The first order of business with any new season is to scour the landscape of the league and see how it’s looking now that all the wheeling and dealing from the offseason has come to pass. Well, it’s a totally different league from where we left it last June—writing that feels like a massive understatement. The biggest change, though, is the formation of superteams left and right. That usually happens when close to half of last year’s All Stars changed addresses in the course of one off-season!
So as we prepare for the return of the NBA, let’s take a look at all the new, old, and up-and-coming superteams heading into the 2017-18 season.
CREAM OF THE CROP
Golden State Warriors: There’s no point wasting space discussing the Dubs because barring any unforeseen circumstances, Golden State is going to romp its away to its third NBA title in four seasons.
Best-case scenario: The Warriors steamroll the regular season on their way to breaking their own 73-9 season wins record. They obliterate the competition by going 16-0 in the playoff, cementing their status as arguably the greatest NBA team of all time.
Worst-case scenario: Injuries and/or internal squabbles derail the chemistry of the team. They should still be good enough to win at least 60 games, but all the issues boil over in the playoffs and they’ll get unceremoniously booted out in the second round.
Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs have the same problems as almost all of the perceived superteams that rank below Golden State. They’re trying to fit in new players to a system that revolved around two dominant players in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Kyrie’s departure leaves the Cavs without it’s go-to shot maker. That’s a big hole that even the signings and acquisitions of Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, and Dwyane Wade would be difficult to replicate.
Best-case scenario: Rose, Thomas, and Wade fill in the hole left by Irving. The chemistry improves and the added depth of the team helps LeBron win his fourth NBA title.
Worst-case scenario: Thomas never returns to last season’s form. Wade continues his descent to Father Time. Rose is a shell of his former self. LeBron leaves for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Arguably the most interesting team heading into the 2017-2018 NBA season, OKC suddenly find themselves boasting its own three-headed monster. Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony are all alpha-male superstars that collectively, can go toe-to-toe with the Warriors. Depth will be an issue though and it remains to be seen how the reigning MVP will handle the responsibility of suddenly having two superstars by his side.
Best-case scenario: PG13 and Melo flourish with OKC with the help of Russ, who has no problem ceding some of the spotlight to his equally popular teammates. Steven Adams returns to form and becomes the defensive anchor of the team, while the bench unit does its part when called upon. If these situations play out, the Thunder has a fighting chance against the Warriors and whoever gets out of the East.
Worst-case scenario: The three superstars struggle fitting in with each other and the team’s lack of outside shooting torpedoes any chance of them outscoring other teams in the West. A playoff spot is all but guaranteed, but if chemistry issues plague the team, they could be sent home as early as the second round.
Boston Celtics: The Celtics don’t have the flashiest of superstar lineups, but an argument can be made that Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford have the perfect balance that rids any fears of any of them stepping on each other’s toes. Irving will assume his role as the first option of the team, while Hayward’s versatility will provide a nice complement. Horford is Horford. He’s a proven winner that thrives in any situation.
Best-case scenario: Brad Stevens develops a system that allows Irving, Hayward, Horford, and the rest of the team to thrive in their roles. The team develops great chemistry and they carry the weight of Celtic Pride all the way to a championship.
Worst-case scenario: Irving loses the space and flexibility of not having LeBron James as a teammate. Hayward struggles trying to live up to the pressure of his max contract in arguably one of the most passionate cities in the NBA. The team doesn’t hit its stride completely and gets bounced out of the first round.
Houston Rockets: Chris Paul and James Harden have the makings of becoming the best backcourt in the NBA today. Both are playmakers of the highest degree and the only thing better than having one elite playmaker in Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun style of basketball is having two of them.
Best-case scenario: CP3 and the Beard find a way to share ball-handling duties. CP3 covers up for Harden’s defensive deficiencies. The bench plays up to its depth and versatility. The team hits 1,200 threes for the season, breaking a record it set last season, and flame throws its way to a title.
Worst case scenario: CP3 and Harden fail to mesh their skills together. The bench stinks. Threes start hitting iron. The team should still be good enough to make the playoffs, but a first round upset could happen if the team falls apart.
Minnesota Timberwolves: The trio of Karl Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, and Andrew Wiggins has all the makings of a legitimate superteam. The only question now is how long these guys can get to that level. Butler’s familiarity with Tom Thibodeau’s system is a plus and if Towns can make a scary Year-3 leap, the Wolves can be as good as it’s been hyped up to be as early as this season.
Best-case scenario: KAT becomes a full-fledged MVP contender. Butler continues to be the all-around threat he was in Chicago. Wiggins becomes the player worthy of a max. Even Jeff Teague proves to be a smart addition. The Wolves can parlay all of this into home court advantage in the playoffs.
Worst-case scenario: Teague turns into a downgrade from Ricky Rubio. Towns, Butler, and Wiggins can’t find a way to share the ball to benefit them and the whole team. Thibodeau runs the whole team to the ground the way he did to the Derrick Rose-led Bulls teams. The Wolves end up flaming out before even getting a chance to explode.
New Orleans Pelicans: The Pels are the team that’s zagging when everyone else is zigging trying to catch the Warriors. The twin tower lineup of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins is a unique offering in a league that’s gone completely small ball. The Brow and Boogie have a lot to prove this upcoming season after the first taste of their pairing at the tail end of last season didn’t go as well as planned.
Best-case scenario: Brow and Boogie mesh better than everyone expects, turning themselves into match-up nightmares every night. Jrue Holiday parlays all the attention the two bigs get into a fine all-around season. Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen infuse much-needed intensity to the team, turning them into a hybrid of the championship Celtics teams from the late 2000s and the more recent Grit-and-Grind Grizzlies teams. A playoff run is on the table and the Pels make a deep run. Boogie resigns with the team in the offseason.
Worst-case scenario: The twin towers experiment fails. Brow gets hurt again. Boogie flares up and leaves next season. Brow gets traded. The team moves to Seattle.
Philadelphia 76ers: It’s way too early to tell if the Sixers have the makings of a superteam. They do have the foundation in Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz. A lot will depend on the health of these three young franchise players and that in itself will spell the team’s future.
Best-case scenario: Embiid and Simmons finally leave their injury issues behind. Fultz proves to be the scorer everyone thought he was. Redick acclimates himself in his new team. Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Rashaun Holmes, and TJ McConnell all continue their improvements. Sixers make the playoffs. Embiid breaks the internet by stripping down to his jock strap while celebrating.
Worst-case scenario: Embiid and Simmons get injured again. Fultz isn’t as good as everyone thought he was. Doom and gloom hits the franchise. Sam Hinkie returns and starts tanking again.
San Antonio Spurs: Technically not a superteam by today’s definition of the term, the Spurs remain an elite team because of its two superstars, Kawhi Leonard and head coach Gregg Popovic. Leonard should be back in full form after his devastating injury in the Western Conference Finals. If he doesn’t show any ill effects from that injury, we could see the return to form of one of the league’s most dominant two-way players.
Best-case scenario: Kawhi is still Kawhi. LaMarcus Aldridge finally finds his place in the Spurs system. Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay contribute meaningfully. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili stay healthy enough to contribute on their own. Patty Mills validates the contract he got in the offseason. Dejounte Murray takes a big leap as the team’s point guard of the future. Spurs go all the way, beating the Dubs and the Cavs in the process. Pop wins his sixth NBA title.
Worst-case scenario: None of the supporting cast provide enough help for Leonard. Murray doesn’t improve. Parker and Ginobili retire at the season. Pop follows out the door.