After winning 73 regular season contests last season, the Golden State Warriors looked inevitably destined to take the top prize in Basketball with the NBA Championship. For those who have lived under a rock for the past months, the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals to succumb in the seventh game to the LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Warriors haven’t rested on their laurels in the offseason though. Kevin Durant has been brought into the franchise from Oklahoma, as the team based in Oakland look determined to regain the NBA title from their last success back in 2015. After the addition of Durant, it is without question that the Warriors have the most formidable roster in the NBA – and are the bookmaker’s strong favourites to erase the memories of last season. However there are several challengers, and here we will discuss the merits of four other clubs who could seriously trouble Steve Kerr’s men in 2017.
It would be churlish not to start with the reigning champions – and their quest to keep hold of the title that took 36 years to get a hold of. The focal point of the Cavaliers team is obviously LeBron, and the Ohio native is looking for his seventh straight NBA finals appearance in 2017.
The ink is barely dry on James’ new three-year deal in Cleveland worth a reported $100 million and the Cavs fans surely believe the 31 year-old is worth every cent. Cleveland are far from a one-man team however, with notably Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving ably complimenting the mercurial talents of James. Head Coach, Tyronn Lue proved inexperience wasn’t an issue with the rookie chief taking his team to their maiden title, but the hard work really begins this season as the Cavs become the hunted instead of the hunters.
The San Antonio Spurs ended the regular season with a hugely creditable 67 victories, but ultimately fell well short of championship honours at the Western Conference semi-finals stage against the Oklahoma City Thunder. After a 4-0 drubbing of the Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs – who had won four of five previous playoff meetings against the Thunder – fell on their sword in Game 6.
Spurs legend Tony Parker has now retired but will stick around in some capacity with the Spurs after 19 seasons, but the Southwest division holders have strengthened with the addition of Pau Gasol and the hardly surprising retention of Manu Ginobili for another term in San Antonio, so the Spurs look to be the biggest road block in the way of the Warriors for Western Conference glory.
After finishing in fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings, the Boston Celtics may not be one of the most leading choices of most for NBA glory, but with the offseason addition of star center Al Horford on a 4-year deal from the Atlanta Hawks, the already defensively strong Celtics became even harder to score against.
Boston lost Evan Turner to the Portland Trail Blazers, but General Manager Danny Ainge is awaiting to pull the trigger for an offensive player at the right price to strengthen his roster. The Celtics must be offensively potent to score enough points to win games, and if Brad Stevens’ men can achieve it, then a deep run in the playoffs looks highly probable.
Los Angeles Clippers legend Paul Pierce is about to embark on his 19th and final campaign, but hopes to leave the NBA with a championship under his arm. While the Warriors possess their impressive triumvirate of Curry, Durant and Green, the Cavaliers have James, Love and Irving, it should be noted that the Clippers roster includes Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan amongst others, so the noises emanating out of the Clippers franchise strongly believe that they can mount a challenge to all this season.
Fitness issues are key to all teams throughout the season in the NBA, but the Clippers must keep their best players healthy to maintain any real hopes of a title push.