While the Golden State Warriors were the 2014-2015 NBA champions, and Kevin Durant is looking to be fully healthy to join last year MVP candidate Russell Westbrook on the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs were the undisputed winners of the offseason and look to take the Western Conference back after losing to the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs.
After acquiring LaMarcus Aldridge as an unrestricted free agent from the Portland Trailblazers and signing unrestricted free agent David West away from the Indiana Pacers, the Spurs now have a young star big in Aldridge to play next to living legend Tim Duncan before he retires, and a starting caliber power forward coming off of the bench in West. San Antonio did lose a couple of decent role players in paying for Aldridge and West, but the value that those two bring is incomparable to the leaving value of players such as Cory Joseph and Marco Bellineli.
Having sat out large chunks of last season – leaving Russell Westbrook to carry the Thunder on his back only to fail to make the playoffs – Kevin Durant is reportedly back and looking to return to his 2013-2014 MVP form. Last season, when Durant and Westbrook both played, Oklahoma City dominated with an unstoppable offense led by the two. If Durant can return to being one of the best two players in the world as he was before, and rejoin Westbrook and a surprisingly effective Enes Kanter, the Thunder could challenge any team in the league. Along with the Spurs and the Warriors, the Thunder are one of the three truly elite teams in the Western Conference.
While the Spurs, Warriors and Thunder make up the best of the best of the West, the conference is overloaded with talented teams, and the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers have both made significant changes over the offseason. The Rockets, led by offensive juggernaut James Harden and elite rim protector Dwight Howard, traded for the troubled Ty Lawson after a DUI and other drama forced his departure from the Denver Nuggets. Lawson, a fringe all-star caliber player, gives Houston another star to share the load that Harden has been carrying almost singlehandedly.
The Clippers, on the other hand, dramatically re-signed Deandre Jordan out of the Mark Cuban-led Dallas Mavericks, and also signed aging but still effective free agents Paul Pierce and Josh Smith. With Jordan, the Clippers retained their seemingly championship-worthy core of he, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. With Pierce and Smith the Clippers acquired gritty veteran players that provide excellent depth for the Clippers, and the freshly-traded-for Lance Stephenson puts the cherry on top. The array of personalities might be intimidating to deal with and cause some skepticism over their potential, but general manager Doc Rivers has done an impressive job bolstering the team with talent that might have had the team in true contention last season.
In the Eastern Conference talent is not nearly as abundant as in the West, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are the only real championship contender. On the heels of their 4-2 series loss to the golden State Warriors in the 2014-2015 NBA Finals – where both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were injured and sitting out – LeBron James and his now-healthy teammates should be able to dominate the East. Despite the ongoing Tristan Thompson’s contract drama, the Cavaliers’ best players have returned and the depth of role players has been mostly kept intact. Unless another team in the East can catch up, the Cavs should be right back in the Finals.
There are very few legitimate challengers in the East, but the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat seem to have their hopes the highest.
The Bulls have been attempting to edge LeBron out of the playoffs for years now – only for their hopes to break with the tumultuous health of Derrick Rose. With Rose’s knee injuries already in midseason form, Chicago will have to rely on a vastly improved and budding star in Jimmy Butler, and the grisly veteran Pau Gasol. Evidenced by last season’s results, Butler and Gasol have a ways to go until they can seriously challenge the Cavaliers.
The Heat – despite having to play against LeBron now – seem to have an honest chance at taking the Eastern Conference for themselves. After re-signing star guard Goran Dragic, picking who might be the steal of the NBA draft in Justise Winslow at 10th overall, and having a healthy Chris Bosh return to the lineup, the Heat have the on-paper talent to compete. With a starting lineup of Dragic, Wade, Deng, Bosh and Whiteside, Miami has one of the most intimidating starting lineups in the entire league.
As NBA training camp and preseason ramp up, the movement of the offseason is finally settling into place, and excitement for the upcoming season is immense.