After the flurry and drama of trades and acquisitions in the off-season, the dust has finally settled and it is no surprise that any aspiring contender will still have to go through the West. 4 out of the 5 top teams in the NBA are from the Western Conference and it will be a tight race all the way through. Here are the 5 best teams in order:
5) Cleveland Cavaliers— LeBron James and the Cavs are left to wonder what might have been if only Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were healthy during the NBA Finals. James nearly pulled off an upset single-handedly with his individual heroics by averaging 35 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists in the series. In the off-season, the Cavs managed to convince Love to give it another run while signing Tristan Thompson. However, the Cavs need more bench players. They have enough to reach the NBA Finals in the weak Eastern Conference but they will run into a brick wall in the West.
4) Oklahoma City Thunder— The Thunder came close to a championship in 2012 but injuries to key players have stymied their potential in the next couple of seasons. This season marks the return of 2014 MVP Kevin Durant who managed to play only 27 games last season. The Thunder signed center Enes Kanter to a long-term contract and they now have a potent core that includes Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. The Thunder will also have to transition to a new coach (Billy Donovan) while competing in the West. The Thunder need more bench players to go deep in the playoffs.
3) Los Angeles Clippers—After saving their off-season by re-signing the league’s leading rebounder DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers went on a shopping spree and brought in veterans Paul Pierce and Josh Smith to add bench depth and fill up positions where they are weak. They also acquired the talented but unreliable Lance Stephenson whose antics will not fly with a coach like Doc Rivers. Together with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, the Clippers now have a line-up that can match-up with their rivals including the “small ball” line-ups that the Warriors and the Spurs like to employ.
2) Golden State Warriors— With the exception of David Lee, the reigning NBA champs have kept their young core intact. They have revolutionized the way basketball is played by fielding players without boxing them in predefined positional roles. The Warriors still have a deep bench next season and the psychological edge to match. They have a very good chance of a back-to-back championship.
1) San Antonio Spurs—The Spurs are the hands down winner in the off-season and will likely hoist their 6th championship trophy next year. They have signed their young guns Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard to long-term contracts. To ensure continuity and in preparation for Tim Duncan’s retirement, the Spurs have signed marquee player LaMarcus Aldridge. They were also able to lure veteran David West without breaking the bank. The Spurs are the team to beat.