1. San Antonio Spurs:
O.k., before you suggest that I check myself into a mental facility let me explain.
San Antonio won 67 games last season ( only six games short) of Golden States history making mark of 73-9. And that was accomplished without the services of newly acquired center Pau Gasol.
With a front line comprised of Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kahwi Leonard the Spurs hands down sport the best front line in the league.
(a fact that just happens to be Golden States main weakness).
Pau is no spring chicken and is past his prime but if he had chosen the Spurs instead of the Bulls last season Tim Duncan would have gotten his sixth ring.
2. Golden State Warriors:
After winning 73 games the Warriors shocked the basketball world by acquiring prized free agent and All NBA Kevin Durant.
Most would just crown the Warriors right now but we would be remiss to discount the role that chemistry played in the success of last seasons team.
To make room for Durant the Warriors had to dismantle most of their bench (An extremely effective and unselfish group). The Warriors may have sacrificed some defense, rebounding and size to make room for more offense.
Not only will the team have to replicate to some degree the contributions of last years bench but they will have to form chemistry amongst the starters who will have to jell to accommodate a talent of Kevin Durant’s stature.
3. Los Angeles Clippers:
The Clippers finally got to the place last season where they felt they had a realistic shot to win the NBA title before they were beset by injuries to Blake Griffin and star guard Chris Paul.
Can the Clippers stay healthy enough to challenge for at least a second round playoff win?
4. Oklahoma City Thunder:
Star guard Russell Westbrook is poised and ready to take this Thunder team as far as he can in what could amount to an MVP type season.
He will get support from a veteran and experienced team that will be out to prove that they are a formidible group with or with out the services of All NBA performer Kevin Durant (who left the team as a free agent.) Key for the Thunder are new shooting guard Victor Oladipo, breakout Center Steven Adams and 6-11″ 245 backup center Enes Kanter.
5. Utah Jazz:
The Jazz failed last season to make the playoffs but that scenario will change this season.
Not the biggest free agent destination the Jazz have managed to build through the draft and nurture their young players while adding the occasional veteran mostly through trades.
Joining future All Star Gordon Haywood (19.7ppg) and sharp shooter Rodney Hood (14.5ppg 35.9 3pt%) are point guard George Hill from the Pacers and Joe Johnson from the Miami Heat.
Promising bigs Derrick Favors (8.1rpg) and Rudy Gobert (11.0rpg 2.2 bpg)
6. Dallas Mavericks:
Pencil the Mavericks in for a 6th place finish and an opening round match up against the LA Clippers.
The Clippers would be a tough opponent for anyone but let’s give the Mavericks a punchers chance.
Why, you ask? The Mavericks added key free agents Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut both from the Golden State Warriors.
Harrison and Andrew bring scoring and defense to a veteran team with the ultimate trump (no pun intended) card and that would be the most excellent coach Rick Carlisle.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves:
The Timberwolves are “gonna be a nightmare to play” according to small forward Andrew Wiggins as told to NBA T.V.
Mr. Wiggins may just have a future career as a weatherman because the forecast for this team is sunny without a cloud in the sky.
Andrew Wiggins is joined by quite possibly the next big star in the game Karl Anthony Towns along with the uber-athletic Zach Levine and ROY candidate Kris Dunn and if this is not enough they have Tom Thibodeau as coach and President of Basketball operations.
Coach Thibs is spearheading a group that will play tough hard nosed defense and improved offense given coach’s reputation for making players (especially point guards) better.
8. Houston Rockets:
The Rockets are an example of a team in transition. Just two seasons ago they finished second in the west but a combination of ill timed injuries and poor defense have left this team trying to reload on the fly.
Gone is center Dwight Howard who never really ever fit with this team and in his place is Clint Capella.
The heart and soul of the Rockets is All NBA two guard James Hardin
(29ppg, 35.9 three pt% and 7.5apg). As good as Hardin is on offense he was as bad on defense.
The Rockets as a team will have to improve on defense and to address this need they went out and hired one of the top offensive minds in basketball, coach Mike D’Antoni.
Long story short; this is a near perfect marriage of a wide open loose three point shooting team with a mad scientist as coach.
It just might work.
When the smoke clears:
Expect to see San Antonio and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016-17 NBA Finals.