With all of the offseason acquisitions cascading like dominoes after LeBron James’s 2.0 Decision, the landmark of the NBA has changed drastically this summer. Yes, the balance of powers still favors the West a bit more, but as far as who could win the NBA Championship, the Eastern Conference has two serious contenders. The depth of the Western Conference may be deeper than ever, but the powerhouses in the East are no afterthought.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Miami Heat was the favorites to win year after year. And after making it to the Finals four consecutive times and winning two out of the four Finals, that was pretty much an accurate prediction. However, with the departure of James, the Miami Heat have gone from being top dog in the NBA to being in the middle of the pack. For the most part, the former champions did an admirable job of trying to replace an irreplaceable player like LeBron James with the acquisitions of Luol Deng, Danny Granger, and Josh McRoberts. However, they won’t make it on anyone top 10-list for contenders to win the NBA Championship this year. With the Miami Heat out of the picture and the playing field a bit more level in the East, you can bet your bottom dollar that there are Eastern Conference teams that are salivating at the bit to make it to the Finals.
With all of the movement that has taken place this year, the rich have gotten richer and in one team’s case, went from rags to riches over night. Of course, the typical teams that have consistently had a shot to win the championship are still there, but there has also been a reshuffling of the pecking order within the elite. This is a list of the top 10 teams that have the best shot of winning the NBA title in the 2014-2015 season.
10. Portland Trail Blazers
After a brief hiatus from the playoffs, the Portland Trail Blazers not only made the playoffs last year, but they were also able to make it into the second round after a dramatic first round series with the Houston Rockets. The main problem with the Portland Trail Blazers is that they lack a bit of depth. However, there young talent is capable of playing up to 35 minutes per game during the season. Furthermore, the Portland Trailblazers have been careful to maintain the chemistry of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard by keeping them together and helping them grow together.
9. Washington Wizards
With the Indiana Pacers out of the playoff picture with the injury of Paul George, the Washington Wizards may be the third best team in the Eastern Conference. Last year, the Washington Wizards made the playoffs for the first time in a long time. They even advanced into the second round by beating the Chicago Bulls. They were not ready to beat the Indiana Pacers, but the young Wizards were certainly able to gain a lot of experience from last year. Additionally, the Wizards acquired veteran small forward Paul Pierce to replace Trevor Ariza who left for the Houston Rockets. The young Wizards needed more of a veteran presence and a leader, and in Pierce they get a leader who does not need to take 20 shots per game, but can be a vocal leader on the court.
8. Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks may have struck out with wooing Carmelo Anthony to Texas, but they made two key acquisitions that have significantly improved their roster for next season. The first was the trade for former Maverick – Tyson Chandler – with the New York Knicks in exchange for Jose Calderon. There were a few other pieces in the trade, but Chandler and Calderon were the key pieces in the trade. The second key acquisition for the Dallas Mavericks was Chandler Parsons. The Houston Rockets decided not to resign Parsons after the Mavericks offered him $15 million a year for 3-years. With Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons now in the starting five, the Mavericks acquired defense, offense, size, and athleticism in one summer. The Mavericks finished with the 8th seed last year, but they gave the champion San Antonio Spurs fits in the first round of the playoffs. With the additions of Parsons and Chandler, they are going to be even better this year and be a true contender for a title. Also, they still have a German player by the name of Dirk and he’s pretty good.
7. Golden State Warriors
The only thing preventing the Golden State Warriors from winning a NBA Championship is the injury bug. It seems like year after year, they lose one or two key pieces in the playoffs that prevent them from competing at the optimum level that they can. However, if the Warriors can stay healthy during the season and the post-season, they have as good of a shot of winning the NBA title as anyone else. Perhaps, their biggest acquisition of the offseason was the hiring of their new head coach Steve Kerr. Kerr has a very high basketball IQ and is a very relational type of player. Former head coach of the Warriors, Mark Jackson, was certainly beloved by the team, but Kerr may be the outsider’s perspective that the Warriors need.
6. Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets were salivating at the chance to play the San Antonio Spurs in the second round, but they were never able to pass the first round because they overlooked the Portland Trail Blazers. You can bet that this will not happen again next year when the Rockets are in the playoffs. With another year under Dwight Howard’s belt in Houston, the Rockets have great offense and defense. Yes, they lost Chandler Parsons to the Dallas Mavericks, but they re-acquired former Rocket, Trevor Ariza from the Washington Wizards. Ariza is an excellent 3-point shooter and defender with his long wingspan and athleticism. If the Houston Rockets are able to build upon what they had last year, there is no doubt that they can win the title next year.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers had more drama then they wanted last year with their former owner Donald Sterling. Unfortunately, the drama came right in the middle of the playoffs, which was a huge distraction for the Clippers ball club. In fact, the situation was so serious, they entertained the idea of not playing at all as a sign of protest. However, a new day has dawned, and new owner Steve Ballmer is the perfect person to be the owner of the Clippers. Additionally, the Clippers still have Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin (who was third place in MVP voting last season).
4. Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls lost their best player and former MVP for almost two straight seasons. Derrick Rose made an admirable attempt last year by trying to be the leader again before he tore his meniscus and sat out the rest of the season. However, he only played 10 games before getting injured again. This year, Rose looks like his old self. Rose is playing for the US team in the World Cup this summer and it is obvious that his explosion is back. Furthermore, the Bulls acquired Pau Gasol this offseason. Gasol may not be the same player that he was when the Lakers first acquired him, but he is still a legitimate post-up big man and above average defender.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
If Serge Ibaka did not go down in the Western Conference Finals last year, who knows if the Thunder would be the NBA Champions right now or not. The Thunder have always given the San Antonio Spurs fits, but last year they were clearly hobbled. The Thunder have not made any significant additions, but they did lose one key piece. The Thunder lost Derek Fisher to retirement this summer as he pursues another chapter in his life as the head coach of the New York Knicks. The good news is that the Thunder still have two of the top five best players in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers have gone from rags to riches so quickly, they could easily be on the next State of the Union address with President Obama. The Cavs dramatic turnaround turned this franchise from the biggest losers last season to the biggest winners this offseason. The Cavs have never won a NBA title, and the city of Cleveland in general, has been deprived of any championship from any sport for decades. However, with the additions of LeBron James and Kevin Love, the Cavs are clearly the favorites out of the East. Their only obstacle right now is chemistry and how quickly the players can adjust to new coach David Blatt’s offensive and defensive schemes.
1. San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs were finally able to get a sense of redemption after what may be one of the biggest losses in NBA history during the year earlier’s NBA Finals. The Spurs calmly defeated the Miami Heat in five games and were able to atone for their mistakes from the year prior. This year, the Spurs made sure to resign Tim Duncan, extend Tony Parker, resign Patty Mills and signing the first female assistant coach in NBA history. The San Antonio Spurs continue to pioneer the NBA with their traditional and untraditional thinking which makes them both fundamental and novel in the way that they approach the game. Without any major losses this off season, there is no reason why the Spurs cannot finally get their first back-to-back Championship.
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