Any rational NBA observer can see the writing on the wall: The Golden State Warriors should win the 2017-18 championship.
With MVP-caliber stars Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry alongside All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, that’s no great leap in logic. Everyone and their mother knew the Warriors would beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2017 Finals eight months before it happened because, in the NBA, only a few teams each year have a realistic shot at chasing a ring.
This year is no different. Although the Warriors probably will win their third title in four years, these five teams — in alphabetical order — should at least be considered in the running if disaster strikes in Oakland.
By virtue of trotting LeBron James onto the court every night, Cleveland has faced little Eastern resistance in reaching three consecutive Finals. An unexpected roster overhaul this summer did little to change that.
Kyrie Irving’s request to be traded netted the Cavs and new All-Star point guard in Isaiah Thomas as well as underrated forward Jae Crowder. Adding future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade and former MVP Derrick Rose further revamped their backcourt.
How they all mesh with James and All-Star big Kevin Love remains to be seen.
Boston wound up with Irving and will pair him with free-agent addition Gordon Hayward, giving Beantown a pair of new 2017 All-Stars to go along with Al Horford.
But so much of the Celtics’ roster has turned over since reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in May that could make this team either a power player or a jumbled mess of talent. Only two players who averaged at least 18 minutes last season — Horford and Marcus Smart — are back.
Unsatisfied with bowing out to the San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals, Houston pulled the trigger on trading for Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul.
On the surface, pairing one of the greatest point guards ever with an MVP-level scorer in James Harden looks like a match made in heaven, especially on a team with the Rockets’ depth. But Harden led the league in assists last season, something Paul has done four times before. How each adapts to playing with the other is critical to how far this team can go in the West.
San Antonio’s roster won’t look much different from it did a year ago. They’ll still play coach Gregg Popovich’s brand of unselfish basketball, and forward Kawhi Leonard remains a top defender and MVP-caliber centerpiece.
But as the only team that did little to change its formula to catch the Warriors — who swept the Spurs in the conference finals — perennial power San Antonio risks falling behind the pack in Pop’s pursuit of a sixth ring.
No team forced its way into this conversation more than Oklahoma City. That’s what happens when the reigning MVP now gets to play with a bona fide star in his prime and a future Hall of Fame scorer.
Russell Westbrook now has a big three in OKC with Paul George, formerly of the Indiana Pacers, and ex-New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. The Thunder were a formidable mid-tier team before, but now look to be a threat to reach the conference finals.