Following a Golden State Warriors championship this summer, a large number of teams felt compelled to revamp their rosters in the offseason.
In perhaps the most eventful offseason in recent years, noteworthy players saw their allegiances shift throughout the league and the fortunes of their new squads will shift accordingly in the coming season.
Now that the dust has settled, at least temporarily, we have a better idea of the new professional basketball landscape. Naturally, such rankings necessarily begin with the defending champions.
1. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
After acquiring 8-time All-Star and 2014 MVP Kevin Durant in the 2016 offseason, a Golden State Warriors team coming off a 73-win record-setting season only improved. This led to the Warriors’ second championship in the past three years this summer. In a stunning display of basketball dominance, the Warriors won every playoff game except for one.
The core group that led this team to such unrivaled heights remains together going forward. Bringing back a squad that boasts four All-Stars—Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant—the Warriors appear to have themselves a monopoly on the basketball industry for the next handful of years.
2. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
After being thoroughly pummeled in the 2017 Finals, dissent took root amongst the Cavaliers ranks this offseason. Chief amongst the unruly cast was Kyrie Irving, who only one season prior had hit the biggest shot of his career, a shot that won the Cavaliers the 2015-16 championship over a loaded Golden State squad.
Yet, LeBron James casts a large shadow, and Kyrie found himself suffocating in it. In one of the biggest blockbuster trades in basketball history, the Celtics and the Cavaliers came together to swap the cornerstones of each franchise. After shipping Kyrie to Boston, suddenly new faces dotted the Cavaliers locker room, perhaps giving them the versatile lineup that can match Golden State.
The Cavaliers still retain a portion of the core that defeated the Warriors two years ago: LeBron James and Kevin Love. Love is coming off his best statistical season in Cleveland, in part because nagging knee injuries no longer plague him. Earlier in his career, Love sustained multiple injuries to his left knee, even requiring season-ending surgery at one point.
Perhaps the biggest change Love employed to optimize his health was to begin using products designed by a leading manufacturer of sports protective and performance equipment. Prior to his first season in Cleveland, Love began using exclusively Shock Doctor mouthguards (the official mouthguard of the league), as well as Shock Doctor’s Ice Therapy for recovery. Love also began to wear compression shorts to support the muscle groups that are heavily taxed in basketball.
With Love’s improved health, as well as the acquisitions of Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder from Boston, Cleveland appears poised to vie with Golden State in the championship for the fourth straight year.
3. HOUSTON ROCKETS
The Rockets surrounded MVP candidate James Harden with an array of sharpshooters after a disappointing 2015-2016 season. While the team performed better last year, the Golden State Warriors have set the bar astronomically high.
With the basketball landscape shifting, the Rockets felt compelled to make a blockbuster acquisition of their own with Chris Paul. Chris Paul has been a perennial All-Star in the league, but success in the vicious Western Conference playoffs eludes him.
Joining forces with James Harden may cause their ball-dominant games to clash. On the other hand, it could lead to the dazzling style of offense the Warriors have employed for years. Regardless, the Rockets—already a formidable force—become more dangerous.
4. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The Spurs boast the best two-way player in basketball: Kawhi Leonard. Sports Illustrated has Kawhi ranked as the fourth best basketball player in the league which is high praise for the two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
However, the rest of the Spurs squad continues to age. An injection of youth after losing Tim Duncan has yet to come, despite the acquisition of veteran Rudy Gay.
Much of this season will ride on the health of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, as well as the declining production of much-maligned LaMarcus Aldridge.
5. BOSTON CELTICS
After shipping away three starters in trades this offseason, the Celtics managed to fill the void with an impressive array of talent. First, they signed All-Star Gordon Hayward in free agency. Then they landed Kyrie Irving, one of the best point guards in basketball.
Together, these moves aim to propel the Celtics to the championship over a revamped Cleveland roster. Only time will tell if the moves GM Danny Ainge made improved the Celtics, or if they jeopardized the chemistry of the scrappy squad of underdogs.
6. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
After Paul George proclaimed his desire to leave the Indiana Pacers, the organization quickly set about finding a suitor for him. Oklahoma City jumped on the opportunity.
In a surprising trade that sent Victor Oladipo to Indiana, the Thunder managed to pair All-Star Paul George with 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook who is fresh off averaging a triple-double last season. Throw in the recent acquisition of Carmelo Anthony, and this dynamic trio should drastically improve an already impressive Thunder team in the coming season.
7. WASHINGTON WIZARDS
After being ousted by the Boston Celtics in the playoffs last year, the Wizards were relatively inactive in free agency, aside from resigning Otto Porter to a max contract.
The Wizards believe their core group can compete with any team in the league, particularly as young superstars John Wall and Bradley Beal continue to mature. They make a compelling case, assuming these All-Stars can make the jump next season.
8. TORONTO RAPTORS
The Raptors boast a talented backcourt comprised of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, yet this backcourt has a tendency to disappear in the playoffs. The Cavs dismantled them each of the past few years, holding DeRozan and Lowry to embarrassing numbers.
Going forward, the Raptors will find themselves in a familiar position—good enough to earn a top seed in the Eastern Conference, but not in the same class as the Cavs, Celtics, or Wizards.
9. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
The Bucks are one of the most exciting teams in basketball, particularly after the continued maturation of Giannis Antetokounmpo. After drafting the skinny Greek teenager several years ago, he has blossomed into one of the most athletic players in the league.
With Jabari Parker and Kris Middleton at his side, Giannis hopes to lead Bucks to a championship. If the Warriors dynasty falters, this is a team to watch.
10. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
After Tom Thibodeau acquired his old Chicago Bulls player, Jimmy Butler, the Timberwolves appear ready to make the jump this season.
After missing the playoffs, the past handful of years, the Timberwolves appear to have the makings of a quality squad, particularly if youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns can continue to develop.
11. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
The Blazers boast one the most exciting backcourts in basketball, comprised of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. After pairing these two shifty guards with the indomitable center Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers have positioned themselves as a solid playoff team next year.
12. DENVER NUGGETS
After narrowly missing the playoffs last year—the Portland Trail Blazers secured the last spot in the Western Conference—the Nuggets went out and acquired All-Star Paul Millsap.
After a handful of quality years playing for the Atlanta Hawks, Millsap should go a long way in catapulting a young Nuggets squad into the playoffs.
13. MIAMI HEAT
The Miami Heat caught fire toward the end of last season. After a dismal start, surprise players like Dion Waiters and Hassan Whiteside found themselves leading a team back from the brink. There is no reason why the improved play of the Heat squad last year shouldn’t carry over to this season.
14. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Despite already sporting one of basketball’s best centers, Anthony Davis, the Pelicans went out and acquired DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings when the team started entertaining offers.
Cousins represents that rare breed of center both coordinated and healthy. He has dedicated significant attention to his physical maintenance processes over the years, and like Kevin Love, he also joined forces with Shock Doctor.
In 2016, Cousins partnered with Shock Doctor to begin utilizing one of the most basic protective tools in sports: the mouthguard.
After doing so, Cousins made a statement on the subject: “I spend every game fighting physical battles in the post with some of the largest and strongest athletes in the world. Throughout my professional career, I have always worn a mouthguard, and I am excited to be partnering with the No. 1 mouthguard company in the world to promote adoption of this crucial protective equipment.”
While Cousins and Davis have yet to play their best basketball together, an offseason of training ought to improve their on-floor chemistry. This will be the most interesting season for the team since it rebranded itself the Pelicans a few years back.
15. CHARLOTTE HORNETS
The Hornets have found themselves in the throes of mediocrity, unable to make the jump to contender.
While Kemba Walker should achieve another season of individual success, the makeup of the roster around him is such that a championship remains out of reach.
16. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Clippers lost the heart and soul of their team to the Houston Rockets: Chris Paul. While Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan remain, the team will take a major step back in the coming season. What was once a team with championship aspirations is now a team on the precipice of a rebuilding season.
17. DETROIT PISTONS
After making the playoffs in the 2015-2016 season, hopes for the Pistons were high heading into last season. However, the Pistons found themselves trending down.
After acquiring Avery Bradley from the Celtics but losing both Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Pistons remain in a similar position this year—right on the cusp of making the playoffs, but nothing more.
18. UTAH JAZZ
The Utah Jazz lost their best player, Gordon Hayward, to the Celtics this offseason. Despite putting together an impressive year last year, the team will take a step back in the 2017-2018 season.
19. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
After selecting Markelle Fultz with the top overall pick in the draft this summer, the 76ers have an exciting core of prospects with which to build around.
If Fultz, budding superstar Joel Embiid, and previous top pick Ben Simmons can all stay healthy and remain on the floor, this should be an exciting group of young talent. While the team remains a few years away from vying for a championship, the 76ers will take any port in the storm after several seasons of horrendous basketball.
20. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
The Grizzlies represent one of several teams in the Western Conference that lost one of its core players. For the Grizzlies, the loss of Zach Randolph will prove insurmountable for the team. After multiple seasons of competitive basketball, the team will find itself in decline next season.
21. PHOENIX SUNS
With the fourth overall pick in the draft this summer, the Suns selected promising young talent, Josh Jackson. The Suns will be able to pair Jackson with a dynamic backcourt in Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker, but they will be on the outside looking in when the playoffs begin.
22. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
In perhaps the most publicized draft selection in recent years, the Lakers selected Lonzo Ball with the second overall pick. Ball will bring the sort of ball distribution that makes his teammates better. With Brandon Ingram on the rise, this third chapter in the Lakers rebuilding process should bring slightly more optimism, if not more wins.
23. DALLAS MAVERICKS
As the play of future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki continues to decline, Harrison Barnes finds himself picking up the pieces of lackluster Mavericks roster. After realizing his dream of winning a championship in 2015 with the Golden State Warriors, Barnes signed a max contract with the Mavericks a season later—and played admirably in his first full season as a Maverick.
Barnes represents one of the young stars in the game, particularly given his athletic 6’8” frame and impressive durability. Since migrating to Dallas, Barnes has worn a compression sleeve on his left arm, something that ought to help preserve his body from the wear and tear of basketball.
If the Mavs can surround Barnes with a few quality pieces—such as rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr.—the team ought to improve. For now, the Mavericks will find themselves at the bottom of a competitive Western Conference.
24. ATLANTA HAWKS
The Hawks have become a team in decline, a disappointment in recent years after becoming the number one seed in the Eastern Conference during the 2014-2015 season. The Hawks roster will only get worse next season after losing Paul Millsap to the Nuggets in free agency.
On the precipice of a total rebuilding effort, the Hawks will be looking for long-term answers in the coming season.
25. ORLANDO MAGIC
The Orlando Magic continue to cement themselves as a rudderless organization with minimal hopes for improvement. After a series of dizzying trades over the past couple years, the team now has a dearth of talent on its roster. Magic fans won’t find any comfort in the coming season.
26. NEW YORK KNICKS
Despite possessing the most promising young prospect in basketball, Kristaps Porzingis—a 7’2” Latvian center who can shoot from distance—the Knicks organization is in shambles. Carmelo Anthony is unhappy and wants out. “Zen Master” Phil Jackson was brought in to rebuild the team several years ago; he was ousted this offseason after poor management decisions.
Ultimately, what was once a proud organization and a destination for premier free agents is now a team in disarray. The 2017-2018 season will be cruel to the Knick fortunes.
27. INDIANA PACERS
After All-Star Paul George expressed his desire to leave the Pacers for greener pastures this offseason, the Pacers had to trade George for pennies on the dollar—or risk losing him for nothing in free agency. The team will now enter a rebuilding process that should span the next few years if they’re lucky.
28. SACRAMENTO KINGS
After trading away their best asset, DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings appear poised to lose basketball games at an astonishing rate. De‘Aaron Fox will be the sole bright spot in a franchise shrouded in darkness next season.
29. CHICAGO BULLS
In what can only be termed a stretch of terrible roster mismanagement, the Bulls front office has managed to dry up the reserves of talent they had been building for years. Now, the team stands to compete with the Brooklyn Nets for the most losses next season. At least they reached a buy-out a with Dwayne Wade in what stands to be a win for both the Bulls and Wade.
30. BROOKLYN NETS
Several seasons ago, Brooklyn sealed its fate. In the most lopsided trade in basketball history, the Nets shipped multiple first-round picks to the Celtics for aging stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. While both veteran players are now out of the league, those first round picks have become top overall prospects for the Celtics.
Now, the Nets will find themselves without their top pick again after the coming season. The Nets have been unable to rebuild and will remain unable to do so in the foreseeable future.
After all the shuffling this offseason came to a standstill, the cards at the top of the deck remain the same: The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
While other teams will be vying for a championship in the coming season, this may be a two-horse race. As teams of both conferences seek to derail the dynasties both these organizations have built, more changes will surely be on the way.