until they have a few games under their belt, I think that title still belongs to the Splash Brothers. Chris Paul and James Harden have a chance to do something special this year. I can’t remember the last time two guards with such high basketball IQ’s and pinpoint court vision have played alongside each other. The “James Harden as point guard” experiment went better than expected last season, where he dropped 29 points and 11 assists per game. Adding Chris Paul, who holds a career average of 9.2 assists per game, will take away many of those assists from Harden this season, but Harden’s scoring numbers should stay around where they were last season. Under Mike D’Antoni and his “7 seconds or less” offense, Chris Paul should thrive and put up career numbers.
This is where this could all go bad; the Rockets didn’t make any other improvements besides bringing in Chris Paul. They traded a whole lot of role players to get Chris Paul. They still have 6th Man of the Year Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, and Clint Capela, but they made no other significant moves. If they made a move for Carmelo, we’d be having a whole different conversation, but they didn’t, so here we are.
The more I think about it, can CP3 really take the Rockets to the next level? There could be some trouble in paradise between Harden and Chris Paul. They both love having the ball in their hands. Harden did a fantastic job at the point guard position last season, so where does Chris Paul fit in? Chris Paul and James Harden sure do look good on paper, and they could look even better on the court playing together, but they’ll have to adjust each others’ games to make it work. If the ultimate goal is to take down the Warriors and bring an NBA title to Houston, then they will find a way to make it work. Unfortunately, that won’t be happening this year. The Rockets aren’t as deep as they were last year. They don’t have enough star power like Cleveland or OKC. Their offense will light it up during the regular and postseason, but their lack of defense can and will be their downfall. Chris Paul is a fantastic defensive-minded player, but him alone can’t contain Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant. In a seven-game series, I can see the Rockets lighting it up and taking a game or two, but nothing more than that. To have a shot at beating Golden State and winning a championship, they need to make a splash in free agency next offseason and bring in another superstar.
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I’m about to tell you guys something you may not have known and will be shocked to hear. You ready? Take a deep breathe and listen. We’ll probably see another Cavaliers/Warriors matchup in the Finals for the fourth straight year. Shocking, right? In all seriousness, Cleveland still remains as the only team that can seriously knock off the Warriors. Coach Tyronn Lue is already prepping his team for another Finals matchup, which he honestly should because if this team is 100% healthy come postseason, they will be difficult to stop. We all know what LeBron does when it’s time for the playoffs. He’s a man on a mission and does things most human beings can’t do. Then come Finals, he gets even better. The Cavs still have Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, Kyle Korver, and others. Add Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Derrick Rose, and Dwyane Wade on top of that, and you have one of the deepest, if not the deepest, teams in the league.
Isaiah Thomas will miss a good chunk of the season due to his hip injury, but that won’t matter since the Cavaliers only focus on the playoffs. If he comes back healthy and performs as well as he did last year, look out. I know first hand about this stuff. Last season, healthy Isaiah Thomas was a top-5 MVP candidate. He will drop 30 points on your team and will have a smile on his face doing it. I said it before, and I’ll repeat it, I am dreading the inevitable Cavs/Celtics matchup in the playoffs. My heart will be torn. Besides the point, until he comes back Derrick Rose will be the starter. People like to joke about Rose’s health, but if he stays healthy, he will be essential towards a Cavaliers’ championship run. In 64 games last season he put up 18 points and four-and-a-half assists per game. Having a healthy DRose come off the bench come playoff time could be scary if he stays healthy.
Dwyane Wade brings immediate chemistry to the team. We all know what Wade and LeBron accomplished in Miami. They’re back for round two and have the same focus, to win another championship together. Wade may be older and not be able to contribute as much as he did just years ago, but playing alongside LeBron can change that. Wade’s scoring numbers will drop, but I believe the Cavs will utilize him more as a playmaker than anything. Moving Wade to the bench may not be a bad idea either. When the bench is struggling, Wade can help create and make things happen on offense. The Cavaliers will have plenty of options, and all the lineup possibilities are endless.
If there is a team that can take down Golden State, it’s Cleveland. If Cleveland stays healthy and makes it to the NBA Finals, the fourth matchup will be a whole lot more entertaining and closer than last year’s matchup. But like I said, they need to stay healthy. If Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose are worn down, and Isaiah doesn’t come back the same, then Cleveland will have major problems. But, on paper, if this team’s health stays at 100%, they have the potential knock off Golden State.
When we get there, we get there, but until then, Golden State will continue to be Golden State and run the league. Until proven otherwise, they are the best team in the NBA and have a clear shot at winning yet another NBA championship. And another. And another. And another.