The meetings with Kevin Durant in the Hamptons were over. The pitch was complete. The Warriors’ work was done, and the small forward was feeling good.
Durant had been intrigued by the possibilities in Oakland, per the whispers in NBA circles, tantalized by the Warriors’ camaraderie and talent. But before he made the leap to Golden State, he needed to be sure Stephen Curry, one of the league’s biggest stars, was willing to invite a player who could encroach on his territory.
Curry said yes in the meeting. So did teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The end result is that the two-time MVP now has support most could never imagine. Having arguably the best one-two punch in the game is just one advantage the Warriors have over the rest of the league. But that isn’t always enough; witness the Oklahoma City Thunder pairing of Durant and All-NBA guard Russell Westbrook, long considered the best tandem matchup in the NBA—and yet they never won a championship.
The Warriors, though, still have two other All-Stars in Thompson and Green, defensive specialists who give the team production on both ends of the court.
In addition, Golden State has two proven veterans on its bench, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. And if free-agent pickup David West has anything left in the tank, that’ll make three.
The Warriors went 73-9 last year and came within minutes of winning consecutive NBA championships. Now, their best player may have the best team around him to date.
Curry should be fully prepared. For the past four years, he has been the central focus of every defense the Warriors have faced. He has been trapped and double-teamed as much as any player in the league as opponents looked to cut off the head of the Warriors’ snake.
That snake now has two heads.
Curry and Durant is a pairing so strong, either could play Batman.
This coming season could go either way. Curry could take advantage of the wealth of talent Golden State has and become the ultimate playmaker, serving it up to the trio of All-Stars around him. Or he could use the freedom that comes with the presence of Durant to continue his scoring tear.
It makes you wonder: Who has a chance of stopping the Warriors?
One thing was made abundantly clear during the 2016 Finals: LeBron James is the best player in the game. Whether he lost his spot to Curry and reclaimed it or never really lost it at all is a debate made for social media. But in the quest for the championship, he dominated in a way that erased any questions.
A big, though understated, reason James was able to deliver the championship to Cleveland was the growth of Kyrie Irving. The übertalented point guard leaped to another level.
Can the Cavaliers do it again? Their run last season felt as if it were something rare and special. The stars aligned perfectly to produce the kind of moment that makes sports great.
Will they want it as much? Will they again be able to ride a handful of guys and squeeze blood from turnips on their bench?
We should know now more than ever: Don’t count LeBron James out.
The Spurs lost a legend in Tim Duncan, a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the anchor of five championships. Yet they are still among the elite.
They still have Gregg Popovich, one of the best to ever coach in the sport.
They still have Kawhi Leonard, an MVP candidate who can dominate a game on offense and defense.
They still have LaMarcus Aldridge, an All-Star big man who is freed up to carry more of the load with Duncan retired.
Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and new teammate Pau Gasol are a bit long in the tooth and not the stars they once were. But they are champions. It would be a mistake for the NBA to underestimate these old-but-savvy veterans.
San Antonio might not have the youth and athleticism to take down the league’s best, but this team has everything else—including the greatest respect from opponents.
This could be the year the Clippers get it together. Maybe it all clicks at the right time and they do what many have given up thinking they could.
They have the talent. The trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan alone is worth more than 50 wins; the problem is largely the supporting cast.
The team surrounded its triad with a wealth of professional, reliable role players: Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, Brandon Bass and Raymond Felton. Paul Pierce, the aging star who returned to his hometown to close out his career, is another stable force, assuming he is more comfortable in his role this season.
The rest? Players such as Austin Rivers and Wesley Johnson, and new bench player Marreese Speights, have been feast or famine in their careers.
What if everything goes well for the Clippers this year? No injuries to their key players. The role players max out. The young players improve their game. They get all the breaks.
Perhaps then the team could take over Los Angeles.
The Eastern Conference has been Le-Bron James’ playground for years. But Boston has been slowly plotting a coup.
Coach of the year candidate Brad Stevens, just 39, has instituted a system and a mindset that makes the Celtics one of the toughest teams, physically and mentally. They defend in a way that makes their opponents uncomfortable. They pass the ball in a way that makes them tough to guard, despite not having an elite player to carry their offense.
And now they have a bona fide All-Star in Al Horford, who left Atlanta to join a lineage of great Celtics big men.
Is that enough to take down James? Maybe not yet, but they’re at least close enough to scare the Cavaliers.
Few things are as intimidating on a court as an angry Russell Westbrook with a full head of steam, and that’s the outlook for the season.
Abandoned by Durant, Westbrook is left to defend the honor of the Thunder. He is now the undisputed top dog, out from the shadow of Durant’s legend.
Point guard Westbrook was a beast next to Durant. Without having to share the spotlight and motivated by a desire to prove he can now carry this team on his own, Westbrook is set up for a dominant season.
This team won’t be a slouch, either. The Thunder still has one of the best young centers in the league in Stephen Adams. And they picked up another potential-laced young player in Victor Oladipo. Plus, their home court is among the toughest in the league.