There are 30 teams in the NBA, but realistically speaking there are only a handful of teams capable of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
If you’re a fan of the Sixers, Kings, Lakers, Nuggets, Nets and Hornets, it’s probably safe to book that reservation to Las Vegas or the Caribbean in June.
Sure there are plenty of contenders for the championship, such as the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls. But these teams have major questions that’ll ultimately lead to their downfall during the knockout stages.
The Rockets are a wonderful offensive team, but can they make enough stops on the defensive end when it counts? The Grizzlies are a fantastic defensive team, but can they score enough points? The Hawks have a well-balanced team, but do they have that superstar to close out games? The Bulls have all the pieces to win in the playoffs, but can Rose stay injury free?
OneManFastbreak.net examines the five teams, in no particular order, with the best shot at winning the 2015-16 NBA championship.
Cleveland Cavaliers — LeBron James came within two games of ending Cleveland’s decades-long title drought. LeBron posted historic numbers during the NBA Finals, but even his superhuman effort wasn’t enough to beat the Golden State Warriors. LeBron is more than capable of lifting a team to the Finals, especially in the weak Eastern Conference, but he needs help to finish the job. The Cavaliers have the roster to compete for a title. The only roadblock at this point is health. Kevin Love missed nearly the entire playoffs because of shoulder injury, and the Finals might have had a different result had Kyrie Irving not gotten hurt on a freak knee-on-knee collision with Klay Thompson. Love appears to be healthy, while Irving is on schedule to return in January (or sooner). The Cavs have one goal in mind and that’s win a title, and Las Vegas oddsmakers love the Cavs this season. Anything less than The Chip would be a major disappointment.
Golden State Warriors — The Warriors had one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. They finished the 2014-15 regular season with the best record. Stephen Curry was named the league MVP. And the Dubs capped off their storybook season by capturing the franchise’s first NBA title since 1975. Steve Kerr made this coaching gig look real easy by expertly navigating his team through the playoffs without a hitch in his rookie season. His second season, however, if off to a rough beginning. Kerr has taken a leave of absence after undergoing back surgery during the summer.
Luke Walton takes over as the interim coach, and he’ll be tasked with the keeping the ship on course until Kerr returns. Walton shouldn’t have too much to worry about because the Warriors still have the best roster in basketball. Curry and Thompson are now walking around with championship swagger, and Draymond Green is $82 million rich after inking a five-year deal. Until someone knocks them out, the Warriors are wearing the championship belts and the road to the title goes through the Bay Area.
San Antonio Spurs — Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford pulled off the biggest stunner during the offseason when they acquired the top prize in the free-agent market. LaMarcus Aldridge’s arrival in San Antonio opens up two avenues. The Spurs hop back on the fast lane to the NBA Finals and it also sets them up nicely in the future when Tim Duncan decides to hang up the sneakers for good. Duncan turns 40 next April, but he doesn’t look like a guy who is ready to dip into his retirement savings. The Big Fundamental signed a two-year extension for a modest $10.4 million. That’s quite a major discount for a first-ballot Hall of Famer and arguably one of the 10 greatest players in the history of basketball. It just shows Duncan’s commitment to winning. He may not be the player he was 10 years ago, but he’s still a very effective player on both ends and remains the heart and soul of the Spurs.
Oklahoma City Thunder — If there is anyone who has something to prove this season it’s Kevin Durant. After playing in a career-low 27 games in 2014-15, the man with the Twitter handle @kdtrey5 is on a mission to show the world he’s back to reclaim his most valuable player status. Durant’s return only bolsters an already formidable Thunder lineup. KD and Russell Westbrook form the best 1-2 scoring punch in the league, two unstoppable scoring champs who can take over a game at any moment. The challenge for first-year coach Billy Donovan is to find a way to unload some of the burden off KD and Westbrook, something former coach Scott Brooks wasn’t able to do. Donovan, an accomplished college coach, made two smart moves after his hiring. He brought in Maurice Cheeks and Monty Williams as assistant coaches, and he’ll lean on those two as he adjusts to the rigors of an 82-game NBA schedule. The Thunder’s title hopes largely depend on how quickly Donovan can convince Durant and Westbrook to buy into his program.
Los Angeles Clippers — The Clips went from title contender to borderline playoff team then back to being title contenders in one bizarre week in early July. The DeAndre Jordan drama that unfolded during the free-agency period was something straight out of an episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” Once the L.A. smog cleared up, Jordan remained a Clipper and the Dallas Mavericks must have felt like a jilted GF. With Jordan back in the fold, the Clippers have what it takes to compete for a championship. They also added big-game performer Paul Pierce to help fix some of the problems that has plagued the team the last two postseasons, such as blowing leads in the fourth quarter. The window of opportunity for Chris Paul is closing fast. It’s now or never for the All-Star point guard, who has never reached the conference finals in his career. CP3 and the Clips hope to put up a real banner at Staples Center instead of those ridiculous giant selfies.