NBA Summer Recap and 2018 Season Outlook: The True Contenders

The+Golden+State+Warriors+have+won+the+last+two+NBA+Titles%2C+but+added+All-Star+center+Demarcus+Cousins+during+the+offseason.+With+LeBron+James+out+of+the+Eastern+Conference%2C+a+new+team+may+challenge+the+Warriors+in+the+NBA+Finals.+The+Boston+Celtics+and+Toronto%C2%A0Raptors+will+look+to+represent+the+East+in+June.

The Golden State Warriors have won the last two NBA Titles, but added All-Star center Demarcus Cousins during the offseason. With LeBron James out of the Eastern Conference, a new team may challenge the Warriors in the NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors will look to represent the East in June.

Jack Garvey, Maroon-News Staff

The 2018-19 NBA Season starts on October 16 as the Philadelphia 76ers visit the Boston Celtics. Going into the season, there are several clear championship-contending teams, the most obvious being the Golden State Warriors. However, several teams will look to push the Dubs this year. With LeBron James out of the Eastern Conference, one of the following teams might finally reach the Finals.

Houston Rockets 2017/18 Record: 65-17

Notable Additions:

Carmelo Anthony (free agent) Marquese Chriss (trade with Suns) Brandon Knight (trade with Suns)

Notable Losses:

Ryan Anderson (trade with Suns)
Trevor Ariza (signed with Suns)
Luc Mbah a Moute (signed with Clippers) De’Anthony Melton (trade with Suns)

In last season’s games when Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela played together, the Rockets were an incredible 42- 3. The problem was getting the trio on the court on a consistent basis. The Rockets finished last season with a bad taste in their mouth after blowing a 3-2 series lead over the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Chris Paul exited the series after sustaining an injury in Game 5, leaving Rockets fans to wonder what could have been throughout the offseason.

This season, the Rockets will once again look to topple the Warriors’ dynasty out west. However, with the losses of key de- fenders in Ariza and Mbah a Moute, this year’s team may prove to be a slightly worse version of its 2017-18 self.

Carmelo Anthony will look to provide another source of offense for the team, but the ball-dominant 34-year-old does not pro- vide the same offensive spark he used to, and he may struggle to fit in as more of a role player.

Trading away Ryan Anderson and getting Brandon Knight (who missed all of 2017 due to injury) and Marquese Chriss (8th pick in 2016) gives the Rockets some interesting upside and depth on their bench, but the two players will not serve pivotal roles for the team this season.

While the Rockets may be slightly worse defensively and likely still haven’t added enough pieces to get them past the Warriors, they do still have the deadly trio of Paul, Harden and Capela.

If the Rockets’ Big Three stay healthy, (Or if Anthony is somehow able to turn back Father Time) look for this team to be right where it was last year, contending with the Warriors for the top seed out West. Prediction: 2nd seed in the West

Toronto Raptors 2017/18 Record: 59-23

Notable Additions:

Golden State Warriors 2017/18 Record: 58-24

Notable Additions:

DeMarcus Cousins (free agent) Jonas Jerebko (free agent) Jacob Evans (drafted No. 28)

Notable Losses:

JaVale McGee (signed with Lakers) Zaza Pachulia (signed with Pistons)

After winning their third title in four years this past season, it really did seem like the Warriors’ star-studded roster could not possibly improve.

That was until the team made a huge splash in the offseason by landing All-Star center Demarcus Cousins. While the team will likely be without Cousins for a couple of months as he recovers from a torn achilles, the Splash Brothers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson should be just fine without him.

Second-year center Jordan Bell will be expected to step up big in Cousins’ absence, after posting a solid rookie season last year.

Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson round out this team’s deadly starting lineup, with Andre Iguodala and newly signed forward Jonas Jerebko coming off the bench.

Jerebko adds some needed depth to the Warriors bench, but likely will not be called upon to be more than a backup/ rotation player.

When healthy, this team may be the most talented starting roster ever assembled. Expect the Warriors’ dominance to continue as they look to be the first team to three-peat since the ’02 Lakers. Prediction: 1st seed in the West 

Boston Celtics 2017/18 Record: 55-27

Notable Additions:

Robert Williams (drafted No.27) Brad Wanamaker (free agent)

Notable Loss:

Greg Monroe (signed with Raptors)

Tragedy struck the Boston Celtics last season when both All-Stars Gordon Hay- ward and Kyrie Irving suffered season- ending injuries. However, these losses did not stop the Celtics from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals, where the C’s dropped the series 4-3 to LeBron’s Cleve- land Cavaliers. The Celtics are relieved that James is no longer the King of the Eastern Conference. Nevertheless, the rivalry will remain between the Celtics and James, who is now wearing purple and gold for the Los Angeles Lakers, another historic rival of the Celtics.

This season, hopes are higher for coach Brad Stevens’ squad.

Like the Warriors, the Celtics could very well have five players of their own make the All-Star team this season in Irving, Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford.

Featuring multiple players who can guard different positions, the Celtics are, defensively, a team’s worst nightmare. While first round draft pick Robert Williams has not exactly silenced doubters this summer over his concerns of im- maturity, (he forgot the time of his introductory conference call, missed the flight that would have taken him to his first Summer League practice and lost his wallet twice all since being selected by Boston 27th overall) Williams is a high-upside player with the potential to be a dominant shot-blocker and defender down the road.

The scariest part about the Celtics is that the best is yet to come. To quote Michael Jordan, “the ceiling is the roof” with this team.

With a young and developing core under the genius coaching of Brad Stevens, the Celtics are poised to win the Eastern Conference and give the Warriors a run for their money. Prediction: 1st seed in the East

Toronto Raptors 2017/18 Record: 59-23

Notable Additions: 

Danny Green (trade with Spurs) Kawhi Leonard (trade with Spurs) Greg Monroe (free agent)

Notable Losses:

DeMar DeRozan (traded to Spurs) Jakob Poeltl (traded to Spurs)

The Toronto Raptors’ offseason was boring, safe and non-eventful, until it was not. In a dramatic move, the Raptors traded away franchise staple, DeMar DeRozan, for Kawhi Leonard. After finishing first in the East last year and firing head coach Dwayne Casey, the Raptors will look to finally get over the hump and make it to an NBA Finals.

It is clear the franchise is in “win now” mode, and with LeBron out West, the door to the Finals is seemingly open.

The Raptors have consistently been a very good team, as evidenced last year by their first place finish in the Eastern Conference. But will the additions of Leonard and Danny Green be enough to take the Raptors to the promised land? It is yet to be seen, but the Raptors will certainly have a good shot to do so, especially if second-year player OG Anunoby is able to elevate his play this season.

The Raptors play great defense and are a deep team. New head coach Nick Nurse should feel confident with the roster he has at his disposal in his first season.

The league expectation is that the Raptors will place more of an emphasis on ball movement, which could particularly benefit sharp-shooter Green if they are able to create more on offense and get him clean looks from downtown.

Going all-in this season by trading for Leonard is a risk, but could pay off huge for the Raptors if he performs at his elite level shown in San Antonio.

The Raptors have now surrounded a true superstar in Kawhi with the pieces necessary to make a run at a title. The only thing stand- ing in their way are the Celtics, who may be even deeper and more talented as a whole than the Raptors.

While they will come close to making the NBA Finals, I expect the Raptors to once again fail to make it out of the East.
Prediction: 2nd seed in the East

Utah Jazz 2017/18 Record: 48-34

Notable Addition:

Grayson Allen (drafted No. 21)

Notable Losses: 

Jonas Jerebko (waived)

The Jazz struck gold last season in rookie Donovan Mitchell. The freshman phenom averaged over 24 points per game in the playoffs, leading his team past the Thun- der in the first round. Had it not been for Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons, Mitchell likely would have won Rookie of the Year last year. He is special enough enough offensively to make up for the lack of offensive weapons that surround him. The Jazz rely on their defense, and center Rudy Gobert anchors the paint as one of the position’s best defenders.

The Jazz were one of the hottest teams in basketball for the second half of last sea- son, and they did nothing this off season to mess up that dynamic. They added Duke standout Grayson Allen in the draft, who will bring athleticism and energy off the Utah bench.

With a superb defense already in place, the Jazz need to find ways to create offense outside of Mitchell if they want to contend with teams like Houston and Golden State. One possible breakout player on this team could be 6’6 point guard Dante Exum, who resigned with the Jazz this offseason. If the Jazz figure it out offensively, look for them to seriously challenge Houston as the second best team in the Western Conference. Prediction: 3rd seed in the West

Oklahoma City Thunder 2017/18 Record: 48-34

Notable Additions:

Nerlens Noel (free agent)
Dennis Schroder (trade with Hawks)

Notable Losses:

Carmelo Anthony (traded to Hawks) Nick Collison (retired)

OKC shocked the NBA by successfully re-signing Paul George this off season. The Thunder got rid of Melo and added Schroder as a backup to Russell Westbrook in the process.

Center Nerlens Noel could also be a low-cost gem, as he will provide shot- blocking and rebounding behind center Steven Adams. Look for the Thunder to be a middle of the pack playoff team, but likely no real threat to the best of the west. Prediction: 6 Seed in the West

Milwaukee Bucks 2017/18 Record: 44-38

Notable Additions:

Ersan Ilyasova (free agent)
Brook Lopez (free agent)
Donte DiVincenzo (drafted No. 17)

Notable Losses:

Brandon Jennings (waived) Jabari Parker (signed with Bulls)

The Bucks parted ways with Parker this offseason, but picked up a few valuable players that can help stretch the floor and mesh with the ultimately athletic Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antentokounmpo will be surrounded by better shooters this upcoming season than he has been in years past, which should greatly help his play. With an improved offense and the Greek Freak running the show, the Bucks are capable of beating Toronto and Philadelphia in the standings. Watch out for the Greek Freak as an MVP candidate this season. Prediction: 4th seed in the East

The Jazz struck gold last season in rookie Donovan Mitchell. The freshman phenom averaged over 24 points per game in the playoffs, leading his team past the Thun- der in the first round. Had it not been for Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons, Mitchell likely would have won Rookie of the Year last year. He is special enough enough offensively to make up for the lack of offensive weapons that surround him. The Jazz rely on their defense, and center Rudy Gobert anchors the paint as one of the position’s best defenders.

The Jazz were one of the hottest teams in basketball for the second half of last sea- son, and they did nothing this off season to mess up that dynamic. They added Duke standout Grayson Allen in the draft, who will bring athleticism and energy off the Utah bench.

With a superb defense already in place, the Jazz need to find ways to create offense outside of Mitchell if they want to contend with teams like Houston and Golden State. One possible breakout player on this team could be 6’6 point guard Dante Exum, who resigned with the Jazz this offseason. If the Jazz figure it out offensively, look for them to seriously challenge Houston as the second best team in the Western Conference. Prediction: 3rd seed in the West

Denver Nuggets 2017/18 Record: 46-36

Notable Additions:

Isaiah Thomas (free agent)
Michael Porter Jr. (drafted No. 14)

Notable Losses:

Wilson Chandler (traded to 76ers) Kenneth Faried (traded to Nets)

This summer, the Nuggets pounced on Porter, a potential top-three pick who dropped due to concerns about his back, then locked up All- Star Nikola Jokic long-term.

They also picked up Isaiah Thomas for some bench scoring. This team hopes to make some noise in the West, and with an intriguing combination of veteran and up-and-coming stars in Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic, they may do just that.

I think the Nuggets will figure things out this season, and emerge as a top-five seed in the Western Conference. Prediction: 4th seed in the West

Minnesota Timberwolves 2017/18 Record: 47-35

Notable Additions:

Luol Deng (free agent) Anthony Tolliver (free agent) Josh Okogie (drafted No. 20)

Notable Losses:

Cole Aldrich (waived)
Nemanja Bjelica (signed with Kings)

The success of the Minnesota Timberwolves this season depends on if Jimmy Butler is traded in the coming days.

If he is not, the Timberwolves have the potential to finish as high as a fourth or fifth seed in the West.

Butler and center Karl-Anthony Towns are All-Stars, guard Jeff Teague has been one before and Wiggins has the tools to take that leap.

However, these players have not had the best chemistry, and there is some reason to worry. If Butler is traded, the Timberwolves could easily slide down to the bottom half of the league this year…


Prediction: Out of Playoffs

Philadelphia 76ers 2017/18 Record: 52-30

Notable Additions:

Wilson Chandler (trade with Nuggets) Mike Muscala (trade with Hawks) Zhaire Smith (drafted No. 16)

Notable Losses:

Justin Anderson (traded to Hawks) Marco Belinelli (signed with Spurs) Ersan Ilyasova (signed with Bucks)

The Sixers missed out on signing LeBron James, but they brought back veteran guard and Duke alumn J.J. Reddick, added a seasoned wing player in Chandler, and a stretch- four in Muscala.

Also, Smith, the rookie out of Texas Tech, will also likely crack the rotation, but the team lost some big-time shooting with Belinelli and Ilyasova, which they will need around Ben Simmons.

I expect guard Markell Fultz, and his shooting ability, to significantly improve. Combined with Simmons’ elite court vision, the pair could form a deadly backcourt. Prediction: 3rd seed in the East

Los Angeles Lakers 2017/18 Record: 35-47

Notable Additions:

LeBron James (free agent) JaVale McGee (free agent) Rajon Rondo (free agent)
Lance Stephenson (free agent) Moritz Wagner (drafted No. 25)

Notable Losses:

Channing Frye (signed with Cavs) Brook Lopez (signed with Bucks) Julius Randle (signed with Pelicans) Isaiah Thomas (signed with Nuggets)

The Lakers might have won the LeBron James Sweepstakes, but I would caution Lakers fans not to go hanging the championship banners up in the Staples Center just yet.

The Lakers went 35-47 last year, and James has admitted that it will take time until the Lakers are truly ready to contend for an NBA Title.

However, the Lakers are not just going to sit back and waste a year of LeBron’s prime either. Each year they have with James is a year the Lakers should be pushing for the Title.

LeBron’s supporting cast of characters (emphasis on characters) is dubious to say the least, and it has yet to be seen if and how they can work together to perform at a high enough level.

Expect Lebron to put the team on his back as usual, only this time against a stacked Western Conference featuring the Warriors and Rockets.
Prediction: 5th seed in the West

Indiana Pacers 2017/18 Record: 48-34

Notable Additions:

Tyreke Evans (free agent)
Doug McDermott (free agent) Aaron Holiday (drafted No. 23)

Notable Losses:

Glenn Robinson III (signed with Pistons) Lance Stephenson (signed with Lakers)

Indiana had a sneaky and strong offseason, replacing Stephenson with Evans, Robinson with McDermott and Jefferson with O’Quinn.

The Pacers are not likely to push the top teams in the Eastern Conference, such as the Celtics and the Raptors, but they may be a tough matchup in the playoffs. Prediction: 5th seed in the East

Contact Jack Garvey at [email protected]