I woke up to news today that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are both heading to Los Angeles where they will suit up for the Clippers next season. The final piece of the free agency puzzle is set as we now know what team Kawhi will be playing for. The West just became a whole lot more wild. The NBA as a whole is a winner today.
While stars are still teaming up, the talent pool gets deeper and deeper. I believe the league and the players still feel the sour taste left in the mouth of fans and critics when Kevin Durant joined the Warriors. Not to say it will never happen again, but I do believe the younger players want to pave their own way to win.
That being said, let’s dive into the NBA landscape and try to predict the playoffs for each conference.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
I will take the Bucks as the one seed for the simple fact they have Giannis who I think is the best player in the league currently not named LeBron. Malcolm Brogdon is a great player, but not enough to move them down significantly.
2. Boston Celtics
Believe it or not, they upgraded this offseason. Getting Kemba Walker was a huge win to replace Kyrie Irving. Walker, although not as explosive on offense, gives you both ends of the floor. He is a team first guy as opposed to Kyrie who is looking for the end of the Earth somewhere. Considering this team was fantastic and virtually the same team that took LeBron and the Cavs 7 with Terry Rozier, I think they get back to that as distractions disappear.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
They lost Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick this offseason, but gained Al Horford and retained Tobias Harris. With a different look for Philly, this team still looks like a great roster on paper. I can’t see them falling off the wagon to where they don’t gain a top 4 seed in the East, even in a more competitive conference.
4. Indiana Pacers
Victor Oladipo comes back plus they grabbed Brogdon in a sign and trade. The Pacers got better this offseason. This team will be gritty and hard nosed on defense. Despite that, the East as a whole got better so I have them staying at the 5 seed.
5. Toronto Raptors
They lost Kawhi, but Toronto has been a healthy playoff team for quite some time now. I can’t see them missing entirely. But I do see them as a good regular season team flopping in the playoffs. Unless of course, Kyle Lowry or Pascal Siakam step up in a big way which is plausible.
6. Miami Heat
After dumping Hassan Whiteside and his awful contract and losing Josh Richardson to Philly, they gained Jimmy Butler and Meyers Leonard. They also drafted Tyler Herro and KZ Okpala. All of which are solid additions who can help them get back to the playoffs.
7. Detroit Pistons
Derrick Rose and Tim Frazier join the Pistons which gives them two formidable point guards, a position they desperately needed. They also landed a stretch 4 with Markieff Morris. That gives them three solid bigs with Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Morris.
8. Atlanta Hawks
I like what they added in the off-season. I think they will put together a solid season to sneak their way in. They shot a lot of 3s last year and I think this year they continue that, but they knock down more adding plenty of guys who can shoot like Cam Reddish.
Elephant in the Room
2. Brooklyn Nets
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving automatically make them a top 4 seed in the East. Both have deep playoff experience. Both have learned at this point in their careers that the regular season is a marathon and not a sprint. That being said, they’re mentally soft and I can’t wait to watch them fizzle out in the postseason year after year.
I wrote that above until I remember that KD will miss the entire year. Kyrie will never be Batman so I don’t think he will carry them out of the East.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
Kawhi and Paul George to an already talented roster who plays hard nosed defense, major win.
2. Golden State Warriors
They will be without Klay Thompson for most of the year. However, they should be able to rely on Steph Curry, Draymond Green and new face in GS, D’Angelo Russell. Adding Kevin Looney was a huge win for them to keep a presence inside. They need to get back to building some depth for the playoffs.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
The roster will be LeBron and Anthony Davis and a bunch of solid role players. Sometimes that is enough.
4. Utah Jazz
The Jazz got better this offseason getting a point guard to help Donovan Mitchell when they traded for Mike Conley. He is one of the best two-way guards in the league which solidifies a defense featuring DPOY Rudy Gobert.
5. Portland Trailblazers
The Blazers had an amazing run only to be out-gunned and out-manned by Golden State. They added some intriguing pieces like Hassan Whiteside to help the duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The biggest win this offseason was inking Lillard long term.
6. Houston Rockets
Although most of the off-season noise is negative, James Harden single handedly can push you to the playoffs and get wins in the regular season. At the end of the day, they still have him and Chris Paul. As far as title hopes, bye.
7. Denver Nuggets
This feels wrong given the season they had, but the West got better and they stayed the course. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But gut feeling tells me they slip a little with an even more competitive west.
8. San Antonio Spurs
I originally was deciding between the Pelicans and Mavericks. That was until I realized I left the Spurs out completely. I am not doing that yet. The streak continues.
Early Conference and Finals Predictions
Eastern Conference Finals – Bucks over Celtics in 7
Western Conference Finals – Clippers over Warriors in 6
Overall Thoughts on NBA
I hope the Pelicans make the playoffs, but the west is just too damn deep. Even if they only win 35 games, it will be a fun 35 win team to watch.
As for the rest of the league, I can’t remember the NBA landscape potentially being this competitive for quite some time. I said after last season that I believed the NBA landscape would drastically change meaning gone are the days of stacking one team as the talent continues to pour in and guys wanting to win without the stain on their legacies. Everyone heard the echo chamber on Kevin Durant. Who could possibly want that to be their fate?
I can’t wait for next season already.