The NBA is perhaps the most predictable of the major North American sports. It’s the most susceptible to being dominated by individuals, and finding those dominant individuals has not been hard in recent years.
Oh, LeBron James is on your team? Congratulations, you’re automatically a title favorite.
Two-time reigning MVP Steph Curry is leading your squad of all-stars? Bam, you’re the other favorite.
I’ll admit that it’s a bit weird to post 2017 NBA title futures while the 2016 playoffs are still going on. But that’s the nature of the Association. As long as we roughly know where the biggest names will be come 2017, we can set some early odds on who will take home next year’s crown.
And, since LeBron isn’t likely to be leaving Cleveland again, we might as well start now. (The fate of impending free agent Kevin Durant, on the other hand, does throw a wrench into the works, of course.)
LeBron could switch teams this offseason. (He can opt out of his Cleveland contract and look elsewhere.) But he’s not likely to abandon his home state squad again. LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love are starting to coalesce in their second year together. By year three, they should have it all figured out. The Eastern Conference is on the rise, but the Cavs still have the easier path than their Western Conference counterparts.
The Golden State Warriors aren’t bullet proof. The almost unbeatable squad is a Steph Curry injury away from being downgraded to merely awesome. But as long as Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green continue to form the core of this team, they will remain near the top of the league.
The Spurs are set to do what not many before them have managed: transition to a new crop of team leaders while remaining at the apex of the league. Gregg Popovich is transforming their erstwhile “Big Three” (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili) to a “Big Two” (LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard) and it’s working. The pair will keep the Spurs near the top of the league, and the franchise’s stability will continue to lure top free agent talent.
The biggest question this NBA offseason will be the landing spot for free agent Kevin Durant. The Wizards are seriously pursuing the DC native. But would KD really leave running-mate Russell Westbrook to play with John Wall and a bunch of scrubs? If Durant stays in Oklahoma City, the Thunder will be a contender once again. They still need to shore up the rest of the roster – in particular, adding an elite defender – in order to raise their game to the level of the Warriors and Cavs, though.
I kind of feel bad for the Los Angeles Clippers, especially Chris Paul. Paul did wonders in the regular season, leading the Clips to the no. 4 seed in the West while leading scorer Blake Griffin was busy being injured and punching his friends in the face. Then both he and Griffin were lost for the season on the same night in the playoffs, all but sealing the fate of the team, which went onto fall to the Blazers in six. If the roster isn’t decimated by injuries next year, Paul and Griffin will keep LAC in the West’s second-tier (which is still better than 14 of the teams in the East).
(Photo Credit: Keith Allison (LeBron James) CC BY-SA 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)