The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are battling out in the Finals for the third year in a row. It seems like these two teams have a duopoly over the league that hasn’t been seen since the days of Magic’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics. Former coach and current NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy spoke to reporters on Tuesday and revealed that he thinks the Warriors are a dynasty in the making. "They have their youth, their health. I see nothing preventing them from going to eight to 10 straight Finals.”
Lebron James is the most dominant player since Michael Jordan. There is no disputing that. He’s taken his teams to eight NBA Finals. People are now even mentioning him in the same breath as MJ for the greatest of all time.
However this isn’t about the dominance of the Cavs and Dubs, it’s about the next tier. Which teams have the ability and the resources to compete for the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2018?
The Jazz had a breakthrough year in the 2016/17 season. With first-time All-Star Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert leading the charge, the team marched into the playoffs full of confidence. They outlasted the aging Clippers in an epic seven-game series before eventually being swept by the finals-bound Warriors (they weren’t the only one). With a perfect blend of youth and experience, the Jazz have a deep roster loaded with talent. George Hill was a vital piece in their playoff push, however he’s a free agent going into this off-season. Joe Johnson is still doing Joe Johnson things, including some nasty game winners in that Clippers series.
They have Rudy Gobert locked up long-term but the key to any future success lies with Gordon Hayward. They’re set to have the 15th highest payroll going into the 2017/18 season. If they can lock up Hayward to a long term deal and see some natural progression from players like Exum, Hood and Burks then they have the nucleus of a team who can challenge for years to come.
San Antonio Spurs
There is no greater team of the past twenty years than Gregg Popovich's Spurs. Since the days of David Robinson and Tim Duncan the Spurs have carved a culture that’s the envy of teams around the Association. Players have flocked to Texas to experience the coveted San Antonio experience. The 2016/17 team was one ankle injury away from another NBA Finals appearance. Don’t forget this team was up by 23 points midway through the third quarter of game one against Golden State. Their foreseeable future looks more than bright.
As long as they can keep the best two-way player in the game, Kawhi Leonard happy (who knows if he can even experience human emotions) then there’s no reason the Spurs won’t be in the conversation for a title in 2018, especially with rumours getting stronger that Clippers All-Star Chris Paul may join the fray. Count out the Spurs at your peril.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker, Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton - this team is stacked with young talent. Transcendent talent Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to be an MVP. He’s already changed the way we view the NBA in a manner which hasn’t been seen since the arrival of the King himself in Cleveland in 2003. He is a marquee talent that has the all round game to match any player in the league.
The health of Jabari Parker going into 2017/18 is going to be tremendously important to the Bucks’ chances. After seeing what Kidd did with this roster this year, who’s to say they can’t win a title next year?
The Washington Wizards are an intriguing prospect. They pushed the Celtics to seven games in this year’s Eastern Conference Semis and had them of won that series they certainly would’ve put a scare into the Cavs. John Wall elevated his game to a level that had many pundits naming him the second best player in the East. Meanwhile, Bradley Beal quietly built himself a year that should’ve landed him an All-Star spot. He remains the vital cog in this team’s success. You know what you’re going to get every night from John Wall.
Beal just needs to maintain his health and these two can form a partnership that will send shivers down the spine of many backcourts. For this team to elevate itself further it severely needs to address its lack of depth. Scott Brooks’ team bats probably seven deep at best. Like the Clippers, they have a starting five as good as any in the league though they need to somehow acquire talent in free agency or hope that Kelly Oubre can develop into being a quality sixth man.
Danny Ainge has an interesting summer ahead of him. The moves he and the front office makes will shape the future of the Celtics. Do they draft Fultz? Do they make a play for a star? Is it the long game or the short game they choose? It’ll be interesting to see which route they take in a conference dominated by Lebron for the best part of a decade. Would players like Gordon Hayward, Jimmy Butler or Paul George even be enough to take down the mighty Cavs? That remains to be seen.
Their end goal may not be to challenge for a title in 2018 anyway. The Brooklyn Nets have certainly put this franchise at the forefront of the championship picture. At the same, they are still desperately craving some serious star power to challenge for the Larry O’Brien trophy.