LeBron James finally gets to raise a championship banner in Cleveland on Tuesday while adding another ring to his growing collection. He really is the King until further notice or at least until June, when the Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors likely meet in the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year.
It seems inevitable, doesn’t it? The two best teams appear to be on a collision course to complete the Trilogy. But before we start treating the regular season like an 82-game exhibition schedule just remember that the San Antonio Spurs, even without Tim Duncan, are still formidable. The Clippers, if healthy, can be a threat and Portland keeps getting better.
The East is not nearly as complicated. The Boston Celtics are still a good player away from seriously challenging the Cavs. Toronto isn’t quite there yet while teams like Indiana, Detroit and Charlotte are a notch below. The Knicks? They’ll need some help and a good training staff. Their starting lineup features some big names but Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah always seem to be hurt and Carmelo Anthony is 32 years old.
A healthy Knicks team will qualify for the postseason. Anything less and Phil Jackson may be on his way to Los Angeles without having reached the playoffs during his run as Knicks president, much less win a postseason series.
The 2016-17 season has a different look to it, that’s for sure. Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett have retired for good and Duncan says he’s also done. (Just don’t be surprised if Duncan rejoins the Spurs sometime in late March or early April.)
There’s a new boss in Minnesota and new coaches in Brooklyn, New York, Indiana, Orlando, Memphis, Houston, Sacramento and L.A. (Lakers).
And in case you missed it, Kevin Durant decided to evolve as a man by leaving Oklahoma City to join the already loaded Golden State Warriors. LeBron will be waiting for him.
Cleveland — LeBron delivered on his promise to bring a championship to Cleveland and he was nice enough to get everybody, and we mean everybody, paid. Head coach Ty Lue and J.R. Smith scored huge contracts following the Cavs’ championship run and this team is poised for a possible repeat. Kyrie Irving, who hit the big shot in Game 7, may make an MVP push … with LeBron’s blessing, of course. No one in the East can touch them.
Golden State — Yes, they lost interior toughness and rebounding when Andrew Bogut signed with Dallas. But they added Durant, a top-three talent who should mesh quite nicely with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and renowned head case Draymond Green, whose suspension in Game 5 cost the Warriors a title last June.
They won’t be chasing 73 wins this season but Golden State could win 65 by just showing up. They’re that good. Every coach should have Steve Kerr’s problems.
San Antonio — LaMarcus Aldridge was unhappy last season (I’m certainly not losing sleep over it) and Duncan was on his last legs and yet the Spurs still won 67 games. Pau Gasol replaces Duncan and will give Gregg Popovich a boost on offense and a headache on defense. Gasol is a dreadful pick-and-roll defender, which is why it’s so hard to see the Spurs taking four games from the Warriors.
More than ever this is Kawhi Leonard’s team and he’ll need to be at his best with Tony Parker slowing down and Manu Ginobili headed for retirement.
NOT QUITE THERE YET
Boston — The addition of Al Horford is a huge upgrade at center. He’s highly skilled and mature, which is sometimes an underrated quality. Isaiah Thomas is nearly unstoppable on pick and rolls and Avery Bradley doesn’t get enough credit for being a terrific two-way player. He’s now above-Average Bradley. The Celtics have plenty of assets, including Brooklyn’s 2017 first-round pick. Danny Ainge is always looking to make a bold move. Maybe that will be Jimmy Butler or DeMarcus Cousins. The Celtics are almost there.
LeBron Joams really is the King until further notice.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
Clippers — Paul Pierce is retiring at season’s end and depending on how this year turns out in Los Angeles, The Truth might not be the only Clippers player on his way out. It bears repeating that Chris Paul, despite his greatness, has never been out of the second round.
This is the year when the Clippers, with Blake Griffin healthy and DeAndre Jordan the best defensive center in the league, need to make a run. Here’s one piece of advice: Finish either second or third to avoid Golden State until the Western Conference finals.
Toronto — The Raptors cleared a huge mental hurdle by winning a Game 7 against both Indiana and Miami but they didn’t do enough during the summer to close the gap with Cleveland. FYI: Kyle Lowry is a free agent next July. The Knicks will be interested.
Portland — First-rate organization with a first-rate star in point guard Damian Lillard. CJ McCollum is terrific and if Evan Turner is used as a backup he’ll help. One of the more entertaining teams.
Detroit — They could be without point guard Reggie Jackson for the first month of the season but Ish Smith is a more than capable fill-in. Andre Drummond keeps getting better and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is ready to have a breakout season for Stan Van Gundy.
Minnesota — Tom Thibodeau is set up rather nicely, wouldn’t you say? He’s got a franchise talent in Karl-Anthony Towns surrounded by young athletics players like Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. The question is whether Ricky Rubio will finally live up to his potential or will rookie point guard Kris Dunn take his place.
Indiana — The Pacers had a terrific offseason adding Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson. Paul George is healthy and should be in the running for MVP.
Utah — The Jazz added point guard George Hill to a lineup featuring Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward. Bringing in both Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson will pay off.
Russell Westbrook — Everyone thought that Westbrook would leave before Durant but that wasn’t the case. He re-signed with the club, which was a nice ending to a summer that began so horribly for OKC. After the way Durant’s “camp” took subtle shots at Westbrook, how can you not be rooting for the guy?
Chicago — Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo are two ball-dominant guards who are not great 3-point shooters. They already have one of those guys in Jimmy Butler. This could get ugly.
Miami — In the span of three summers they lost LeBron and Wade plus Chris Bosh will likely never play again due to blood clots. It’s back to the drawing board for Pat Riley. And that’s bad news for the rest of the NBA because Riley will find a way.
Wizards — They were never in the Durant sweepstakes and now there is talk that their talented backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal can’t get along. If President Obama wants to be an NBA owner so badly he should bid on the team right down the street from the White House.
Karl-Anthony Towns is one of many young studs that makes the furture bright for the Timberwolves.
Anthony Davis — I know, I know. He’s one of the best players in the league. If you could start a franchise with any player more than half the GMs would pick Davis. That’s great. But he’s always hurt and he’s never won a playoff game. It’s time for some results.
ON THE FRINGE
Dallas — Never count out the Mavs as a playoff team. Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches and Dirk Nowitzki is everything you’d want in a franchise player.
Charlotte — Michael Jordan hired a great coach in Steve Clifford, who somehow won 48 games last season. Think about that. This team isn’t nearly as good but 42 to 44 wins is possible.
Knicks — Kristaps Porzingis is ready for his close-up. The Knicks have what so few teams have: a young big man with the ability to be a franchise player.
Lakers — These are not your grandfather’s Lakers. Kobe is gone, Luke Walton is on the bench and this team will struggle to avoid last place.
Sacramento — New arena, same old problems: dysfunctional front office and a meddling owner. If you live in Sacramento be thankful that driving to Oakland to watch the Warriors is always an option.
EAST: Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, Detroit, Indiana, Atlanta, Charlotte, Knicks.
WEST: Golden State, San Antonio, Clippers, Portland, Utah, OKC, Minnesota, Dallas.
LeBron James. It’s the safe pick assuming he plays 70-plus games. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard will also be in the running.
BEST OFFSEASON MOVES
– Golden State signing Kevin Durant: A player of his caliber isn’t available every year. And to add Durant to a loaded roster is depressing for everyone in the West.
– Mike D’Antoni making James Harden the Rockets’ point guard: The ball is in Harden’s hands a majority of the time anyway so why not? He can score but also facilitate. He is a fantasy basketball lover’s dream.
Joel Embiid. Yes, he’s still a rookie because he missed the first two years with a foot injury. Has a presence about him and the skills to match.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News