Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Miami Heat
The homecoming king has turned Cleveland into a playoff squad. LeBron James will lead a young team with new coach David Blatt. With Kyrie Irving on the rise, and Andrew Wiggins getting it on at Summer League, the Cavaliers will be compared to the team James left. Whether they land Kevin Love via trade or not, they’ll be a tough out come playoff time.
As Eastern Conference foes, not only will they go head-to-head a few times, their records will be compared throughout the season. Impossible to fill the shoes of the best player in the league, Miami picked up Luol Deng, Danny Granger, and Josh McRoberts. They also kept a few of their own, Mario Chalmers and Chris Anderson. Maybe not title contenders, this seasoned team won’t go down without a fight in the East.
Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks
After the tough decision, Carmelo Anthony returns to the Big Apple in hopes to implement Phil Jackson’s plans. Don’t expect the Knicks to be contenders this year, in fact, they didn’t even reach the playoffs last season. It might not get any prettier with a first-time head coach in Derek Fisher. Melo won’t get grilled by his NY media when the team struggles, but other media outlets will certainly pop the questions even though it’s too soon to tell if his choice is justified. After all, he doesn’t need approval for his decision.
He will hear about the Bulls as they have assembled a contending roster at the return of Derrick Rose. Tom Thibodeau is the best coach in the Eastern Conference, adding Pau Gasol to a team with three standout defenders is dangerous. Gasol next to Joakim Noah or Taj Gibson, tough to score on with Jimmy Butler on your best wing player. Bringing Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic to the mix gives this team the depth and firepower they have lacked. They might come out for blood so-to-speak against Melo and the Knicks, Chicago is the hardest playing team that I consider favorites to win the East when all is said and done.
City of Angels
Who’s city is it? Feels like it has forever belong to the Lake Show. Thing is, we haven’t seen the show in years, since their last championship in 2010. With Kobe Bryant planning on walking away from the game in a couple years, it doesn’t appear that they will contend before his departure but only time will tell if they can make a splash trade. Sure, Julius Randle fell to them despite coming into the draft with injury concerns. The same can go for Bryant and especially, Steve Nash. Losing Pau Gasol without getting anything in return hurts, adding Jeremy Lin while re-signing Nick Young will be interesting to watch under Byron Scott (most likely the next head coach). They didn’t reach the postseason and it would be a stretch that they enter the hunt even with Bryant playing at a high level, considering there were 9 teams in the West that won 48+ games.
The past few years has belonged to Lob City. Chris Paul stepped through those doors and brought a tough, winning mentality to the Clippers. Doc Rivers enters the scene, he brings out the best of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Scary team for this season and in the future. Rivers continues to bring in the most talent that he possibly can. They didn’t even play Danny Granger and Darren Collison was still raw, the better L.A. team will improve under Rivers’ guidance in year number two. The Staples Center is their building right now, and there’s always a comparison with the purple and gold. This is a top 3-4 team in the West, with the second best coach in the conference.
Everything’s Bigger in Texas
The reigning champions are hungry to repeat, full of experience and they are the model team in the NBA. Greg Popovich is the best in the game, limiting veteran minutes and utilizing his talent by adapting to each situation. This is the year Kawhi Leonard follows Finals’ MVP by becoming a bigger part of the offense on a nightly basis. Everyone played their roles perfectly last year, they went 62-20 without playing the stars over an average of 30 minutes. They really focus on themselves and minimize outside distractions, and it frustrates opponents that the Spurs can beat them by simply taking what you give them.
Houston has been desperate in terms of landing another star player, and to n avail. Although I do predict that they pull the trigger for Rajon Rondo, so far this off-season they replaced Chandler Parsons with Trevor Ariza. The Rockets haven’t really improved after a first-round playoff exit, but there are still moves to be made. The positives, ridding the contracts of Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, picking up a first-round pick from the Pelicans in the process.
Dallas snagged Chandler Parsons from their interstate rivals, filling the void of Shawn Marion and Vince Carter on the wing. The Mavericks added backup guard Raymond Felton, and brought a familiar face in Tyson Chandler back to the starting lineup. The goal is to relive that championship campaign of course, Rick Carlise is one of the better coaches and Drik Nowitzki extended a few more years. In hindsight, they gave San Antonio a run for their money by taking them to 7 games in the first round. Nobody else played the eventual champs tougher.
Young Teams on the Rise
Toronto enjoyed the success of clinching the four seed so much, that they re-signed key players in their rotation. They won’t be all over T.V. during the season, they’ll most likely play well enough to get televised in the ladder half of the year (as is the case with teams under-the-radar). The same can be said for Washington in terms of Marcin Gortat, softening the blow of losing Trevor Ariza by signing the truth. Adding Paul Pierce is exactly what this young team needs, they have scary talent that beat the gritty Bulls in a series, they will surely benefit from Pierce’s leadership and experience. Personally, I’ll be measuring these teams against each other as they are in similar situations. Each team has an exciting nucleus to build on last year’s progress, definitely fun teams to watch.
Detroit doesn’t pop out at you, nor does anything they did last season. But this off-season does beginning with new coach and president, Stan Van Gundy. Talk about a student of the game, he will relay his basketball I.Q. to his talented bigs (Josh Smith, Andre Drummond, and Greg Monroe) and new guards (Jodie Meeks, Cartier Martin) that can spread the floor.
Boston is another team that allocated some talent, mainly in the backcourt. Whether they are led by Rajon Rondo or he gets traded for more assets, this college-style roster will push the tempo and pressure offensive guards. Teams looking for guard help, look no further than the Celtics.
Phoenix, they want to run all game long and have the backcourt to do so. You may have heard about Goran Dragic by now, keeping Eric Bledsoe and adding Isaiah Thomas forms a scoring guard rotation that won’t lack in aggression. Jeff Hornacek did a great job coaching them to 48 wins, although they just missed the playoffs.
Thunder Scott Brooks: The offensive has been too stagnant and much of nothing for far too long. Pressure’s on as the team has been together long enough for them to make a second finals’ appearance, they have taken steps backwards. Trouble could be on the way if Kevin Durant explores free agency in 2016.
Pacers Frank Vogel: I think this is one of the better coaches in the league right here. Most of the blame should be pointed at the front office and the mentally fragile roster. The all-star big man faded in the playoffs, Paul George was too inconsistent despite being elevated to star status by the media, and they are long overdue to improve at point guard. With that said, if they struggle he will be on the hot seat.
Timberwolves Kevin Love: It’s only a matter of time before the all-star gets traded. Elite rebounder, best outlet passes in the game, smooth perimeter shot, can back you down, just playing the waiting game now.Odds are, he gets moved around the All-Star Break. The league-wide thought is Cleveland, I say if he goes anywhere but Cleveland or Golden State, that he signs as a free agent with the Los Angeles Lakers. With the Cavaliers or Warriors, he already stated his interest in signing an extension with both teams.