NBA Season Preview Series – Part 9

As we mentioned in Part 1 of this series, we will be previewing the NBA season by ranking the clubs in reverse order and revealing those clubs two at a time. Here’s what those rankings look like at this point:
30. Atlanta Hawks
29. Sacramento Kings
28. Orlando Magic
27. Phoenix Suns
26. Chicago Bulls
25. New York Knicks
24. Brooklyn Nets
23. Charlotte Hornets
22. Memphis Grizzlies
21. Dallas Mavericks
20. Cleveland Cavaliers
19. Los Angeles Clippers
18. Detroit Pistons
17. Miami Heat
16. Washington Wizards
15. Minnesota Timberwolves

Here are the next two clubs:

14. Portland Trail Blazers

Last Season: 49-33 (0.598) (1st in Northwest Division, 3rd in Western Conference)
Head Coach: Terry Stotts (7th season with team, 272-220 team; 387-388 overall)
Major Off-season Acquisitions: Anfernee Simmons (24th pick), Nik Stauskus, Seth Curry
Major Off-season Departures: Shabazz Napier, Ed Davis
Salary Cap Info: $131.6 million ($29.8M over cap, $7.9M over luxury tax threshold)
Narrative: The unanswered question remains in Portland: which backcourt member would be best to trade? Is it Damian Lillard, coming of his first All-NBA Team selection, but with limitations on defense and a giant contract? Or is it C.J. McCollum, a player still looking for his first all star game appearance, let alone a spot on the All-NBA team, who has (nearly) the same onerous contract and the same defensive liabilities?
The Blazers have made the playoffs in five straight seasons, yet have not advanced past the second round in that time, and were unceremoniously swept by the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round last season. Is it worth maxing out the salary cap – and even paying some luxury tax – to maybe get a handful of playoff games each season? I guess we’ll find out, and if the Blazers stumble out of the gate – they are one of 11 or 12 teams in the West that should compete for the playoffs – will this season finally mark the one that we see one of those guards traded away?

13. San Antonio Spurs

Last Season: 47-35 (0.573) (3rd in Southwest Division, 7th in Western Conference)
Head Coach: Gregg Popovich (23rd season with team, 1,197-541 team; 1,197-541 overall)
Major Off-season Acquisitions: Lonnie Walker (18th pick), DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, Marco Bellinelli
Major Off-season Departures: Kahwi Leonard, Danny Green, Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili (retired)
Salary Cap Info: $122.6 million ($20.7M over cap, $1.1M luxury tax room)
Narrative: It wasn’t supposed to end like this for the Spurs core that won multiple titles together. Tim Duncan walked away a few seasons ago, with many expecting Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to join him. And Gregg Popovich, the longest-tenured head coach in American professional sports, was probably going to establish the next generation of Spurs, built around Kawhi Leonard, before retiring after coaching the 2020 Olympics. That didn’t end up working out.
Manu retired, and will most definitely be in the Hall of Fame in five years. Tony should be joining him, but instead went to the Charlotte Hornets on a two-year deal. And Kawhi Leonard is now a Raptor, so Pop can’t even build the team around him. DeMar DeRozan has become the face of the team now, a team that is much weaker with the announcement today that point guard Dejounte Murray could be out for the season after tearing his ACL this week during preseason action. I considered moving the Spurs down the list because of this uncertainty, but they are the Spurs. They will figure out a way to be in the running for the playoffs when the season starts to matter, so I like them here in the 8th spot in the West. It’s going to be a fun season below the top five Western Conference teams, and the Spurs experience – at least on the bench and organizationally – will serve them well.
Until next time… 
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