Looking for any options other than Warriors to win NBA Finals
October 17, 2017 3:06 AM
by Tony Mejia
The NBA opens on its earliest starting date since tipping off on Oct. 10 in 1980. The objective, to limit back-to-backs and improve the on-court product, is a sound compromise to not budging from trimming the scheduled number of regular-season games to 82.
While that change hasn’t been ruled out, other revenue streams are being explored, which is why you’ll see patches advertising corporate sponsors on your favorite team’s jerseys this season. What else will you see?
Well, as much as you might hate to hear it, you’re very likely to see Golden State win its third championship in four years. The Warriors already overcame getting everyone back on the same page after Kevin Durant’s arrival, not to mention a season-threatening knee injury to the eventual NBA Finals MVP.
Head coach Steve Kerr overcame complications following back surgery to make it back on to the bench and is feeling much better these days, so his influence on a stacked roster that appears to be even deeper means the Dubs should make a run at 70 wins and are rightfully a heavy favorite to win it all again.
Westgate’s SuperBook has installed Golden State as a 5-to-12 (-240) favorite to win a championship if you want to get in to start the season. I would counsel that you wait in case there is an injury that knocks the odds back in your favor since even an injury to Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green or Klay Thompson would be unlikely to remove the favorite tag off the defending champs. There’s more than enough firepower remaining on the roster to overcome one significant injury and hang another banner.
Two significant injuries would be another story. Below are the top five candidates capable of keeping the city of Oakland from collecting another chip next summer:
Thunder (16/1): Ensuring that Russell Westbrook didn’t follow Durant out the door required some stealthy work from GM Sam Presti, who came through in jaw-dropping fashion. Acquiring Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in packages surrounding Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter as the main pieces. Since Indiana and New York were both committed to moving on, the Thunder capitalized and significantly upgraded their roster.
Westbrook signed his extension, confident that he’ll always have a chance to compete for titles despite OKC’s small-market status. With Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Patrick Patterson, Ray Felton, Nick Collison and Kyle Singler providing a veteran supporting cast, this roster is built to win now. Anthony is the x-factor since he’ll have to deal with not being the first option on offense for the first time since playing with Allen Iverson, which was an issue for both. That experiment lasted less than two full seasons and produced a 1-8 playoff record. A decade later, it’s on Melo to make the best of this situation in order to reach a conference finals for only the second time in his career. On paper, this team should be among the NBA’s final four. George’s ability to combat the Warriors’ versatility is viewed as a game-changer. Hopefully we’ll get to see it in a series.
Cavaliers (4/1): The Cavs are favored to reach a fourth straight NBA Finals despite granting Kyrie Irving’s trade request, shipping him to Boston. Isaiah Thomas won’t be ready to be a significant factor until around the All-Star break considering he’s got to get healthy first, then get acclimated to a new system where the ball won’t be in his hands all the time. Dwyane Wade came on board, showing up in fantastic shape and claiming J.R. Smith’s spot in the starting lineup.
Kevin Love moves up a spot in becoming LeBron’s No. 2, which should keep him happy and productive. Tristan Thompson needs to recover from his NBA Finals no-show and emerge as more of a factor, while Derrick Rose and Jose Calderon were brought in to split Irving’s minutes. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this group slip to second or even third in the Eastern Conference given all the moving parts, but you can expect them to be the team to beat come April and May so long as LeBron remains healthy. He’s demonstrated that his on-court IQ masks any physical regression, and there hasn’t been much of that anyway. He’s becoming more efficient as he ages, a testament to his brilliance.
Rockets (16/1): Adding Chris Paul to the mix is a monumental move for the team best-equipped to match the Warriors’ preferred tempo. It will keep James Harden fresher, giving him a better opportunity to improve as a shooter, a weakness that ultimately derailed the Rockets when the postseason came and he’d used up most of his legs racking up triple-doubles and chasing a scoring title.
Mike D’Antoni has a lot of talent at his disposal, while the addition of PJ Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute gives them additional options beyond Trevor Ariza to try and defend opposing wings. Shooters Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson are also back, so this roster is loaded with pieces. It’s up to Paul to add the missing ingredients.
Celtics (10/1): The Celtics added Irving and signed wing Gordon Hayward away from Utah on July 4, piling on to a nucleus that includes Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum. Fellow newcomers Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes will add frontcourt depth, which makes this the deepest team in the East from a talent standpoint.
It’s going to be up to the very capable Brad Stevens to manage young egos and keep this group straight through rough patches, especially when the playoffs arrive and they’re tested by veterans. Irving coveted this challenge, and this will end up being his team since the more reserved Hayward and Horford are likely to let him lead. He’s the one with the championship. If Irving gets Boston past Cleveland, he’ll have ideas on how to take down Golden State too. He’s done it before.
Spurs (16/1): You can’t write off this group, especially since they were a Kawhi Leonard injury away from potentially taking down the Warriors in last year’s conference finals. He’s facing an injury to start the season that may affect the team out of the gate, but you can expect Gregg Popovich to find ways to keep this group afloat until he’s back to 100 percent. If LaMarcus Aldridge and the newly acquired Rudy Gay can mesh, the Spurs will factor.