NBA Season Preview Series – Part 15

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
14. Portland Trail Blazers
13. San Antonio Spurs
12. Denver Nuggets
11. Milwaukee Bucks
10. Indiana Pacers
9. New Orleans Pelicans
8. Los Angeles Lakers
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
6. Utah Jazz
5. Toronto Raptors
4. Philadelphia 76ers
3. Houston Rockets

Here are the next two clubs:

2. Boston Celtics

Last Season: 55-27 (0.671) (2nd in Atlantic Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference)
Head Coach: Brad Stevens (6th season with team, 221-189 team; 221-189 overall)
Major Off-season Acquisitions: Robert Williams III (27th pick), Gordon Hayward (broken leg)
Major Off-season Departures: Shane Larkin, Greg Monroe
Salary Cap Info: $126.8 million ($24.9M over cap, $4.0M over luxury tax)
Narrative: General Manager Danny Ainge has established a reputation of getting the better of his peers on trades. Maybe that’s why the Celtics were mentioned as being in the mix for various players but never actually pulled the trigger with them. And the Celtics probably didn’t need to add anyone this summer, because their big prize from last season – Gordon Hayward – played all of five minutes on the season before breaking his leg and missing the remainder of the season. Nevertheless, the remain the class of the East, and should win over 60 games without much difficulty if they want to.
Hayward’s absence last season allowed some of the younger wings on the Celtics to develop, and the Celtics have one of the switchiest defenses in the league because of this. The Celtics could play a wing-heavy lineup featuring Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Hayward, and Al Horford and probably score enough to make up for the perceived offensive limitations of a lineup that can switch defensively across all five positions. Switch in Kyrie Irving at the point if there really needs to be some scoring, or Marcus Morris for Horford if the other team goes “small.” There’s a lot of flexibility with this lineup, and the amount of playing time that Brown and Tatum received last season in Hayward’s absence – including going to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavs – will only benefit the team this season and beyond.

1. Golden State Warriors

Last Season: 58-24 (0.707) (1st in Pacific Division, 2nd in Western Conference)
Head Coach: Steve Kerr (5th season with team, 265-63 team; 265-63 overall)
Major Off-season Acquisitions: Jacob Evans (28th pick), DeMarcus Cousins, Jonas Jerebko
Major Off-season Departures: JaVale McGee, Omri Casspi, Zaza Pachulia, David West (retired)
Salary Cap Info: $143.6million ($41.8M over cap, $19.9M over luxury tax)
Narrative: The Warriors didn’t lose much, if only clearing the bench a bit for more players that aren’t lane-clogging bigs. They don’t really have much money to spend, but they will still be a destination towards the end of the season for veterans on minimum deals who are hoping to win a championship. And they still have two former MVPs in Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, a defensive stalwart in Draymond Green, and one of the best pure shooters in league history in Klay Thompson. Having four likely Hall of Famers in your starting lineup – and another one in Andre Iguodala coming off the bench – should make you the prohibitive favorite, and the Warriors are that this season.
The Warriors are after their third title in a row – and fourth in five years – with many of the same players. There might be questions after the season: Will Durant stay? Will the club pay both Thompson and Green long-term? Are they just tired of winning? More importantly, though, is will they be fine with settling for the second best record in the Western Conference again, or do they want to compete for the best record? They lost the title after winning a record 73 games three seasons ago, so maybe that’s the motivation for their regular season performance over the past couple of seasons. But they could easily win 65+ games if they really wanted to. Even in the loaded West. But the question remains if they really want to.
Until next time… 
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