We have hardly had time to catch our collective breaths since rookie coach Steve Kerr led the upstart Golden State Warriors to a brilliant NBA Championship.
Already, teams have completed pre-season matches and training camps are in the books with most rosters settled and ready for another gruelling, 82-game schedule.
Most of the teams hoping to hold aloft the Larry O’Brien trophy come season’s end have made subtle changes to improve their team’s.
Let’s take a look at the contending teams;
The Bulls moved on one of the winningest coaches in their illustrious history in Tom Thibodeau.
The move was widely ridiculed but regardless of who is at the helm, only one thing will provide Chicago with a shot at a title.
Good health for Derrick Rose.
On average, the former league MVP has taken part in one in every three Bulls games.
The rest of the talent is in place.
Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and former Los Angeles Lakers championship-winner Pau Gasol form a dynamic three-headed monster up front whilst Jimmy Butler has continually improved his game and is now a bonafide two-way star on the perimeter.
Something has always popped up and blocked the Bulls from making an NBA Finals and they will certainly need to overcome injuries, a new coach with a new system and of course, LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers.
After being up 2-1 and with a late-game lead, Cleveland will be ruing the missed opportunity in last year’s NBA Finals against the Warriors.
LeBron James led his team as well as any individual could as All-Star team mates Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving watched on after succumbing to debilitating injuries.
As long as James resides in Ohio, the Cavaliers will be a title contender.
Love and Irving should return healthy and JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova and big man Timofey Mozgov serve as reliable and at times match-winning role players.
It took time but re-signing Tristan Thompson was key and with a full squad assembled, the Cavs will once again try and break the five-decade drought for championships in the city of Cleveland.
The Canadians were a surprise bolted in the Eastern Conference last season.
All-Star guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry led the way and Lowry only increased his play whilst DeRozan was sidelined with a groin injury.
Importantly, the Raptors have acquired a versatile and talented free agent to start at small forward whilst robbing a fellow East contender of a starter at the same time.
Former Atlanta swingman DeMarre Carroll will give some scoring and rebounding punch as well as his ability to defend the opposition’s elite scorers.
Inside, Patrick Patterson, Argentinian Luis Scola and Lithuanian Jonas Valancinas should provide the grunt work and whatever the team gets from one-time No.1 overall pick Anthony Bennett will be a bonus.
Maybe playing in his home country will be just the tonic for Bennett to perform to his draft status.
The Hawks record-breaking regular season automatically makes them a title contender, even though most of us think they are some way from beating the league’s elite in a seven-game series.
Last season, Atlanta had four All-Stars and played some magnificent team basketball but despite progressing to the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron and the Cavs mauled them when it mattered.
Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Al Horford and Paul Millsap will again provide the core for the team and the addition of Tim Hardaway from New York should give them some bench scoring.
Former Spurs champion Tiago Splitter was a nice signing but as he continues to age, hopefully there is still some championship-level basketball left in the Brazilian.
Some well-regarded ESPN analysts are giving Miami a big shot at competing for it all.
I am not as convinced but the talent is there and Pat Riley has a history of competing for titles – whether he is coaching or not.
Dwyane Wade will need to wind back the clock but Luol Deng and Goran Dragic are still in the prime of their careers and can carry the load for the regular season.
Chris Bosh is over his health scare and he should continue to give his 15 & 8 whilst the Heat’s real wildcard – and potential chance at competing – is Hassan Whiteside.
A long, lean, improving centre, the well-travelled Whiteside became a scoring and rebounding machine last season before going through some growing pains as a professional athlete.
Gerald Green and Amare Stoudemire may give the Heat some added spice but their best is probably still short of the Conference’s elite.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Kevin Durant is reportedly healthy and that alone gives the Thunder a fighting chance.
KD’s potency will not be known for some time but his presence will give Russell Westbrook enough help to guide the Thunder towards the promised land.
Dion Waiters will need to continue to show an ability to play team ball whilst Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams have the ability to form a feared pairing in the paint, if only Ibaka would remain inside.
Depth looks to be an issue for OKC but with two of the NBA’s top few players, they always have a shot.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Golden State played some magnificent basketball on their way to a Championship.
Long range shooting and fast-paced basketball was the cornerstone of their success no matter how many ‘experts’ said their style was not conducive to winning titles.
Stephen Curry was on another level, particularly shooting the ball whilst Klay Thompson was not far behind him.
The core of Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Finals MVP Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes remain.
There haven’t been any notable acquisitions but there is little need to change what worked last year.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
LA’s other team have made some really interesting moves for the upcoming season.
Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith come to town and both players have had indifferent stints at respective teams.
Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will back themselves in to bring the best basketball out of two talented, yet often off-with-the-fairies type players.
Paul will again steer the ship but Griffin’s growth has been remarkable.
DeAndre Jordan returns – after a nightmare free agency period – and his ability to defend, finish at the rim and change shots will determine how far this team goes.
His free throws won’t improve but can Rivers find a way to keep him in games in the fourth quarter?
Paul Pierce could well be the missing link in LA, with his clutch playoff play on display last season.
James Harden went on an MVP-calibre season before advancing his Rockets to the West Finals a year ago.
With Dwight Howard no longer his rim-wrecking self, Harden will again need a big season before improving his playoff performance.
Ty Lawson – acquired from Denver – will help with outside shooting, scoring and playmaking but everything will go through Harden.
The Rockets play a style similar to Golden State but clearly lack the shooting skill of the boys from the Bay Area.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
My favourites to win it all.
San Antonio got even better this off-season thanks to some free agent wooing.
Texas native LaMarcus Aldridge had the pick of the league but chose to come play with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and coach Gregg Popovich.
Australian Patty Mills will be fully healthy after battling to return from shoulder surgery whilst veteran big man David West turned down more than $10 million to play with the Spurs – says a little about the organisation one would think.
Age and ill-health is the only thing standing between San Antonio and more glory but in Aldridge the Spurs again have a dominant, get-us-the-win-in-crunchtime big man, a la Duncan of the early 2000’s.
Champions: San Antonio to defeat Cleveland
MVP: LeBron James (Cleveland)
ROY: Justise Winslow (Miami)
COY: Alvin Gentry (New Orleans)
2 thoughts on “NBA 2015/16: The Contenders”
Like the analysis Josh, except I’m much higher on Washington than I am the Raptors. The Raptors may have gained Carroll, Biyombo, etc, they will need time to adjust, whereas Wittman finally adjusted to playing much smaller, and with John Wall in All-Star form, and Bradley Beal about to explode, adding in their new ability to play small with Dudley, Anderson, and hopefully Otto Porter. Don’t mind the Raptors pick, just much higher on the Wiz (from a Blazers fan)
Thanks for the feedback, Samuel.
In hindsight, I probably agree on Washington.
Toronto have had a few solid regular seasons but have failed thus far in the playoffs.
With a healthy roster – remember Beal, Wall & Nene have been injured a lot – this team can contend in the East but I doubt they can upend Cleveland.
No one on the Wizards can deal with LeBron and at the end of the day, that will be the difference.
Like the comment, though. Keep them coming! JJ