The offseason is a time for optimism for all NBA fan bases before injury, chemistry issues and reality set in. The span of time between the middle of June and Halloween allow thoughts of glory and deep playoff runs to foster. The hope for drastic improvement is abundant across the league, and the top five teams with the capacity to achieve it are listed below.
Golden State Warriors
Bernie Sanders is famous for his quote, “Ninety-nine percent of new wealth goes to the top .1 percent of people in America.” In the NBA landscape, the Warriors are the top .1 percent and they landed former Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant this summer. Talk about the rich getting richer. The Warriors were already equipped to dominate the league for the next five years, built on unparalleled defensive versatility and record-breaking shooting. The gravity of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson stretched defenses beyond their breaking point so much that conventional help and recover defenses had to be thrown out the window in favor of switching on every screen, handoff and cut to the basket. Now, Golden State has Durant, who has been the best one-on-one scorer in the league for most of his career, while being held back by stodgy offenses with poor spacing. Durant will be even more lethal in coach Steve Kerr’s whirling offense of constant player and ball movement. We thought the Warriors would beat the game of basketball last year, but now they’re a cheat code.
New York Knicks
Knick fans have been starving for a good team, having only made it past the first round of the playoffs one time in the past 16 years. Things had gotten so bad fans started wearing paper bags over their face, too ashamed to publicly support this stumbling franchise. Fortunately, their pride will return because of their exceptional free agent haul. Team president Phil Jackson broke open the checkbook this offseason. The Knicks signed Joakim Noah, a New York native, to a four-year, $72 million deal, shooting guard Courtney Lee to four-year, $50 million contract and traded for former-MVP Derrick Rose. The starting five complements one another nicely. Rose and Carmelo Anthony will be the primary ball handlers. Lee will spot up for 3-pointers on offense and play solid perimeter defense. Kristaps Porzingis will provide elite spacing and dominate the boards, and Noah will be the glue guy who hustles after loose balls and quarterbacks the defense. The Knicks’ payroll will exceed $100 million this season but the prospect of tangible success for Knicks fans is priceless.
The Jazz barely missed the playoffs by a game last year. The highlight of their season was Kobe Bryant’s legendary final game. That final game was a microcosm of their season: unable to finish opponents during clutch moments of the game. Utah was -17.7 points per 100 possessions in clutch situations, third worst in the league. Utah’s lack of poise under pressure was due to limited depth, less than capable shot makers and the fact that they had the youngest average age in the association at 24.1. The Jazz addressed these issues in free agency, signing veteran swingman Joe Johnson, a more than capable shot creator with a series of YouTube videos devoted to his clutch shots. The Jazz also traded for Boris Diaw, who will bolster their bench as well as provide more lineup flexibility with his passing ability. Utah also acquired George Hill, a steady veteran guard with a knack for big shots. These signings will have a trickle-down effect; more depth means less fatigue in the fourth quarter for stars Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, which in turn will lead to less blown leads and, possibly, a playoff appearance.
The Celtics’ path to contention was thought be reliant upon opportunity. Boston collected a war chest of draft picks and lingered around, waiting to trade for a disgruntled star looking for a fresh start. Surprisingly, the Celtics got that star player this offseason without having to relinquish any of those assets. That star is Al Horford, the do-it-all big man from Atlanta. In the modern pace and space era of the NBA, Horford fits the mold of everything a team wants out of a center. He has range out to the 3-point line, where he shot 34 percent and is an elite playmaker for his position. Pairing him with all-star Isaiah Thomas creates a poison pill for opposing defenses in the pick and roll. The addition of Horford, combined with promising third overall pick Jaylen Brown should have Celtics fans everywhere giddy over the potential of this team.
The Pacers did well last year, pushing the Raptors to a game seven in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs and nearly pulling off the upset. Offense was the focus of the Pacers’ offseason from the top down as they replaced defensive-minded coach Frank Vogel and hired Nate McMillan and his more up-tempo approach. Indy started right away, trading George Hill for Jeff Teague, who is lightning quick and more scoring oriented than Hill. The next day Indiana swung a draft day trade with the Brooklyn Nets to acquire Thaddeus Young, an athletic forward with a multifaceted skill set. The Pacers then signed Al Jefferson, a veteran post-up player with a bevy of moves, nimble footwork and a feathery touch around the basket. The Pacers followed through on their plan this offseason, getting more athletic and offensive-minded.