Staff writer Sam Keefe co-wrote this piece.
1. San Antonio Spurs
The 2013-14 champions have done nothing to worsen their team this offseason, showing that as the years go by only old age will break this team apart. Even still, younger players like Kawhi Leonard continue to improve and fill into their roles as the future of this team. The Spurs didn’t make much noise this offseason, drafting as they usually do, stashing away some foreign prospects. However, they did draft an interesting and potential rotation player in Kyle Anderson from UCLA. In the end, until someone proves that they shouldn’t be the number one team, the Spurs will remain there.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers are by far the most improved team after this offseason; they added the best player in the world, Lebron James, a top ten player in Kevin Love, and several key bench players such as Shawn Marion, Brandon Haywood and Mike Miller. Unless they self-destruct like previous super teams, such as the 2012 Lakers or the 2013 Nets, this team should put up numbers to rival the best offensive teams in history with the lethal ability to run the pick-and-roll with James and Love. For first time in his career, James is getting to play alongside a superb point guard in Kyrie Irving, meaning James can actually play small forward for once. Plus, isn’t it exciting to think about the oodles of full court outlet passes to come?
3. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls were one of the more intriguing teams to watch go to work this summer. This offseason they managed to sign Pau Gasol, another big body down low that could easily score 17 a game for a team that was a bit offensively challenged last year. They were the favorite to sign Carmelo Anthony at one point and failed to do so, but even without Carmelo, the tandem of Noah and Gasol could become one of the most interesting 4/5 duos in the NBA. In addition, the return of Derrick Rose brings waves of conflicting feelings. If Rose can play as well or at least close to the level he used to play then the Bulls could be a very exciting team to watch. Plus they drafted Doug McDermott, a personal favorite of mine.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers, after a second round exit to the Thunder, have steadily improved for the last three years. Last year, Blake Griffin displayed his ability to be an MVP candidate rather than just a walking highlight reel, and Chris Paul continued to perform as the best point guard in the league. However, they had a major flaws in their bench, specifically a backup big man. When the second unit came in, Jamal Crawford, reigning sixth man of the year, was able to put up points, but couldn’t defend in any way, shape, or form. In the offseason, they filled that void with Spencer Hawes, a seven footer who can shoot from long range. This makes Los Angeles a potentially elite team in the loaded western conference.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have a huge challenge ahead of them this season. With Kevin Durant out 6-8 weeks with a Jones Fracture in his foot, and newly acquired shooting guard Anthony Morrow out for the first few weeks as well, the Thunder are going to be tested. A lot of pressure is on head coach Scott Brooks this season. It’s looking more and more like the Thunder’s chances of winning a title are lessening with each passing season. Durant will be a free agent in a few years, and keeping in mind that anything can happen, the Thunder need to win sooner rather than later. This offseason the Thunder managed to draft an interesting prospect in Mitch McGary who could provide some good minutes off the bench. All in all, its going to be on the shoulders of Scott Brooks, as well as players like Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka to carry this team for the beginning of the season.
6. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors will begin the season with relatively the same roster; the only notable change was the addition of Shaun Livingston, the breakout 6’7” point guard who started 54 games for the Brooklyn Nets last year. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson both played for Team USA in the FIBA tournament this summer, and won gold. However, Klay Thompson’s contract will expire after this season, a trade could be imminent for Golden State if they don’t manage to resign Thompson, who’s been developing into a really strong player. The Warriors are an exciting group, and whenever Steph and Klay are on the court together, there’s going to be some major scoring. In fact, I’d bet we’ll see some new records for three pointers this season.
7. Portland Trail Blazers
One of the most pleasant surprises last season, Portland managed to finish fifth in the western conference, and advance past the Houston Rockets in the playoffs before losing to the eventual champion Spurs. LaMarcus Aldridge is emerging as one of the best power forwards in the NBA, and Damian Lillard as one of the league’s best young point guards. The Trail Blazers biggest problem last year was their bench, finishing last in the entire league in bench scoring. Any team that struggles that heavily is going to have a tough time continuing the success they had last year. Portland didn’t have any picks in this years draft, but they managed to gain some veteran leadership on the bench through the signing of Chris Kaman and Steve Blake. Portland definitely has a solid core group of players, they just need to work on tying up loose ends.
8. Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks rival the Cleveland Cavaliers as the most improved team through the offseason. They exited the postseason after forcing the eventual champs to a Game 7 without any draft picks, but a lot of empty cap space. The summer began for Dallas as they traded Jose Calderon Shane Larkin, and Samuel Dalembert to the New York Knicks for Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler, who won a title with the Mavs in 2011. Then, they won a gamble against the Houston Rockets that granted them up-and-coming Chandler Parsons, who was a restricted free agent. Mark Cuban (owner) then rounded out his roster by adding a new starting point guard in Jameer Nelson, as well as adding to his bench with big man Al-Farouq Aminu in order to get their star player, Dirk Nowitzki, any rest he may need throughout the season.
9. Washington Wizards
The Wizards are a very interesting team to watch for this season. John Wall will continue to get better, he is John Wall after all, and even though Bradley Beal broke his wrist it shouldn’t be too much of a hit for a team in such a weak conference. They’re gonna have to play well until Beal is back, but their season doesn’t depend on it. Last year the Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. However the team is only getting better, and after resigning Marcin Gortat and grabbing some veteran leadership in Paul Pierce, they could come back even stronger. Especially as players like Glenn Rice and Otto Porter begin to develop into more well-rounded role players on this team, the Wizards will continue to get deeper and more dangerous. With a weak conference like the east, the Wizards have a chance to make a deep run in this years playoffs if they can live up to the potential.
10. Memphis Grizzlies
After an injury-riddled season, the Grizzlies are still asking themselves what could have been last year. With Marc Gasol now aiming to have a full, healthy season, the Grizz look to once again be one of the top teams in the west. If they had one gaping hole in their game, it was their three point shooting, which they have attempted to fill with veteran Vince Carter who they signed from the Dallas Mavericks this offseason. Without too many changes, this team should be a higher seed in the west once again, and could be dangerous in the playoffs.