The 2017-2018 NBA season is right around the corner as we are only 35 days away.
We have seen the most active and entertaining Summer transaction wise in NBA history. Teams were in a frenzy after top tier free agents, impactful draft picks, and even impact players that are still under contract. From Chris Paul, to Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas, to Jimmy Butler and Gordon Hayward, all star’s were on the move and on the rumor mill left and right. This was a direct result of the assemblance of talent that the Golden State Warriors bolster.
This past off-season has made it clear as to which teams are not deterred by the golden standard of the league that is the Warriors, and the teams that would rather pass on contending for the next few seasons.
The Rockets, Timberwolves, Celtics, Cavaliers, Thunder, Nuggets, Hornets, and Spurs all made roster moves that they feel will help them contend with the defending champs.
Teams like the Bulls, and Hawks (and hopefully soon, ahem, the Knicks. We’ll revisit this scenario later) all had a concerted effort to trade away their best player with the idea of a full rebuild being their most sensical route for the future.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the 5 things I look forward to most for this upcoming season.
There are a handful of intriguing storylines to follow for the ’17-’18 campaign, but for this post there will only be 5 where we dive into detail with.
Here are a few noteworthy scenarios that missed that cut.
Cavs v. Celtics
Before acquiring Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 1st round pick that almost every team inquired about, the Cavaliers bolstered their roster by adding versatility and size. They signed veteran swingman and journeyman Jeff Green, an inspired and determined Derrick Rose who is auditioning for a bigger contract for next season, and crafty playmaker Jose Calderon, while resigning sharpshooter Kyle Korver.
Then, after going silent and leaving everyone wondering whats next… BOOM!!!
Kyrie Irving asks for a trade, the rumor mill swirls out of control for a month, and he ends up with the Boston Celtics.
This adds an extremely unique wrinkle to this match up. The Celtics will be in search of a new identity early on, likely one that coach Brad Stevens is not accustom to. While the Cleveland Cavaliers upgraded from their roster from last season.
Aside from LeBron-Kyrie, and Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder’s vengeance toward the Celtics for the abrupt trade, I am curious to see how competitive the two rosters will be head to head. I feel as if Boston has taken a step back from where they were last season (they were already a step and a half behind Cleveland), and Cleveland took a step closer to Golden State.
Dwight Howard’s Last Chance at Relevance?
Dwight Howard was sought after, then traded for by the Charlotte Hornets. A risky proposition, but one that could hold fruitful for them as Dwight could give them an advantage that most teams do not have, which is a dominant inside force. If Dwight could get back to, at a bare minimum, his stat line of 18.3 ppg, 12.2 rpg, and 1.8 bpg , the Hornets can be a wildcard Eastern Conference Finals contender. Howard is 4 seasons removed from his last all star campaign, one that saw him post the stat line above. That was seeming his last season of relevance on a playoff team. The Hornets roster is scrappy with pesky defenders, and shooters that can help space the floor effectively for Dwight to roam the paint. Regardless of how well Dwight plays, they will be a playoff team at the very least. From there, his effectiveness will play a key role in this teams ceiling
Paul George in Oklahoma City
Much to the surprise of everyone, Paul George was sent to the Thunder to team up with the ’16-’17 MVP Russell Westbrook. It was surprising because all reports gave the idea that Indiana wanted a combination of picks and young talent in return for their star forward. A combination that apparently the Cavaliers, Celtics, and Lakers could not compile, all of which were mentioned to be extremely interested in the 4x all star’s services. The Pacers underwhelmingly settled for the Oklahoma City return of Domatas Sabonis and former Hoosier Victor Oladipo, with no pick compensation involved.
George’s impact on the Thunders roster should make them more formidable and less predictable than last year as it should not take a herculean effort from Westbrook nightly to win 50 games this season. It will be eerily similar to when Durant was there. A roster with two standouts, a scrappy rebounder inside, and a noteworthy defender. The rest of the roster leaves much to be desired in my opinion. They should be a top 5 seed in the West, however I believe their flaws, while George will help mask many of them, will be exposed come playoff time in April, and if the advance into May.
Expect for the “Will George resign with OKC?” rumors to continue to swirl as the season progresses. Also, expect for the same to happen with Westbrook as he has yet to sign an extension with the Thunder. There should be plenty of ambiguity around the team.
The New Orleans Pelicans
After shocking the NBA by acquiring widely coveted big man Demarcus Cousins to pair with Anthony Davis in the frontcourt, everyone expected for the Pelicans to make a free agency splash, or two.
Surprisingly, they did neither.
They will be returning almost the same roster, void of shooters to surround the two other worldly talents that they have paired in the paint. Of the additions they made, their defense should be solid on the perimeter. However they added Rajon Rondo who is a career 30.4% shooter from deep and Tony Allen who is a career 28.0% 3pt shooter, both of which will be in their main rotation. They did sign Ian Clark who shot 36.4%, E’twaun Moore and resigned starting point guard Jrue Holiday (now the team’s highest paid player at 5 yrs, $25 mil) who is a respectable 36.6% shooter from deep.
This team has potential to be a league wide nightmare as most teams are going to use a more modern starting line up featuring a taller/more versatile small forward starting at the 4, if not a stretch 4. This is a match-up that Davis will invite and exploit night after night as he poses a mismatch nightly, as does Cousins every night at the 5.
I expect for them to be active in the market for shooters. Marco Belinelli and Jodie Meeks are guys on cheaper contracts that it would be wise for them to keep an eye on.
They will consequently be a fringe playoff team that will fight for a 7th or 8th seed in the gauntlet that is the Western Conference.
Top 5 Things to Look for this Season
One of the most active teams this Summer were the Minnesota Timberwolves. Coach Thibodeau, who is known to think more of his former players than their true value at times, did a great job in his second summer as President of Basketball Operations. He structured an intriguingly talented roster that should coincide well with his coaching philosophy of mentally tough, physical, and hard nosed defense.
Thibodeau added 2x All NBA defender Jimmy Butler via trade, then signed 3x Sixth Man of the Year recipient Jamal Crawford, former all star point guard Jeff Teague, and scrappy veteran big man Taj Gibson. Butler and Gibson were two of Thibodeau’s most important players in his stint with the Bulls that resulted in multiple 50+ win seasons and one Eastern Conference Finals appearance. This Timberwolves team, however, is different from those Bulls teams.
The roster construct of this team does have one similarity to the Bulls of 3 years ago, a limited supply of reliable shooters.
The team does have plenty of players that can be trusted making decisions with the ball, which will be a luxury in the playoffs. The problem is that outside of Jeff Teague and Karl Anthony Towns, they do not have many reliable perimeter shooters. Look for teams to entice them to shoot the long ball, as floor spacing may be a problem for them.
Their most reliable offense may be their defense.
If they can mesh and gel within Thibodeau’s principles on defense, and use that to change ends and use their athleticism to their advantage, look out.
They should be a team that looks to keep games in the range of 90-98 points allowed. If they can do this, they could exceed expectations by vying for a top 5 seed in the West.
Prediction: Making the playoffs for the first time since ’03-’04, the Wolves will earn the 5th seed.
Are the New Look Celtics Ready to Dethrone the King?
After trading away their two best perimeter defenders in Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, the Boston Celtics are now in search of a new identity.
Along with that, they traded away their emotional leader in Isaiah Thomas, in exchange for a player similar skill-wise in Kyrie Irving. The problem is, Kyrie Irving has never shown leadership skills with intangibles, vocally, or emotionally. Maybe this is a new role that Irving is willing to step into. Maybe prized free agent signing Gordon Hayward will step out of his comfort zone and take on that role. Maybe veteran center Al Horford will become that leader.
There is plenty of ambiguity surrounding the Celtics. From leadership, to their ceiling defensively, to their style of play.
Regardless, the Boston Celtics have a ton of things to figure out. The good news is that they are in the Eastern Conference and that there is plenty of room to slip and time to experiment. They are all but guaranteed a spot in the Eastern Conference SemiFinals.
With teams having more continuity like the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, and Washington Wizards, they should pose as formidable threats to the Celtics for at least an opportunity to dethrone the King in the Conference Finals Round.
Also, the storylines that could be made for another potential Cavs-Celtics Conference Finals would be unbelievable.
Unfortunately, I do not believe we will get that opportunity.
Prediction: The C’s will garner a top 4 seed in the East, and lose in the 2nd round.
The Intriguing Point Guard Combo of Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose
The Cleveland Cavaliers have a rather unique situation at their point guard position. They have a former MVP in Derrick Rose, and a former 6th Man of the Year in Isaiah Thomas.
Ironically, those two are both in a situation where they are auditioning for other teams. For Isaiah, he’ll likely garner a max contract from a franchise like Milwaukee who is in need of a point guard. Rose on the other hand will be expecting a raise as well, though it is hard to project what kind of contract he may receive due to his injury history. Roses market is hard to gauge.
With that, there will be no question as to the desire and ambition for the ultimate goal of winning a championship with those two. The more they win and the better the perform, the more likely teams will be willing to throw a max contract their way. It is that simple for them.
The problem comes with deciding who will start as someone will have to put their ego aside and take one for the team.
The Cavaliers are likely to keep 4 or their 5 starters from last post season in the starting line up with Korver, James, Love and Thompson.
It will end up being Rose that starts the season by default due to Isaiah Thomas rehabbing from his hip injury that cut his playoffs short last season. Reports say that Thomas will not be back until February at the earliest.
Great news for Rose, as I believe with over half of the season being done and chemistry being set in by February, Thomas will end up coming off the bench for the last month and half before the playoffs start.
The Cavaliers should be even better than last season now as Rose and Thomas will be two options to take the stress of creating offense off of LeBron James’ shoulders. Those two should score, and in abundance. Also, versatile defenders like Crowder and Jeff Green in combination with Shumpert should allow for them take stress off of The King on the defensive end.
Also, Thomas off the bench along with JR Smith, Shumpert, and Channing Frye should be fun to see and make an impact in spurts.
Prediction: Rose will continue to start when Thomas makes his comeback, and Thomas will quarterback the Cavs 2nd string as their sixth man while closing games as the point guard. Both earning max contracts next off season.
Chris Paul and James Harden
The Houston Rockets outspoken and very knowledgable GM Daryl Morey is no stranger to making head turning deals.
The extremely ambitions Morey added to his list of surprising yet impactful moves this summer by adding all future Hall of Famer and All NBA point guard Chris Paul via trade.
Throughout last season, there were rumblings that Paul’s time with the Los Angeles Clippers had run out. He had done all he could do but playoff failures due to roster construct, and unforeseen adversities like injuries and issues with the owner prevailed over the team’s playoff success. Paul led the Clippers to 6 consecutive 50+ win seasons. While with the Clippers, Paul also never allowed his team to slip below the 5th seed entering the playoffs. In each year respectively, Paul was at the helm of a team that finished 5th, 4th, 3rd, 3rd, 4th, and 4th, and was consistently a top 10 offense that relied on his near flawless ball dominance season after season.
It was well past time for change, though.
Of the list of teams that Paul was rumored to be intrigued by, the only consistent reports showed the Cavaliers and Spurs as destinations for Paul, who was expected to opt out of his contract and become a free agent.
However, Paul had a meeting with the Clippers just days before the beginning of free agency, with which they asked him what his decision would be. He did them a solid and notified them that he would not be returning. The Clippers rebuttal was for a list in order of the teams Paul wanted to go to. In order, they were the Cavaliers, Spurs, and Rockets.
The Clippers were not able to strike a deal satisfying enough for all parties with the Cavaliers and Spurs, but they were able to with the Rockets.
Much to the delight of Paul and his camp, he will not team up with another consistent MVP candidate and top 5 player for the first time in his career.
This will be a luxury that is much appreciated by Paul, but it will most definitely test Paul’s ability to change his play style to mesh with the other top flight playmaking and scoring talent that is James Harden. I will be posting an article at a later date specifically on Paul and Harden, but this will be a tandem that will work out the kinks early, and look to challenge the Golden State Warriors for a Conference Championship.
Prediction: Chris Paul and James Harden will have their ups and downs meshing as teammates on the court, but it will come with winning. This will work.
Can the Houston Rockets Challenge the Golden State Warriors?
Over the last few seasons, the Golden State Warriors have had their way with the tough Western Conference. With two of the last three Larry O’Brien trophies residing in the Bay Area, and the Warriors also breaking the regular season win total record with a 73-9 season, the Warriors have exemplified dominance over a conference. They’ve done so by forcing an evolution in style of play that has reverberated across the NBA. More three point shots, and almost positionless basketball in stretches of the game have had the 29 other teams in the NBA all in flux, keeping coaches up late at night trying to game plan for this team
Finally, after a summer full of moves, we have an assemblage of teams, specifically out West, that we feel can make things tough enough that the Warriors will now have to work harder than before to get to the Finals for a 4th year in a row.
Of those teams that retooled and are going all in with a “win now,” motto, the Rockets are at the forefront.
Last season, the Houston Rockets donned the 2nd most explosive offense in the NBA behind the Warriors averaging 115.3 ppg. They did so with the player that finished 2nd in the MVP race last year, in James Harden.
Fast forwarding to the new look Houston Rockets, they now have the most intriguing roster on paper after the Warriors.
Bringing back a majority of that 2nd most explosive offenses roster, the Rockets added the aforementioned Chris Paul who is worthy of countless adjectives, two noteworthy role players and middle to elite tier defenders in PJ Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, back up big man and spark plug Tarik Black, and resigned veteran big Nene.
To bring in this amount of defensive prowess and accountability while having 5 of their top 6 scorers return is going to be a problem for the NBA. This is going to be a well balanced attack now with Paul at the helm offensively and defensively.
As mentioned before, there will be an article posted in the near future dissecting the Paul/Harden pairing and just how effective they can be, but the fact that one of the most efficient game managers and all around talents the game has ever seen is being added to a historically great offense has to have caught the attention of the Warriors.
A rivalry exists between the Rockets and Warriors as it is. Adding Paul, who was the leader of another Warrior rival in Los Angeles, to this dynamic along with scrappy and no nonsense guys like PJ Tucker and Mbah A Moute who invite and embrace physicality will make for, potentially, the perfect threat for the Golden State Warriors.
The Rockets have man different looks they can give the Warriors, and this should lead to a great chess match between coaches and players, hopefully on the Conference Finals stage.
In the words of one of the greatest professional athlete personalities in Terrell Owens, “Get your popcorn ready.” We are in for a show.
An interesting situation that hopefully happens and could change my prediction would be what happens with Carmelo Anthony.
Multiple reports have indicated that the New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony, who has a no trade clause , plans to waive that only for a trade to the Houston Rockets.
The trade would allow for him team up with one of his 3 best friends in Chris Paul, and a teammate he developed a next level bond en route to yet another gold medal in the 2016 Olympics with James Harden.
This, in my opinion, would allow for the Rockets to potentially beat the Warriors.
Prediction: As the rosters currently stand, we get a Rockets-Warriors Western Conference Finals and the Rockets push the Warriors to a highly competitive 6 game series.
Thanks for the read. For notice of when I post new articles, and for other conversations about the NBA, you can follow me on Twitter at @StayTrueSdot3 . Also, feel free to leave a comment below.
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