This is about to get good. Really, really good.
LeBron James is back on top, fulfilling an impossible promise for generations of suffering Cleveland fans. The King carried his franchise to more than just a championship.
And he’s not done.
“We are not satisfied with just winning one championship,” James said. “We’re not satisfied with just being successful. We want the team to get better.”
And about that squad that the Cavaliers brought back to this planet in a staggering seven-game upset. Yes, the team that set a new NBA standard with 73 wins during the season. Well, the Golden State Warriors plugged in arguably the best talent this side of James.
Steph Curry and Kevin Durant in the same starting five, along with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. This isn’t the Western Conference All-Star team. It just feels like it.
Durant recently rankled his former Thunder comrades by praising his “selfless” new mates. Russell Westbrook responded, “That’s cute, man.”
Let’s tip this thing off.
San Antonio Spurs
Coach: Gregg Popovich
Last season: 67-15/lost in second round to Thunder (4-2)
Key additions: Pau Gasol, David Lee, Dewayne Dedmon
Key losses: Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, David West
Player to watch: Kawhi Leonard
Outlook/Notable: Duncan’s discreet retirement keeps with his personality and that of the franchise. The Spurs got younger at that spot with Gasol, 36, providing a smooth transition. Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge are the pillars, while Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are still around to lead.
Coach: Rick Carlisle
Last season: 42-40/lost in first round to Thunder (4-1)
Key additions: Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Seth Curry
Key losses: Chandler Parsons, Zaza Pachulia, Raymond Felton, David Lee
Player to watch: Barnes
Outlook/Notable: OKC’s loss was the Mavericks’ gain, as Barnes and Bogut made their way from Golden State to Big D. Barnes is being paid like a franchise cornerstone, and he might eventually be one, but for now there is no better role model than Dirk Nowitzki. Look for big production from Wesley Matthews, who’s fully healthy and slimmed down.
Coach: David Fizdale
Last season: 42-40/lost in first round to Spurs (4-0)
Key additions: Chandler Parsons, James Ennis, Troy Daniels, Wade Baldwin IV
Key losses: Matt Barnes, Lance Stephenson, Mario Chalmers, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee
Player to watch: Parsons
Outlook/Notable: Parsons relocated after two star-crossed seasons with the Mavericks. The Grizz jettisoned Dave Joerger in favor of a first-time coach (Fizdale) who’s built an impressive résumé as an assistant the past eight years in Miami. Believe it or not, Mavericks free agent-target Mike Conley owns the richest contract in NBA history.
Coach: Mike D’Antoni
Last season: 41-41/lost in first round to Warriors (4-1)
Key additions: Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Nenê, Pablo Prigioni
Key losses: Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, Josh Smith, Jason Terry
Player to watch: James Harden
Outlook/Notable: There’s no question D’Antoni will get prodigious production out of Harden. How about leadership? Howard leaving was best for everyone involved. A couple of ex-Pelicans starters (Gordon and Anderson) were signed to beef up the attack, defense aside.
New Orleans Pelicans
Coach: Alvin Gentry
Last season: 30-52/missed playoffs
Key additions: Buddy Hield, Lance Stephenson
Key losses: Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Luke Babbitt
Player to watch: Anthony Davis
Outlook/Notable: Jrue Holiday is on a leave of absence as his wife, Lauren Holiday, recovers from successful brain surgery. Jrue Holiday leaves a temporary void in the starting lineup. Davis is a generational talent who can’t seem to stay healthy. Gentry’s first year went terribly, meaning there is nowhere to go but up — at least that’s the hope.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Coach: Billy Donovan
Last season: 55-27/lost in West finals to Warriors (4-3)
Key additions: Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova
Key losses: Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Dion Waiters
Player to watch: Russell Westbrook
Outlook/Notable: After nine years, KD bolted for bluer waters and a clearer path to a ring. Durant’s defection punctured a hole in the franchise, but OKC isn’t going belly-up. A busy off-season landed Oladipo, a rising talent with an all-around game. But make no mistake, this is Westbrook’s team now and he’s on a mission.
Portland Trail Blazers
Coach: Terry Stotts
Last season: 44-38/lost in second round to Warriors (4-1)
Key additions: Evan Turner, Festus Ezeli
Key losses: Chris Kaman, Gerald Henderson
Player to watch: Damian Lillard
Outlook/Notable: Last season’s surprise squad in the West should contend for the Northwest crown. Lillard and C.J. McCollum form a dynamic backcourt. Portland matched a $70 million offer sheet to keep Allen Crabbe as Lillard’s backup. The additions of Turner and Ezeli bolster the bench.
Coach: Quin Snyder
Last season: 40-42/missed playoffs
Key additions: George Hill, Boris Diaw, Joe Johnson
Key losses: Trevor Booker, Trey Burke
Player to watch: Derrick Favors
Outlook/Notable: No team can match Utah’s depth, with potential starters coming off the bench at all five positions. Gordon Hayward, who can become an unrestricted free agent after this season, is on the mend from a broken finger. Dante Exum returns after missing all of last season. Missing the playoffs again would be a disappointment.
Coach: Michael Malone
Last season: 33-49/missed playoffs
Key additions: Jamal Murray, Juan Hernangomez, Malik Beasley
Key loss: Joffrey Lauvergne
Player to watch: Nikola Jokic
Outlook/Notable: Jokic quietly finished third in rookie of the year voting, averaging 10 points and 7 rebounds. The young backcourt of Emmanuel Mudiay of Arlington Grace Prep and Gary Harris, along with No. 7 overall pick Murray, is rife with upside and excitement. Scoring leader Danilo Gallinari is coming off another injury-shortened campaign.
Coach: Tom Thibodeau
Last season: 29-53/missed playoffs
Key additions: Kris Dunn, Cole Aldrich, Brandon Rush, Jordan Hill
Key losses: Kevin Garnett, Greg Smith, Tayshaun Prince
Player to watch: Karl-Anthony Towns
Outlook/Notable: The death of Flip Saunders cast a pall over last season. The franchise starts anew with Thibodeau, who is excited to build around Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Dunn. Ricky Rubio could be pushed at point guard by Dunn, the fifth overall pick and a favorite to follow Towns as rookie of the year.
Golden State Warriors
Coach: Steve Kerr
Last season: 73-9/lost in NBA Finals to Cavaliers (4-3)
Key additions: Kevin Durant, David West, Zaza Pachulia
Key losses: Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Marreese Speights, Leandro Barbosa
Player to watch: Durant
Outlook/Notable: Remember when that Durant rumor seemed crazy? KD, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Co. don’t need to win 73-plus for this season to be a success. It’s not about records anymore. They need to win the whole thing or this is a monumental failure. How’s that for pressure?
Los Angeles Clippers
Coach: Doc Rivers
Last season: 53-29/lost in first round to Blazers (4-2)
Key additions: Brandon Bass, Raymond Felton, Alan Anderson, Marreese Speights
Key losses: Jeff Green, Cole Aldrich
Player to watch: Blake Griffin
Outlook/Notable: Knocked off course by injuries and Griffin’s off-court shenanigans, the Clips enter this season with something to prove. Rivers has kept the core together, believing this team can challenge, even in a division with Golden State. It’s also the swan song for Paul Pierce.
Coach: Dave Joerger
Last season: 33-49/missed playoffs
Key additions: Georgios Papagiannis, Malachi Richardson, Skal Labissiere, Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo
Key losses: Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, Seth Curry
Player to watch: DeMarcus Cousins
Outlook/Notable: George Karl was never the right guy in Sactown. As for Joerger, we’ll see if he can coax Cousins into being someone to build a team around. Sadly, the most exciting development will be the franchise finally opening a new arena, the Golden 1 Center.
Coach: Earl Watson
Last season: 23-59/missed playoffs
Key additions: Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa
Key losses: Mirza Teletovic, Jon Leuer, Ronnie Price
Player to watch: Devin Booker
Outlook/Notable: Watson begins his first full season as coach at the tender age of 37. The return of Eric Bledsoe takes the scoring pressure off the youngsters, but the franchise’s future is tied to Booker, along with lottery picks Bender and Chriss.
Los Angeles Lakers
Coach: Luke Walton
Last season: 17-65/missed playoffs
Key additions: Brandon Ingram, Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng, Jose Calderon
Key losses: Kobe Bryant, Robert Sacre, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass
Player to watch: Julius Randle
Outlook/Notable: Kobe, we’ll miss ya, but we’re glad the farewell tour has ended. It’s time to get on with it as rookie coach Walton oversees the growth of No. 2 pick Ingram, Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson.
Coach: Dwane Casey
Last season: 56-26/lost in East finals to Cavs (4-2)
Key additions: Jakob Poeltl, Jared Sullinger, Pascal Siakam
Key losses: Bismack Biyombo, Luis Scola, Anthony Bennett, James Johnson
Player to watch: DeMar DeRozan
Outlook/Notable: A regular-season record for wins was set for a third straight year. DeRozan was paid like the franchise star (five years, $139 million) he’s expected to be. The Raptors are the most obvious threat to Cleveland’s East supremacy, but don’t be surprised by a drop off this season.
Coach: Brad Stevens
Last season: 48-34/lost first round to Hawks (4-2)
Key additions: Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Gerald Green
Key losses: Jared Sullinger, Evan Turner
Player to watch: Isaiah Thomas
Outlook/Notable: The addition of Horford not only fortifies the middle defensively, but his ability to knock down a mid-range jumper opens up the floor for Thomas, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder. The C’s should bust through the 50-win barrier and join that select group just behind Cleveland in the East hierarchy.
New York Knicks
Coach: Jeff Hornacek
Last season: 32-50/missed playoffs
Key additions: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings
Key losses: Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant, Jose Calderon
Player to watch: Rose
Outlook/Notable: Phil Jackson is all in, again, attempting to rebuild the Knicks on the fly. The Derek Fisher coaching experiment was a disaster, so in comes a proven coach in Hornacek. The biggest flyer is Rose, a former MVP stricken by injures the past few years. Kristaps Porzingis is a rising star. Oh, Carmelo Anthony is still around.
Coach: Kenny Atkinson
Last season: 21-61/missed playoffs
Key additions: Jeremy Lin, Randy Foye, Anthony Bennett
Key losses: Thaddeus Young, Jarrett Jack, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin
Player to watch: Lin
Outlook/Notable: A rebirth of Linsanity? It worked for a spell on Broadway. The new combo of general manager Sean Marks and Atkinson don’t necessarily need a repeat performance, just a steady playmaker to guide the rebuilding process. It will take a while and it won’t be easy.
Coach: Brett Brown
Last season: 10-72/missed playoffs
Key additions: Ben Simmons, Dario Saric
Key losses: Ish Smith, Isaiah Canaan
Player to watch: Simmons
Outlook/Notable: Top draft pick Simmons is out for three months after breaking his foot in camp. That’s the Sixers’ luck. Still, there is young talent here, especially at center. The trio of Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid is probably one too many, but the odd man out is nice trade bait for general manager Bryan Colangelo.
Coach: Tyronn Lue
Last season: 57-25/beat Warriors in NBA Finals (4-3)
Key additions: Mike Dunleavy, Chris Andersen
Key losses: Matthew Dellavedova, Mo Williams
Player to watch: Kyrie Irving
Outlook/Notable: J.R. Smith’s late signing means the roster pretty much remained intact, as you’d expect after LeBron James delivered on his championship promise. Back-to-back trips to the Finals have meant tons of minutes and short off-seasons, so expect Lue to manage minutes (James, Irvin, Kevin Love) more so than egos as the quest to repeat begins.
Coach: Nate McMillan
Last season: 45-37/lost first round to Raptors (4-3)
Key additions: Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young, Al Jefferson, Aaron Brooks
Key losses: George Hill, Ian Mahinmi
Player to watch: Paul George
Outlook/Notable: Larry Bird reluctantly pulled the trigger on Frank Vogel and promoted McMillan, whose coaching reputation was built on the defensive end. Thing is the Pacers need to rev up those offensive engines. Teague can push the ball more effectively than Hill if given the chance. Former Euless Trinity and University of Texas star Myles Turner is coming off an outstanding rookie campaign.
Coach: Stan Van Gundy
Last season: 44-38/lost first round to Cavs (4-0)
Key additions: Ish Smith, Boban Marjanovic, Jon Leuer, Henry Ellenson
Key loss: Anthony Tolliver, Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks
Player to watch: Smith
Outlook/Notable: Smith is running the show with Reggie Jackson (knee) out until possibly Christmas. Van Gundy has done a remarkable job guiding the Pistons back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Star center Andre Drummond is only 23 years old.
Coach: Fred Hoiberg
Last season: 42-40/missed playoffs
Key additions: Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant
Key loss: Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Mike Dunleavy
Player to watch: Wade
Outlook/Notable: Chicago traded out one native son (Rose) for another (Wade) in a complete makeover after missing the playoffs. This is supposed to be Jimmy Butler’s team, and Wade and Rondo have both said as much, but those are big personalities who’ll speak up if last year’s struggles continue.
Coach: Jason Kidd
Last season: 33-49/missed playoffs
Key additions: Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic, Jason Terry, Thon Maker
Key losses: Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo, Greivis Vasquez
Player to watch: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Outlook/Notable: The potential loss of Khris Middleton for the season is huge for a young squad that took a big step back last season. Jabari Parker is one who can pick up the slack, while the Greek Freak (Antetokounmpo) does the heavy lifting. Dallas Mavericks fans should enjoy Kidd and Terry reuniting.
Coach: Erik Spoelstra
Last season: 48-34/lost second round to Raptors (4-3)
Key additions: Wayne Ellington, Dion Waiters
Key losses: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Luol Deng
Player to watch: Hassan Whiteside
Outlook/Notable: An era that lingered on for a couple of years is now officially closed with Wade’s departure and Bosh’s unlikely return from his latest blood-clot scare. Spoelstra enters another rebuilding phase with Whiteside as his anchor, flanked by Goran Dragic and youngsters such as Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson looking to take the next step.
Coach: Mike Budenholzer
Last season: 48-34/lost second round to Cavaliers (4-0)
Key additions: Dwight Howard, Jarrett Jack, Taurean Prince, DeAndre Bembry
Key losses: Al Horford, Jeff Teague
Player to watch: Howard
Outlook/Notable: Losing two starters should hurt, but Coach Bud’s crew feels Howard and holdover Dennis Schröder can be upgrades to Horford and Teague. Howard isn’t being hailed as a savior for coming home, which is a good thing considering his injury/production history over the last few years.
Coach: Steve Clifford
Last season: 48-34/lost first round to Heat (4-3)
Key additions: Marco Belinelli, Roy Hibbert, Ramon Sessions
Key losses: Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee
Player to watch: Nicolas Batum
Outlook/Notable: Big Al leaving turns the team officially over to Kemba Walker and Batum, the $120 million man. Those two need to be superstars as the Hornets negotiate their way into East contender status. Sessions takes over for Lin, while Hibbert and Belinelli work to revitalize their careers.
Coach: Scott Brooks
Last season: 41-41/missed playoffs
Key additions: Ian Mahinmi, Tomas Satoransky, Andrew Nicholson, Trey Burke
Key losses: Nenê, Jared Dudley, Ramon Sessions, Drew Gooden
Player to watch: Bradley Beal
Outlook/Notable: Brooks takes over for Randy Wittman, but the former OKC head man couldn’t get Durant to listen to a free-agent pitch from his hometown team. Though not exactly KD and Westbrook, Brooks’ experience dealing with stars should come in handy with John Wall and Beal.
Coach: Frank Vogel
Last season: 35-47/missed playoffs
Key additions: Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green
Key losses: Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova
Player to watch: Evan Fournier
Outlook/Notable: Former coach Scott Skiles bailed in May, and the reconstruction continued this off-season. Oladipo was dealt in a surprising move that landed Ibaka from OKC. The Magic was high on Oladipo, but believe Fournier can fill those sneakers. The frontline is deep and physical with Ibaka and Biyombo joining Nikola Vucevic.