For this edition of “The Lineup” (roundtable), we will talk about the NBA’s most intriguing teams, we will touch on what teams that made the playoffs last year might miss the playoffs this year, and we will give our NBA finals prediction.
What NBA Team Intrigues You The Most This Season?
Timmy Sclafani: Like every other year, I am really intrigued by the Los Angeles Clippers. I think the urgency will be there for them this year…Because it has to be…Because this is almost definitely going to be the last year of this underachieving core featuring Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan. I also think Blake is due for a really big year after missing a majority of last season–he feels like a (semi) dark horse MVP candidate. When the Clippers play their best I think they can hang with any team in the league.
Eric Laboissonniere: There are a lot of intriguing teams this season, but the team that intrigues me the most is the Minnesota Timberwolves. We all know they have some of the best young talent in the NBA, but how far away are they from becoming a playoff team? Could the Timberwolves make the playoffs this season? My guess is no, but it would not surprise me if they did. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins could be the next big dynamic duo, but when will they make that leap? The Wolves are fascinating.
Connor Casey: They won’t win a lot of games, but the Suns are going to be a ton of fun to watch this season. The youth movement has taken charge in Phoenix and players like Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss will be given plenty of playing time. They also have a budding start in Devin Booker who will only get better with age. Throw in the return of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight trying to remind people how good he is in the sixth man spot and you have some entertaining basketball.
Matthew Billington: There hasn’t been many years since Malone or Stockton that I could say that the Jazz intrigue me. But with the addition of George Hill, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood and company should be poised for a playoff run, and I could even see them be as high as a four seed with guys like Joe Johnson, Alec Burks, Dante Exum and Boris Diaw as it’s depth. Jazz Jazz Jazz! (Celtic Pride-Dan Aykroyd)
Nolan Connor: I’m curious to see how the Oklahoma City Thunder will rebound (figuratively) after Kevin Durant’s departure. Losing him is obviously a big hit, but this team is still very talented. They are much better and deeper than the 2014-15 team that lost KD to injury and failed to make the playoffs. His absence this time around won’t be catching them off guard either. They still have the potential to grab home court in the West.
Chris St. Jean: The new look Indiana Pacers. Swapping out George Hill for Jeff Teague at the point guard position is fascinating to me. I have been a big fan of Jeff Teague over the last two seasons with Atlanta, but the fit seems odd to me here with Indiana. At the least, pairing him with Monta Ellis in the back court seems like a doomed proposition that will force Nate McMillan to get creative sometime during this season. The Vogel to McMillan adjustment should be interesting as well as the development of Myles Turner. All of that plus Paul George now a full year plus removed from that devastating injury.
Collin O’Connor: NBA Twitter has an early infatuation with Minnesota, and I am definitely part of that. I am really looking forward to seeing Karl-Anthony Towns’ development in his second season, and I’m curious to see if an actual NBA coach (sorry Sam Mitchell) can make Zach Lavine a respectable defender while also ringing out as much potential as possible from Andrew Wiggins. I think the Bucks will be fun too (POINT GIANNIS!!!), especially if they can find a trade partner for Greg Monroe in order to get another decent shooter or creator in there to band-aid the Middleton loss.
Cody Lanza: As a Boston guy, how could I not be intrigued by my Celtics? They were finally able to reel in a big time free agent this past summer for the first time in a while. Adding Horford to a group of young, talented players has landed them a number two prediction in the east and talks of maybe giving the Cavs a run for their money. This also looks to be a break out season for Marcus Smart, who hopefully will see an improvement in his outside shooting which has been a struggle in past seasons. Brad Stevens is known for getting the most out of his players over his first three years in Boston, and it will be very interesting to see how he uses his new weapons this season.
Paul Mitchell: How can you ask a question of this magnitude and expect only one answer…?! I’m really curious to see how the new coaches adapt to some difficult rosters this season, whether with Tom Thibodeau and the hipster Timberwolves, Nate MacMillan’s deliberate style coaching this fast-break Pacers roster, or if Dave Joerger connects with his disgruntled talent in Sacramento.
Pure basketball-wise, though, give me Frank Vogel’s situation in Orlando with a completely different Magic roster than last season. Adding Serge Ibaka or Bismack Biyombo to cover up Nik Vucevic’s defensive efficiencies is an astute move; adding both forwards to block the power forward spot for the young and explosive Aaron Gordon is less so. Trading Victor Oladipo before he enters his extension-eligible season saved the team some long-term cash and opened up shots for Mario Hezonja (while clearing up the muddled ‘Dipo/Elfrid Payton duo), which was then nullified by the (albeit one-year) $15-million contract given to Jeff Green. There’s a lot of talent on this Magic roster; it’ll be up to Vogel to somehow make sense of it all.
Mike Gribanov: Every year I pick a new team to root for. I don’t just jump on the bandwagon of the most talented and successful rosters, however. I like to root for the fun, young teams that are on the fringes of playoff contention. Last year, that was the Bucks and the Jazz but when Khris Middleton went down and the Jazz added several older, veteran types, I knew it was time to align myself with two different franchises. So this time around, I’m going to be rooting for the 76ers and the Wolves. For sure, two of the best “league pass” teams, the Wolves with Thibs coaching them now and the Sixers with the intrigue around all their centers. The possibility that one of Okafor or Noel is likely to get traded makes it all the more exciting.
Brandon Jefferson: The Houston Rockets. New (in name only) point guard James Harden and (actually) new head coach Mike D’Antoni could create the most potent scoring offense the NBA has ever seen. Harden is already adjusting to life as a floor general, through the preseason he’s averaging 10.6 assists a night in under 30 minutes a game. With shooters Eric Gordon, Patrick Beverly, Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza flanking him, Harden will be driving-and-kicking his way to open shots for his teammates. However, for all the greatness they can bring offensively, the exact opposite could be said about their defense. Ariza, Beverly and Clint Capela serve as the ABC’s of their entire hopes for any defensive acumen on their entire roster.
What NBA team might miss the playoffs despite making the playoffs last year?
Timmy Sclafani: I could see Charlotte and/or Miami missing the playoffs in the East. The Knicks and, to a lesser extent, the Bulls both have enough talent where they should make the playoffs. Charlotte and Miami both had some pretty significant departures this offseason, so they seem like the most likely teams to be replaced by New York and Chicago.
Eric Laboissonniere: I know this is the year of the Russell Westbrook Revenge Tour, but I could see the Oklahoma City Thunder missing the playoffs. I love Russell Westbrook more than anyone and I think he is going to have otherwordly numbers next season, but will he truly help the Thunder win enough basketball games to make the playoffs? I just think there are too many good teams in the West. The Thunder and the Trail Blazers will fight for that last spot in the West.
Connor Casey: Fire up the Hot Take Machine: The Dallas Mavericks will not make the playoffs this year! Alright, to be fair that wasn’t the hottest take in the world, but betting against the tandem of Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle not reaching the postseason is almost never wise. Dirk is a year older, Harrison Barnes is going to be a disaster, and the front office didn’t do enough to improve their bench. They will surely be fighting for a lower seed for most of the season, but this year they won’t get one.
Mike Gribanov: I’d say the Grizzlies and Heat. The Heat are sure to be in rebuilding mode, trying to get one more high draft pick before the teams they traded future picks to, come to collect over the next few seasons. The Grizzlies have some good talent on the surface but they are an injury prone team, that’s an injury away from the lottery. Not a lot of depth on that roster.
Matthew Billington: Out of the playoff teams last year that I think could struggle making a playoff birth, on the East side for me it’s the Pistons or the Hornets. Too many teams got better while they stayed with relatively the same roster. And as for the West, I think Memphis could be the odd man out, depending on how Chandler Parsons comes into play offensively for them, because that defensive style of play won’t work as well this year.
Nolan Connor: If the Miami Heat do not start out the season strong they could be forced into looking towards a rebuild. Letting Dwyane Wade go in free agency was the first indication of that and now the sad news of Chris Bosh likely being out again this season will put them in a tough spot in an Eastern Conference growing more and more competitive.
Chris St. Jean: Rick Carlisle does it every year, and in the past I’ve always believed in him. But this roster may be as bad as any he’s had over the last 3 or 4 years. I don’t see Harrison Barnes being successful enough for that team, and the West will have more playoff contenders than top line talent this season. Utah, Houston, New Orleans, Minnesota, Portland, Oklahoma City, Memphis will all be in the mix and who knows about Denver. Just too much competition for 44 wins this season. For only the fourth time in his 18-year career, Dirk will miss the playoffs.
Collin O’Connor: I’m not high on either Atlanta or Miami this season. With Atlanta specifically, the loss of Jeff Teague is going to be bigger than most people seem to be letting on, and trading Horford for Howard is going to hurt on the defensive end of the floor as much as it will on the offensive end. Miami will be on a down-swing as well when they begin their first season without anyone from the two-time champion big three. Placing themselves in the lottery for this deep upcoming draft might make more sense as they continue to build around Dragic, Whiteside, and budding all-star Justice Winslow.
Cody Lanza: This could be a tough season for the fans in South Beach. After 13 seasons in a Heat uniform, Dwyane Wade decided to take his talents to Chicago. And if it wasn’t tough enough to lose the face of your franchise this offseason, it looks as though Chris Bosh has seen his final days in Miami. It officially marks the end of the Big Three era and things don’t seem to be looking up. This looks like a season in which Miami finds themselves in the lottery.
Paul Mitchell: I’ll take “Miami for $500,” Eric. There are other examples of teams who could be on the outside of the playoff race looking in (Indiana, Oklahoma City, to cite two), given some extenuating circumstances in the form of injury or increased conference competition, but Miami should be the only former-playoff squad in full-on rebuild mode entering 2016-17. Not to say that their collection of younger players won’t play hard or to great effectiveness on defense under head coach Erik Spoelstra, but without Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade around to captain the offense, the Heat should be in line for a rare lottery appearance this season.
Brandon Jefferson: Count me in on the Miami Heat side as well. Without Bosh this team is a hodgepodge of unpredictability. There is talent on this roster and don’t think Erik Spolestra won’t do his damnedest to get the most out of it–unless, as Zach Lowe suggests, there’s a call from higher up to tank. The Big 3 Era in Miami has crumbled almost as loudly as they came together. Instead of parades and hyperbolic championship predictions we get medical examinations and a drawn out game of contract chicken. Riley and Spolestra aren’t to be taken likely, but with the battle for the final three playoff seeds in the East intensifying this season I think it will be Miami that ends up on the outside looking in when the season is over.
NBA Finals prediction?
Timmy Sclafani: Like I said, when the Clips play their best basketball they can hang with any one; so for the third year in a row I will incorrectly pick the Clippers to face Cleveland in the finals.
Eric Laboissonniere: In my opinion, I could not see any team from the Western Conference beating the Warrriors in a seven game series and I really do not think anyone from the Eastern Conference could beat the Cavaliers in a seven game series. I know it is a boring prediction, but the finals will be a rematch and this time I think the Warriors will get revenge.
Connor Casey: For the sake of being a contrarian, lets spice things up and go with a Pacers/Warriors final. Nobody in the West is beating the Warriors, so they will return for a third-straight Finals appearance, but the Cavs might be a different story. Look no team in the East can take down LeBron and Co. on their own, but a number of teams have gotten better and their path to a second championship will not be as easy. Whether it be Toronto, Boston, or even the Knicks, these teams will test Cleveland and make them work. If the Cavs have to work in the first few rounds and spend more energy than they have had to in the past two season, there could be a slip up against the rebuilt Pacers and the second-best player in the East, Paul George.
Matthew Billington: How can you not say a Cavs/Warriors repeat? If I were to go with a different route, a route where anyone can beat anybody in a 7 game series, then I could see the Celtics or Pacers make a push at the Cavs, while the Trail Blazers, Spurs or Clippers could all give the Warriors a run for their money. My heart wants me to say Cs or Pacers/Spurs or Clippers, but my gut is telling me a finals rematch is in the books.
Nolan Connor: I’m going against the grain and against most logic by picking the Warriors/Celtics. If Boston is able to win a couple of series and reach the Eastern Conference Finals, they could be playing with a whole new confidence come May that could propel them past the Cavs. With that said, it has to be acknowledged that Lebron owns the East and nobody can really say otherwise until he’s dethroned. Celtics in 7. #whynot
Mike Gribanov: Who do you think.
Chris St. Jean: No doubt in my mind: Cavs/Warriors rematch. I’m hopeful that teams like the Celtics, Spurs, and Clippers push and challenge both, but I still expect both to emerge and that sets us up for a most entertaining NBA Finals match-up. A LeBron/Durant match-up in the Finals in this scenario may be one of the greatest individual match-ups in NBA Finals history, right up there with Wilt/Russell and Magic/Bird. In the end, I give the edge to the Warriors. Dubs in 7.
Collin O’Connor: I’ll be bland and go with the Warriors over the Cavs in six. Hopefully Boston and Toronto can make leaps this season to make it a little bit more interesting in the East, and don’t sleep on the Clippers out west!
Cody Lanza: It makes me sick to say it, but it looks like for the third June in a row we will be watching the Cavs and Warriors duke it out in the finals. Both teams seem to have somehow improved this offseason and are almost destined to make their way back for another chance to battle one another. I don’t think it will be as easy for them as it has the past two seasons, but there isn’t a team that I can see knocking either of them out of the this postseason.
Paul Mitchell: Golden State vs. Cleveland: Round III. Bow to basketball supremacy. (Warriors in 7)
Brandon Jefferson: ^ What they said. (As an aside imagine we somehow get a Boston Celtics versus San Antonio Spurs series instead? Basketball nerds would rejoice, but Adam Silver would be sitting courtside like the “This is fine.” dog as all the momentum the NBA has built as a threat to the NFL for America’s favorite league came crashing down around him)
*P.S. I’m totally sucking up to the fifty-seven Celtics fans that write for and/or run this entire blog :)*