If you were looking for an NBA offseason that would move the lines around, you certainly got it. The balance of power between the conferences swung even farther west, Chicago fans sunk deeper into their bone-deep pessimism, and at least one team got its heart ripped out. Dramatic stuff!
Now that all the notable birds have alit, on branches both new and old, we can take a more educated look at the prospects for the major offseason players. Will anyone challenge Golden State? Can anyone in the East push Cleveland? Or is 2017-18 shaping up to be Act IV in the Warriors vs Cavaliers comedy of awesome?
Signing Gordon Hayward elevates the Boston Celtics from Eastern Conference finalist to… Eastern Conference finalist, probably. Adding Hayward to the All-Star duo of Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford brings a whole new element to the scoring that brought the Celtics the best regular-season record in the East, but if the numbers 73-9 mean anything to you, you’ll know that nobody really cares about regular-season records. Even with Hayward, the Celtics will have a lot of trouble getting past the Cavaliers, and won’t be the favorite in that series unless something happens to LeBron James.
Where this gets interesting, however, is if LeBron does what many suspect/fear/hope he’ll do and leaves Cleveland for Los Angeles in 2018. With that one free agency move, the Celtics would become the undisputed favorite in the East, and would then get the honor of getting almost swept by the Warriors (or the Lakers!) in the Finals.
The win-total projection stays broadly the same — the Celtics already had the highest number in the East — and while their title odds improve a little, it’s not a huge step. Boston wants to compete for conference and NBA titles, but they could not have picked a worse era in NBA history to do it.
O/U 2017-18 win total: 54.5
Odds to reach 2018 NBA Finals: 4/1
Odds to win 2018 NBA Championship: 10/1
The Houston Rockets, who have always dedicated to the ideal that all men are created equal in their servitude to James Harden, have added All-Star point guard Chris Paul to their squad. It’s a totally new look for the Rockets, who were very successful on offense with Harden bringing the ball up the court. If it works, they’ll be one of the most powerful scoring teams in the NBA, potentially on par with Golden State. If it doesn’t work, the conflicting styles of Harden and Paul will interfere to create a lot of disappointment.
Playing in the same conference as the Warriors means you have to be ready to take some risks if you want any chance of making the Finals. There is no conservative, safe approach to beating a team that went 15-1 in the playoffs and retains all of its key pieces. You can, at least, talk yourself into this Houston Rockets team finding a way to win the West, which is more than you could say before this trade.
O/U 2017-18 win total: 58.5
Odds to reach 2018 NBA Finals: 7/1
Odds to win 2018 NBA Championship: 10/1
Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC scores a big win in the Paul George lottery, pairing the meteoric Russell Westbrook with another All-Star. Westbrook hasn’t had superstar support since losing both the Western Conference Finals and Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors in 2016. George won’t be able to replace Durant, it’s unlikely that anyone can, but he is a really good fit as a shooter complementing Westbrook’s explosive play. The two should work together well and at least help the Thunder keep up with the Rockets and Spurs, if not the Warriors.
The big change here will be in win total: too many times last season Russell Westbrook put up huge numbers in a regular-season loss because either his team could not get the job done or he didn’t trust them to. George adds some rebar to Westbrook’s concrete, and makes what was previously just a remarkable display of basketball into a genuine threat in the West.
O/U 2017-18 win total: 52.5
Odds to reach 2018 NBA Finals: 18/1
Odds to win 2018 NBA Championship: 24/1
Golden State Warriors
Golden State dipped into its vat of money to retain Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Shaun Livingston, and Andre Iguodala, thus shoring up the free agents that formed the core of their bulldozing death machine. They also signed Nick Young from the Lakers, who might have some trouble fitting in with the selfless, share-everything, win-everything Warriors.
All this passing getting me mad
— Nick Young (@NickSwagyPYoung) June 11, 2016
Maybe they signed him as a joke? Who knows, they’ll probably win anyway. Their win total will be whatever they decide is a tasteful number, and their odds to win the West and the Championship are investment-grade.
O/U 2017-18 win total: 67.5
Odds to reach 2018 NBA Finals: 1/3
Odds to win 2018 NBA Championship: 2/3
The Cleveland Cavaliers are obviously in need of help to defeat the Golden State Warriors. So far they’ve watched their top targets move to other teams, with Jimmy Butler and Paul George finding their way to Minnesota and Oklahoma City, respectively. It’s not that the Cavaliers have lost much this offseason, it’s that they missed out on players who could have greatly affected their prospects in LeBron’s last season under contract. The Cavs are still looking at some free agents and exploring a potential deal for Carmelo Anthony. But hoping that Melo can find renewed motivation and form, or that one year of Dwyane Wade can somehow not cost more than the Magna Carta isn’t as attractive a prospect as some of the earlier signings.
As long as the Cavaliers have LeBron James, they’ll be a virtual lock to make the finals — it’s been seven straight years after all. How long they’ll have him, however, is directly related to how well he feels supported.
O/U 2017-18 win total: 51.5
Odds to reach 2018 NBA Finals: 1/2
Odds to win 2018 NBA Championship: 4/1
The future is dark and full of terrors
LeBron James and Paul George are both free agents in 2018. LeBron James heading into free agency, with his stated goal of bringing a championship to Cleveland completed, should be enough to scare fans of any NBA team. If you’re a Cavaliers fan, maybe he’ll leave, stripping your team of its best player, head coach, general manager, social media coordinator, brand and marketing director, head of jersey sales, and the governor of northeastern Ohio.
If you’re a fan of another Eastern conference team, you’re worried that he’ll stay, because of this very disturbing flowchart.
If you’re a Western Conference fan, the last thing you need is the conference getting more competitive, what with seemingly every good player vying for the same spots on the Western Conference All-Star team. Hell, even if you’re the Golden State Warriors, you’re worrying about him teaming up with Paul George and taking his talents to Los Angeles full-time. He already lives there in the offseason, you know, and he wants to start his life after basketball there.
Odds LeBron James starts the 2018 season with …
- Los Angeles Lakers: 1/1
- Cleveland Cavaliers: 3/2
- Golden State Warriors: 30/1
Odds Paul George starts the 2018 season with …
- Los Angeles Lakers: 1/2
- Cleveland Cavaliers: 5/1