Fans of the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans and a handful of others might be hoping their team can work its way into the playoffs next season, but finishing among the top eight teams in the talented Western Conference seems way too steep.
Then again, the Golden State Warriors have the entire NBA in an uproar over forming the newest “super team.”
The Warriors were once the lovable, 3-point-launching team of Stephen Curry and his merry band of teammates who won the 2015 championship, before losing in the NBA Finals to Cleveland and LeBron James this spring.
But the addition of super free-agent Kevin Durant has brought out the haters in force because the Warriors look almost unbeatable. Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has them 2-3 favorites to be crowned NBA champions next June.
Maybe the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers can push the Warriors out of the way, but that will be a tall order for anybody else in the West.
Meanwhile, this was the sixth consecutive time James reached the NBA Finals — four times in Miami and twice in Cleveland. And the expectation is that James will make it a seventh by coming out of the Eastern Conference with Cleveland to play in the 2017 championship.
Here’s a look at the likely eight playoff teams next season, in predicted order of finish, for each conference:
1. Golden State (73-9 record last season)
Additions: Durant, ZaZa Pachulia, David West, Damian Jones, Patrick McCaw.
Durant became “The Villain” for joining a Warriors team that defeated his previous Oklahoma City group in the conference final when the Thunder folded after building a 3-1 lead in the series.
MVP Curry led the league in scoring (30.1) last season and now he has Durant, who was third in the NBA in scoring (28.2), alongside three-point bomber Klay Thompson, to make the Warriors even more lethal.
2. San Antonio (67-15)
Additions: Pau Gasol, Dejounte Murray, Dewayne Dedmon.
After 19 years, Tim Duncan turned in his sneakers. Even without the best power forward of all time, it seems impossible to bury the Spurs.
They still have talented bookend forwards Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge and added veteran Gasol. Tony Parker (34) and Manu Ginobili (39) aren’t getting any younger, though.
But Gregg Popovich is still there to coach this crew.
3. LA Clippers (53-29)
Additions: Brice Johnson, Raymond Felton, Marreese Speights, Diamond Stone.
When will the Clippers get past the second round?
Clippers coach Doc Rivers has a team that remains in the conversation of being a contender for the NBA title.
Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are the core and must lead a team that has weapons like J.J. Redick, sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers.
4. Portland (44-38)
Additions: Evan Turner, Festus Ezeli, Shabazz Napier, Jake Layman.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum may have become the second-best guard duo in the league behind Curry and Thompson.
Turner gives the Trail Blazers another versatile player who can allow Lillard and McCollum to play more off the ball.
5. Memphis (42-40)
Additions: David Fizdale, Chandler Parsons, Deyonta Davis, Wade Baldwin IV, Troy Daniels.
The Grizzlies limped into the playoffs despite not having center Marc Gasol (broken right foot) and guard Mike Conley (left Achilles’ tendon) for much of the season.
They signed small forward Parsons to help Memphis’ outside shooting.
Conley, who signed for five years and $153 million, will be under pressure to live up to his deal. Parsons got a maximum four-year, $94 million deal, and he, too, has to show his worth.
Gasol’s health will be the biggest key for Memphis.
6. Utah (40-42)
Additions: George Hill, Boris Diaw, Joe Johnson.
The Jazz had enough talent to make the playoffs last season, but faltered down the stretch.
Utah has a talented young crew in Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood. Now with veterans Hill, Diaw and Johnson, there’s no reason for the Jazz to miss the postseason.
7. Houston (41-41)
Additions: Coach Mike D’Antoni, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Nene, Pablo Prigioni.
Everything will evolve around James Harden, who averaged 29 points last season. But critics said he dribbled too much, didn’t pass enough or play any defense.
Now, Harden has talented shooters in Anderson and Gordon to surround him.
The Rockets allowed the sixth-most points (106.4) last season — and D’Antoni isn’t known for having defensive teams.
8. Dallas (42-40)
Additions: Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut.
The Mavericks always manage to make the playoffs.
Dirk Nowitzki is 38, but the Mavericks gave the face of the franchise a two-year, $50 million extension.
Barnes under-performed in the NBA Finals with the Warriors, but the small forward signed a maximum deal for $94 million over four years and maintains he’s ready for a bigger role.
1. Cleveland (57-25)
Additions: Chris Anderson, Mike Dunleavy.
Kyrie Irving, who hit the dagger 3-pointer in Game 7 of the Finals, is running with the USA Olympic basketball team, hoping he can add a gold medal to his cache.
But when Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and the rest of the Cavaliers turn their attention to winning it all again, they’ll have James to lead them.
2. Toronto (56-26)
Additions: Jakob Poeltl, Jared Sullinger, Pascal Siakam.
The Raptors’ backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry drives this team. DeRozan signed a five-year, $139 million deal to remain in Toronto.
Center Jonas Valanciunas, 24, will play a big role for the Raptors this season.
3. Boston (48-34)
Additions: Al Horford, Gerald Green, Jaylen Brown, Guerschon Yabusele, Ben Bentil, Ante Zizic.
Signing Horford gives the Celtics another All-Star to go alongside point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas, 5-9, 185 pounds, averaged 22.2 points and 6.2 assists last season. With Avery Bradley, named to the NBA’s All-Defensive team, the Celtics are a guard-oriented team.
Horford gives the Celtics a big man who can score down low and on the perimeter.
4. Indiana (45-37)
Additions: Jeff Teague, Al Jefferson, Thaddeus Young, Aaron Brooks, Coach Nate McMillan.
Forward Paul George is one of the best two-way players in the NBA.
Center/forward Myles Turner developed enough last season as a rookie that he can take on a bigger role. Teague, Young and Jefferson give the Pacers more versatility and depth.
5. Detroit (44-38)
Additions: Henry Ellenson, Michael Gbinije, Jon Leuer, Ish Smith.
The Pistons pushed the Cavaliers despite being swept in the first-round series.
The physical and brash Pistons, with five starters averaging double figures last season, hope to make even more strides this season.
All-Star center Andre Drummond led the NBA in double-doubles (66) and in rebounds (14.8), but shot 36 percent on free throws.
6. Atlanta (48-34)
Additions: Dwight Howard, Jarrett Jack, Taurean Prince, DeAndre Bembry.
Atlanta signed Howard knowing he’d like to get more touches down low. It’ll be interesting to see if Howard, who turns 31 in December, can deliver big numbers any more.
The Hawks still have All-Star forward Paul Millsap and young point guard Dennis Schroder runs the show.
7. New York (32-50)
Additions: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, Brandon Jennings, coach Jeff Hornacek.
The Knicks will have to ride with forwards Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.
Rose has to stay healthy and return close to the form that made him the 2011 MVP of the league. Noah also has to avoid injuries.
8. Chicago (42-40)
Additions: Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Denzel Valentine, Robin Lopez, Isaiah Canaan, Jerian Grant.
With Wade, Rondo and Jimmy Butler, the Bulls have three Alpha males, something Rondo acknowledged after he signed his deal.
But Wade and Rondo aren’t the same players they were before being beset by injuries.