by: Michael Shields
A glance at the contenders for the Larry O’Brien Trophy amid a lopsided field in this 2017 – 2018 NBA basketball season…
The 2017 NBA offseason was bananas. All-Stars, as if magnetic forces were pulling them towards each other, merged forces, creating what amounts to a bevy of super teams scattered haphazardly throughout the league. Chris Paul joined James Harden in Houston while Carmelo Anthony and Paul George aligned with Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, all while perennial contenders such as the Warriors, Cavaliers, and Celtics underwent facelifts to their already beauteous facades. Add on top of this the young hotshot Minnesota Timberwolves acquiring Jimmy Butler to mate with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, and the San Antonio Spurs adding Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne to their perpetually finely-tuned machine, and the picture of the 2017-2018 season begins to come into focus. And what it looks like is a handful of behemoths staring down menacingly upon a fascinating middle class, and a horde of necessitous peasants. Let’s dig in….
The Eastern Conference is yet again triumphantly subservient to the West, albeit fascinating in and of itself. The reason for this season’s heightened interest in the NBA’s Junior Varsity division is a trade that rocked the offseason, when the Celtics and Cavaliers decided to take a bet on the other’s point guards, swapping Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas. In one fell swoop, these teams not only ensured themselves to be — yet again — front runners in the conference, but also fueled the fire of a budding rivalry. Both teams (especially the Celtics with the addition of Gordon Hayward) reloaded their already robust lineups, and it’s impossible to believe any other squad but these two could win the East at this juncture. For the Cavs, it seems it all comes down to Thomas’s health. If his hip is fucked, so are the Cavs. If he is healthy and performs at the level he did last season when he ignited the thankless Celtics to new heights, it is on. But if Kyrie is who Danny Ainge thinks he is, the Celtics could be Finals bound.
Although the East is equipped with a pair of teams so mighty that I have essentially counted out everyone else, there does exist a myriad of squads that could be described as “sleepers.” The Milwaukee Bucks are the proud home to the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose abilities all but ensure that, with the right team around him, he could take that team deep into the Playoffs, and for the next decade be in the annual mix for MVP consideration. The oft-underrated Khris Middleton, 2017’s Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, John Henson, and Jabari Parker (who potentially returns in February from his second ACL surgery since being drafted in 2014, poor guy…) fashion themselves an exciting supporting cast for Giannis. Keep a sharp eye on this Bucks’ squad, there’s something there…
The Washington Wizards will be back in contention in the East, and this is due to the simple fact that they are essentially the same team as last year (with arguably less depth). The Wall and Beal-led squad was good enough to win 49 games last year and it would be unsurprising if the Wizards repeated that feat, only to get bounced in the second round of the Playoffs once again. For the Wizards, it’s deja vu all over again this season.
The Miami Heat are a fascinating team, especially in the light of the fact that as last season came to its conclusion Miami came on strong like bull, finishing just one game out of a playoff spot (they finished the season 30 – 11!). Possibly the deepest team in the entire NBA, excepting the Warriors of course, the Heat shouldn’t be dismissed, as Hassan “The Blocktopus” Whiteside continues to prove to be one of the most formidable big men in the league.
Now, let’s see what’s happening out west…
The Western Conference is once again a cup overrunneth with talent. And the fact of the matter is the Larry O’Brien Trophy resides in the Bay Area, and although it’s hard to imagine, the NBA-champion Golden State Warriors might have actually become even better in the off-season. They’ve added a pair of capable wings (Swaggy P and Omri Casspi), acquired the versatile Jordan Bell in a draft-day trade from Chicago, and shored up deals with tireless veterans Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston (thanks to Durant admirably re-signing at a discount). Locked and reloaded, the Warriors will undoubtedly be on the cusp of 70 wins once again, and will roar into the Playoffs as the team to beat.
But who could possibly take them out…
The Oklahoma City Thunder of course. Russell Westbrook proved emphatically that he is an unstoppable force of nature last season. He incessantly attacks the rim like a velociraptor, leaving a Kilonova Explosion in his wake (peep that link!!). His 2016 – 2017 season was one of the, if not the, greatest season any player has delivered in the history of the NBA (averaging a triple double – 31.6 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 10.1 apg) and he carried a bunch of scrubs (sorry fellas, truth be told…) on his back into the Playoffs. Now, Westbrook has two perennial All-Stars to run with (Carmelo, George), which will confound opponents who have a hard enough time containing Westbrook on his own. The Thunder will put up points, this is inarguable, and if this trio can get on the same page and play some defense, the sky’s the limit.
Two things are for certain when it comes to the San Antonio Spurs, who will also be in the mix in the West. First off, their coach Gregg Popovich is woke as fuck, and one of the most important voices in all of entertainment. Secondly, with Pop at the helm — no matter what any other team does to improve their arsenals — the Spurs can never be counted out. Sure, an old team is now a year older, and the Spurs are relying on Patty Mills to run the point, but Kawhi Leonard is one of the best in the game, on both sides of the floor, and if Lamarcus Aldridge can find a way to become the LaMarcus of Blazer past, then the Spurs can do what the Spurs do best: win basketball games.
It is remarkable what has been developing in Minnesota over the last few years. It has felt like within the past two seasons a storm has been brewing up north, as the Timberwolves have two of the league’s most promising young athletes in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. If the potential in these two phenoms is realized, and now with the addition of Jimmy G Buckets, The Butler from Chicago, that fermenting storm I was speaking of could be a Category 5 or higher, especially considering that Taj Gibson, Aaron Brooks, and Jamal Crawford are all now Timberwolves following Minnesota’s electric offseason.
There is one other true contender in the West, the Houston Rockets, featuring one the most ridiculous of backcourts assembled in some time, with Chris Paul and James Harden. It boggles the mind to think of how difficult it will be for defenses to stop these potent playmakers from doing whatever the fuck they want to night in and night out. Rest assured, the Rockets will once again be breathing down the Spurs’ necks in the Southwest, propelled by Paul and Harden in a Western Conference, and in a league, where fans get to witness all season what happens when superstars gang up!
There are, of course, storylines well beyond the league’s mammoth frontrunners, especially now that the Melo-drama has ended in New York and Joel Embiid has been paid in Philly as he attempts to stay healthy enough to make a crack at his first All-Star team. Let us also not forget that two of the best centers in the league, Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins, are on the same team (now with help from Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen in New Orleans), and it, too, will be imperative this season to keep an eye on Porzingis in New York, Nikola Jokic in Denver, and on the incredible trio of Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic in Portland. And while it will be fascinating to see what rookie Lonzo Ball does in Los Angeles, I am even more eager to see the noise that fellow rookie Dennis Smith Jr. makes in Dallas.
With a top-heavy NBA rife with goliaths, we must be prepared for a slew of teams that are bound to be entirely deficient, such as the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns, and Indiana Pacers. Regardless of these bottom-feeders, the intrigue that comes in witnessing some of the finest squads ever assembled should be more than enough to make the 2017 – 2018 NBA Season one hell of a fascinating journey.
Predictions Sure to Be Wrong
Eastern Conference Finals: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics
Western Conference Finals: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Golden State Warriors
NBA Finals: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
Champ: Cleveland Cavaliers