The 2017-18 NBA season is dawning upon us, and with it comes a plethora of new storylines. Can Lonzo Ball live up to all the hype? Are the Thunder and Rockets now serious contenders? Will the Cavaliers and Warriors meet up in the finals for the fourth straight year? All of these questions will be explored in my predictions for the this upcoming campaign.
-Alex Fry (‘19)
1. Boston Celtics (56-26): The Celtics were able to finish first in the conference last year with a strong offensive season from Isaiah Thomas. They have since gotten a lot stronger by trading Thomas for the well-rounded Kyrie Irving and signing All-Star Gordon Hayward. Their record is only going to improve from last year.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (54-28): On the other end of the Isaiah Thomas trade were the Cleveland Cavaliers, who not only received Thomas, but Jae Crowder and a first-round draft pick as well, arguably winning the trade. They also added Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose to their already loaded roster. The Cavs will once again be a dominant force in the Eastern Conference, but do not be surprised if they struggle in the regular season.
3. Washington Wizards (50-32): The Wizards are looking to improve upon a successful 2016-17 campaign. With an elite duo in John Wall and Bradley Beal, and key signing in Otto Porter Jr, the Wizards should flip-flop with the Raptors in the Eastern Conference standings.
4. Toronto Raptors (48-34): The Raptors had a great season last year, finishing tied for second in the conference in overall record. Unfortunately, they regressed this offseason, losing Cory Joseph and Demarre Carroll to free agency. They will have to depend on fantastic seasons from Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan if they want to remain at the top of the East.
5. Milwaukee Bucks (48-34): The Bucks come into this season with potential to be an elite team. They are led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who could very well be the MVP this year, along with Malcolm Brogdon, the 2016-17 Rookie of the Year, and Jabari Parker, who should have a great season now that he is finally healthy.
6. Miami Heat (43-39): Although the Heat finished just outside the playoffs last year with a .500 record, it did not feel like that to most fans, as the Heat finished the second half of the season with a 31-10 record. Additionally, they signed Kelly Olynyk and drafted Edrice Adebayo, two players that should only elevate this team next season.
7. Detroit Pistons (41-41): Seeming like another a rebuild was on the horizon, the Pistons came into this offseason with most people expecting little moves. But they ended up surprising critics by signing veteran Langston Galloway, letting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope go and trading Marcus Morris for Avery Bradley. The Pistons have a drastically different roster from a season ago and one that could potentially take advantage of the weakness of the East and slip into the playoffs.
8. Philadelphia 76ers (39-43): After multiple years of horrendous seasons and tanking, ‘Trust the Process’ is in its make or break stage. The 76ers have plenty of young talent with lots of upside in Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, but health will be the ultimate factor in determining the 76ers’ success.
9. Charlotte Hornets (37-45): The Hornets took a big gamble in trading Marco Belinelli for Dwight Howard, and they are hoping that Howard’s production will help elevate the play of Kemba Walker. With the Hornets’ gamble and Nicola Batum’s injury, however, it seems likely that the Hornets will once again miss the playoffs.
10. Orlando Magic (33-49): The Magic had a great draft, as they acquired Jonathan Isaac and Wesley Iwundu, but in the end they still do not have any players on their roster that can make them competitive enough for a playoff spot.
11. Indiana Pacers (30-52): Losing Paul George to the Thunder is a huge blow to this team. What makes matters worse is that they got virtually nothing in return, only acquiring Victor Oladipo. The Pacers will experience a tough year in the post Paul George era.
12. New York Knicks (25-57): It is an end of an era for Knicks with the trade of Carmelo Anthony to the Thunder. Now all that is left is Kristaps Porzingis surrounded by a bunch of overpaid players. Even in a conference as weak the East, the Knicks will still struggle to succeed.
13. Brooklyn Nets (24-58): Across the street from the Knicks are the abysmal Brooklyn Nets, who signed Demarre Carroll and Timofey Mozgov, two decent veterans and traded for D’Angelo Russell. But ultimately, they did little to improve their mediocre roster.
14. Atlanta Hawks (21-61): After losing their best player in Paul Millsap, it seems as though it is time for Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk to lay down the cards and call for a rebuild. The only talent left on this roster is Dennis Schroder, who will need to produce on an unrealistically high level if this team wants to have a respectable season.
15. Chicago Bulls (17-65): The Bulls offseason could not have gone any worse. After trading away Jimmy Butler in a one-sided deal not in their favor, the Bulls fell apart as both Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade left, both players feeling that the team was a lost cause. Even in the lackluster East, the Bulls are going to have a horrible season.
1. Golden State Warriors (64-18): Let’s face it: even with half their starters injured, the Warriors would still finish first in the West. That is just how talented this team is with the likes of Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, all players who could be MVP candidates if they were on any other team.
2. Houston Rockets (52-30): James Harden alone was enough to make the Rockets a serious contender in the West. But with the addition of nine-time All-Star Chris Paul, the Rockets have been elevated to a whole new level of eliteness.
3. San Antonio Spurs (50-32): While seemingly every other team in the Western Conference has been making big moves and signing big players, the Spurs stood pat and signed a questionable three-year deal with center Pau Gasol. They did little over the summer to improve their aging core and are ultimately going to regress this season while trying to depend on Kawhi Leonard to carry the team.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (49-33): The Thunder were a one man show last season, with Russell Westbrook putting up absurd numbers on his way to winning the MVP. But he just could not make up for his teammates’ inefficient play. So the Thunder stringed together two magnificent trades and acquired All-Stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Thunder fans should have a lot to look forward to this year.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves (45-37): After an abysmal season last year, the Timberwolves went into this offseason looking to make some major moves. And they without a doubt, they delivered. Minnesota was able to acquire All-Star Jimmy Butler and three talented veterans in Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford and Taj Gibson. Along with young stars Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns, the Timberwolves should have the biggest turnaround this year.
6. Denver Nuggets (44-38): The Nuggets have a lot of potential to be a great team. They have a lot of young talent in Nikola Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Lyles and Gary Harris, and added to that core by signing underrated veteran Paul Millsap. The question is whether head coach Mike Malone and his staff can develop their players enough this offseason to stay competitive in a loaded conference.
7. Los Angeles Clippers (41-41): After suffering a crushing blow in the loss of Chris Paul to the Rockets, it appeared that the era of ‘Lob City” was over in Los Angeles after rumors of Blake Griffin in contract negotiations with Phoenix and Denver surfaced. Surprisingly, he found himself back with the Clippers after signing a five-year extension. The Clippers should be good enough to make the playoffs with Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but they will no longer be on the dominant level they once used to be on with Chris Paul.
8. New Orleans Pelicans (39-43): When the Pelicans traded for Demarcus Cousins to play alongside Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday last season, it seemed as though New Orleans might have finally put together a legitimate team. But that was not the case, as the team sputtered down the stretch and failed to make the playoffs. Now with a whole offseason under their belts, the Pelicans should have a lot more chemistry and be able to put up a decent record.
9. Utah Jazz (37-45): Just when it seemed like the Jazz might have finally had a good roster with Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, Hayward left to play with his former coach Brad Stevens in Boston, devastating the team. The Jazz should still be competitive, though, with the signings of Marco Rubio and Joe Ingles, two solid players. But in the end, they will not be able to make up for the loss of Hayward.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (36-46): The Trailblazers had a good season last year, making the playoffs under Damian Lillard and a breakout season from C.J. McCollum. They did little to improve on their weaknesses this offseason, though. And being in the Western Conference, which has improved dramatically, this will only come back to haunt them.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (33-49): Likewise to the the Trailblazers, the Grizzlies are another playoff team who had a quiet offseason. They lost both Zach Randolph and Vince Carter to the Kings while signing nobody of significance. Be prepared to expect a disappointing season in Memphis.
12. Dallas Mavericks (31-51): The Dallas Mavericks finished last year a disappointing 11th in the West. Expect them to be the same this year. They have an aging core led by Dirk Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes, with a few bright spots in prospects Seth Curry and Dennis Smith Jr.
13. Los Angeles Lakers (29-53): Lonzo Ball has been receiving a little too much attention this NBA offseason. Although he has looked great this preseason, the Lakers are simply too young and inexperienced to succeed in the West this year. Led by the young guns Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson, this is likely to be another rebuild year for the Lakers.
14. Sacramento Kings (24-58): The Sacramento Kings are a perfect example of a mix between young and old. They drafted a whopping four first-round players in this year’s draft to play alongside veterans George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter. This team is going to go through a lot of growing pains in 2017 but it will be for the better.
15. Phoenix Suns (19-63): If the Suns were in the Eastern Conference, I could feasibly see them going above thirty wins with young stars like Devin Booker and exciting prospects in Devin Ullis and Dragan Bender. Unfortunately for the Suns, they are stuck in the unrelentless West, and are likely to be in for a tough season.