Thursday, September 20, 2018

With the 2017-2018 season quickly approaching, it’s safe to say that the Golden State Warriors are once again favored to be NBA Finals Champions.  However, what makes this season different from the past three, is that the rest of the Association has re-uped to give the Warriors a run for their money.  Even prior to the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the 2016 NBA Championship after being down 3-1 to Golden State, I still don’t think they were the better team that year; Golden State lost in the finals after setting the record for the best NBA record all time. The difference between last year’s road to the Finals and this year’s, is that Golden State will have a harder time finishing on top of the West, as well as Cleveland in the East.

Before the start of the season, there are a few things to highlight from the offseason that makes this year a much anticipated one.  Between a loaded draft, young rosters, trades, and raw talent, there is a plethora of factors that will switch up the predictable dynamic of the NBA; thus, I have compiled a list of the top five questions to be considered before presuming the Warriors and the Cavaliers will meet each other in the Finals once again.

5. Wall and Beal Enough for Washington?

Over the past few seasons the Washington Wizards have shown us they could be possible contenders in the East.  At times I have thought that they’ve easily had enough talent to be at least a number two seed; not necessarily making it to the finals, but at least being able to put up a good fight along the way. While they have fallen short of that, John Wall and Bradley Beal have shown us that they want to remain loyal to the Wizards franchise, and it has been fun watching these two grow as players over the years. Even adding a third player into the mix after Otto Porter signed an extension during the offseason makes for something special. One of John Wall’s recent Instagram captions read, “I wonder who else gonna team up next … but who care cause we all we got bro. DC or Nothin!! #WizGang.”  Wall was referring to his bond with teammate Bradley Beal in reference to everything happing in the league with players teaming up.  With that being said, in this new wave of super teams, do they have the talent to compete?

4. Reemergence of the Showtime Lakers?

During the summer we got the chance to see highly anticipated rookie Lonzo Ball make his NBA debut.  He certainly lived up to the hype behind his name during his summer league stint; he earned the NBA Summer League MVP, despite sitting out of the championship game with an injury.  It seems that Lakers President, Magic Johnson, has even put all his trust into this kid to turn the franchise back around. In my opinion, the mix of younger and older players around Lonzo are what could make the Lakers a dangerous threat in the immediate years to come. Besides Brandon Ingram, one player that I am excited to see step in the mix is forward Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma displayed what he can bring to the table in the absence of Lonzo during the summer league championship game.  He proved in this game that he could be one of the Lakers most dependable players, which ultimately earned him the championship game MVP. While LaVar Ball’s prediction that the Lakers will have at least 50+ wins this season is a bit of a stretch, I  believe that in the next upcoming years, it won’t be a goal too far attainable for this young team.

3. Rockets Finally Ready to Roll in the West?

James Harden has proven that he is a certified NBA superstar. Unfortunately for him, his super star status often gets questioned due to his lack of presence during the postseason. While the majority of the blame could be put on the teammates surrounding him, the Rockets hope that by acquiring point guard Chris Paul after the 2016-2017 season, they will be able to overcome their postseason woes. The only dilemma that arises from the addition of Chris Paul is that this moves James Harden from the point guard position, back to shooting guard.

Houston head coach, Mike D’Antoni, made the decision to move James Harden to point guard this past season. This move showed everyone how much of an asset Harden is to the Rockets franchise. Harden was a MVP frontrunner for the vast majority of the season; however, he eventually lost to Russell Westbrook, who averaged a triple-double on the year. This decision by D’Antoni’s may have been the biggest factor in D’Antoni winning the Coach of the Year Award.

So, will Chris Paul be able to live up to Harden’s success at point, and perhaps create a chemistry with Harden that will elevate the Rockets competitiveness to surpass the favored Warriors? Or will this move create a disunion, and another downfall come playoffs time? Keep in mind that Chris Paul has had his own playoff misfortunes over the years, so it will be very interesting to see how this will unfold.

2. King Kyrie in Boston?

After what seemed like a relationship that would last a lifetime ended when Kyrie requested a trade from Cleveland, it left fans asking, why? How could anyone want to be traded away after playing with the best player in the world, LeBron James? I’ll address the elephant in the room: without LeBron, there was no Kyrie. Cleveland would have never made any successful runs in the postseason without the duo. By Kyrie heading to Boston, he’s seeking to get away from LeBron’s spotlight, and finally have a team of his own.

Well, you got what you asked for Kyrie.

Boston trading Isaiah Thomas for Irving is equivalent to them getting another Thomas, only taller. While Boston seems to be on track for another successful season, Kyrie himself is now faced with the challenge of being seen as “THE guy” that is the face of a successful franchise, with the needed tools to contribute every night; instead of being seen as “THE guy” that is the face of a struggling franchise in which he is the only player to contribute—similar to LeBron’s situation in coming back to Cleveland. Having LeBron by his side ignited a maturation process within Kyrie, but it also took a lot of the load off of him.  Now, he will have to adjust and carry that load. Come game one we will see how he responds to the pressure. Oh, and let’s not forget; he and the Celtics will travel to play against LeBron and his old team in Cleveland, opening night.

1. Thunderstorms in the Golden State?

After acquiring two all-stars in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, in what many consider to be the best off season that a team could have, the Oklahoma City Thunder look to be that team in the West. Russell Westbrook, who is coming off of a historic season last year, now looks to have some of the offensive burden taken off of his back. We have seen all three players take over games in their respective careers. Now that they have joined forces, it’s a game of chance to see who will run the show on any given night.

After Westbrook’s lucrative contract extension, OKC is still HIS team. In crunch time, last second situations, the ball will be in his hands (Until proven otherwise). Now, the Thunder aren’t dependent upon a Westbrook triple double to win, because he’s surrounded by two players of equal caliber.

It goes without saying that the Western Conference is a loaded power house; but out of all the teams, the Thunder are best equipped to dethrone the Warriors.

The prowess they bring to the offensive side of the ball, with three players who are all hungry for their first NBA Championship, make them a scary matchup come playoff time.

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