By Brian Jones
Tier 1 – Chance to win the NBA Finals
Golden State Warriors
Starters: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Zaza Pachulia.
Bench: Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Nick Young, Omri Casspi, Patrick McCaw, David West, Jordan Bell, and JaVale McGee.
Let’s face it. This is probably the best team ever and they haven’t lost anyone of importance. If anything, they got even better with the additions of Nick Young and Omri Casspi. They will win the NBA Finals again next year and nobody else has a legitimate chance.
Tier 2- Chance to not get swept by Golden State
Starters: Isaiah Thomas, JR Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson.
Bench: Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder, Jose Calderon, Iman Shumpert, Jeff Green, Kyle Korver, Richard Jefferson, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, Kay Felder, Ante Zizic, and Walter Tavares.
After a slow start to the offseason the Cavs woke up and made a huge move by trading Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the 2018 Brooklyn pick. Will these moves be enough to make them a threat to Golden State? No, but it was a great move for them nonetheless. They had to move Kyrie and they received a great package for him. Thomas isn’t a huge downgrade from Irving and Crowder gives them a nice “3 and D” guy that they desperately needed. Also, the signings of Derrick Rose and Jeff Green were two low risk moves that could pay dividends for the Cavs if either player can perform anywhere near the level they once did. I think it’s safe to say they improved and should once again be the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference.
Starters: Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, and Al Horford.
Bench: Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, Aron Baynes, Guerschon Yabusele, Abdel Nader, Semi Ojeleye, Daniel Theis, and Shane Larkin.
They were the number one seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Fast forward three months and only FOUR players from that team are still on the roster. It’s incredibly rare to see a team play so well and reconstruct their entire team the next year but that’s exactly what the Celtics have done. From a talent standpoint, I think they improved but chemistry will likely be an issue early on. If this team makes it past Cleveland we all know Kyrie Irving will show up against Golden State. Still, they aren’t ready to be a legit threat to the Warriors.
San Antonio Spurs
Starters: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Pau Gasol.
Bench: Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Dejounte Murray, Rudy Gay, Kyle Anderson, Derrick White, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Davis Bertans.
They are bringing back mostly the same team that was going to win the first game of the Western Conference Finals against Golden State until Kawhi Leonard got injured. They replaced Jonathon Simmons and Dewayne Dedmon with Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne. I liked last year’s team better and as someone that wants to see the Warriors go down, I was disappointed with their offseason. Still, they match up pretty well with the Warriors and I think they will be the best competition in the West when all is said and done.
Starters: Chris Paul, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, and Clint Capela.
Bench: Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker, Troy Williams, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Nene Hilario, Tarik Black, and Zhou Qi.
They obviously got much better with the addition of Chris Paul even though it does not seem like a perfect fit with Harden. The starting lineup has a ton of shooting and two floor generals. The bench is not deep but they have some very good veterans backing up their star-studded lineup. They have the potential to surpass San Antonio as the second best team in the West if Paul and Harden play well together.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Starters: Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Paul George, Patrick Patterson, and Steven Adams.
Bench: Raymond Felton, Alex Abrines, Terrance Ferguson, Doug McDermott, Enes Kanter, Jerami Grant, Semaj Christon, Kyle Singler, and Nick Collison.
Trading Sabonis and Oladipo for Paul George is a huge upgrade for an Oklahoma City team that had almost no offense outside of Russell Westbrook. They also added Patrick Patterson and re-signed Andre Roberson to build what looks like a well-rounded starting lineup. However, they still have a problem with their bench. The bench is all offense outside of Grant who isn’t great at anything. I think their starting lineup can hang with anyone but the bench will be what dooms them.
Tier 3 – Playoff teams
Starters: Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson, and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Bench: Tyus Jones, Jamal Crawford, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, Justin Patton, Cole Aldrich, and Nemanja Bjelica.
Minnesota had a phenomenal offseason and it’s clear they are done tanking. They traded a few of their young assets for Jimmy Butler and they signed veterans Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford, and Taj Gibson. It’s clear that they will be a lot better than last year and they should definitely be in the Playoffs. I just don’t think they will make it far in the Playoffs due to a lack of depth and chemistry.
Starters: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, and Marcin Gortat.
Bench: Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks, Kelly Oubre, Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith, Donald Sloan, and Mike Scott.
An already good team made a couple minor moves by adding Tim Frazier and Jody Meeks and letting Brandon Jennings, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Trey Burke walk. They are a lock for the playoffs but don’t expect them to make it past Boston or Cleveland.
Starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokic.
Bench: Emmanuel Mudiay, Jameer Nelson, Will Barton, Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee, Juan Hernangomez, Trey Lyles, Malik Beasley, and Darrell Arthur.
The Nuggets went from an exciting young team to well.. A good exciting young team. Millsap and Jokic will be a dynamic front-court duo and their young guys such as Murray, Mudiay, and Hernangomez will have another year to develop. If one of the young guys takes a big step this year watch out for the Nuggets.
Starters: Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas.
Bench: CJ Miles, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Lucas Nogueira, Delon Wright, Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet, KJ McDaniels, Kyle Wiltjer, and Jakob Poeltl.
Re-signing Kyle Lowry was the obvious top priority for Toronto and they also re-signed Serge Ibaka so they kept their starting lineup together. The addition of CJ Miles gives them some needed shooting off the bench but they traded their backup point guard to get him. Patrick Patterson was a decent player for Toronto so losing him will hurt a little. At the end of the day they will still be a top 5 seed in the weak Eastern Conference.
Starters: Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, and Thon Maker.
Bench: Matthew Dellavedova, Tony Snell, Rashad Vaughn, John Henson, Greg Monroe, Jason Terry, Brandon Rush, DJ Wilson, Gerald Green, James Young, and Mirza Teletovic.
Hopefully this team can stay healthy for a whole season because they would be a lot of fun and pretty damn good. They have the players to go big or small effectively which is rare. And most importantly, they have the Greek Freak who proved last year that he is a true superstar. With an entire starting lineup aged 25 and under, this team has amazing potential.
Tier 4 – Teams that will compete for a playoff spot
Los Angeles Clippers
Starters: Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers, Danilo Gallinari, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan.
Bench: Lou Williams, Milos Teodosic, Sam Dekker, DeAndre Liggins, Montrezl Harrell, Brice Johnson, Sindarius Thornwell, Willie Reed, and Wesley Johnson.
A lot of people were counting the Clippers out when Chris Paul decided to join the Rockets but they got a great return for him. I’m actually excited to watch them this year and don’t expect them to have a huge drop off. The starting front-court of Gallinari, Griffin, and Jordan is going to be one of the best in the NBA and Beverley will give them great defense and shooting. Lou Williams will provide all the scoring they need off the bench. And how good is Milos Teodosic? Clippers fans still have a lot to be excited about with this team.
Starters: Mike Conley, Ben McLemore, Chandler Parsons, Brandan Wright, and Marc Gasol.
Bench: Tyreke Evans, Mario Chalmers, Andrew Harrison, Wayne Selden, Rade Zagorac, James Ennis, Jarell Martin, Deyonta Davis, Troy Daniels, and Wade Baldwin.
If you look at this roster you might think that they can’t possibly make the playoffs. Outside of Conley and Gasol this team is hot garbage but it was pretty bad last year too and they made it. I don’t know if they will make it or not but I do know they will at least be competing for a spot late in the season. And Parsons can’t possibly be that bad again… right?
Portland Trail Blazers
Starters: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu, Noah Vonleh, and Jusuf Nurkic.
Bench: Shabazz Napier, Moe Harkless, Evan Turner, Zach Collins, Meyers Leonard, Ed Davis, Pat Connaughton, Jake Layman, Archie Goodwin, and Caleb Swanigan.
This team is basically the same as last year and that’s a good thing. Jusuf Nurkic was great for them and I think he will have a breakout season. I also like the addition of rookie Zach Collins but who knows how much he will contribute in his first season. If he or Vonleh can prove to be a solid starting PF this team will certainly make the playoffs.
Starters: Markelle Fultz, JJ Redick, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid.
Bench: TJ McConnell, Robert Covington, Furkan Korkmaz, Richaun Holmes, Jahlil Okafor, Amir Johnson, Jerryd Bayless, Nik Stauskas, Justin Anderson, James Michael McAdoo, Kris Humphries, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
This roster looks like it will be great in a few years but they are still so young. Two of the players they will be relying on heavily aren’t even old enough to buy a drink (legally). Adding veterans JJ Redick and Amir Johnson on one year deals was a great move by Philly and it could be enough to propel them to the playoffs already. There are just a lot of questions with this team. Can Embiid and Simmons stay healthy? How good are Fultz and Simmons? I can’t wait to watch them this year and have all of those questions answered. If nothing else, they will be awesome to watch.
Starters: Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Frank Kaminsky, and Dwight Howard.
Bench: Michael Carter-Williams, Malik Monk, Jeremy Lamb, Marvin Williams, and Cody Zeller.
It was surprising to me that Charlotte didn’t make the Playoffs last year after making it the year prior. This off-season they added Dwight Howard, Michael Carter-Williams, and Malik Monk so I expect them to be a lot better. The starting lineup looks pretty solid and they have depth at each position. I don’t expect them to have another disappointing season in 2017/2018.
Starters: Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk, and Hassan Whiteside.
Bench: Josh Richardson, James Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Bam Adebayo, Wayne Ellington, Udonis Haslem, Jordan Mickey, and Okaro White.
The Heat are bringing back the same group that was great in the second half last season but still didn’t make the playoffs. That wasn’t by choice. They lost the Gordon Hayward sweepstakes to Boston so they went to plan B and re-signed Dion Waiters and James Johnson. They also added Kelly Olynyk who should be a very nice compliment to Hassan Whiteside. Rookie Bam Adebayo looked great in the Summer League and I think he will be a nice role player for Miami this year. I expect them to make the Playoffs this year but they most likely won’t be there for more than a round.
Starters: Reggie Jackson, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer, and Andre Drummond.
Bench: Ishmael Smith, Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard, Stanley Johnson, Anthony Tolliver, Henry Ellenson, Boban Marjanovic, and Reggie Bullock.
The Pistons are another team in the East that didn’t make the playoffs even though they probably should have. The big move they made was trading Marcus Morris for Avery Bradley but they didn’t do much else to improve. Losing Morris and KCP hurts their depth so they will be relying on young guys to step up. They signed Langston Galloway who is a very good bench player and they drafted Luke Kennard who should help with their lackluster shooting. Will it be enough to get them into the playoffs this year? Maybe.
New Orleans Pelicans
Starters: Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, Tony Allen, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins.
Bench: Ian Clark, Jordan Crawford, E’Twaun Moore, Dante Cunningham, Darius Miller, Alexis Ajinca, Cheick Diallo, Frank Jackson, Solomon Hill, and Omer Asik.
New Orleans re-signed Jrue Holiday and signed Rajon Rondo. It doesn’t seem like an ideal backcourt but maybe they can make it work. This team is certainly better than they were last year and I expect them to make the playoffs on the backs of their two dynamic big men. It would be a lot easier if they had a capable starting SF.
Starters: Ricky Rubio, Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert.
Bench: Alec Burks, Dante Exum, Donovan Mitchell, Thabo Sefolosha, Joe Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Tony Bradley, Joel Bolomboy, Ekpe Udoh, and Raul Neto.
Losing Hayward is a crushing blow for a team that has been consistently improving but they still have a solid roster. They will still play a super slow pace with great defense. Utah also lost George Hill and replaced him with Ricky Rubio. Donovan Mitchell looked awesome in the Summer League and he can learn behind some great veterans. They lost a lot of scoring so Rodney Hood and Rudy Gobert will need to improve offensively for this team to make the playoffs.
Starters: Dennis Smith Jr, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki, and Nerlens Noel.
Bench: Seth Curry, Devin Harris, JJ Barea, Dwight Powell, Salah Mejri, Josh McRoberts, Jeff Withey, and Yogi Ferrell.
It looks like Dennis Smith Jr is the real deal and that’s music to the ears of Mavericks fans. This team has been weak at PG for quite some time and he looks like he will be a good franchise PG. Even if he isn’t ready to start this year, Dallas will have a decent PG situation with a lot of depth. Rick Carlisle has made the playoffs with worse teams so don’t be surprised when the Mavericks sneak in at the end of the year.
Starters: Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Lance Stephenson, Thaddeus Young, and Myles Turner.
Bench: Bojan Bogdanovic, Cory Joseph, Joseph Young, TJ Leaf, Domantas Sabonis, Al Jefferson, and Glenn Robinson III.
This team has a lot of questions after trading Paul George in what was a really weird deal. As bad as the deal was, I think they have a shot at making the playoffs. We know they are pretty well coached and I expect Turner to keep improving. They lost George, Miles, and Teague but they acquired Joseph, Bogdanovic, Oladipo, Collison, Sabonis, and Leaf. I think they will be in the playoff hunt by the end of the season. They are borderline bottom tier but the East is really bad in case you haven’t noticed.
Tier 5 – Lottery
Starters: George Hill, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Zach Randolph, and Willie Cauley-Stein
Bench: De’Aaron Fox, Malachi Richardson, Vince Carter, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, Georgios Papagiannis, Harry Giles, Kosta Koufos, Frank Mason, and Garrett Temple.
I was excited to see Fox run the point for the Kings but signing George Hill was the right thing to do. Fox is very young and will benefit from learning under Hill. This team is young and exciting and they are trying to build something similar to Philly with the additions of Hill, Carter, and Randolph. Cauley-Stein, Labissiere, and Papagiannis all showed flashes last season when Boogie was traded and I’m excited to see what they can do in a full season without him. Adding Bogdan Bogdanovic was a great move and I expect him to average 15 points right away. Harry Giles and Justin Jackson will likely get a chance to contribute immediately. And finally, what I’m most excited about, is to see how much Buddy Hield has improved. This team will be better than people expect.
Starters: D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker, and Jarrett Allen.
Bench: Jeremy Lin, Sean Kilpatrick, Caris LeVert, Isaiah Whitehead, DeMarre Carrol, Spencer Dinwiddie, Timofey Mozgov, Joe Harris, Tyler Zeller, and Quincy Acy.
Acquiring D’angelo Russell is the best move this team has made in years but I don’t expect that to make them a better team yet. They traded Brook Lopez to get him and he was easily their best player. They have the worst starting lineup in the NBA and their bench isn’t too good either. I expect them to be a bottom 5 team again this year.
Los Angeles Lakers
Starters: Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and Brook Lopez.
Bench: Jordan Clarkson, Josh Hart, Larry Nance Jr, Ivica Zubac, Luol Deng, Tyler Ennis, Kyle Kuzma, Andrew Bogut, and Corey Brewer.
It’s hard to predict how this team will be with so many young guys. Lopez and KCP will make them better but by how much? They lost arguably their best two players in Nick Young and D’angelo Russell. Lonzo Ball will have to be the real deal right away and their young guys will have to improve a lot for this team to be anything but a bottom 10 team again. That’s unfortunate because they don’t own their draft pick in 2018.
Starters: Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, and Tyson Chandler.
Bench: Tyler Ulis, Brandon Knight, TJ Warren, Dragan Bender, Jared Dudley, Alan Williams, Davon Reed, Derrick Jones Jr, and Anthony Bennett.
You can see the plan for Phoenix and it looks like this team will end up being pretty good eventually. Drafting Jackson will help them right away and their young players should continue to develop. They are still so young and I expect them to be getting another good draft pick next year.
Starters: Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Jonathon Simmons, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic.
Bench: DJ Augustin, Shelvin Mack, Mario Hezonja, Terrence Ross, Arron Afflalo, Jonathan Isaac, Marreese Speights, Adreian Payne, Damjan Rudez, and Bismack Biyombo.
Orlando should be one of the best rebounding teams in the league but there aren’t many other strengths for this team. Like a lot of other teams in this tier, they are very young. I love the Isaac pick and he is a perfect small ball PF in the modern NBA. Aaron Gordon should continue to improve and I think he will be their best player this year. They have the depth but they don’t have the stars yet. They will likely be adding to their young core with another early draft pick.
Starters: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Dwyane Wade, Bobby Portis, and Robin Lopez.
Bench: Denzel Valentine, Lauri Markkanen, Cameron Payne, Jerian Grant, Quincy Pondexter, Paul Zipser, Justin Holiday, David Nwaba, Diamond Stone, and Cristiano Felicio.
This is a weird lineup but they have a few solid players despite trading Jimmy Butler. I’m excited to see a few of these young guys. LaVine was having a great season before the torn ACL and I’m not ready to call Kris Dunn a bust yet. Lauri Markkanen looked very good in EuroBasket and we’ll see how that translates to the NBA. I think they should trade or buyout Wade because he will make them good enough to mess up their goal of tanking.
Starters: Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Ersan Ilyasova, and Dewayne Dedmon.
Bench: Malcolm Delaney, Quinn Cook, Marco Belinelli, Mike Muscala, Luke Babbitt, DeAndre Bembry, Miles Plumlee, John Collins, Tyler Dorsey, and Nicolas Brussino.
The Hawks are going to be pretty terrible next season after trading Dwight Howard for practically nothing and losing Paul Millsap in free agency. The roster really speaks for itself. This team is likely going to be the worst in the NBA. On the bright side, Taurean Prince and John Collins are promising young players that give Hawks fans something to be optimistic about.
New York Knicks
Starters: Frank Ntilinkina, Tim Hardaway Jr, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Willy Hernangomez.
Bench: Jarrett Jack, Ramon Sessions, Ron Baker, Courtney Lee, Michael Beasley, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Lance Thomas, Kyle O’Quinn, and Joakim Noah.
The Knicks were bad last year despite a solid season from Derrick Rose and now he’s gone. Ntilinkina will likely be their starting PG and he is very raw. The good news for the Knicks is guys like Porzingis, Kuzminskas, and Hernangomez will likely improve. I expect them to be around where they were last year.
Restricted free agents – JaMychal Green and Nikola Mirotic.
Unrestricted free agents
Point Guards – Deron Williams, CJ Watson, Beno Udrih, Toney Douglas, Trey Burke, Isaiah Canaan, Greivis Vasquez, and Aaron Brooks.
Shooting Guards – Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey, Gerald Henderson, and Randy Foye.
Small Forwards – Matt Barnes, Alan Anderson, Mike Dunleavy, Dahntay Jones, and Metta World Peace.
Power Forwards – David Lee, Thomas Robinson, Derrick Williams, Spencer Hawes, Kevin Seraphin, Lavoy Allen, Rakeem Christmas, Andrew Nicholson, and Maurice Ndour.
Centers – Tiago Splitter, Jordan Hill, Festus Ezeli, Anderson Varejao, Larry Sanders, Roy Hibbert, Marshall Plumlee, and Joel Anthony.