The draft, free agency and Summer League have come and gone, and we are now entering the dog days of the NBA calendar. It’s this time of year that I love to speculate on where teams sit and critique roster-building plans. Below I’ve separated teams by rough groupings, to organize my thoughts about each squad’s place in the pecking order. I will be delving deeper into each of these categories in the days to come.
Contenders – teams that will be in the hunt in late May
Warriors – The Champs bring back just about everybody, while finding relief from David Lee’s monster cap hit. The talent, depth and versatility they bring to the table makes them favorites for a title defense, barring injury.
Spurs – A ridiculous offseason has the Spurs back in the championship race. It will be interesting to see how the new pieces fit and how LMA adapts to the Spurs’ pace. They could be devastating.
Rockets – I love what they did this offseason. Assuming Ty Lawson gets himself together, these guys are fast, deep and versatile in the mold of the Warriors. I like every player on their roster.
Thunder – With their stars back healthy the Thunder still have the best top three in the league. Can Enes Kanter contribute without killing an already suspect defense? Will Billy Donovan’s coaching provide a bump after the Scott Brooks era was finally put out of its misery? Most important will KD, Russ and Serge stay on the court?
Grizzlies – While the rest of the NBA zigs, they zag. Focus on controlling a slower pace and letting their bigs dominate has been fruitful for the Grizzlies and the addition of Brandan Wright is huge behind Marc Gasol. Can they solve the outside shooting issues that have prevented them from getting over the hump?
Cavaliers – They likely will breeze through the East with Dan Gilbert writing all those checks and LeBron in Year 2 of the Cavs reboot. David Blatt or Coach LeBron need to show Kevin some more love.
Bulls – The Mayor Freddie Hoiberg looks to change the culture, hopefully improving a stagnant offense and playing his guys sane minutes. Bulls are a fringe contender, I fully admit my homerism factored into putting them up in this tier.
Quasi-contenders – Teams that may have an inflated belief in their chances
Clippers – Doc GM has made some curious moves, but when all was said and done I actually like what they pulled off this summer. Lance Stephenson is better off the bench than in a star role, and the DeAndre coup was very necessary. Not to mention the Paul Pierce reunion.
Hawks – Setting out to prove it wasn’t a fluke last year. They won’t win 60+ games, but bring back a lot of talent. Can they replace DeMarre Carroll’s versatility?
Heat – One of the best starting 5’s in the NBA. Hoping for a Chris Bosh comeback tour after the scary blood clot and Hassan Whiteside to build on his breakout campaign. They will go as far as D-Wade’s knees take them.
Wizards – Very quiet offseason and the loss of Pierce hurts. But this is a solid team that needs a full year of John Wall and Bradley Beal holding down the backcourt together.
First round fodder – Should make the playoffs but don’t have enough to make noise
Mavericks – Did an OK job recovering from the DeAndre fiasco, but they’re old, lack depth and will be desperate for a Deron Williams renaissance that I’m not sure is possible.
Raptors – The Carroll addition was nice but they overpaid for Cory Joseph and lost Amir Johnson. I still have a bad taste in my mouth over how they shriveled in the playoffs; Kyle Lowry needs to bounce back in a big way.
Hornets – MJ’s team seems perpetually fated to live in the middle. The Frank Kaminsky pick won’t make enough of an impact.
Celtics – A great coach and a roster full of solid role players is enough to make the playoffs in the East. Probably not enough to beat one of the top four in the first round.
Up-and-comers – My favorite group, teams that are building upon a talented foundation. May not make the playoffs but will be exciting to watch develop. Next post will be about this group, so will save my thoughts for that.
Going nowhere fast – Uggh
Kings – This team is what Judd Apatow’s ‘Trainwreck’ should have been about.
Nets – Just a depressing team trying to get out of bad salary hell.
Lakers – Waiting out Kobe’s contract while trying to develop D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and other young pieces.
Knicks – Carmelo’s career trajectory makes me sad. I loved watching him play for the Nuggets during my career at University of Colorado.
Nuggets – Speaking of, the Nuggets embody the fact that NBA teams can fall apart quickly. Doesn’t seem that long ago I was wearing my Anthony, Billups, Martin, Smith & Nene shirt.
Trail Blazers – Another sad NBA tale. This was a fun team last year that won 50 games and immediately lost 80% of their starting lineup to free agency.
Pacers – Have Paul George back at full strength will help, but their big man talent is nonexistent and I have visions of Monta Ellis jacking 30 shots in January while George and Frank Vogel shake their heads.
76ers – Please.