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The summer of 2019 changed the landscape of the NBA as we’ve known it for nearly the last decade. Since LeBron James’ decision in 2010 to join Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade on the Miami Heat, the NBA has been a three star league. Then after Kevin Durant’s decision in the summer of 2016 to join the Golden State Warriors, having three stars wasn’t even enough to contend with them. Many thought Kevin Durant ruined the league because of that. I respectfully disagree, but I’m happy with his decision this offseason to join the Nets and break up the Warriors. The Lakers traded their young core for star big man Anthony Davis to form the league’s best duo, and almost added Kawhi Leonard to have the only real big three left in a league that has now gone back to the “dynamic duo” in terms of team construction. Because of Kawhi Leonard’s and Kevin Durant’s decisions NBA fans are excited to see league wide parity. Many believe there are roughly six-to-eight teams who could win a championship. Today, I will be ranking teams in order of who I think will be the best all things considered. That being health, chemistry, and if the team is actually trying to win versus tanking. Let’s dive right into it.
- Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers are coming off a season where they exceeded all expectations and finished with a record of 48-34 and made the postseason. They did this all without a real superstar while trading away their best player at the deadline (Tobias Harris) to the 76ers. This offseason they added 2x FMVP Kawhi Leonard and traded a myriad of first round picks and their stud rookie Point Guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and veteran forward Danillo Gallinari for a top three MVP Candidate in Paul George. The duo of PG and The Klaw is already scary, but on top of that they retained defensive specialist Patrick Beverley and kept their dynamic pick-and-roll bench duo in Lou Williams, who won the Sixth Man of the Year award again, and Center Montrez Harrell. On paper, if everyone is healthy, the LA Clipper may not finish with the best record, but they are the best team in basketball.
- Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are coming off a year where they finished with a 60-22 record, making them the best team in basketball. Giannis Antetekuompo won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. Through two rounds and the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, the Bucks looked like potential world champions. They ended up losing in six to the eventual NBA champions in the Toronto Raptors after going up 2-0. This offseason they lost Malcolm Brogdan, which does hurt them, but still did really well. They brought back George Hill and Brook Lopez who were great for them in the playoffs and also added more shooting in Wes Mathews. They also helped their team chemistry by getting Brook Lopez’ brother, Robin Lopez, to be their back up center. The Bucks also added Giannis’ brother Thanasis Antetekuombo to the squad. I don’t think this team got better, or worse. I think they stayed afloat which in the Bucks case, was the best team in the NBA last season.
- Los Angeles Lakers
Oh man. Where do we start with this team? The Lakers are coming off a really disappointing year in the first of the LeBron era. LeBron sustained his first real injury, the young core stagnated and too was injury riddled, The vets surrounding the team weren’t the right fit. The Magic Johnson drama, the coaching drama, etc all made last season one of the worst since the 2013 Lakers season. But here we are now. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and almost every first rounder they have were traded to New Orleans for Anthony Davis. They also moved Wagner, Bonga, and Jones to the Wizards. The Lakers held off on completing the trade so they could have max cap space for Kawhi Leonard, but they lost him to the other LA team, the Clippers. They then spread that money around amongst multiple free agents. The Lakers signed Danny Green, Quinn Cook, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Javale McGee, Jared Dudley, Troy Daniels, Kostas Antetekoumbo, and DeMarcus Cousins who recently tore his ACL. They are currently looking to bring back former Laker center to fill that void in Dwight Howard. The plan is to start LeBron at point guard. The core of this team is LeBron and AD, and they did a good job getting shooting to surround them. I rank them so highly or two simple reasons; Anthony Davis is best when the ball is being distributed to him in pick-and-rolls, and LeBron James is best with the ball in his hands as a pick-and-roll playmaker. The fit is perfect and I believe in a comeback season they will terrorize the league.
- Philadelphia 76ers
What a wild offseason for the 76ers. This summer the Sixers two very important starters from last year’s team that finished as the third seed with a 51-31 record. They lost three point marksman JJ Redick to the New Orleans Pelicans, and one of the best defensive wings and pick and roll ball handlers in Jimmy Butler via sign-and-trade to the Miami Heat. That usually would be detrimental to a team franchise losing two key players, but not for the Sixers. Because of Butler’s desire to be in Miami, and their cap situation, the only way he could get there was through a sign-and-trade. In that trade the Sixers got a “3&D” wing back in Josh Richardson who will fit in a lot like Robert Covington did on the 2017-2018 Sixers. The Sixers also snagged big man Al Horford from their rivals, the Boston Celtics. Al Horford is known as one of the best defenders against Embiid and Giannis. He has played Power Forward a lot of his career, and during his Celtics tenure shot a healthy 38.2% from behind the arc on a little over three attempts per game. The Sixers also retained Tobias Harris on a massive five year deal. The Sixers are set up to have one of the fearsome defensives the league has ever seen with their shortest player in their starting line up being 6’6”. Other notable signings include Point Guards Raul Neto and Trey Burke and Center Kyle O’quinn.
- Denver Nuggets
People have been saying this team will be very good in the future for the last year or two. They’ve drafted extremely well, have a great front office and coach, and have an enormous home court advantage due to the altitude in Denver. What this team was lacking was a true superstar, and that’s exactly what the Nuggets found themselves last year in Center Nikola Jokic. Jokic had a career year averaging 20.1 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 7.3 apg with shooting splits of 51.1/30.7/82.1. He had his first All-Star birth and finished as a top five MVP candidate. The Nuggets were the second seed with a 54-28 record and were a game away from the conference finals. This offseason the team brought back veteran Power Forward Paul Millsap on his team option, traded for Oregon Center Bol Bol on draft night, and traded for former thunder Power Forward Jerami Grant. They extended Point Guard Jamal Murray as well. Every move that they made this offseason made them better. I think it’s time to acknowledge that the Nuggets are a real threat to make the NBA Finals next season and potentially win it all.
- Utah Jazz
What. A. Summer. For. This. Team. If you are a Utah native, a Jazz fan, or even just a fan that loves seeing small market organizations succeed, you should be head over heels for what the Jazz did this summer. The biggest move they made was obviously trading for Grizzlies legend, Point Guard Mike Conley. The Jazz are a team built on their defense anchored from the inside out by Center Rudy Gobert, and majority of their offense comes from Donovan Mitchell creating for himself or for others. That has led to two great years from Utah, but they’ve been eliminated twice in the playoffs due to their lack of scoring. Conley helps fix that issue instantly, but the Jazz didn’t stop there. Utah in free agency targeted former Pacer Bogdan Bogdonovic and landed him on a four year deal. Backup point guard was a position last year that the Jazz had a hard time getting production out of. Dante Exum was hurt again, Raul Neto was okay, and Donovon Mitchell got a lot of minutes there. Mudiay should help them at that position next year. The Jazz lost Rubio to the Suns and traded Derrick Favors to the Pelicans. The Jazz i’d have a tier below the teams above them, but don’t be surprised if this team is in a conference finals, they’re legit.
This was a blockbuster summer for the Rockets. Last year was a disappointing year for this team. Carmelo Anthony didn’t work out, Chris Paul was hurt, their depth lacked, their defense wasn’t as good, Harden had to have one of the best seasons ever to keep them as a top four seed, and it all ended with them losing to the Warriors again. A heartbreaking loss at home in game six ended the Rockets season in a game where Kevin Durant didn’t even play. This loss made the Rockets feel like they had to do something to shake up the core of this team as reports came out about Harden and Paul’s relationship. CP3 was eventually traded to the Thunder in exchange for Russell Westbrook. Now Harden and Westbrook are teammates once again, but this time their legacies are cemented and both just want to win. They are two of the highest usage players of all time, but last year we saw Westbrook defer to Paul George if it meant making the team better, and we’ve seen Harden to that in the past with Chris Paul. I don’t believe the fit is perfect, but I think it Westbrook will terrorize teams in transition with actual shooters in the corners and a lob threat like Capela running the floor with him. I expect Harden’s and Westbrook’s minutes to be staggered so the Rockets will always have one of the two on the floor. I don’t think this team will win a championship, but I do believe they will be a great watch and a very good team.
- Portland Trailblazers
The Blazers are coming off an amazing playoff run. Damian Lillard eliminated the Thunder with the coldest series clinching buzzer beater I’ve ever seen and they won a game 7 on the road. But they ran into their kryptonite in the Western Conference Finals and were swept by the Golden State Warriors. This offseason they added Hassan Whiteside in a multi team trade that sent Maurice Harkless to the Los Angeles Clippers. They lost three point marksman Seth Curry to the Mavericks and Evan Turner to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Kent Bazemore. They also added Pau Gasol, Mario Hezonja, and resigned Rodney Hood. Their offseason wasn’t bad, but I’m not too high on this roster. I could see a conference finals berth if the matchups are in their favor, but I’m expecting a first or second round exit. They’ll be a great regular season team.
- Golden State Warriors
The Kevin Durant era is over. Lots of NBA fans hated him and the Warriors because, well, it did make them the Thanos of the NBA for three years. But I loved watching that team. One of the greatest offenses and defenses the world has ever seen. The “Hamptons 5” is the best starting lineup of all time. You will forever have to bring up those Warriors when talking best NBA dynasties, but now it’s all over. Durant is a Net, and D’angelo Russell has come to the bay area in a sign-and-trade. Klay Thompson will be out until at least after the All-Star break while he recovers from a torn ACL. The Warriors signed Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks, Kevon Looney, and extended Draymond Green this summer. Depending on when Klay comes back, and how healthy he is this rank could rise. Russell and Curry can both play with or without the ball. It’s a bad defensive backcourt but amazing offensively. I think they’ll be better than most are expecting. A healthy Klay Thompson for the playoffs could make them a legit threat out west.
- Boston Celtics
The Kyrie Irving era is over, and I don’t think Boston fans could be happier. Last year the chemistry of the team was nowhere to be found, and almost all signs point to Irving as the cause. He himself admitted that leading a team is hard and not for everybody. In the second round against the Bucks, Irving had by far his worst playoff series to date shooting some really bad contested shots and some of the weirdest switches on defense you’ll ever see. If you don’t believe me, go rewatch. It was bizarre. But he’s now off to Brooklyn, and Horford is now in Philadelphia, but the Celtics had a very solid summer despite that. They drafted well acquiring Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, and Carson Edwards. All of them appear to have real potential at becoming rotation players for this team. They also signed Enes Kanter after his career revitalization in Portland during the playoffs last year. The biggest move of all was signing guard Kemba Walker to a four year max. Kemba came off his best season of his career and almost willed the Charlotte Hornets to a playoff berth. Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker are very similar players. Kyrie is the better finisher, Kemba is the better shooter. Both don’t provide a lot defensively, but one thing Kemba has proven to provide that Kyrie can’t is real leadership. Kemba is team captain of Team USA right now and is getting a lot of time with his teammates Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown. I don’t think this is better talent wise, but if Tatum and Brown continue to develop and Kemba is the leader he can be, I wouldn’t be surprised if this team is a tougher out in the east this year than they were last year.
Jordan Childs is a Contributor for the Unwrapped Sports Network website. Follow him @_JordanChilds on Twitter.