Last year, for the first time ever, a team came back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA finals. Led by two straight 41-point games by Lebron James and a triple-double in Game 7, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the championship. Kevin Durant also found his inner Warrior, joining the 73-win Golden State Warriors after losing to them in the Western Conference Finals despite holding a 3-1 lead last year. Over the offseason, numerous players were traded, signed, or drafted, leading to drastic changes in each team’s outlook. Here’s a summary of the major teams' offseason moves, and how those moves will affect them over the coming season.
Boston Celtics (Last year's record: 48-34)
Major moves:Signed power forward/center Al Horford and drafted small forward Jaylen Brown with the 3rd overall pick, forward/center Guerschon Yabusele with the 16th overall pick.
Outlook:Last season, the Celtics outperformed expectations under promising coach Brad Stevens. Not only did they get 48 wins, but also they had a top-5 defense (despite their starting point guard being 5’8” Isaiah Thomas). However, they lost to the Hawks in six games in the first round of the playoffs because of their rebounding woes and injuries to Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. By signing Al Horford, they strengthen their front court, one of their biggest weaknesses. Because of these improvements, they can easily secure a top-3 seed this year. In addition, with an already young team, plenty of cap space, a top-tier coach, and two potential top picks over the next two years (because of a trade with the Nets which gives them Brooklyn's first round picks), the Celtics have the best chance at winning multiple championships over the next 5-10 years.
Prediction: ~55 wins, top-3 seed, and potential to reach Eastern Conference Finals.
Golden State Warriors (Last year's record: 73-9)
Major moves: Signed forward Kevin Durant, center Zaza Pachulia, and power forward/center David West. Traded center Andrew Bogut for cap space needed to sign Durant.
Outlook: After setting a new record for most wins in the regular season, breaking the mark previously held by Michael Jordan’s ‘95-’96 Bulls, the Warriors added a former MVP in Kevin Durant. Even though they traded Andrew Bogut and let go of Harrison Barnes, the Warriors signed this year's best free agent. Once they signed Kevin Durant, veterans Zaza Pachulia and David West signed minimum contracts - the smallest possible salary for those players - in hopes of winning a championship. Even though the team might not play well together, on paper, this team is by far the greatest ever assembled, and are therefore favorites to win the championship.
Prediction: ~65 wins; this prediction is especially volatile, as it is yet to be seen how adding Kevin Durant and losing their best interior defender, Andrew Bogut, will affect the team.
Los Angeles Lakers (Last year's record: 17-65)
Major moves: Drafted forward Brandon Ingram with the 2nd overall pick and replaced coach Byron Scott with Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton.
Outlook: Last year, the Lakers dedicated their season to Kobe Bryant. Because of their talent-barren roster, they finished with the worst record in the West, and second worst in the league. However, they now have the potential to improve, as their core consists of rookie forward Brandon Ingram, point guard D’Angelo Russell, guard Jordan Clarkson, and forward Julius Randle. All of these players showed potential this past season. Additionally, the Lakers replaced coach Byron Scott with Luke Walton, who led the Warriors while head coach Steve Kerr had a back injury. The new coach along with the development of their young talent means the Lakers will improve from last year, but they are still a long way from the playoffs.
Prediction: ~25 wins; they will hope to improve while still having a good chance to retain their first round pick (the 76ers own the Lakers' top-3 protected pick, meaning that if the pick falls in the top 3, it belongs to the Lakers; otherwise, the 76ers receive the pick).
San Antonio Spurs (Last year's record: 67-15)
Major moves: Signed forward/center Pau Gasol. Tim Duncan retired.
Outlook: Another 50-win season. Even though legend Tim Duncan retired, the Spurs have one of the best players in the league in Kawhi Leonard, and a phenomenal power forward in Lamarcus Aldridge. They brought in Pau Gasol, who fits perfectly as a high-post playmaker in Gregg Popovich's pick and roll offense. The Spurs have won 50 or more games in 17 straight seasons, and this will most likely be number 18. They will yet again cruise to a top-3 seed in the West, and have the second best chance (after the Clippers) of defeating the Warriors.
Prediction: ~55 wins.
Teams that made small or no changes:
Atlanta Hawks (last year: 48-34; this year: ~45 wins), Charlotte Hornets (last year: 48-34; this year: ~45 wins), Cleveland Cavaliers (last year: 57-25; this year: ~55 wins – LeBron typically rests at the end of the season if the Cavs have secured the first seed), Detroit Pistons (last year: 44-38; this year: ~45 wins), Houston Rockets (last year: 41-41; this year: ~45 wins), Los Angeles Clippers (last year: 53-29; this year: ~55 wins if Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are healthy), Portland Trail Blazers (last year: 44-38; this year: ~45 wins), Toronto Raptors (last year: 56-26; this year: ~50 wins), Washington Wizards (last year: 41-41; this year: ~40 wins).
Teams that will improve but will not contend:
Brooklyn Nets (last year: 21-61; this year: ~25 wins, dependent on Brook Lopez's health), Denver Nuggets (last year: 33-49; this year: ~40 wins), Milwaukee Bucks (last year: 33-49; this year: ~40 wins), New Orleans Pelicans (last year: 30-52; this year: ~30 wins, dependent on Anthony Davis's health), Phoenix Suns (last year: 23-59; this year: ~25 wins), Sacramento Kings (last year: 33-49; this year: ~30 wins, dependent on whether they trade Demarcus Cousins for draft picks at the trade deadline).
Teams that improved and will win more games and/or make the playoffs: Dallas Mavericks (last year: 42-40; this year: ~45 wins), Memphis Grizzlies (last year: 42-40; this year: ~45 wins, dependent on Mark Gasol and Chandler Parsons' health), Orlando Magic (last year: 35-47; this year: ~40 wins), Utah Jazz (last year: 40-42; this year: ~45 wins, dependent on Rudy Gobert's health).