The 2017-18 NBA season has a chance to be very different from the last 3 seasons. In those 3 seasons, every knowledgeable NBA fan knew it was a foregone conclusion that the Warriors and the Cavaliers would meet in the Finals due to lack of competition/super teams. We are about to enter the first season in 3 years where you could realistically believe that same foregone conclusion may not be so.
Before you get excited about your favorite teams having a chance (Knicks and Nets fans please sit down), please realize that even with all of the moves from the offseason that it is still VERY likely to be a Cavs-Warriors rematch. The Warriors still have the best starting 5 and the Cavs might be the deepest team LeBron has ever played on. It will take a monumental effort from the other elite teams to beat these 2 in a 7-game series. However, it’s October and not June so let’s go ahead and handicap the chances of the 8 teams who could win it all.
Golden State Warriors
You thought this would be a numbers article? No need to handicap it here, everybody knows who the favorites are. The Warriors are an absolute juggernaut from starting 5 all the way down to the last player on the bench. They are filled with MVPs, Defensive Players of the Year, 6th Man of the Year award winners as well as hungry veterans and role players who will stop at nothing to get a ring. Led by Curry and Durant, the Warriors are still the odds on favorite to be champions.
Odds: LeBron James
Ok so everything I just said about the Warriors is true and all but the Cleveland Cavaliers look at all of that and still say ‘well we have a LeBron’. James is looking to reach his 8th straight NBA Finals. The fact that I just typed that someone is looking to go to the Finals for the 8th straight time is mind blowing. Enough about LeBron, the Cavs also boast their deepest roster since LeBron returned from the Miami Heat. While none of the additions made are as good as Kyrie Irving, they still will allow the team to be competent even when LeBron is off the floor. Adding Dwayne Wade, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose and retaining Kyle Korver will allow the Cavs to be extremely flexible with their on-court setup. It will still all come down to LeBron. He has a deep team this year, but is it deep enough to beat the Warriors?
Oklahoma City Thunder
I’m starting to think he’s making these odds up off the top of his head
I still very much believe that it will be Cavs-Warriors, but the spoiler teams to that match-up are very exciting. Starting with the Thunder, I believe Russell Westbrook is the most likeable player in the NBA at the moment. He literally went above and beyond in 2016-17 by averaging (AVERAGING) a triple-double and winning MVP while also leading a very mediocre Thunder team to the playoffs. Enter Paul George and Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder are all of a sudden having flashbacks to the Westbrook-Harden-Cupcake days. The Thunder, outside of the big 3, are pretty weak and that may be the only thing keeping me from picking them over the Warriors. If Cupcake KD returns and shrivels against his old team then they may just have a shot to topple the Warriors. This is the Western Conference Finals match you should be rooting for.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs will likely have questions about the 2016-17 Postseason for quite some time. What if Parker didn’t get hurt? What if Kawhi never got hurt against the Warriors? Would they have won game 1 if he didn’t? The best-case scenario for the Spurs is to remain healthy. I know you can say that for literally every sports team ever but if the Spurs actually do stay healthy, then they have the ability to beat anybody. If the Warriors and Thunder don’t meet in the Conference Finals then the Spurs likely had something to do with it.
Odds: 3-leafed clover
Anyway, here is the biggest (and only) threat to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference. Fresh off of acquiring Kyrie Irving and signing Gordon Hayward, the Celtics are trying to reach the level of the Cleveland Cavaliers. They may have been the 1 seed last season and may even win the one seed this season, but that’s only because LeBron is sure to be rested for at least 8-10 games. The trio of Hayward, Irving and Horford should give the Celtics a better chance this year against the Cavs but they will still be too much to handle in the Eastern Conference Finals. In a year or two when Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are fully developed and LeBron is possibly playing out West, this will be a completely different story.
Odds: Time Machine
The Rockets made a big move themselves this offseason, plucking Chris Paul from the Clippers and while that does give perennial MVP candidate James Harden his best teammate to date, it does not guarantee them a spot in the Western Conference Finals much less the NBA Finals. Hell, they aren’t even in my top 5 and THAT is how much better the competition is in the NBA over this time last year. Unless Chris Paul can turn back the clock and perform like he did 5 years ago then the Rockets will likely be inferior to the top 3 West teams. Carmelo going to the Thunder equally hurt the Rockets as it did help the Thunder.
We’re starting to reach here but I need 8 teams to make this article make sense, so here we go! The Timberwolves traded for Jimmy Butler and signed Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague in the offseason. Add that to a rising duo in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins as well as solid head coach Tom Thibodeau and you have an up and coming team in a stacked Western Conference. If this team does come together in one season to win it all then we might actually be dreaming but they have the players and the coach to make a run. At the very least, they will get a playoff spot and make life difficult in late April – early May for a top seed in the West. Their best chance is for their youth and athleticism to become a problem for teams.
Odds: The Process
I have no idea what the Process is but Embiid told me to trust it and dammit, I’m going to listen! They have some very nice young players and JJ Redick. If they can stay healthy (Spurs know what’s up) then they can be what the T-Wolves are in the West, a very tough out for a top seed in the East.