Now that the bulk of Free Agency has came and went, it is safe to start ranking teams for next season. Now, minus any trades that happen from when I publish this post(Houston I am talking about you) it is safe to start judging these moves. I love what many teams in the West have done to strengthen their teams. Many of them like Minnesota, are looking at the future while also competing right now. I also think the West has went back to the days when nine of the fifteen teams had 45 plus wins. The East has become the Land of Tanking and I will do a post on those teams later, but the General Managers have to fix this talent disparity/scouting. Besides for Philadelphia, every team in the East does not have an excuse to be so bad at acquiring talent or producing a horrible product cough Orlando Magic.
1. Golden State Warriors- Their should be no surprise here. The Warriors retained every core player from their championship team, and somehow they are BETTER. I love that they drafted Jordan Bell, I was really high on him and thought they should trade into the draft to get him. He brings everything that Javale McGee brought, but at a cheaper price. The additions of Nick Young and Omri Casspi are very interesting because these are guys who know how to play. Only problem is I do not know how Young will fit in their system, but he is an effective scorer coming off the bench. In the playoffs, it would be interesting to figure out how many minutes he will receive. The best thing about their offseason is Durant took less money to keep the team intact. I am a guy who believes in eliminating the Salary Cap because players should be able to take as much money from teams, as they want to offer them. Durant is a smart player and he wants to win above everything. If winning is what matters to the player than money should not be the primary option to you cough Carmelo, but to some it is only a front and I appreciate Durant working within the rules to help his team.
2. San Antonio Spurs- How long will it take for people to understand that the Spurs understand the regular season better than any other team? I am serious because they truly do destroy in the regular season, and people hate to give them credit. The Spurs have the best two way player in the NBA and the addition of Rudy Gay will help Kawhi out. Leonard is poised for a MVP season and he is my pick to win the award. He has the least amount of talent I have ever seen since Lebron’s first stint in Cleveland, and he continues to flourish. Dejounte Murray’s progression as a Point Guard will be something everyone needs to watch. The Spurs are great at improving their players and they have some of the best coaches in many department especially, shooting. Everyone who believes the Rockets will be better than the Spurs are blinded by the stars and not the actual product on the court. Lets not forget that the Spurs have pushed the Warriors for the top seed in the past two years, and they are a machine. Gregg Popovich is the greatest coach of all time and his schemes and maneuvers are not matched.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder- As much as people think that I hate Russell Westbrook, I really do not. I actually love his game, but I understand its limits. The moves the Thunder have made this offseason have close the gap between them and the Spurs. The addition of Paul George and Patrick Patterson helps bring an element that they did not have last year. Both are decent or above average defenders, but they can also score. George is a top 30 players and adding him to Westbrook would help his game. George is used to being the number one guy on a team, but in today’s game I do not think he is a franchise player. Westbrook’s MVP season was special, but it only benefitted him and not his team. Sam Presti is one of the best General Managers in the league, and he has shaped this team to fit around Russell. The interesting thing is, it looks very similar to the way the team looked when they had Durant. The only difference is George fills in the Durant role, but he does not command the ball over Russell because of star power. Also Patterson is what Ibaka was for them, and it is interesting that Presti constructed the team this way.
4. Houston Rockets- I do not have much to say about the Rockets because they will be good next year. If they trade for Carmelo Anthony than I believe they are the third best team in the conference, but in their present state I have them where they are right now. The Chris Paul trade is very interesting because he gives them something they did not have last year, and that’s a mid-range shooter. Chris Paul is arguably the best mid-range shooter in the NBA and that is still an effective weapon to have. Around 47% of his shot attempts are from 10-22 ft and he converts 48% of them. The Rockets are predicated on shooting either 3s or layups and nothing in between, but when you need a shot sometimes that is the only option. I love this little dynamic that they have now, but we will have to wait and see how those two guys get along. Besides for Chris Paul, the addition of PJ Tucker helps them defensively and he is that lunch pail type of player that they needed.
5. Portland Trailblazers- The Blazers are in an amazing position because they get a full year of Jusuf Nurkic and he helped change their season last year. Damian Lillard and Cj McCollum are an amazing backcourt who can simply score. Cj showed everyone how great of a scorer he is in the first round of the playoffs last year. The main problem with the Blazers is that they were bad defensively last year. Nurkic helped stabilize their interior defense in the latter part of their year, and also he can simply play. Nurkic is an excellent post scorer and rebounder, but he is also a good passer as well. I think a full year with him would be scary because nothing replace time to play with your teammates. The chemistry needed to be a great team takes time and that showed itself in the Blazers rise this year.
6. Los Angeles Clippers- This choice might shock many people, but I love what the Clippers did this offseason. They kept their franchise guy, Blake Griffin, and put a good crop of talent around him. The addition of Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams are silently great pieces. Williams is a great scorer coming off of the bench and he can help many teams second units. If Blake can stay healthy, he can have an MVP type season because he is a great player. Blake has turned his game around from the high flyer to a finesse playmaker, but many are hating this new style. Many of his injuries lately have been very fluke like and he cannot do anything about that. The only problem I have with the Clippers is their coach, Doc Rivers. I have never been a fan of him as a coach because his Xs and Os are not really great to me. He does not prepare his teams well enough for the big moments.This season will be a great test to his coaching.
7. Denver Nuggets- The Nuggets were a welcoming surprise last year, and breakout star, Nikola Jokic, is ready to bring the big man position back. Since he was inserted into the starting lineup, the Nuggets were the best offense in the league. Jokic is a fascinating talent because he can really do everything required of him on the court. He is a phenomenal passer and has a great shooting stroke as well. He has progressed into a great young star, but he has to fix his defensive awareness for this team to be a contender. The addition of Paul Millsap is a great one because he can pair with Jokic perfectly. Millsap is a good mid-range shooter, but also he is one of the best defenders at his position. The Nuggets almost made the playoff last year because their offense was the best, but they have to fix their defense if they want to solidify a playoff spot.
8. Utah Jazz- Now this selection might make a few people upset because they might be wondering where the Timberwolves are. I love the trade for Jimmy Butler, but the T’wolves were a huge disappointment last year and Butler is not a 15 game swing guy. The Jazz to me have a great foundation and I love their new addition in Donovan Mitchell. I know the lost of Gordon Hayward will be huge, but the Jazz are a defense first team and they have one of the best defensive centers in the game. Rudy Gobert is a blocking machine and his ascendence to being an All-Star will happen this year. Now this year might be a struggle for the Jazz, but they have one of the best coaches in the game in, Quin Snyder. Snyder is a great in-game coach. His teams are always prepared and ready to play every night, and preparation should never be overlooked. The Jazz will play great defense and continue to slug out games in the low 90s.