1) Cleveland - LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet, and still plays for Cleveland. Games 5&6 of the finals reminded the world that, as long as he can still run, he should stay at the #1 spot. Essentially returning the same team that won the finals, adding Mike Dunleavy, no slouch, who is still one of best spot up shooters in league and rarely misses a defensive assignment. Hearing concerns about back up point guard with only Kay Felder, an exciting, but undersized and offensive minded player to back up the oft-injured Kyrie Irving. It is a weak spot, but in the same way the Rockets can slide Harden into the 1 when need be, so can LeBron.
2) Toronto - Lowry/DeRozan are the most experienced and consistent back court in the East. Cory Joseph is a very good two way bench player and look forward to a full season from DeMarre Carroll, who when healthy is a terrific wing defender and good outside shooter. A lot to like on this team, but very thin in the front court, feeling the year to year losses of Amir Johnson and Biyombo. Can’t see them getting over playoff hump without supplementing J-Val with a little help down there.
3) Boston - Brad Stevens, the NBA’s hottest young coach has a lot to work with this season. Bringing back the same unit who excelled in playoffs last season who added Al Horford, the closest version to Tim Duncan the league currently has, the new Mr. Consistency. Could be only team with enough pieces and moxy to actually challenge Clevo in a series. Don’t except much from Jaylen Brown this season, who analytically is worst ranked lottery pick in years. I believe Marcus Smart will really solidify himself, I expect an even minutes split in the 1 & 2 spots from him, Bradley and Thomas.
4) Indiana - Excited, as always, for a healthy Paul George to start the season whom at his peak is a top 10 NBA player. Add Jeff Teague, a perennially underrated PG in Atlanta for years and Thad Young, mostly worthwhile for rebounding hustle and his ability to cover 2-4 on the floor. Myles Turner is no joke. This a good, deep, lengthy team who should cause a lot of waves in the east. One glaring deficiency is outside shooting, which is hard to win without a bevy of in new NBA.
5) Detroit - This roster plays out like the modern antidote to Warriors style basketball. Size, size, size. Drummond/Baynes in the middle. Morris/Leuer in the 4, both who can step out and stretch the floor with shooting. Harris/Johnson with good length and shooting on the wing. Reggie Jackson, though a great scorer is not the most efficient floor general, solid signing in Ish Smith for that change of pace. SVG built himself an extremely SVG team.
6) Washington - John Wall, to me, is painfully underrated. Surrounded by underachievers his whole career. I expect big jump years from Otto Porter, and more so Kelly Oubre. Full season of Markeif Morris can pay big dividends. Ian Mahinmi is a better alternative to Nene at this stage in his career because of defensive contributions. Biggest question mark is thin back court depth, only Trey Burke and Marcus Thornton are rostered and Beal can not be counted on for 80+. If they are in contention towards the end, will have to supplement roster at that spot.
7) Charlotte - Think this is the sneaky team of the East. Loss of Jefferson won’t be felt so much due to his age and the system they are trying to run. Bellinelli a nice addition off the bench, but so much of this season is contingent on the health of NJ’s own Micheal Kidd Gilchrist, a dynamic talent who can change a game with defense and energy. Curious how Batum handles pressure of big deal and being the primary play maker.
8) Chicago - Not as sour as most on these Bulls. Butler is a young star, paired with two solid, rotational youngsters (McDermott/Portis) Couple change of pace forwards with Taj and Mirotic. Add D. Wade, a floor coach who commands ultimate respect and a NBA title holding PG in Rondo who dished out 11.7 assists last year. It should be noted that for someone with an awful shooting reputation, he put up a respectable .365 from 3 point range in 72 games last year. Obvious chemistry and defensive questions abound, but I find interesting, main variable to me is if Fred Holberg can stay in control of this team and be able to coach.
9) Atlanta - Forgive me for not having a lot of faith in Dwight Howard, who assuredly will put up huge and useless regular season numbers. Love the coach and how his defense operates, love Millsap, but just can’t see it. Losing Horford and Teague too much to take, and I don't trust Korver's health or Schroeder's ability to log full time PG minutes.
10) Orlando - A lot of talk about the “logjam” of rostering Vucecic, Ibaka and Biyombo. I see three legit big men, two who can stretch the floor, giving Frank Vogel a ton of defensive options and a very deep front court. Fournier is a nice player, but will probably take a big jumps from Aaron Gordon at his new position and Elfrid Payton's shooting for them to seriously compete, if not, point guard hunt will be on.
11) Milwaukee - I like a lot of pieces on this team, especially Giannis and Jabari who have only scratched their respective ceilings. Dellavadova was a crazy signing to me, especially for the money guys like Jeremy Lin and Ish Smith went for. A serviceable backup PG being asked to log heavy minutes in a much tougher situation than he found himself in with LeBron and Co. Loss off Middleton is too tough to compensate for on the outside, even with Mizra Teletovic most likely having free reign to fire from the arc. Still a couple back court pieces away.
12) New York - I can’t think of a worse scenario for the Knicks to start the season then Derrick Rose being on trial and even when playing in pre-season, looking like a tenuous rotational player more than MVP caliber point from years back. Noah will miss time, and no way Brandon Jennings keeps his mouth shut all year. Rookie coach getting handed this is even more cause for concern. Understood the position Phil Jackson is in to hurry up and put something around an aging Melo, but this is less than a band aid, more of a used and half wet bandaid you found on the floor.
13) Brooklyn - The Nets are being universally chosen as worst team in the NBA, as I’ll agree their future prospects are about as grim as a Clint Eastwood movie, the ship has been moved in the right direction. Maybe picking them over 3 teams in overall record (Philly, Miami and Sac) is a homer pick, but this team is playing the right way, coached well and hungry. Brook/Lin are a formidable pick and roll combination, and RHJ is proving as an elite level wing defender already, with only 29 games under his regular season belt. Scola/Booker/Grievis will help keep them competitive, and offer contenders some interesting trade chips in the stretch run. Also, keep an eye on Justin Hamilton, was a nice player a few years back in the NBA and had a winning game in Euro ball, a true stretch 4 with a great stroke from the outside.
14) Miami - Hasaan Whiteside is a unique talent, but his track record is far too small and sketchy to get max dollars, and with Wade/Bosh gone, him being the face of the franchise is way too much for him. Spolestra is great coach, Winslow should improve and start cementing it as his squad, but this team does not have enough talent to seriously compete. Wouldn’t be shocked to see Dragic moved at some point.
15) Philadelphia - Trust the process. A month ago I would have had this team somewhere around 12/13, but with Noel/Simmons slated to miss first 2-3 months, can’t see them getting many W’s. It appears Joel Embid is a truly dynamic talent with great upside, but let him put together a healthy stretch before we crown him anything. They are developing a hell of a budding roster, but it’s young and needs much more time.
1) Golden State - What’s to say, only thing that will keep them out of this spot is catastrophic injury or another team really excelling while they rest players in the stretch run. On a normal team, I’d be concerned about Zaza Pachouli being counted on very heavy starter minutes, and a bench that doesn’t go very far past Livingston and Iguadola. But the core makeup is too wild, and from all accounts, no front office has any idea how to deal with it not named LeBron James. Oh, and by the way, Klay/Steph/KD shot 46% from 3-point in the preseason. Yikes!
2) Oklahoma City - Westbrook already had the biggest chip on his shoulder in the league, perhaps, and that chip has become massive. He has the unique ability to will his team to wins, and we saw what Roberson/Adams can do to people defensively in the postseason. Oladipo and Kanter have huge opportunities to score the ball, a lot of how this season plays out relies on their ability to complement Russ on the offensive end. Don’t sleep on Payne/Sabonis off the bench, as well. I like this team.
3) Houston - The Houston offseason was on of the best in basketball. Even though Anderson/Gordon are injury prone, this team can flat out shoot and should score a ton of points, especially with the “7 seconds or less” mentality. Nene adds front court depth and not too worried about PG depth to start season since Harden can slide over, but defensively they’ll need Beverly back before long. Will blow the doors off a lot of teams in regular season, but the makeup is not right for the playoffs, will get beat up in a long series.
4) LA Clippers - This team, as constructed, is and will be the Clippers best chance at a title with this core. Bringing back all the main pieces, supplementing the bench with Brandon Bass, Paul Pierce and Marresse Speights. There are weapons and experience and grit at every position, topped by a great coach. Have a feeling about this years Clips, and as you'll see in bottom of my predictions, think they are only team who could take out Warriors in a 7 game series. As much as Clips will have hard time covering that perimeter, they could effectively OWN the paint, which historically says something in the NBA.
5) Utah - My favorite young team in the west. Not too worried about Hayward injury, once healed shouldn’t be nagging problem. Assuring up the PG spot with George Hill, and adding veteran bench pieces in Diaw and Joe Jesus. It’s a great mix of solid coaching, timing, young talent and veteran leadership. I could see this team getting up to the 3-4 seed and winning a playoff round or two.
6) San Antonio - Mark my words, it’s finally going to happen. Every year people have doubted, and every year the Spurs answer the doubts and remain steadfastly at the top of the West. That was because of Tim Duncan, and that will now change. Aldridge and Pao on paper are great combo but have a high probability for chemistry clash. Danny Green is banged up and the guards are a year older. The decline won’t be out of the playoffs, but the powerhouse may be over.
7) Portland - Dame Lillard has quickly become one of my league favorites. Plays with a constant chip and with good pieces around him, have a feeling he is going to come back year after year with competitive teams. They made some solid front court additions, but behind Crabbe, there are almost zero shooters, ball handlers or play makers coming off the bench. That little depth won’t go very far, but they’re a playoff squad.
8) Memphis - Boooooring old, pretty good Memphis. Same old story, a healthy Marc Gasol could lead anyone to playoffs. Mike Conley is very good, and now extremely rich. But ask other teams how relying on Chandler Parsons has gone? They will defend well and win 40+ games, again…nothing new.
9) Minnesota - I love Towns as much as the next guy, and as intriguing as pairing the young core of KAT/Wiggins/LaVine/Dieng with a coach like Thibs, I still think they are one year or one piece away from the edge that gets you over the hump in close games. Exciting, but not quite there. Hopefully the CBA changes in a way that allows teams like the T-Wolves to lock up their starters long term, could be an incredible core a little down the road.
10) Dallas - Cuban did nice job of stocking decent pieces for Rick Carlisle to work with. Just enough to stay respectable for Dirk’s finale while leaving no chance of winning it all. Even with a Harrison Barnes turnaround this season solidifying him as, perhaps not a max contract guy, but at least a go to scorer and wing defender on solid team, Dallas will fall short. Deron Williams is sure to wet Mavs fans palletes with a stretch of good games, then fake an injury and be in and out rest of season. If Salah Mejri and Draymond Green wind up on court together, Dray will leave with some sort of ejection/suspension. In short minutes last season, Salah pissed a lot of people off.
11) Phoenix - Love the back court and also on the “Devin Booker is the real deal” train. Len/Chandler nice pair of rim protectors. But seeing gaping holes at the 3/4 spots that Chriss/Bender are not ready to yet fill on a full time level. See improvement and some nice stretches, but can’t see the playoffs.
12) New Orleans - Starting to feel bad for Anthony Davis. Every year we talk about the success of the Pelicans contingent on the health Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday. A few low risk and high ceiling pick-ups, like Solomon Hill and Tim Frazier were solid, but unless Buddy Hield turns into an absolute star right off the bat. Same old for New Orleans.
13) Denver - Nice core building in Denver, Jokic/Mudiay/Harris mixed with another good rookie class, there is hope in Denver. Just not playoff hope quite yet.
14) LA Lakers - Excited to watch D’Angelo Russell shoot 35 times a game, Brandan Ingram get blown around by a swift breeze, and Julius Randle do his best Colossus impression, shoving his head into the chest of whoever is in front of him. Joking aside, love Jordan Clarkson and that was a sneaky good re-signing. The core is young and fun, might start getting some people in the seats but not a lot of W’s.
15) Sacramento - Well, well, well. Old Demarcus Cousins lost again in the landlocked California city of Sacramento. Starting to feel for him, he wouldn’t be winning in Brooklyn, but at least he’d have some cooler places to go eat. Hard to see this team making a jump, barring big strides from anyone of Cauley-Stein or McLemore.
Eastern Conference Finals: Cleveland v Boston
Western Conference Finals: Golden State v LA Clippers
Finals: LA Clippers v Cleveland
Finals Champ: Cleveland Cavaliers
MVP - Kevin Durant
6th Man of the Year - Marcus Smart
Coach of the Year - Billy Donovan
Finals MVP - Kyrie Irving
Most Improved Player - Andrew Wiggins
Rookie of the Year - Joel Embiid
Executive of the Year - Dennis Lindsey