by Mohammad Samra / Staff Reporter
Before Kawhi Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to their first ever NBA championship, both fans and analysts assumed the Golden State Warriors were going to win their third consecutive title, and their fourth in five years.
Aside from an unforgettable clash between the Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers—led by LeBron James—in 2016, Golden State dominated not only in the Finals, but throughout the playoffs. It was not hard to foresee them winning multiple championships with their talented core, and signing star power forward Kevin Durant made them virtually unbeatable.
After a wild offseason, neither conference has a standout team that the public can unanimously count on to make it to the Finals for the first time in close to a decade. Instead, there are now six championship-caliber squads who realistically have a chance at hoisting the Larry O’ Brian trophy come of the season, with each having their own unique strengths and weaknesses.
6. Philadelphia 76ers
The biggest moves Philadelphia made this offseason were trading Jimmy Butler to Miami Heat and signing Tobias Harris to a max deal. The unexpected signing of Al Horford provides a boost to their defense and makes the 76ers one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
5. Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee traded point guard Malcolm Brogdon to the Indiana Pacers, and their bench is below average compared to others in the NBA, but they have arguably the most dominant player in basketball—Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 2019 MVP, along with seven-foot centers Brook and Robin Lopez, give the Bucks a distinct size advantage inside the paint against any team they play. Khris Middleton remains the team’s most reliable option from beyond the arc, and his ability to be a consistent shooting threat creates lanes for Antetokounmpo.
4. Denver Nuggets
Denver has quietly built a team capable of making the playoffs as a high seed every year. They have an extremely young team—only one player on the roster is over 30—led by center Nikola Jokic. Both point guard Jamal Murry and veteran forward Paul Millsap are trustworthy offensive threats who can score 30 points on any given night. Murry recently signed a five-year contract extension, and Millsap looks ready to stay consistent on offense. The Nuggets made no major signings, so their team chemistry should remain strong. Although a couple of powerhouse teams have since emerged in the Western Conference, expect the Nuggets to be in the mix for the No. 1 seed throughout the season.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
Two names: LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It’s easy to see why many believe the two superstars will lead the Lakers to their first championship since 2010. Outside of AD and LBJ, fan-favorite Kyle Kuzma has the potential to be a lethal offensive threat with one or two more years of development. Returning point guard Rajon Rondo and experienced center Dwight Howard add depth that the Lakers didn’t have last year. Los Angeles’ success does hinge on the health of its two biggest stars. It’s no secret that Davis is injury prone, and as LeBron approaches the back end of his career, injuries will affect him much more than someone younger like Kuzma. If either of the team’s stars suffers a legitimate injury, it’ll be difficult for them to make the playoffs, let alone win a championship.
2. Golden State Warriors
Golden State lost Kevin Durant to free agency and Klay Thompson to a torn ACL, which rules him out until after the All-Star break. A razor thin bench remains an area of concern for the new-look Warriors, and a trip to the Western Conference Finals isn’t even a guarantee anymore. They won’t be anywhere near the second best team this season, but a lot of factors play into the Warriors capturing their fourth title in six years. Once Klay Thompson returns, Golden State will have the same core that led to their 2015 championship. Newly acquired D’Angelo Russell will have to adjust to the Warriors’ style of play, but expect him to be comfortable in his role if the team decides to keep him. Teams and analysts are already counting out the Warriors, which can prove to be dangerous. Even though Golden State lost the most this summer, they still have dc the potential to heat back up as games become more and more meaningful.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
On paper, the Clippers have the best team in the NBA. Kawhi Leonard is the best two-way player, while Paul George is arguably the second best in that same category. Patrick Beverly’s elite defense and mind games allow flexibility when having to match up against teams like the Warriors or Lakers who have multiple top tier offensive options. Lou Williams is also the best sixth man in basketball right now. It’ll be incredibly difficult to beat this team four times in a seven game series.