It’s seems like only yesterday that Kevin Durant and his mother Wanda were standing on a podium inside Oracle Arena lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy. That’s how the 2016-17 NBA season ended and barring any unforeseen mishaps this year should conclude in similar fashion.
“The Warriors are gonna win forever if everything stays the same… this season is over,” Jeff Van Gundy told me on SiriusXM NBA radio. “We’re gonna play it out, and the Warriors are gonna win. And then the next year it’s gonna be the same thing.”
The Golden State Warriors are odds on favorites to repeat as NBA Champions so the question of “who will win the title” is fairly straightforward. But there are other pressing issues that need to be addressed in advance of Opening Night on Tuesday. Here are the most pressing questions:
Golden State’s Big Four of Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry aim to repeat.
(Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)
1. IS THERE ANYTHING — AN INJURY, COMPLACENCY, LOCKER ROOM TURMOIL, TIDAL WAVE — THAT CAN STOP THE MACHINE THAT IS THE WARRIORS?
The short answer is, no. Consider this; on Feb. 28 Durant suffered a knee injury 93 seconds into a game against the Wizards. Durant then missed the Warriors next 20 games, including four losses in their first six games without him. But once Golden State settled in, they ran off 14 straight wins. When Durant returned, they went 20-2 including a 16-1 playoff record.
So the best team lost its best player for a mere month and didn’t skip a beat. The Warriors, with Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green leading the way, are the very definition of a super team.
So the long answer is they may be unbeatable.
2. IS THIS LEBRON JAMES’ FINAL SEASON IN CLEVELAND?
The regular season, the playoffs and the offseason will be hijacked by James, the league’s best player who knows how to create and control drama better than anyone.
The Cavs, having traded Kyrie Irving to Boston, are deeper than last year’s team that reached its third straight NBA Finals. The key will be when and if Isaiah Thomas comes back from a hip injury. For now, Derrick Rose is the starter but a healthy Thomas gives Cleveland a puncher’s chance against Golden State.
It has been speculated for months that James will leave as a free agent next summer and that his preferred destination is the Los Angeles Lakers. But why move into the same division, much less same conference, as the mighty Warriors? The smart play for LeBron is to re-sign with Cleveland for at least one more year and then move west. You’ll be hearing plenty about this all season.
(Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)
3. CAN CARMELO ANTHONY AND THE REVAMPED OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER POSE A LEGITIMATE THREAT TO GOLDEN STATE?
Few executives had a better summer than Sam Presti, the OKC president who acquired both Carmelo and Paul George in trades. Presti then capped his offseason by re-signing Russell Westbrook, the reigning MVP who averaged a triple-double last season.
Westbrook has the talent he needs to make a deep playoff run and this is a great opportunity for Anthony to prove that he’s still one of the league’s top forwards after sitting home for four straight postseasons. The Thunder should be in the Western Conference Finals.
4. CAN KRISTAPS PORZINGIS EMERGE AS A FRANCHISE PLAYER ON A TEAM THAT IS CLEARLY TANKING?
This is Porzingis’ show now for better or worse… with a strong emphasis on worse. The Knicks look like bottom feeders in the East, which seems to be part of their plan; all that losing will lead to a high draft pick.
That would also mean a third straight losing season for Porzingis, who needs to demonstrate he can stay healthy and perform at both ends of the court.
5. WILL THE ADDITION OF CHRIS PAUL MAKE THE HOUSTON ROCKETS BETTER?
There’s no denying that Paul is a terrific player and leader but he’s a ball dominant point guard on a team featuring the league’s best ball dominant point guard last season, James Harden.
If any coach can make this work it’s Mike D’Antoni, one of the league’s top offensive minds but this trade created an issue as opposed to solving one.
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)
6. CAN JOEL EMBIID AND BEN SIMMONS GET PHILADELPHIA INTO THE PLAYOFFS?
The Sixers are the “it” team in the Eastern Conference. Simmons, who missed his entire rookie season, is a brilliant playmaker and passer while Embiid is a top five player if — and that’s a huge if — he can stay healthy.
In three years, Embiid has played in 31 games (all last season) and still landed a contract for $ 148 million. He’s a big talent and an even bigger personality. But if he doesn’t make it to at least 65 games the Sixers are headed back to the lottery.
7. WHO WILL BE THE FIRST HEAD COACH ON THE HOT SEAT?
The same 30 head coaches starting this season are the same 30 head coaches who started last season. Finally, owners and front office executives are realizing that changing coaches for the sake of changing coaches doesn’t work.
But patience will be running low for certain coaches, including the Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek, the Pelicans’ Alvin Gentry, the Pistons’ Stan Van Gundy and the Clippers’ Doc Rivers.
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
8. DOES KYRIE IRVING MAKE THE CELTICS BETTER?
Boston was the top seed in the East last year and had a MVP candidate running the point. So what did the Celtics do over the summer? They imploded their roster and now have just four players returning from last year’s team.
Irving forced his way out of Cleveland so there is a lot of pressure on him and he knows it. Same with Gordon Hayward, who signed as a free agent. The Celtics may not be better than John Wall and the Wizards but they are set up to rule the East once LeBron leaves or slows down.
9. WILL THE MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES END THE NBA’S LONGEST PLAYOFF DROUGHT?
The Wolves are the “it” team in the loaded Western Conference. They’ve also missed the playoffs the last 13 years. That should change with the addition of Jimmy Butler, a leader who can help Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
10. WILL LONZO BALL LIVE UP TO THE HYPE?
The best Las Vegas prop bet is the over/under on how many games until LaVar Ball publicly criticizes Lakers head coach Luke Walton. The number is set at 15½. The younger Ball will have a target on his back this season thanks to his father but he seems talented enough and mature enough to handle everything that comes his way.
FYI: bet the under.