The NBA offseason has probably reached its most deserted point: the month of August. At this time of year we all walk around like Will Smith in I’m a legend but instead of looking for people, we’re looking for any information about the NBA. Although there may still be shoes to drop, with names such as Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Donovan Mitchell still rumored – it’s possible that none of these players will be moved before the start of the season. So with where things stand right now, let’s take a look at who I think would be the top five title contenders if the playoffs started today.
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Raised eyebrow: Suns, Grizzlies
Let’s actually start with two teams that have carved out 2022 title hopes that may be on shaky ground after this summer. The suns appear to be mostly carriers of the same crew from the team that won a franchise-record 64 games, JaVale McGee notwithstanding. Phoenix’s starting five should remain one of the best units in the league, and Deandre Ayton in particular could be in better headspace without his contract situation lingering. However, the bench remains a question mark here. I would have liked to see this team try to bring in a stronger save for Chris Paul after Cam Payne’s struggles in the playoffs, especially given CP’s injury history.
As for the Grizzlies, their regular season could be hard work with Jaren Jackson Jr. expected to miss a lot of time. Meanwhile, the subtractions of Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton robbed the team of some of its depth. I’m interested to see how much they’ll have in the tank in the playoffs.
I need to see an improved James Harden before I’m ready to put Philly at the adult table. The Sixers had a great offseason, though. P.J. Tucker and Melton will bring some much-needed punch to the supporting cast. And Tobias Harris still looms as someone who could be moved to find a better fitting piece next to the two stars.
Denver was plagued by injuries last season, with Jamal Murray miss all year and Michael Porter Jr. miss it the most. The Nuggets were thriving in 2021 while both were healthy, especially after acquiring Aaron Gordon. Murray and MPJ should be ready to go in the fall, giving defending MVP Nikola Jokić his best shot at making the finals. Wing additions like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown should also pay dividends here. The Nuggets have long needed extra power on the defensive perimeter, and both can provide more than the team has worked with in recent years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Murray-KCP-Brown-Gordon-Jokić formation close out many fourth quarters.
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You can’t ignore the greatness of Giannis Antetokounmpo, although the Milwaukee offseason left me wanting more. Whether Chris Middleton weren’t injured in the playoffs, the Bucks likely would have made a second straight final. It’s not that simple, of course. Lopez Creek turns 35 next April, how much does he have left in the tank? Is there enough depth in the frontcourt if he takes a step back? The same can be said about Wesley Matthews– who turns 36 in October – and the backcourt. Meanwhile, the big off-season addition was Joe Ingles, a future 35-year-old man recovering from a torn ACL. Milwaukee has a deeply enviable core with Giannis, Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Still, I don’t fully trust the surrounding parts. One more wing would go a long way. Giannis is just too good to put them any lower.
It’s very simple with the Celtics: The top team in the East added two very good role players (Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari) without dropping anyone significant from their playoff rotation. Brogdon, if he stays healthy, can be a stabilizing force offensively and plug right into Boston’s defensive scheme. Gallo gives the Celts even more versatility in the frontcourt and his shot will force opposing defenses to make tough decisions. Also Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Robert WilliamsIII and Grant Williams everything could probably still improve a bit? This is by far the scariest team in the East.
I can’t have the defending champions below second, even if the losses of Gary PaytonII and Otto Porter Jr. will be felt. Both were significant contributors in the last title run. Whereas Donte Di Vincenzo and Green Ja Mychal are good mics, they don’t do the same things as players who left. The front office is betting on Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and James Wiseman to all take big steps forward. This could happen, and it would make the Dubs even more dangerous than last season. Klay Thompson should also look a little more like Klay’s peak after returning to the field this year.
On paper, with a strong emphasis on on paper—This team is sick. The Clips seem to have the best mix of shooting and defense in the league, two things that tend to be pretty important come playoff time. They also have incredible depth and a hilarious amount of compositional flexibility. They can play up a more traditional look with Ivica Zubac In the center. Or they can go small and get really funky. Ty Lue has a plethora of options to offer Kawhi Leonard and Paul Georgewith John Wall, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Nicholas Batum, Marcus Morris Sr., Norman Powell, Terance Mann and Robert Covington literally everyone bringing something to the table. Sorting minutes can create headaches, but it’s ultimately a good problem to have. Whatever happens to the Clippers, Lue should have an answer. Ultimately, however, it will come down to Kawhi and PG both being set to go during the playoffs. If they’re ready to go, LA could be a cut above everyone else.
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