By Reed Becker
With NBA starting tonight it’s time to see which teams can go far in the playoffs.
Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers come into this season under new head coach Frank Vogel. Vogel was not their first choice however, as talks between Ty Lue and the Purple and Gold fell through because they could not agree on a contract and LA would have forced Jason Kidd on to Lue’s coaching staff. The Lakers added Anthony Davis in a blockbuster trade with the New Orleans Pelicans back in June in exchange for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first round picks, including the fourth pick from the 2019 Draft. By making this trade, Los Angeles forms a one-two punch in LeBron James and Anthony Davis that automatically makes them a title contender. Furthermore, adding shooting in Danny Green and Avery Bradley will help LeBron spread the floor. However, the Lakers will not be in the NBA Finals because they don’t have enough depth. They lost the opportunity to add players such as: Terrence Ross and Patrick Beverley because they waited on Kawhi Leonard for too long when they could have used their cap space for other needs. If Anthony Davis stays healthy expect the Purple and Gold to have a date with the LA Clippers in the Western Conference Finals.
Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers arguably had a better offseason than the team across the hallway in the Staples Center. By stealing away Kawhi Leonard from the Lakers, trading for Paul George and adding depth to their roster in Patrick Beverley and Maurice Harkless, the Clippers leapfrogged the Lakers for the best team in Los Angeles. Plus, after last year winning 48 games and making the playoffs in a tough Western Conference, even though they were expected to tank after they unloaded the main pieces of their team at the trade deadline, they still wound up giving the Golden State Warriors a run for their money in the first round of the playoffs. Just imagine what they can do now with a two time finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard? The Clippers are better than the Lakers and have stronger depth, which is key come the playoffs as we’ve seen in the past when the Warriors beat the Cavs.
Eastern Conference- Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers: In a weak Eastern Conference the two teams that are destined to meet in the conference finals are the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. For the Bucks, they are coming off a 60 win season with the same roster, with the exception of losing Malcolm Brogden and adding Robin Lopez. With this roster, including the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks should be a threat to make a run in the Eastern Conference again. For Philadelphia, the Sixers lost JJ Redick in free agency and Jimmy Butler in a sign and trade this past summer. However, by adding Al Horford the Sixers formed a big three which includes Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Al Horford, and don’t forget that Tobias Harris resigned with Philly to a max contract as well. The Sixers now have one of the most dominant starting lineups in the NBA. Furthermore, the Sixers also added Josh Richardson over the summer in free agency from Miami. Richardson is an under-the-radar pickup that will immensely benefit Philadelphia on the defensive end of the floor, and he will be playing alongside another outstanding defender in Ben Simmons. On the flip side, Philadelphia is weak in their depth. Their only reliable bench player is Mike Scott and that is not promising considering Joel Embiid is injury prone. Furthermore, losing Jimmy Butler now creates a question for The City of Brotherly Love as to who is going to be the go-to shooter late in games? This question points a finger at Tobias Harris, who in the past has not been the lead player on a winning team.
Western Conference: After the big moves that the Lakers and the Clippers made this off season it will be the battle of LA for the right to go to the NBA Finals to represent the Western Conference. The Clippers have the edge in a series versus the Lakers for multiple reasons. First of all, having a reigning two time NBA Finals MVP on the Clippers alongside Paul George is a huge plus. Furthermore, the Clippers have way more depth than the Lakers, which will ultimately outweigh the Lebron and AD combination.
Eastern Conference: The expected matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals is the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, with the edge going to the Sixers. Philadelphia has the best starting five in the league in Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Al Horford and Tobias Harris. These starters are big and extremely talented on both sides of the floor. Specifically, adding Al Horford, who can play both ends of the court, and Josh Richardson, who is a great defender, puts the 76ers over the top in a series vs the Bucks.
NBA Finals: After Philadelphia had their hearts broken in game seven last season on a Kawhi Leonard fade-away shot at the buzzer, the Sixers face off against Kawhi Leonard again,this time in La La Land. In a seven game series between the Clippers and 76ers the team that has the advantage is the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers have more depth and a reigning two time Finals MVP on their roster. On the other hand, the Sixers are a more inexperienced team that would be in the finals going up against a team that has an experienced head coach in Doc Rivers and a Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard.
It will be a very interesting season because there is not one specific superteam for the first time since the Summer of 2016 when Kevin Durant left OKC to go to the Golden State Warriors. The new team on top will be the Los Angeles Clippers as Kawhi Leonard will have won his third championship with three different teams.