Last season, we were mere witnesses to the loaded Golden State Warriors dominate the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second straight year in the NBA Finals. And after yet another hectic free agency period, the NBA landscape for this upcoming season has indeed changed. Several moves like LeBron James to LA, Kawhi Leonard to Toronto, and DeMarcus Cousins to Golden State, have caused many changes in the NBA food chain. With that said, it’s time to take a look ahead to next season with my pre-season predictions for this year’s playoff seeds. This article is split into two parts; Part 1 will take a look at the Western Conference, and Part 2 (which will come out in less than a week) will be focusing on the Eastern Conference.
1. Golden State Warriors
Key Additions/Re-signings: C DeMarcus Cousins, F Jonas Jerebko, F Kevin Durant
Key Losses: C Javale McGee, C Zaza Pachulia
Like I said in my DeMarcus Cousins rant, the rich just keep getting richer with their addition of Cousins to the gauntlet of All-Stars they currently possess. Signing him with the MLE will help their cap situation seeing that they are deep in the luxury tax for at least this year. Because of this, there’s no reason to believe they won’t come out of the Western Conference again (barring injury). This time around, they look scarier than ever, and are poised to make a very credible attempt at a three-peat.
2. Houston Rockets
Key Additions/Re-signings: F Carmelo Anthony, PG Chris Paul, C Clint Capela, F James Ennis III
Key Losses: F Trevor Ariza, F Luc Mbah a Moute
This offseason was crucial for the Rockets. After all, they were a game away from the NBA Finals and some unfortunate circumstances cost them the series. Contrary to popular belief, I honestly think the Anthony signing is a good one as long as he accepts a lesser role. Losing guys like Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute will cost them defensively, but adding James Ennis III to pair along with PJ Tucker complements Melo’s lack of defense. They should still have a great shot at dethroning the Warriors.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
Key Additions/Re-signings: F Paul George, G Dennis Schroeder, C Nerlens Noel
Key Losses: F Carmelo Anthony
Last season, the Thunder’s season ended in disappointment, as the “super-team” of Russ, PG, and Melo lost in the first round versus the Jazz. Likewise with the Rockets, this offseason was crucial for the Thunder, and they aced it. Sam Presti managing to lure Paul George away from the glitz and glamour of LA was a huge win for them. The signings of Schroeder and Noel will certainly help out their bench, which ranked 29th in efficiency last season. Overall, I expect for them to at least reach the second round of the playoffs, if not, the conference finals (as long as they don’t run into the Warriors or Rockets).
4. Los Angeles Lakers
Key Additions/Re-signings: F LeBron James, G Lance Stephenson, C Javale McGee, G Rajon Rondo
Key Losses: F Julius Randle
Well, well, well. Look who’s back in town as a contender. Of course, adding one of the best players of all time to the roster definitely helps. Unfortunately, like I said before, they didn’t manage to lure away Paul George, but if it weren’t for the Warriors signing Boogie, Magic Johnson would’ve won the offseason. Going into next year with LeBron and the talented young core they have, I see them being a surefire top 5 seed. However, due to the lack of playoff experience their projected starting lineup has, I’d not be surprised to see them eliminated in the first-to-second rounds.
5. Utah Jazz
Key Additions/Re-signings: G Grayson Allen
Key Losses: F Jonas Jerebko
The Jazz kept it simple this offseason. No major pieces added, no major pieces lost. They’ve managed to retain their core of ROY Donovan Mitchell, DPOY Rudy Gobert, and Aussie sharpshooter Joe Ingles. Drafting Grayson Allen was a pretty smart move by them, adding toughness and grit to a team best characterized as a gritty squad. Losing Jonas Jerebko could sting more than some people might think, but they’ll do just fine without him. Expect for the Jazz to build on last season’s success.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves
Key Additions/Re-signings: F Keita Bates-Diop
Key Losses: G Jamal Crawford
On paper, this Minnesota team looks very good and should have gone further last season if it weren’t for matching up with the Rockets in Round 1 of the playoffs. However, questions arising concerning the lack of work ethic by the young core of this team and apparent lack of chemistry are what’s keeping this team down. Losing Jamal Crawford only makes the bench thinner than it was before, as they do not have much serviceable depth. Furthermore, this is the year Andrew Wiggins needs to take a huge step if he wants to remain with the team in the future. This team will only go as far as the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Jimmy Butler take them this upcoming season.
7. New Orleans Pelicans
Key Additions/Re-signings: F Julius Randle, G Elfrid Payton
Key Losses: G Rajon Rondo, C DeMarcus Cousins
This offseason, the Pelicans managed to make the best out of losing Rondo and Cousins, who were fundamental for the team’s success last season if it weren’t for the latter tearing his achilles. They brought in two new players in Payton and Randle, who both match the play-styles of their predecessors. Aside from that, on paper, I don’t think this team is anything special. Despite putting up insane numbers every night, this is the year Anthony Davis has to prove that he can truly lead this team. If and when that happens, this team will be dangerous.
8. San Antonio Spurs
Key Additions: G DeMar DeRozan, C Jakob Poeltl, G Marco Bellineli, G Lonnie Walker
Key Losses: F Kawhi Leonard, G Danny Green
Despite the fact that they lost a perennial All-Star and DPOY and MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, they set themselves up nicely with what they got back from the trade. DeRozan will slot in right at the two spot, and Poeltl can play behind aging, but still serviceable Pau Gasol, who can mentor him along the way. Lonnie Walker was a draft night steal for them, and we’ll see how far the DeRozan-Aldridge partnership takes this team. I’ve gone over what the trade means for the team more in-depth in a previous article, so I’d expect them to surprise some people this year.
Just missed the cut: Portland Trailblazers, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks.