The NBA off-season is already three months old, but teams are still wheeling and dealing. This summer featured more blockbuster trades than the league has ever seen in one off-season. Chris Paul joined the Rockets, Jimmy Butler was shipped to the Timberwolves, and Paul George was brought to the Thunder. And most experts thought the Kyrie Irving-Boston trade was the last domino to fall in a crazy NBA free agency period. Yet, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade still found new homes earlier this week. The Cavaliers and Thunder were two of the most active teams this off-season, but will their additions of Wade and Anthony be enough to dethrone the Golden State Warriors?
The Cavaliers essentially did the opposite of one the league’s busiest teams this off-season: the Houston Rockets. The Rockets’ strength a year ago was depth. Their trade for Chris Paul may have added a future hall of famer to the fold, but it decimated their bench. The Clippers received a seven-player package that included Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, and Montrezl Harrell in exchange for the versatile point guard. Houston sent a clear message that they were “all-in” for the upcoming season. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers appeared primed for another Finals run, but they have an eye on the future as well.
While the Cleveland lost their second-best player in Irving, they were able to repair their biggest weakness in 2017: depth. The team now boasts eight players that could strike fear into any opposing lineup – LeBron James, Kevin Love, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Jae Crowder, and Wade. Rose, Smith, Kyle Korver, and Richard Jefferson now comprise what has the potential to be one of the most diverse benches in the entire league. The suspect play of Iman Shumpert and Deron Williams essentially sunk the Cavs in their Finals series against the Warriors.
Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC paired the reigning MVP, Russell Westbrook with two of game’s best shooters in the span of two months. The Thunder managed a 6th place finish in a stacked Western Conference last year, operating as a one-man show thanks to Westbrook’s record-setting season. GM Sam Presti’s goal in the off-season was to take some of the offensive burden off Westbrook’s shoulders. He did just that by adding all-stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
Melo’s expected transition to power forward gives OKC an intimidating starting lineup of Anthony, George, Westbrook, Andre Roberson, and Steven Adams. The three shooters now have the freedom to put on a clinic on offense, while Roberson and Adams demonstrate defensive responsibility. But, with the expected rise of the Rockets and Timberwolves this season, how difficult will it be for OKC to finish better than 6th and avoid facing Golden State until the later rounds?
Bigger Threat To Warriors
Somehow, league experts anticipate the Western Conference being even stronger in 2017. It’s logical to believe the Warriors’ super team will improve this year as well, which is scary news for every other team in the league. Recent history supports the Warriors’ expected rise as well. In the Heat’s second season with James, Wade, and Bosh, the team won the NBA Finals. Boston’s big-three won 62 games and James captured another title with the Cavs after rejoining the team in 2015-16.
The Warriors won 67 games last year without a healthy Kevin Durant for many of those contests. Can they top their league-record 73 wins this season? If they do, it’s likely they’ll find themselves in a fourth straight Finals series. The West is just too tough with the Spurs and Rockets to believe OKC can push their way deep in the playoffs. Boston added key pieces, but may not present an impossible challenge to the Cavs with the team’s newly added depth to go along with the league’s top player. The Cavs may miss Irving at times, but the team is too deep to suffer a letdown in the postseason. A fourth (and likely final) championship matchup between the Cavs and Warriors seems inevitable.