Just about two months remain until the tip-off for the 2017-18 NBA campaign. Plenty of changes have occurred during this past summer, as Jimmy Butler, Paul George & Paul Milsap head to a deep West with Gordon Hayward making the opposite trek. The rookie Royal Rumble of Lonzo Ball v Markelle Fultz v Josh Jackson v De’Aaron Fox v Ben Simmons v Jason Tatum v the rest should provide great entertainment as well.
Yet, still, we are awaiting the finale to Melodrama Part Duex in New York and the resolving of the Kyrie Irving situation in Cleveland, both of whom are linked with Western Conference sides as well.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at how the teams rank up this early.
If you have the Warriors at any spot outside of one, you must either be legally insane or a time traveler, maybe even both. Golden State was able to retain both Andre Iguodala & Shaun Livingston on bargain deals, thanks in part to Kevin Durant taking a paycut himself, while keeping the bench as among the league’s elite. Ian Clark, James McAdoo and Matt Barnes left the roster to be replaced by Nick Young and Omri Casspi, two solid vets. Draft night was also good for the Warriors, as Jordan Bell was an absolute steal and Chris Boucher is among the best two-way contract guys in the league. Both provided Oregon with good post defense and can swat shots away with ease, which would make them useful in the Bay Area for years to come.
When the Thunder lost Kevin Durant to the Warriors last summer, a lot of analysts and experts had painted them as a team in total distress. Russell Westbrook’s MVP season brought some hope to Oklahoma, and the addition of Paul George for spare parts (the same exact pieces the franchise acquired in exchange for Serge Ibaka) is bringing in a lot of well deserved buzz. George should fit in well with Westbrook, as both have the tools to be elite defenders while the fact they can rely on each other for scoring will allow them to preserve some energy for the defensive end. Patrick Patterson was also one of the most underrated pick-ups of the free agency period, and Terrence Ferguson is a sharpshooter who is a year away from being a year away to be a full time contributor.
Despite a reluctance to give up potentially high picks for George and Butler, the Celtics had a good summer and will look to build on and be the first non-LeBron James’ led side to make the NBA Finals since they last made it in 2010. Adding Gordon Hayward gives Brad Stevens another offensive weapon that can create his own shot, taking away full reliance on Isaiah Thomas while Al Horford will, hopefully, have a fully healthy year. Jayson Tatum has the tools to be an offensive juggernaut for years to come, but the Celtics still lack a rebounding presence, which stings with the losses of Amir Johnson & Kelly Olynyk.
Hard to place the reigning Eastern Conference champions as low as four, but at the same time, it’s higher than some may have them. The Irving situation is still up-in-the-air, speculation of LeBron leaving Cleveland once more in 2018 stenches in the atmosphere, the mastermind that built the franchise has left and the early rumors of the Cavs somehow adding George or Butler to LeBron and Irving had no substance. How the Irving scenario concludes, whether it’s him playing out his contract/resolving his differences with James or a good return could determine if Cleveland has another shot in the Finals (and, presumably the Warriors).
Despite losing Jonathan Simmons and Dewayne Dedmon, San Antonio is still San Antonio. Along with death and taxes, it seems the Spurs being among the league’s elite is the third guarantee in life thanks to Gregg Popovich’s ability to fit players around his featured players. Kawhi Leonard is a great player to feature as well, without a hole in his game, and the addition of Rudy Gay will give Leonard someone to rely on the defensive end more often. Derrick White and Joffrey Lauvergne were also Pop-like additions, helping San Antonio close out the summer well, despite the Aldridge unhappiness and failed Paul acquisition.
Daryl Morey is playing chess with the CBA when most are playing checkers, as he went crazy acquiring unguaranteed contracts to facilitate the Paul-addition, while keeping the franchise as the expected destination of Carmelo Anthony. Paul joins James Harden, the MVP runner-up, giving Coach Mike D’Antoni two of the league’s top facilitators. Along with Paul, the Rockets added defensive minded guys in PJ Tucker, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute & Tarik Black while also bringing Zhou Qi over from China. How Harden and Paul can adapt to playing together, and Paul adapt to D’Antoni’s 7-second offense will determine if Houston can challenge the Warriors for the West.
John Wall wants to remain in Washington for the remainder of his career, which is phenomenal news for a franchise trying to get over the hump and hang a banner, be it a NBA or Eastern Conference one. To get that done, they need Otto Porter and Bradley Beal to continue to improve, while hoping that Tim Frazier and Jodie Meeks bolster the bench, what Bojan Bogdanovic was acquired with hopes to do so. Devin Robinson was also a great two-way addition, who could spot some time contributing in the nation’s capital.
Masai Ujiri was on the verge of losing Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, two key starters, for nothing in free agency. Instead, he retained their services at the cost of solid bench depth, dealing DeMarre Carroll to Brooklyn for nothing, and allowing Patrick Patterson & PJ Tucker to walk. Ujiri did snatch C.J. Miles from Indiana in exchange for Cory Joseph, giving some wing depth, and had a great draft night with the selection of Ogugua Anunoby. The departures also allow the youth, such as Norman Powell, Delon Wright & Jakob Poeltl the opportunity to make an impact with extended playing time.
Adding Jerry West may be one of the most underrated acquisitions of the summer. Despite losing Paul, the Point-God, West, along with Lawrence Frank and even Doc Rivers, put together a solid roster which seems to be focused on depth and chemistry being the recipe for success. Along with Paul, the Clippers also lost J.J. Redick, Mbah A Moute and Jamal Crawford, all four played extended minutes. How Rivers can get the new guys (Patrick Beverly, Milos Teodisic, Danilo Gallinari, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker, Jawun Evans, Sindarious Thornwell, DeAndre Liggins, Lou Williams & Willie Reed) to mesh with the returning group (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson & Brice Johnson) teamed with the health of Griffin and Gallinari will determine if the Clippers can remain in the top third of the league.
Denver had a solid summer, adding the perfect big man to compliment Nikola Jokic in Millsap while keeping it’s young guns around for another year of improvement in Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay. Wilson Chandler and Will Barton will be relied upon for their defensive play on the wings, which could determine the extent of Denver’s success.
Butler’s addition gives the Timberwolves & Coach Tom Thibodeau a defensive presence, where Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins can show improvements. Jeff Teague is a solid replacement for the displaced Ricky Rubio while Jamal Crawford provides the Wolves with their biggest weakness, perimeter shooting. Taj Gibson was also a solid third big pick-up for Thibodeau’s gameplan.
Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to be one of the most intriguing players in the league, while Milwaukee is also banking on continued improvement and health from Thon Maker, Khris Middleton & Jabari Parker. D.J. Wilson and Sterling Brown were both excellent selections that fit the mold of Jason Kidd’s system.
Bloated contracts handicapped Neil Olshey’s ability to improve the roster, however, Portland is banking up on building on the success they experienced after acquiring Jusuf Nurkic from Denver, which included a 14-5 stretch and a top three offense. Damian Lillard & CJ McCollum have proven to be one of the premier guard duo’s in the league and they got some help via the draft with Caleb Swannigan, who may have the highest floor of any draftee & Zach Collins, who is a good defensive presence. C.J. Wilcox is also a solid two-way contract.
Fans were disappointed with the lack of instant success after the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings, but a summer of added chemistry, a chance for Jrue Holiday to get healthy and solid free agent acquisitions, Anthony Davis could finally end up back in the playoffs while Cousins makes his debut. Rajon Rondo had good chemistry with Cousins during his tenure in Sacramento, which should translate over.
Dwight Howard may be near a decade removed from leading the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals, however, the Hornets were able to, essentially, acquire him for free. And the team is built to work around Howard, provided, he can put full effort on rebounding and defense. Kemba Walker is one of the premier scoring guards, who is joined by Malik Monk, one of the premier collegiate gunners, while Dwayne Bacon can provide scoring at the three spot. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams will provide Howard with help on defense while Nicolas Batum will continue to be the utility guy needed.
Memphis returns the majority of it’s roster, with Sacramento snatching Vince Carter & Zach Randolph away while Tony Allen is expected to sign elsewhere. JaMychal Green, the starting power forward from a season prior, is still a restricted free agent, who will most likely accept the qualifying offer at this point. Chris Wallace was busy in free agency, acquiring Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans along with Mario Chalmers to provide veteran depth and went into the Pac-12 to draft Dillon Brooks from Oregon and sign Kobi Simmons as an undrafted free agent. Bringing Rade Zagorac, the #35th pick in 2016 could end up paying dividends. Memphis, however, is relying on Chandler Parsons to have a bounce back year and earn his contract.
Pat Riley didn’t hesitate to spend money bringing back Dion Waiters and James Johnson, two key components of Miami’s 30-11 run to end the 2016-17 season, greatly hindering the squad’s flexibility for years to come, namely if those two don’t end up improving. Justice Winslow is essentially being added to the roster after appearing in just 18 games and Bam Adebayo was an exceptional draft selection for Riley, giving the Heat two of (what should be) the league’s best defensive and shot blocking big men.
The loss of Gordon Hayward is the talk of the town, however, that isn’t the only hurtful subtraction for Utah. George Hill joining Sacramento will sting more than expected. Ricky Rubio is a solid replacement and will provide exceptional defense, along with fellow free agent adds Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh & Jonas Jerebko. Defense isn’t going to be an issue for Quinn Snyder, as they kept Joe Ingles and Ruy Gobert, along with Dante Exum’s projected improvement. The concern will be if the Jazz will be able to keep up on offense, and to do so, will need vast improvements from Rodney Hood and Alec Burks.
Detroit kept a good amount of it’s roster intact, hoping that Reggie Jackson’s disappointing year is due to injury and the lack-of chemistry can form between him and Andre Drummond. To go with Jackson’s health, the Pistons added Avery Bradley, Langston Galloway, Anthony Tolliver via free agency while drafting Luke Kennard. That, combined with the Eastern Conference being relatively weak, Detroit could fight for home court come playoff time.
Jimmy Butler era has come to an end in Chicago as the Bulls look to retool with the additions of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn & Lauri Markkanen. Denzel Valentine, Christian Felicio & Bobby Portis should give Fred Hoiberg improvement, while Dwyane Wade is expected to give leadership as Chicago is in a treadmill situation, not bad enough to bottom out, and not really good enough to make noise in the playoffs.
Dallas and Mark Cuban have yet to recover from the free agent strike-out post the 2011 Championship team, and that isn’t projected to change in the imminent future. Nerlens Noel remains a restricted free agent, who will most likely accept the qualifying offer, and Dallas was active after the draft, where they were able to snatch Dennis Smith Jr. with the 9th slot. Joining DSJr, the Mavs added P.J. Dozier, a key part of South Carolina State’s run, as an undrafted free agent, and used up some cap space to absorb Josh McRoberts. Rick Carlisle is going to need Harrison Barnes to live up to his contract if the Mavericks wish to return to the post season.
Sacramento went over a full roster overhaul, returning the lowest percentage of minutes and have moved on from the fruit-less DeMarcus Cousins era. The new faces bring in a solid influx of veterans (Vince Carter, George Hill & Zach Randolph) and youth (De’Aaron Fox, Harry Giles, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Justin Jackson & Frank Mason). Dave Joerger will be hoping that Buddy Hield, Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein continue on an incline. Fox and Hill are both solid defensive presences, whom can play together and compliment Hield’s shooting ability well.
The Lakers will remain in the hunt for a playoff slot throughout a good portion of the year, but unless your name is LaVar Ball, the odds of them sneaking in aren’t very high. Regardless, Los Angeles will be a team to keep an eye on for a plethora of reasons, even outside of LaVar’s PR antics. Lonzo’s ability to find teammates for easy looks, Brandon Ingram’s expected improvement, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brook Lopez & Julius Randle playing for a contract. Without a pick in the 2018 draft, you also won’t see Los Angeles tank it up near the end of the year, such as in 2017. Oh, and they dumped Mozgov.
Philadelphia will have two #1 overall selections making their debuts, and the questions of health will continue, namely with Joel Embiid, who has the package to be a superstar. Philadelphia brought in veterans that can contribute immediately for the #Process in J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson, while bringing in Furkan Korkmaz, the 26th overall pick from 2016. Still, no one knows how healthy Philadelphia will be, how the young talent will mesh or if Brett Brown can even coach.
New York continues to be a franchise in limbo, though, Phil Jackson was finally relieved from his duties. The Melodrama is also in full swing, making it that much more difficult to gauge where Jeff Hornacek’s side will end up. Kristaps Porzingis will certainly improve, while Frank Ntilikina will be handed the keys from Day 1. Tim Hardaway Jr. was also overpaid, especially considering the Knicks gave him away to begin with.
Brooklyn is still trying to bounce back from the swing-and-a-miss acquisitions of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, leaving them without their pick in 2017 and once again, in 2018. However, Kenny Atkinson did a wonderful job with the spare parts during the 2016-17 campaign and has a few more pieces to work with in 2017-18. Utilizing their cap space, the Nets swapped Brook Lopez’ expiring deal for Timofey Mozgov’s in order to snatch D’Angelo Russell away from the Lakers. They also took Allen Crabbe from the Blazers (giving up Andrew Nicholson) and DeMarre Carroll from Toronto, all four who may actually crack the starting unit. Draft night was also fruitful for the franchise, as Jarrett Allen was a spectacular pick at #22. If Jeremy Lin can remain healthy, and Russell improves like he was once expected, the Nets could sneak into the playoffs, which would only mean that Danny Ainge refused to give up a mid-teens pick for Jimmy Butler/Paul George.
Anytime you have a franchise player that wants out, getting fair value is rare. However, what Indiana got for George was just putrid, and the franchise will hope that Myles Turner is able to speed up his development and be the replacement franchise option right away. The additions of veterans Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic and Cory Joseph imply Indiana may want to treadmill, when they should probably allow T.J. Leaf, Turner, Domas Sabonis, Victor Oladipo and Edmond Sumner get extended time and try to add Michael Porter or Luka Doncic in 2018. Ike Anigbogu could also end up being a steal, pending the Pacers medical staff.
Devin Booker and Josh Jackson are the future of the franchise, and Phoenix is one of the teams that has continued speculation of being in the Irving sweepstakes, which would bump Phoenix up by a dozen or so slots. Along with Booker’s scoring prowess, Phoenix has other young talent that could blossom in Marquese Chriss, Al Williams, Tyler Ulis and Dragan Bender.
Youth movement is the clear target in Atlanta, with Dwigh Howard and Paul Milsap being sent away for pennies on the dollar. Dennis Schroder and Taurean Prince should continue to improve, while John Collins and Tyler Dorsey were solid draft selections. Dewayne Dedmon was an absolute steal of a pick-up via free agency, and could form a big duo with Collins for years to come.
Orlando isn’t the worst team in the league when you go solely off talent. They already had Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo. Mario Hezonja was once highly touted as well and still has the tools needed. To go with that, they added Jonathan Isaac with the 6th pick, Wesley Iwundu in the second round of the draft before free agency led to an influx of solid veterans in Marreese Speights, Jonathan Simmons, Shelvin Mack and Arron Afflalo. The question now becomes, what is Orlando trying to do? Other sides seem to have a clear intention of bottoming out or trying to make the post-season and going from there. Not in Orlando though, do they want to let the young guys play and gain experience? Or do they want the vets to get them into the playoffs?