Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are again easily the best team in the NBA. They have kept their core - for now, they are likely to lose Klay Thompson when he is a free agent -, and they have also kept their three best bench players, so their best eight players are still there. They also have another year of chemistry and some intriguing young talent to watch as well this season.
The Cavaliers will be missing Isaiah Thomas for as much as half the season, but with him healthy and integrated into his role as the starting point guard, the Cavaliers have insane depth. A starting five of Thomas-Wade-James-Crowder-Love is ridiculous, but Cleveland's bench could make the playoffs in the hilariously porous Eastern Conference. Rose-Smith-Korver-Shumpert-Thompson is a five-man unit stronger than half the teams in the East. The season depends on the health of Thomas, Wade and Rose, but the Cavaliers have a chance to walk through the East again. As for the Warriors? I don't think so.
San Antonio Spurs
I started the rankings with the Spurs at No. 5, but with Gregg Popovich, Kawhi Leonard and basically the same roster that just won more than 60 games, I cannot have them less than No. 3. There is another year of aging for a very seasoned core, but they have some very talented young players who could develop into solid rotation players this season, plus I love the signing of Rudy Gay. With the Spurs' defense, coaching and shooting, there are only a few teams that can beat them in a seven-game series.
Oklahoma City Thunder
I have no idea what's going to happen with the Thunder, but looking at their roster, to me, they are the third-most talented team in the NBA. With Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, the Thunder have a trio that is stronger than any not in Oakland, plus they have some elite role players in Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Oklahoma City ha the best starting five - 1-5 - in the NBA, and in Russell Westbrook, the franchise has the biggest offensive weapon in the league. The Thunder's shooting and bench are question marks, but stars win championships, and they have three. I have to also mention that I think Anthony will shine as a power forward.
I did just say the Cavaliers can walk through the East, but I do love the Celtics' roster and think they have a chance to defeat Cleveland. I just wish the Celtics could have kept Avery Bradley, the best two-guard defender in the NBA, and they have a big hole at shooting guard. With Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward, Boston has three in=prime stars, and with Jason Tatum, the team has a potential superstar there as well. If Jaylen Brown improves and Tatum can give the Celtics 15 points as a rookie, they could potentially, maybe, maybe, just maybe, beat the Cavaliers, but Boston is so small.
** This was written pre-Gordon Hayward injury, but they can still challenge the Cavaliers.
I honestly am not as big of a fan of the James Harden-Chris Paul duo as most, as the two need the ball to be at their best, and although I have little doubt they will make it work, I'd honestly like the Rockets more if they had traded for Carmelo Anthony and not Paul. The Rockets would have also been able to keep a lot of the depth they lost to the Clippers. Regardless, when you are trying to win a championship and make a big move for it, I cannot criticize too much. This team can and will score a lot of points, and the Rockets may only trail the Warriors when it comes to shooting and scoring, but I don't love Houston's defense and Mike D'Antoni cannot win the playoffs.
With their big three of Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins - Towns could become the best big in the NBA this season - and perfect role players like Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Gorgui Dieng, this team should be one of the best in the league when it comes to wins. I doubt the Timberwolves win much in the playoffs, but their talent is truly incredible and they have one of the best coaches in the NBA. The Timberwolves do lack shooting though, which limits their offensive potential.
The Wizards to me are the third-best team in the Eastern Conference, but they haven't changed much and all they have is another year of experience for the likes of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. John Wall is one of the 10-best players in the NBA and might be the best guard in the Eastern Conference though, so 50-55 wins should be easy for Washington.
The Raptors were able to keep Kyle Lowry and Serbe Ibaka, while signing C.J. Miles to with DeMar DeRozan, but the Raptors are the same team, a No. 3-5 seed in the conference which doen't measure with the best of the East.
Los Angeles Clippers
I like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but you don't win playing big anymore; it doesn't work. And lacking Chris Paul and J.J. Redick, the Clippers' roster is incredibly mediocre after their two star big men. I liked the Danilo Gallinari signing, I love Patrick Beverley, and the addition of European superstar Milos Teodosic, who could win Rookie of the Year, was excellent, but the Clippers have a lesser team than a year ago, when they weren't capable of winning a title.
The NBA has changed so much, and this is when mediocrity starts in these rankings. Only the first six teams have a chance in hell of winning the title, and with so many of the best players on those teams, the rest of the league is average. The Jazz could have the NBA's best defense, but with Gordon Hayward in Boston, George Hill in Sacramento, and Dante Exum hurt, the Jazz will have a lot of trouble scoring the ball. Utah has a lot of nice talent and a star in Rudy Gobert, but this team is at least another star from winning a game in the playoffs.
This is the one team that could ruin my 10-team-league theory because the roster is so young and so talented, plus the Bucks are already a playoff team. Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the NBA's elite, and if the Bucks get Jabari Parker healthy this season, they could have one of the best offenses in the East. The Bucks are at least a year away though from truly being special because of Parker's knee and needing their young talents like Thon Maker, rookie D.J. Wilson and reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon to develop.
You could have noticed that we are at only No. 13, but we are at our eighth Western Conference team. That is how much stronger the West is than the East, and there are still more West teams to go in the teens. Some 45-win team in the West won't make the playoffs in the West, while some 35-win team likely will make it in the Eastern Conference, which is funny. I almost had Denver, but with Memphis' defense and with two in-prime stars - Marc Gasol and Mike Conley - there is just to much for the Grizzlies to miss the playoffs. If Chandler Parsons is healthy, the Grizzlies will be a lot stronger than most think capable. Although I don't love their role players and think they should have kept Zach Randolph, they should make it.
The Nuggets are another team that are one season from trying to join the league's best. Nikola Jokic is a ridiculous talent and one of the best big men in the league, Gary Harris is becoming a big deal, and Jamal Murray should be one too, but the Nuggets just need a little time. Making the playoffs should be considered a win for their season, and they also must make a number of trades to really fit a nice unit around their three young studs.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans would easily make the playoffs in the East, and with two of the game's best bigs in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and a star guard in Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans have the offensive talent to make it in the West too. Their roster next to their three best players is improved compared to the garbage it was a season ago, but the Pelicans really need a scorer at shooting guard or small forward. I love the addition of Rajon Rondo, who is close with Cousins and can really help move the ball to their scorers, but the Pelicans' roster is too thin for my liking.
Portland Trail Blazers
Ranked 11th in the Western Conference, the Trail Blazers would be the fifth- or sixth-best team in the Eastern Conference, and although they have two of the game's best guards in C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard, and an emerging big man in Jusuf Nurkic, they lost some talent because of cap purposes. Additionally, Portland has one of the weakest defenses in the NBA. The Trail Blazers also have very little at the forward positions, so I do not like their chances this season in the Western Conference.
I like the Mavericks more than most because I am a big fan of Harrison Barnes and Nerlens Noel, and expect them to improve in their second seasons with the Mavericks. Also, they have Dennis Smith, who many think of as the Rookie of the Year favorite and who could become their leading scorer as a rookie; he is that talented. If the Mavericks can get 16-17 points from Dirk Nowitzki, they have the look of a 40-win team. They are young and athletic with a lot of shooting and defense, and they are the 12th, and last, team in the Western Conference that to me would make the playoffs in the East.
At this point, we are on Eastern Conference team No. 6. I don't really think any Eastern team after the first five deserve to be called anything more than alright. I love Kemba Walker and know the Hornets have the scoring and depth of a playoff team, but the health of Nicolas Batum - expected to miss about two months - and Dwight Howard's fit and attitude are big questions. The Hornets are a veteran team though and have the roster to get to the playoffs.
The Heat just missed the playoffs, but with another season of development from their young players and basically the same roster, the Heat should easily make it this season. They are well-coached and have two studs in Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic.
I have the 76ers as the last Eastern Conference playoff team. If Joel Embiid is healthy, he will be an NBA All-Star, and they have two Rookie of the Year candidates in Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons. Philadelphia also has excellent depth with Dario Saric, J.J. Redick and a lot of solid young role players. The 76ers could just as easily miss the playoffs though as they are one of the league's youngest teams.
The Suns are one of the youngest teams in the NBA, but Eric Bledsoe is a star and Devin Booker, still just 21, is already one of the best shooting guards in the league and will keep improving. This season is all about developing Booker, Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss and Tyler Ulis, Phoenix's incredible young core. The Suns are still two seasons from the playoffs, but they have the best young roster in the West that is not in Minnesota.
The Pistons have a lot of nice players, but there are chemistry issues and coach Stan Van Gundy seemingly wants to trade point guard Reggie Jackson - which he should - and NBA All-Star center Andre Drummond - which he shouldn't. Stanley Johnson, Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris are all nice, and Henry Ellenson and rookie Luke Kennard can be starters, but the Pistons need to find who they are and trade who isn't in their core. Right now, the Pistons are just a team of pieces, and that won't get them wins.
I love Sacramento's young roster. De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere could be stars, and Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry Giles, Justin Jackson, Georgios Papaginnias and Malachi Richardson should become strong role players, but the Kings are a few seasons away from the playoffs; I don't care if they signed George Hill and Zach Randolph.
New York Knicks
The Knicks are now Kristaps Porzingis' team, but the roster is poor after him. Enes Kanter and Tim Hardaway Jr. are strong pieces, but as second- and third-best players? Not a fan. Frank Ntilikina and Willie Hernangomez are really nice prospects, but this team has far too many bigs and little talent at 1-3.
I actually like Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and T.J. Leaf as the Pacers' core, but they need a star and a go-to scorer, and there isn't one on this roster. It will take Indiana some time to get to the playoffs again, the problems are nobody is signing to go there and that the team is too solid to get one of the first couple picks in a draft to pick a top talent.
Los Angeles Lakers
I like Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle, Ivica Zubac and Jordan Clarkson; they make for a very nice young core. The Lakers, however, need development for at least two years or to sign an All-Star to make the playoffs again.
This is a big season for the Magic as Nikola Vucevic is in his prime and Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and a number of the team's recent draft picks should be starting to get into form, plus Jonathan Isaacs is a very, very talented rookie. Orlando needs to see something this season from its key players or start making trades. The Magic too still lack that one guy to make them a relevant team.
After they Hawks lost Paul Millsap, which they seemed to know was coming, as they had already traded starting center Dwight Howard, they decided to start from scratch with Dennis Schroder and recent first-round picks, John Collins, Taurean Prince and Deandry Bembry. I think the Hawks have a bleaker tomorrow than any franchise in the NBA because they lack any player with star potential - although I really love Collins' potential - but they still have talent on the roster, which will help them win games. I personally would have tried to keep Tim Hardaway Jr. so at least the Hawks had a focal point of an offense, but I understand why they refused to match the contract from the Knicks. The Knicks won't make the playoffs, but they aren't as pathetic as they should be.
I loved Brooklyn's offseason. With no assets and the first pick with Boston, the Nets had just Brook Lopez to trade, but they were able to get a young franchise talent in D'Angelo Russell from the Lakers. Russell should be scoring at least 20 points a game, and the Brooklyn has a lot of talented young players, because of Sean Marks - someone who looks like a brilliant general manager. The Nets won't sniff the playoffs, but they are no longer a joke of a team. They should be fun.
Well, my Bulls have a strong chance for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, and although I have them at No. 30, they are promising. When Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine get healthy, Chicago has a stable of young talent including Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser and potential star Lauri Markkanen to develop with the two young guards the franchise received for Jimmy Butler. The Bulls must focus on development this season, and although they have literally no chance at the playoffs, they should be an exciting young team to watch because they are so young and athletic.