Durant joins the Warriors
Kevin Durant shocked the basketball world by leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for a two-year, $55 million deal with the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors, coming off two consecutive trips to the NBA finals and a record 73-win season, now have two of the top three players in the league in Durant and Stephen Curry, the two-time reigning MVP. However, the Warriors did sacrifice some depth to create cap space for Durant, most notably losing forward Harrison Barnes to the Dallas Mavericks.
The Warriors’ tandem of Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green make it seem like an NBA championship is a formality for the upcoming season. According to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, the Warriors’ 2017 NBA Title Odds are 2-3, meaning that they are more favored than all other 29 NBA teams combined.
Is having a super team good for the league as a whole? Sure, Warriors games will be must-see TV, but they already were the past few years with the electric Stephen Curry running the offense. They poached Durant off the Thunder, their greatest threat in the Western Conference and a team that was up 3-1 in the conference finals before blowing the lead. Basketball fans love rivalries, but it seems infeasible for any team to be able to beat Golden State in a 7-game playoff series. However, games are won on the court and not on paper, so here is a look at some contenders who could challenge the Warriors for the 2016-2017 NBA title.
San Antonio Spurs
Key additions: Pau Gasol
Key losses: Tim Duncan
The Spurs also had a historically great regular season last year, winning 67 games. The anchor of their team for the past two decades, Tim Duncan, retired, but his productivity dipped last season and Pau Gasol should be a sufficient replacement. If Kawhi Leonard can continue his development to superstardom and LaMarcus Aldridge can find the form he had his last two seasons in Portland, then the Spurs are a real threat out west. It also does not hurt to have the best coach in the NBA.
Los Angeles Clippers
Key additions: Brandon Bass
Key losses: Jeff Green
The Clippers had terrible injury luck last year, as they were without their two best players, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, in their first-round playoff loss to Portland. The Clippers have had the same nuclei of players for the past several seasons and have had little postseason success despite a franchise record of four consecutive 50-win seasons. With an aging point guard, an $88 million center who cannot play in crunch time because of an inability to make free throws, and a star forward who has reportedly been on the trade block after he punched a team staffer last January, it's difficult to see the Clippers getting out of the second round.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Key additions: Victor Oladipo
Key losses: Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Dion Waiters
The Thunder traded Serge Ibaka to the Magic for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis before Durant’s decision. This roster shakeup was not enough to convince Durant to stay, as his departure from the Thunder puts the team’s future in doubt. Superstar point guard Russell Westbrook is set to become a free agent next season, and the team cannot afford to lose him for nothing like they did with Durant. While it would be exciting to watch Westbrook go full-Kobe and put up 35 shots per game, the Thunder don’t really stand a chance of retuning to the conference finals. However, if they could keep Westbrook and trade for Oklahoma native Blake Griffin, then they would be able to contend.
Key additions: Kris Dunn
Key Losses: None
Despite a 12-year playoff drought, the future is extremely bright for the young Timberwolves. With the past two number one picks and rookie of year winners in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves have the best young duo in the league since Durant and Westbrook. Zach Lavine and Kris Dunn are exciting prospects that should flourish under new coach Tom Thibodeau. Look for the Timberwolves to take a huge leap this season.
Key additions: None
Key losses: Matthew Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov
The defending NBA champions have most of their core returning and the confidence of knowing that they are the only team over the past two years that has defeated the Warriors in a playoff series. Kyrie Irving is coming off a fantastic NBA Finals where he outplayed Stephen Curry and should be an MVP candidate this season, as Lebron will likely take a backseat over the long regular season. If the Cavaliers could figure out how to unlock the potential of the chronically underachieving Kevin Love, then they should be the favorites to win the East.
Key additions: Al Horford, Gerald Green, Jaylen Brown
Key losses: Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger
The Celtics went all in with their recruitment of Kevin Durant, as Tom Brady was present at their meeting and tried to persuade the superstar to come to Boston. Despite coming up short, the Celtics still had a very successful offseason, highlighted by the addition of All-Star center Al Horford. With an abundance of depth and Brooklyn Nets’ draft picks via the 2013 trade, the Celtics have the assets to trade for another star like Russell Westbrook or Blake Griffin. With the team as it is, the Celtics should challenge for the conference’s best regular season record, but are still probably another piece away from ending Lebron’s six-year reign as an Eastern Conference champion.
Key additions: Jared Sullinger
Key losses: Bismack Biyombo
The biggest move the Raptors did this offseason was resigning All-Star DeMar DeRozan, as the LA native was rumored all season to be the heir apparent to Kobe Bryant. The Raptors took a step forward last season by reaching the conference finals and taking the Cavs to game six, but they will need their backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeRozan to play with better consistency if they are to return to the conference finals.
New York Knicks
Key additions: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, Brandon Jennings
Key losses: Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo
The Knicks were the busiest team in the league this offseason, trading for Derrick Rose and signing Joakim Noah, two former Bulls who are former All-NBA players but are both injury prone. Depth will remain an issue for the Knicks, who missed the playoffs last season, but with a rising star in Kristaps Porzingis and a determined Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks will be a fun team to watch. While their starting lineup would have certainly competed for the 2011 NBA Championship, the 2016-2017 Knicks should surprise people if they can remain healthy.