BY MARTIN DAVIDSON
The Golden State Warriors are a dynasty, and at this point they’re widely expected to keep winning titles until something dramatically changes the team. Local fans should keep in mind that this will probably happen at some point. 10-year dynasties don’t happen in modern sports, and though reports this summer indicated Klay Thompson could take a pay cut to keep things going, something will eventually break up the roster as we’ve come to know it. It could be an injury, a star bolting for a new team, or simply changes to the salary cap.
In the meantime though, the Warriors are runaway favorites to win a fourth title in five years in 2019. It’s a bit early for further speculation, but the only logical question is who might challenge them ? With the NBA seemingly growing more popular with each passing season, platforms for speculative activity on sports and other events will be posting NBA odds and predictions sooner than ever, which means we’re getting closer to a lot of content about the outlook for the coming season. Before we know it, we’ll be looking at odds, over/unders, and all the conversations that come about because of them. But we can also look at potential Warriors challengers now in a simpler way.
Odds aside, let’s look at how the league’s landscape changed throughout the summer. The draft, free agency, and trades are now more or less behind us, so barring dramatic changes that rarely occur in the fall, we know how the rosters are going to look. And at this stage these look like the only teams who could pose a threat to Golden State.
The Rockets had a pretty bad summer on paper. Yes, they added Carmelo Anthony for next to nothing, and they were able to re-sign Clint Capela. But Anthony is a shell of his former self and Capela could conceivably be annoyed with the franchise after it held out to get a better deal on him. Additionally, the Rockets lost Trevor Ariza, who was a key part of the defense that so nearly knocked off the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Even so, these Rockets played the Warriors as well as anyone has, and may well have won the series had Chris Paul not gotten hurt. Even if they take a step back, they’re among the only challengers to Golden State.
The Celtics were within a few good plays of a surprise appearance in the NBA Finals, and they should only get better. The team that got that far was missing Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward with injuries, and both are expected to be healthy this season. Given how young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have excelled, Boston has the best team in the East on paper, and a group that could present a unique defensive challenge for the Warriors in a Finals matchup.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The last two seasons have taught us not to take the Thunder very seriously. Two years ago the organization was reeling from Kevin Durant’s departure, and Russell Westbrook’s MVP campaign was the main focus. Last year, the trio of Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony took time to gel, and Anthony was largely a non-factor. This year however, this looks like a tough defensive team, with Anthony gone and George back, and Dennis Schroeder also added to the fold. It’s not going to be an easy team to beat, and it has the star power to make things interesting in a series against the Warriors.
A recent article by The Ringer’s Paolo Uggetti posed the question of whether the Raptors should be favorites in the East, and it’s an interesting one to consider. Boston will be the trendy pick, and the 76ers will be popular as well (though they’re still too young to threaten the Warriors). But if, and it’s a big if, the Raptors get the best version of Kawhi Leonard, they could well be a legitimate title contender. There isn’t a better wing defender in the league, and that’s exactly what Toronto has been missing.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers don’t look like a title contender just yet by any stretch of the imagination. But when you look at their roster and compare it to Cleveland’s from this past season it’s hard to say which is better. The bottom line is, whichever team has LeBron James is a threat, and he could well make these Lakers better than anyone is expecting. Plus, the team has enough assets to swing a trade if things materialize that way. It’s conceivable that by February we’re looking at an LA team led by James and Kawhi Leonard and steaming toward the playoffs.