The NBA season is swiftly approaching, and each season, tons of things happen that shock the world. Before last season, if you were to say the Memphis Grizzlies would go 56-26 and finish with the second-best record league-wide, you’d be called crazy. If you said the Boston Celtics would have arguably the greatest season turn around in league history en route to the NBA Finals, you’d be deemed psychotic. If you called the Los Angeles Lakers “fraudulent” and said they’d miss the play-in entirely, you’d be exiled on NBA Twitter. Loads of unprecedented things happen in the NBA each season, and the league has frankly become unpredictable. With that being said, let’s get bold for next NBA season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers Will Finish With The Best Record League-Wide
On the topic of some of last season’s surprises, the Cleveland Cavaliers proved everyone wrong for the majority of the year. They were penciled in to be one of the league’s worst groups going into the year, and were consistently a top five seed for a good chunk of the seasons. Unluckily for them, the injury bug hit them at the worst time. In a tight Eastern Conference where seeds five through 10 were separated by just five games, Cleveland took a big hit late in the year, with some of their key players going down with injuries. However, they still managed to shock everyone, tallying a 44-38 record and earning two All-Stars in Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen.
Cleveland set themselves up for a bright future after last season, but this offseason, they went from an exciting young team to arguably the best future in the league. They entered the Donovan Mitchell sweepstakes as dark horses to land the star guard, and then came out on top with the big prize. They gave up next to nothing for a guard entering his prime who’s proven since his rookie year he can lead a team, and Mitchell happens to be a perfect fit with this young Cavaliers group. His fit alongside Garland is nearly perfect offensively, as both are shifty guards who weasel their way into the lane to create offense, while both being two of the most high-octane offensive players in basketball.
The backcourt defense is a problem between the two, but with Cleveland’s frontcourt, this problem nearly becomes irrelevant. Evan Mobley was the best defensive rookie in recent memory, and he’s bound to make an all-around sophomore jump on both offense and defense. Allen was a top five rim protector in the league last year prior to injury, and that shouldn’t change going into next season. Isaac Okoro is slowly developing into a premier wing defender, and is almost a Mikal Bridges-Esque player defensively. They all fit perfectly on defense, as Allen holds down the fort on the inside with Mobley playing the roamer role, and Okoro takes on the responsibility of prime wing defender. They’re set from top to bottom with their starting five, so this combined with a great bench and J.B. Bickerstaff drawing up the plays will make them a threat immediately. Expect Cleveland to breeze through the East during the regular season with their combination of offense, defense, and overall star power.
Both The Golden State Warriors And The Los Angeles Clippers Will Fail To Make It Past Round Two
The Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers are being deemed as the teams to beat not only out West, but in the entire league, and rightfully so. From top to bottom, not only are these the two most talented teams in basketball, but the fits between each player combined with the elite coaching of Steve Kerr and Tyronn Lue make them a threat to any team. If this is the case, why wouldn’t they make it out of the second round? Well, it’s simple.
Let’s start with Golden State. Besides the outliers from 2015 to 2018 of the Warriors and Cavaliers making the finals consistently, it’s almost rare to see a team make it back to the promised land two years in a row. Golden State had arguably the greatest team of all time, and Cleveland had the most dominant floor raiser ever. Since the Warriors big four was disbanded and LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers, there has not been a single team to make the finals consecutive years in a row, and there’s a reason for this. Teams who go all the way have far less time in the offseason to recuperate, and it either leads to them running into injury problems, or simply getting worn out. The Warriors have all the experience and talent to make it back, but looking at it deeply, their backs are simply against the wall. With the core aging, they’re naturally about to come into this season way more tired than years before. With a large part of their core already being injury prone, it’d be shocking to see them not face any problems next season.
In terms of the Clippers, it’s simpler. They simply have not proven they can remain healthy for long periods of time. Kawhi Leonard will likely be at 100% towards the beginning of the season, but for a player who arguably has the most injury prone and fatigued knees in the entire NBA, who’s to say at 31 years old this problem will just resolve itself? Outside of just Leonard, a good part of their group are injury prone as well, including the likes of Paul George and John Wall. The Clippers are known to load manage, but there’s a large chance they face problems in this regard.
With That, the Dallas Mavericks And The Denver Nuggets Will Meet In The Western Conference Finals
If the two favorites to win the West aren’t making the Western Conference Finals, which teams will? The West is frankly wide open, and it can be a number of teams. However, Dallas and Denver are the first two teams to come to mind not named the Warriors or Clippers.
The Dallas Mavericks have flown under the radar this season more so than any team. The loss of Jalen Brunson hurts, but quite frankly, it doesn’t change the way this team plays. It’s still a heliocentric offense revolving around Luka Doncic, and Spencer Dinwiddie can replace at least 70% of Brunson’s impact.
Along with this, Dallas finally surrounded Doncic with “bigs” who fit his skill set. Doncic has never had a great big man that fits alongside of him, so Dallas’ additions of Christian Wood and JaVale McGee will help tremendously. In theory, the fit with Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis was a good one, but when Porzingis remodeled his game to being a seven-foot-three spot up shooter, his impact on this team decreased drastically. Giving Doncic a “big” in Wood who can create from multiple levels while not being afraid to bang down low, along with a guy like McGee who’ll help guard the paint and set screens will help him dramatically on offense. Dallas will still feel the Brunson loss at times, but they’ve arguably improved from the year prior.
Denver will be getting both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back on the floor, and both may be rusty at first, but having them back regardless will help. Even when both struggle, their presence on the court alone will take defensive pressure off Nikola Jokic, allowing him to have more room to operate. The Nuggets also got a perfect two guard for their offense in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who’ll instantly provide tenacious defense and spot shooting. Along with this, expect Bones Hyland to make a Tyrese Maxey-Esque sophomore jump, a highly skilled scoring guard who can dish out the ball and get hot quickly. Both the Mavericks and Nuggets will grab the top two seeds in the West, each upsetting the Warriors and Clippers in round two.
The Memphis Grizzlies Fall To The Play-In
The Memphis Grizzlies were one of the NBA’s biggest Cinderella stories last season, finishing second in the West when they were regarded as a play-in contender before the season. Memphis remains atop the league in terms of the best futures, but expect them to take a fall from glory next season. Ja Morant is at high risk for an injury every game simply due to the fact that he can’t control his landings on dunks. He’s never played 70 games in a season, and last year, he failed to even crack 60.
The Grizzlies had a better record without Morant, but it’s not too hard of an offense to figure out. Memphis without Morant excels at controlling the pace of games, but as soon as teams figure out how to counter that, they won’t be hard to beat. Memphis’ offense without Morant is among the most simplistic in the league, which is a big reason why it worked last season. But again, it’s simply not a hard code to crack. This goes without mentioning that second option, Jaren Jackson Jr. has been prone to injury his entire career. Many things can go wrong for Memphis next year, so in an improved Western conference, expect Memphis to disappoint.
Joel Embiid Will Request A Trade After The Postseason
Joel Embiid has been a Philadelphia 76er for his entire career, and through five playoff appearances, the 76ers have yet to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Philadelphia’s front office has shuffled through teams year after year to get over the hump and break through their own glass ceiling. Yet time and time again they’ve come up short.
Embiid is one of the best players the league has to offer today, as he’s been a perennial MVP candidate for the past few seasons. He’s one of the most skilled big men in league history, and he’s perfectly fit to be the best player on a championship team. However, with Philadelphia’s lack of competence building a true title contender around him, it’s a make or break year for the All-NBA caliber center.
This is the best team Embiid has ever had around him. With a rejuvenated James Harden, an improving Tyrese Maxey, along with pieces such as Tobias Harris, P.J. Tucker, and others, Philadelphia will be among the top teams in the East once again. Despite that, there’s still an argument to be made that teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and Brooklyn Nets are a level above them. If the 76ers fail to make it to the conference finals, which is a realistic outcome, expect Embiid to become disgruntled and request out of the “City of Brotherly Love”.