Now that the dust has (probably) settled in NBA free agency with the big names off the board, it’s time to examine the real favourites. Which teams are in position to claim the NBA throne? Which teams are overrated or hurt themselves this offseason? The NBA landscape has transformed over the last month. As a result, the list of championship caliber teams has shuffled tremendously since just a couple months ago. Here are five teams who top the list:
5. Golden State Warriors
2018-19 record: 57-25
For the last four years or so, the Warriors have been almost unanimously considered NBA favourites. The debate has been about who would play in the Finals against Golden State, or who the second best team was. Most of the time, the predictions were spot on. Golden State won the Larry O’Brien trophy in three of four seasons between 2015 and 2018. After their painful defeat in the 2019 NBA Finals at the hands of the Toronto Raptors, the dynasty was destined for change. With Kevin Durant moving on to Brooklyn and Shaun Livingston being waived, the once dominant Warriors now have to fight to be considered the team to beat.
It’s not all bad news though, as Golden State managed to pick up D’Angelo Russell who will provide some excellent scoring alongside Steph Curry and Draymond Green. One problem: Klay Thompson is out until at least February. The group of Curry, Russell and Green will be exciting to say the least and should be able to survive in a tough Western Conference. Will it work once Thompson returns?
My biggest concern with this team is whether or not Russell and Curry will complement each other’s scoring, or take away from one another. They’re similar players so both will need to make adjustments during the course of the season if they want to make this work. Overall, Golden State is still a contender with their remaining pedigree and talent, but they have lots to prove before they can be NBA title favourites.
4. Los Angeles Lakers
2018-19 record: 37-45
The Lakers are back in the spotlight after recovering from the bleak post-Kobe Bryant era. At the start of the offseason, many people had their doubts about the Lakers’ ability to attract a star to play alongside Lebron James amid Magic Johnson’s loud departure. Who’s in charge in La La land?
Alas, the Lakers managed to finally swing a deal for Anthony Davis, albeit by giving up a king’s ransom. While LA lost Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart, they added a spectacular talent in Anthony Davis. He’ll flourish playing alongside Lebron. Frank Vogel is a nice hire at head coach as well. He’s smart enough and has the experience to formulate a system that can have success. Missing out on Kawhi Leonard hurts, especially seeing him go to the other team in LA, the Clippers.
The good news for the Lakers is that they added players who will compliment Lebron and AD very well. Danny Green, Avery Bradley and Quinn Cook can all shoot and have experience in the big moment. Jared Dudley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can also contribute off the bench and play solid defense.
The major question leading into October: Can the pieces work together? In theory, it’s a pretty good roster, loaded with talent. Anytime that you have Lebron James on your roster, you’ve got to be confident. Frank Vogel will be of utmost importance in making sure the team can gel. They’ve had a very good offseason. Will it translate to success come May and June of 2020? I suggest they’ll make it work and cause some real damage in the Western Conference.
3. Denver Nuggets
2018-19 record: 54-28
Denver has an incredibly talented roster. After finishing 2nd in the West, the Nuggets were able to keep their young core of Jamal Murray (22), Nikola Jokic (24) and Gary Harris (24) together. In the fall, the additions of Jerami Grant and 2018 first rounder Michael Porter Jr will be versatile contributors at forward and add important scoring depth. Head coach Mike Malone deserves credit too. He’s been able to pull the springs and bring all the young players together to reach their potential. Can he push this team even further?
This Nuggets team will be able to score at will and play some valuable defense against some tough Western Conference teams this year. Denver has a good blend of youth and playoff experience, having pushed a tough Portland team to seven games last year. The Nuggets don’t quite have the star power to match the likes of the Lakers or Clippers in the West. Nevertheless, I still like their chances with the depth and team unison that they have.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
2018-19 record: 60-22
Out of all the winners and losers of free agency, Milwaukee came out of the frenzy as a major winner, despite not landing any superstars. The core of this team is already in place, similar to Denver. Newly minted MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks will be as motivated as ever coming off a disappointing third round loss to the Raptors. Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton and George Hill all return, while the addition of Brook’s brother, Robin Lopez will supplement the scoring. Malcolm Brogdon was a luxury that the Bucks simply couldn’t afford, but him going to Indiana still hurts. Milwaukee will need to replace Brogdon and Tony Snell’s scoring somehow. Do Robin Lopez and free agent acquisition Wesley Matthews fill those gaps?
Mike Budenholzer just won Coach of the Year, and deservedly so. Sixty wins is no small feat. His defensive system was exceptional, allowing the Bucks to become an elite team. They’ll need bench scoring, but if their moves pay off, watch out. They’ve got the superstar in Giannis, the supplemental talent in Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez and the coach that can get them there.
With Kawhi leaving the east and Kevin Durant sidelined for the season in Brooklyn, this is Milwaukee’s chance. They can certainly get through the east and if they hit their stride at the right time, seeing Giannis raise the Larry O’Brien trophy next June will be of no surprise.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
2018-19 record: 48-34
The Clippers pulled off the biggest move of the entire offseason. They landed Kawhi Leonard and traded for Paul George, cementing themselves as favourites heading into next season. The haul they gave Oklahoma City for George is a tough pill to swallow. However, the Clippers are still in great shape. This says a lot about the way their roster is constructed and their excellent depth. Adding Kawhi and PG to play with Patrick Beverley makes this team a defensive juggernaut. The supporting cast is in place already, from veteran Lou Williams to Montrezl Harrell to Landry Shamet. Everyone’s slotted nearly perfectly into their role, so Leonard and George should have no issue fitting into and building upon a grinding, team-first mentality.
Doc Rivers is an excellent coach with championship experience. He’s been able to make stars work together, from his time with the Celtics in the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett era. Doc should have no problem sorting out his array of treasures, with Lawrence Frank and Jerry West upstairs willing to add to this team where they see fit. The losses of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari seem difficult, but they’ll be easily replaced by the pieces that the Clippers have assembled.
This is a defence-first team, but one that can score effectively as well. They’ll outlast teams on both ends and are built for the playoffs. Could injuries be their Achilles heel? Both Leonard and George have had recent health issues, but barring a major injury or monumental collapse, the Clippers are the real deal in the NBA.