What is there to say? With their second title in three seasons, the Golden State Warriors established themselves as the undisputed elite of the league. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and company are all back and poised to thwart all challenges. Indeed, the Warriors are better than ever with Durant fully integrated into the team he joined as a free agent out of Oklahoma City last season. Free agents Omri Casspi and Nick Young and draft pick Jordan Bell are the only additions to a team that won 67 games in the regular season. Bell is an intriguing prospect while Young is a potentially explosive scorer who could contribute off the bench.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook was a one-man wrecking crew for the Thunder last season, earning NBA Most Valuable Player honors with a historic campaign in which he averaged a triple-double and set an NBA record with 42 triple-doubles. Now Westbrook has a beefed-up supporting cast with the arrivals of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. George averaged 23.7 points and 6.6 rebounds for the Indiana Pacers last season. Anthony arrived via a blockbuster trade that took him out of an ever more toxic New York Knicks environment. If the collection of superstars gel, the Thunder must be considered championship contenders.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs haven’t tampered much with a team that won 61 games last season and were swept by the mighty Warriors after Kawhi Leonard was hurt in the Western Conference finals. Dewayne Dedmon, David Lee and Jonathon Simmons departed in the off-season. Rudy Gay, Joffrey Lauvergn and Brandon Paul were acquired via free agency and will be assimilated into the well-oiled machine that is the Spurs. LaMarcus Aldridge, who turned in a woefully sub-par performance in the playoffs, admitted recently that he didn’t feel he was fitting into coach Gregg Popovich’s system two years in, but a heart-to-heart with the veteran coach may have paved the way to a more productive campaign.
With James Harden in the MVP race, the Rockets won 55 games last season, but fell in the second round of the playoffs. Enter stand-out point guard Chris Paul via a trade from the Los Angeles Clippers and free agent forwards Luc Mbah a Moute and PJ Tucker. Paul and Harden together could dazzle. Harden led the league in assist points created while Paul was fifth in the same category, a combination that promises plenty of offensive production and the chance of a 50-win season, although the Rockets will need their defense to step up if they want to go further in the post-season.
The Denver Nuggets are on the rise and the arrival of free agent Paul Millsap on a three-year, $90 million deal should only hasten the ascent. Millsap, a veteran presence on a young team, is expected to start at power forward as part of a skilled front court along with center Nikola Jokic. Their ability to create opportunities for their teammates should take some pressure off the point guard position. The Nuggets will be looking for improvement from Emmanuel Mudiay, who lost the starting point guard job last season due to poor shooting. Jamal Murray brings skills more suited to a shooting guard, but that’s no problem with Jokic and Millsap able to help with ball distribution duties.