Many NBA observers may say there is not a lot of intrigue this season but let’s call the intrigue level top heavy but very fascinating.
Imagine reigning champion LeBron James being an underdog this season with his Cleveland Cavaliers despite James reaching the NBA Finals the last six seasons and finally ending Cleveland’s drought this past season.
The favorites for many this season is the team that lost to James and the Cavs in June – the Golden State Warriors. The best rated sportsbooks have them at 22/5 to win the championship. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green of course were handed another serious weapon in Kevin Durant. Even though Golden State lost a lot of their bulk, the question many were asking coming into the 2016-17 season was how great will this team be?
Will we get a Cavs-Warriors three-peat? Or can someone actually stop that?
What about the San Antonio Spurs? Or Durant’s former running mate Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City? What about Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers?
It would certainly be hard to bet against LeBron James. The pressure is off after he finally delivered for his home area fans in 2016. The whole team came back save for Timofey Mozgov and management brought in Chris “Birdman” Anderson as a free agent and traded for veteran Mike Dunleavy Jr. So LeBron and Co. have a more athletic big than they did last season and added another shooter to a championship core featuring for my money the best player in the game.
And somehow the Cavs are being overlooked in favor of the Warriors.
The Big Four – as they are being billed – will definitely shoot their opponents to death. Teams will have to stop the Warriors, even if Steve Kerr’s team doesn’t play the greatest defense. Of course Kevin Durant’s arrival gives the Warriors another great outside threat. But in order to clear up the money for Durant, Golden State did have ship out some parts – especially low post pieces.
They traded away Andrew Bogut and also lost Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights as well as Harrison Barnes, Brandon Rush and Leandro Barbosa. Back for the Warriors is Anderson Varejao while Kerr convinced Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee all to sign one-year deals – only Pachulia getting more than 1.4 million dollars (2.9 million).
Pachulia will also probably be the second most important addition after Durant. The big Georgian has been in the playoffs the last two seasons (with the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks) and six times total, playing 51 post-season games. The 32-year-old played the most regular season games last season (76) since the 2010-11 campaign and his 8.6 points per game were the most since he averaged 12.2 points in 2006-07. He also grabbed a career-high 9.4 rebounds. Oh, and he hits 75 percent of his free throws as well.
San Antonio meanwhile enter year one of the post-Tim Duncan Era. Gregg Popovic also lost David West to the Warriors but a number of pieces came into a very interesting Spurs core. Veteran champion Pau Gasol comes on board as does David Lee while ex-draft-and-stashers Davis Bertans and Livio Jean-Charles come over after seasoning in Europe.
Of course the wise leaders Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are still there, but this Spurs team belongs to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, the latter starting his second season with Popovich and Co. And San Antonio will go as far as those two can take them.
Many came into the season thinking Russell Westbrook is the leading contender for MVP now that he has the whole show to run in Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant gone. Westbrook could likely lead the league in scoring and maybe in assists and triple doubles. But one could argue they will rely too heavily on just one player and the other weapons are not strong enough.
The Clippers meanwhile have their full core back and Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, Paul Pierce and Jordan Crawford make up a nice group. And they have unfinished business after losing Paul and Griffin to injuries in the first round of last season’s playoffs where they lost to Portland.
Another storyline is if the Philadelphia 76ers can finally turn around their organization. They bottomed out last season with just 10 wins – down from 18 victories in 2014-15 and 19 in 2013-14. The number one pick Ben Simmons went down injured before the season started and may miss the entire season. But still there is reason to be up-beat in Philly.
Former first round pick Dario Saric is finally arriving from Europe and center Joel Embiid looks like he can finally play and become what everybody expects. In addition, Jahlil Okafor will have a full season under his belt.
The Sixers’ starting point guard is another talking point to the NBA this season. In light of a massive flood of cash for NBA teams, Spanish playmaker Sergio Rodriguez just could not pass up returning to the NBA. All told, a record 113 international players from 41 countries and territories were on opening night rosters.
Rodriguez was one of a group of Europeans who had been on the fringe of the NBA for years but decided now is the time to grab some of that extra cash. Others include Czech Republic’s Tomas Satoransky with Washington, Lithuanian Mindaugas Kuzminskas with the Knicks and Spain’s Alex Abrines with Oklahoma City.
In the end, it would seem hard to think that it will not come down to the Golden State Warriors against the Cleveland Cavaliers for a third straight time. It would be the first time in NBA history that would happen. Now that’s one heck of a story line to follow.
By David Hein