It’s no secret that the NBA is a deep league. There are at least 12 teams that could make the final four once the Conference Finals roll around. Naturally, the head of the table is the Milwaukee Bucks after winning the 2021 championship, but there were several teams that reloaded in the offseason to make a push to be lead contenders.
From title contenders to those praying the lottery comes as soon as possible, the NBA is shaping up to give fans another entertaining year. Now that the offseason is practically over, these are the best and worst teams in the league.
The Bucks have to be given first priority as they are the defending champions. The core of Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday was enough to take down the rest of the league, so why couldn’t the team run it back? The additions of George Hill, Rodney Hood, and Grayson Allen are great fits. Bobby Portis is an underrated bench piece. Look for the Bucks to compete for the No. 1 seed again.
Los Angeles Lakers
Had the Lakers stayed healthy, we might have seen the team in the Finals even without Russell Westbrook. The combination of LeBron James and Anthony Davis was enough to win a title just a year ago. With Westbrook in the mix, that’s three quality All-Stars. After all, before LeBron and Davis were hurt, the Lakers were the No. 1 seed in the West.
Health will be another question mark surrounding the Nets. Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Blake Griffin, and Kevin Durant all have injury issues from the last two seasons. This is a serious problem given the team’s lack of depth on the bench. The star power is strong enough that the Nets are considered the favorites to win the title by Las Vegas.
The reigning Western Conference champions didn’t add too much to the team outside of Landry Shamet, Elfrid Payton, and JaVale McGee. Even so, you must respect the fact the team made the NBA Finals last season. Deandre Ayton enters his fourth season, a contract year, so we should see his best version yet. With Chris Paul and Devin Booker back in the backcourt, the Suns should be competitive once again.
The 76ers were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last year. Even with Ben Simmons having a lackluster offensive playoff, he was a key cog in leading the team even if you don’t like it. Joel Embiid was the MVP runner-up. Had he not been hurt, he might have won the award. The addition of Andre Drummond, who owns a career average of 14.5 points and 13.7 rebounds, makes this a very deep frontcourt. The 76ers could easily come out of the East and nobody would be surprised.
Could Make The Conference Finals
The Jazz was taken down by the Clippers when Kawhi Leonard was healthy in the playoffs. Had the Jazz played either the Suns or Nuggets, there’s a real argument that they would have been in the Conference Finals for the first time since 1998. The Jazz took a step forward last year by going from first to the second round. Could the team make a similar jump this season?
Even with Kyle Lowry on the team, the world isn’t ready to crown the Heat the favorites of the East. With that said, they bring back the bulk of a roster that made the NBA Finals in 2020. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Lowry could be the grittiest Big 3 we have seen in years. The defensive approach of this team will be tough to crack.
Here is a team that did make the Conference Finals last year and should only get better. Trae Young is the second coming of Steph Curry once he consistently develops as an outside shooter. Young can score anywhere on the court. John Collins is back, as well as the bulk of the bench. Assuming De'Andre Hunter is healthy this season, the Hawks should be better.
Golden State Warriors
Klay Thompson is as valuable to the Warriors as Anthony Davis is to the Lakers. If Thompson is healthy, the Warriors would go from the bottom of the playoff standings to a top-4 team in the Western Conference. It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t played the last two years. With him in the lineup, the Warriors made five straight trips to the NBA Finals. Steph Curry won the scoring title last year. Andrew Wiggins took a huge step forward. The bench added Andre Iguodala and Otto Porter Jr. With all these pieces, they could finally be back.
New York Knicks
Count me in on someone that is buying the hype surrounding the Knicks. The addition of Kemba Walker has a feel like old Jimmy Butler days when Tom Thibodeau was his coach. Walker appears to finally be healthy. He loves the underdog mentality and that is what the league views the Knicks. The addition of Evan Fournier gives the team some much-needed help offensively, while Derrick Rose could be Sixth Man of the Year. This team could be a replica of the Jazz from last season if Mitchell Robinson stays healthy.
The additions to the team give Chicago their first group of excited preseason fans for the first time in five years. Lonzo Ball gives the team a true point guard and allows Coby White, when healthy, to play a sixth man role. A full offseason of Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic should produce high results. The question mark is where does DeMar DeRozan fit? The trade has been labeled as the worst move of the offseason. Can Billy Donovan find a way to make it all work?
Los Angeles Clippers
If Kawhi Leonard comes back this season, the Clippers are a contender to make the Conference and NBA Finals. However, if not, then the team is only going to be good enough to make the playoffs. Paul George can only carry this team so far. When your second-best offensive player is Eric Bledsoe, that is not a team that can win a title.
Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis were supposed to be a superstar duo, but the partnership has failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs. Porzingis has been subject to trade rumors since their exit. Jason Kidd will enter a pretty decent situation as he inherits a team with a player that is considered an MVP candidate in Doncic. These Mavs are a playoff team, but can they be more?
Portland Trail Blazers
This all depends on who is on the roster after the trade deadline. There is a real chance that Damian Lillard, nor CJ McCollum will be on the roster. The team qualified for the playoffs last year because the star power of Lillard is enough to lead this roster. However, the team didn’t make any major additions besides bringing back Norman Powell. It wasn’t enough for Portland to make the Conference Finals last year, and it won’t be enough this year either.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have a serious year ahead of them. If the team doesn’t make the playoffs in Zion Williamson’s third year with the league, there could be a real concern that he will want to leave in the immediate future. The team went out and got Jonas Valanciunas and Devonte' Graham in the offseason. If Brandon Ingram can return to All-Star form, this team could compete for one of the last playoff spots.
The Celtics turned Kemba Walker into Al Horford and Dennis Schroder. The team already made the playoffs without Walker playing a significant role. Horford fits very well in this system. Schroder and Marcus Smart are a formidable backcourt. With Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum entering their prime, the Celtics appear to be in good shape.
The Nuggets could be a team playing in the Conference Finals if Jamal Murray comes back this season. Remember, Murray tore his ACL late in the 2020/21 season. He may not return until the spring. Nikola Jokic can carry this team to the playoffs. If Michael Porter Jr. can break out and Murray returns, look out for the Nuggets late in the season.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura, and Daniel Gafford appear to be the team’s starting lineup. Then, you have Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and Montrezl Harrell coming off the bench. Without half of this lineup playing, the team made the playoffs last season. This appears to have more of a “team” feel than just giving the ball to Russell Westbrook and hoping for the best. We should expect the Wizards to compete for a top-8 spot.
Just Outside The Playoff Line
The Memphis Grizzlies traded away Jonas Valuncuncias for Steven Adams. This wasn’t a win-now move. The move makes sense for financial reasons, but Adams isn’t a better player. If Jaren Jackson Jr. can stay healthy, maybe the team can make some noise, but even with him in the lineup, the Grizzlies are lackluster on paper. Fans believed Rajon Rondo could help this team, but he was waived before signing with the Lakers.
The biggest storylines surrounding the Cavaliers this season will be the trade rumors circulating around Kevin Love and Collin Sexton. The team’s 2021 first-round pick, Evan Mobley, will have lots of eyes on him, but the Cavaliers are still years away from competing.
How are the Kings constantly in this tier? Marvin Bagley III appears not to be as good as a No. 2 overall pick. Buddy Hield should be expected to be traded this season at some point. De’Aaron Fox is getting paid a lot of money for a player that has never made an All-Star Game. That should answer the question.
The Raptors are adamant that the team is not going to trade Pascal Siakam. The Fred VanVleet contract is starting to look terrible. The Raptors were loyal to their core after winning the title in 2019. However, the team has seen Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry leave that squad. The Raptors are in a murky territory of not being bad enough to get a lottery pick, but not good enough to compete for the playoffs.
The pieces of Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner all sound like great pieces but haven’t fit together. The team thinks that hiring Rick Carlisle will be the easy fix. The Pacers are very flawed. Caris LeVert is an interesting piece that could be the glue of the starting lineup, but the Pacers are going to be mentioned more among trade rumors than playoff contenders.
Last year, the Hornets qualified for the play-in tournament as the No. 10 seed. Outside of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mason Plumlee, the team didn’t add any major pieces. With that said, the team has a lineup that has darkhorse potential. Everything depends on the development of LaMelo Ball. You know what you are going to get with Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier. Can Ball carry this team in the playoffs? That’s a lot of pressure for a 20-year old.
It’s Lottery Time
It’s going to be a few years before the Rockets are back in contention. Jalen Green is going to be a potential All-Star down the line. He is a true NBA talent. The draft capital the Rockets received in the James Harden trade will set the team up for future success. Christian Wood and Eric Gordon can’t carry this team to too many wins. Look for both to be traded before the deadline next year.
San Antonio Spurs
Who is the best player on this team? Dejounte Murray? Keldon Johnson? Thad Young? Now that DeMar DeRozan is gone, there is no true recognizable name on this roster anymore. You have to wonder how much longer Gregg Popovich has left in the game. This Spurs rebuild appears to be quite a few years. It’s been a while since the team drafted in the upper tier of the draft. We could see the Spurs in the top-5 of the 2022 NBA Draft.
Give the Magic some credit. The team traded away Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, and Aaron Gordon for draft capital. Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner are very talented prospects. Wendell Carter Jr. could finally break out after being hurt the last few years. Markelle Fultz showed promise when he was healthy. With that said, the team is very young and inexperienced. One more lottery pick could give the Magic their core for the future.
Cade Cunningham was a nice start to the team’s rebuild. Cunningham appears to be all-in on turning the Pistons back to the powerhouse they were in the 2000s. Cunningham also knows that it’s going to be a few years before the team competes. After a breakout year, Jerami Grant is going to be a top trade target. Once he’s gone, the Pistons will be back to the top of the draft board.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have enough first-round picks to draft a starting five, so the team is going to roll the dice with their young pieces. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has All-Star potential, while Josh Giddey and Isaiah Roby are going to be interesting to watch. The Thunder have a process and getting back to the lottery is part of that.
This is going to be a stretch, but this will be the year that the team finally trades Karl-Anthony Towns. The 2015 No. 1 overall pick is the greatest asset Minnesota has, but he will follow the steps of Anthony Davis and find a contender to join. D’Angelo Russell could also be traded this season. The team will build around 20-year old Anthony Edwards and let the lottery picks fall while freeing up cap space.