Whatever remorse the Golden State Warriors experienced after blowing a 3-1 NBA Finals lead to Cleveland and failing to cap their record-setting 73-9 season with a second straight title, quickly fell away when they won the free-agent lottery by signing Kevin Durant. Combining the NBA’s best forward with the “Splash Brothers,” Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, just might have created one of the all-time superteams.
The news prompted joking suggestions that 82-0 is within reach, but really, it’s a matter of winning one more Finals game and outmanning Cavaliers star LeBron James for years to come. Durant’s low-key demeanor and desire to join an ensemble in pursuit of a title suggest there will be no chemistry problems, and his ability to hit the three as well as dominate inside adds a dimension no team can match.
Durant’s departure from Oklahoma City leaves the Thunder relying on do-everything guard Russell Westbrook, whose wing man now is trade acquisition Victor Oladipo. The toughest challenge Golden State faces in the Western Conference will come once again from San Antonio despite the retirement of all-time great power forward Tim Duncan.
Pau Gasol replaces Duncan in a great frontcourt that includes Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, so, the Spurs are as well-equipped as any team to battle the Warriors, especially on defense. One other worthy challenger is the Los Angeles Clippers, whose depth of talent rivals anyone’s if forward Blake Griffin and point guard Chris Paul, who were injured during the playoffs, remain healthy. With those two heading to opt-out years, it might be now or never for the Clips.
Depending on how Memphis adjusts to new coach David Fizdale, the Grizzlies showed they can compete with the Warriors by taking a 2-1 lead in their playoff series, and they added forward Chandler Parsons to the frontcourt power of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Portland impressed last season with backcourt partners Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combining for 45 points per game, and they signed free-agent wing Evan Turner.
James Harden-led Houston, which lost free-agent big man Dwight Howard, and Dallas, which added former Warriors Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes to help 38-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, remain fringe playoff contenders.
Tom Thibodeau takes over Minnesota as coach and chief of operations to build around rookie of the year Karl-Anthony Towns and forward Andrew Wiggins. New Orleans center Anthony Davis is coming off knee surgery and will get help from first-round pick Buddy Hield, a volume scorer who led the NCAA last season. But the Timberwolves and Pelicans still are growing into playoff contenders.