The greatest offseason the NBA has ever known is coming to a close as the regular season prepares to start. Even though many teams have improved, there are only six teams in the NBA that truly matter.
- Golden State Warriors
The Warriors were the best team in the league last year winning 67 games. They ranked fourth in pace, first in both offensive rating and net rating, and they ranked second in defensive rating. They retained all their important free agents from Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant to Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. So, the league’s dreams of this team being broken through free agency has been hit with a big bucket of cold reality. The only moves the Warriors made to add players was drafting Jordan Bell and signing Omri Casspi and Nick Young (Swaggy P). It’s unclear what roles they’ll play in the team’s rotation. Cnsidering that the Warriors are coming off a postseason where they went 16-1 and won the championship, it’s unlikely they’ll make major changes even for the great Swaggy P.
- Oklahoma City Thunder
In the best offseason, the Thunder should win the award for best performance. Aside from the fact that they added two all-stars: Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, they addressed all of their weaknesses. Last year, the Thunder’s biggest weaknesses were their shooting and their overreliance on Russell Westbrook due to the lack of talent not only on the bench but in the starting line-up. This season they added Raymond Felton, Patrick Patterson, and Terrance Ferguson along with George and Anthony. All these players can space the floor and more importantly can shoot well — a far cry from last season’s roster. With three 20+ point per game scorers, two all-defense players, an above average center and a decent bench to boot, the Thunder, in my opinion, are the second best team in the league.
- Houston Rockets
If the NBA suddenly decided that for whatever reason basketball would be played with two balls, the Rockets would be a team for the ages. However, that’s not happening so the Rockets will have to find another way to win. The Rockets were the second best team last year, but that was largely because of the great season James Harden had. Obviously they’ve gotten a lot more talent through adding all-star Chris Paul, but Harden and Paul’s playing styles butt heads like cats and dogs. Harden can play off ball but the Rockets did so well using his scoring and foul drawing ability, which had the Rockets early and often in the bonus. Paul can handle the passing role that Harden provided but at only 6’0.” He can’t provide the scoring and he’s not nearly the foul magnet. This might cause their offensive efficiency to dip a little bit, especially in the beginning as adjustments will be necessary. They improved slightly defensively adding Paul and PJ Tucker who are both undersized pesky defenders but Mike D’Antoni isn’t known for his defensive schemes. The Rockets ranked at the bottom of the league in defensive rating and adding Paul and Tucker will definitely improve that but not enough to rank them over the Thunder and Warriors.
- San Antonio Spurs
Every season, people think the Spurs dynasty will finally weaken and every season they are wrong. Being that the Spurs are so old, it wouldn’t be surprising if the history books say they invented consistency. They lost two key players in Dwayne Dedmon and Jonathan Simmons and their key addition, Rudy Gay, is coming off a devastating Achilles injury. There’s a chance that some of the young players they’ve drafted, such as sophomore Dejounte Murray and Davis Bertans, can step up and make an impact but I can’t see that making them better than the Thunder, Rockets, or Warriors. However, with Kawhi Leonard poised to improve and Greg Popovich still coaching, the Spurs are likely to be the fourth best team.
- Cleveland Cavaliers
As long as the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James, they are at least a top five team in the league. This offseason they made a blockbuster trade giving the Celtics Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and the Brooklyn Nets first round pick. I consider Irving for Thomas to be a lateral move since they’re both more or less the same player. However, Isaiah Thomas isn’t going to play a game until at least Christmas, making Derrick Rose their starter who is trying for his sixth “comeback season” in a row since his first torn ACL. The Cavs struggled mightily on defense last season and with Derrick Rose and Dwayne Wade both starting alongside Kevin Love, you’ll drown a fish before the Cavs have an even average team defense. This doesn’t even mention that fact that this roster is just an odd fit like jamming a square peg into a round hole except the Cavs can’t seem to figure out that shapes don’t change because you want them to. They ranked 22nd in defensive rating yet added more bad defenders (Wade, Thomas, and Rose) than good ones (Crowder). Their offense was criticized for being too stagnant and they added more one-on-one players who are also below average 3-point shooters. More than half of this roster couldn’t stick a tree on defense and on offense their overreliance on athletic scorers with diminishing athleticism is going to cost them wins. Nevertheless, James will still be able to help secure them a top spot in the Eastern Conference.
- Boston Celtics
On the other side of the Irving-Thomas trade, the Celtics didn’t do much to break through an increasingly “cavalier” wall. Their biggest addition Gordon Hayward is a certified all-star, however, he isn’t the superstar they needed, especially now, and taking the second best player off the team you’re trying to beat isn’t going to help either especially when you replace him with a player of similar caliber. On top of that, they lost four of their five starters from last season, including two of their top defenders. Last year’s Celtics were a team largely built off of chemistry and most of that chemistry is now gone. In addition, they lost some defense and didn’t fix their biggest problem of rebounding. They lost three of their best defensive rebounders in Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, and Amir Johnson and their top rebounding guard, Avery Bradley. This is an entirely new team and they still don’t have anyone on their roster who is close to being a top five player. They’re better than the average NBA team, but in terms of getting closer to the top of the league, they haven’t made many improvements.