Western Conference Finals
The Denver Nuggets came within just minutes of a Western Conference Finals appearance this past postseason, falling to the Portland Trailblazers 100-96 in a second-round game 7.
For a Denver team with an average age of just 24.4 and led by 24 year old Nikola Jokic, their 54-win season came as a surprise to many. The young duo of Jokic and 22 year old Jamal Murray has proven to be one of the most symbiotic in the association.
With a young and hungry supporting cast of Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Mason Plumlee and more, anything short of the Western Conference Finals next season would be considered a disappointment for the Nuggets, who went into last postseason as the youngest team in the Western Conference.
After such an impressive season with such a disappointing end, one of the youngest teams in the league will come out now hungrier than ever.
Their young players are getting stronger, smarter, and more mature; their roster will only continue to work better and better together as they continue to keep the same group together from the past few seasons.
The Denver Nuggets will be a force to be reckoned with. Their eyes are set on the next step for this group of young talent: the Western Conference Finals.
Realistically, nothing more.
Hopefully, nothing less.
Morey’s Big Gamble
Daryl Morey, General Manager of the Houston Rockets, may have just made the biggest gamble of the decade.
The way they were before adding Russell Westbrook, the Rockets would have been good. They would have been really good. They would have won 50+ games and made some serious noise in the postseason.
However, Morey decided that was not enough.
Why settle for being good, when you could take a gamble and have a legitimate chance to win it all?
By trading away 9x all-star Chris Paul to the Thunder for the 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook, Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets have set themselves up for a season that could truly go one of two ways:
The Harden-Westbrook combination could prove to be exactly what it’s doubters are saying it will be: complete and utter disfunction with too much talent for only one basketball.
This combination of two of the leagues top 10 talents could prove it’s doubters wrong and make GM Daryl Morey’s big gamble worth it. They could find a way to play not necessarily with one another, but for one another. They could find a way to prioritize the team’s success over their individual numbers. They could find a way to do what two guys with this much talent on the same team should do: be incredible.
Whether it works out perfectly or not, the Harden-Westbrook duo and their Houston Rockets have quite the season ahead of them.
Daryl Morey made a big gamble, and now it’s time to see if it will pay off.
Cross your fingers, Rockets fans…
and hope this team hits their ceiling:
an NBA Championship for the city of Houston.
Health of Oladipo
Before Victor Oladipo suffered a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee on January 23 against the Toronto Raptors, he was averaging 18.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game for a surprising Pacers squad who sat at a record of 32-15. For the remainder of the season after that point, after Oladipo was declared out for the year, the Pacers went 16-19. Indiana finished with a record of 48-34, which landed them as the 5-seed and in a first-round matchup with the 4-seed Boston Celtics. Still without Oladipo at this point, the Pacers went on to get swept by Boston in a quick 4-game series.
This season, Victor Oladipo is expected to return sometime in the December/January area.
For an Indiana Pacers team which clearly needs their two-way star sg to have any chance at a postseason run, EVERYTHING is about the health of Oladipo.
Their plan should be simple:
Give Oladipo all the time he needs to recover and transition back into NBA basketball. Don’t rush him, and make sure that when he does return, it is when he is as close to 100% as he can get.
Until then, let guys like Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner, TJ Warren and Domantas Sabonis lead this team and create a culture so that when Oladipo does return, it is to an already cohesive and steady group.
This way, when the 2020 playoffs do come around, Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers will be a team you would be a fool to look past.
If the way Oladipo and his Pacers played at the beginning of last season was any indication of what’s to come when he returns, expectations should be high for this Indiana team.
Everything depends on Oladipo’s health.
How healthy he is and will be…
Only time will tell.
Los Angeles Clippers
Now Have Expectations
Kawhi Leonard: New
Paul George: New
For the first time in franchise HISTORY, the Los Angeles Clippers have real expectations.
“What about ‘Lob City?’ CP3 and Blake had expectations.”
No, they didn’t.
Everybody knew they were good enough to make the playoffs and win a series. But everyone and their parents knew the Clippers were never ever really a championship level team.
Now, everything is different.
Not only are the Los Angeles Clippers expected to be one of the best teams in the association, but many expect to see them in the Finals.
Their expectations are to AT A MINIMUM make the Western Conference Finals, a round of the playoffs this LA Clippers franchise has never before seen by the way.
Last season, the Clippers postseason appearance as the 8-seed was a huge overachievement. Taking the juggernaut Golden State Warriors to 6 games in the first round was seen as a near miracle.
Now with Leonard and George, Vegas has the Clippers with the highest odds to win the 2019-2020 NBA Finals, at 7/2.
Will the new-look Los Angeles Clippers meet expectations and rise to their sky-high potential?
Or will they crumble under the pressure and continue to be the ‘little brother’ in LA.?
It’s going to be a show in Los Angeles this season.
You can not miss it.
Los Angeles Lakers
Better Win Now
Talk about pressure!
After trading away just about every young asset and draft pick they own for Anthony Davis, to pair with a 34-year old LeBron, the LA Lakers have earned the leagues spotlight.
I mean, they’re the Lakers; they always have a spotlight.
But now, now they REALLY have the spotlight.
Having missed out on the playoffs every year since 2013, and undergoing quite a disappointing 2018-2019 season, the Lakers are in desperate need of success.
True fans of the Los Angeles Lakers demand excellence.
And they have gotten anything but that as of late.
LeBron James is still a superstar, and he is still capable of leading a team to the promised land.
I truly do believe that.
However, he is not getting any younger.
His window of excellence and the Lakers window to win it all will close within the next couple of years.
The time to win for this LA team is now.
Not a year from now, not two years from now,
Talk about pressure…
A New Era
With Zach Randolf, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol and now Mike Conley all now officially out of town, the “grit-and-grind” Memphis Grizzlies era is over.
For all of us die hard NBA fans or any Grizzlies fans out there, it is going to be a weird feeling watching them play without any of the original grit-and-grind group of guys aforementioned.
However, weird doesn’t necessarily mean bad.
Led by #2 overall pick Ja Morant and 2nd year player Jaren Jackson Jr, the Grizzlies have put themselves together an exciting group of young talent.
Guys like Josh Jackson, Jonas Valanciunas, Grayson Allen and Dillon Brooks have high upside as complimentary pieces to Morant and Jackson Jr.
It’s a new, young and exciting era in Memphis.
While the grit-and-grind era may be over,
a new one has begun.
Their record may not portray this by seasons end…
but it is gonna be a show out in Memphis that’s definitely worth tuning in to.
To the Playoffs!
After missing out on the 2019 playoffs by just two games, the Miami Heat will surely be back in the playoff picture this season.
With newly acquired all-star guard Jimmy Butler in town, joining guys like Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Justice Winslow, Bam Adebayo and rookie Tyler Herro, the Heat will be good.
Probably not that good.
Good enough to make the playoffs without a doubt.
But right now, the way they are currently constructed, Miami’s chances of any sort of deep postseason run are frankly slim.
However for a franchise who’s identity has always been to, win or lose, leave every last drop of blood, sweat and tears on the court, a tough-fought first-round exit may just be enough.
So for Heat fans, if you’re looking to watch a hard-nosed, gritty team give everything they’ve got into every game they play and be a tough playoff matchup for any team, you’re in luck.
But if you’re looking for a championship contender or even a team capable of a conference-finals appearance,
New Orleans Pelicans
Must Watch Television
EVERYBODY is talking about the Lakers-Clippers rivalry as the biggest show in basketball this season, and rightfully so.
It truly is going to be a spectacle out in L.A.
But DO NOT forget about these new-look Pelicans.
Remember Lonzo Ball?
That one guy with the weird jump-shot, the one with the loud dad, the “next Laker to have his jersey in the rafters” according to Magic Johnson himself. Well he’s in New Orleans now.
And as good or bad as you think he’s gonna be, it’s inarguable that anytime he is on the court, it is fun to watch.
Add to him his former Lakers teammates Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, guys with everything to prove.
Not to mention Jrue Holiday, an automatic 15 and 7 guy who many consider to be the leagues most underrated player.
With proven role players like JJ Redick, Derrick Favors and E’Twaun Moore, this team is going to be a show worth watching.
Oh yeah, and that Zion guy.
Now I know what you’re all thinking:
“Here we go with another paragraph long Zion rant about how amazing and special and spectacular and incredible this guy is.”
So I won’t bore you all with that.
Besides, there is PLENTY of Zion Williamson hype and praise on my previous articles if you want to check those out.
*cough* *cough* –> https://leaguealertsofficial.com/author/zackweiss48/
So, if you’re the Pelicans your sitting today with: Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, JJ Redick, Derrick Favors and some exciting rookies like Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
How good this team will really be is almost impossible to predict.
With such a balance of proven veterans and young, rising talents, New Orleans could realistically finish anywhere from the 7 seed to the 12 seed.
What is easy to predict however, as it is as certain as anything, is that this new-look Pelicans squad will be MUST WATCH TELEVISION.
Oklahoma City Thunder
When’s the Draft?
You trade Paul George for 6 future first-round picks.
You then trade Russell Westbrook for 4 future first round picks.
You’re draft future now looks like this:
The only exciting thing about the Oklahoma City Thunder this season is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who for many of you non “casual” fans out there, isn’t all that exciting at all.
And before you think it, no.
Chris Paul is not exciting.
Chris Paul will be traded by the trade deadline.
He will play well and earn himself the value to be traded to a team like Miami or Philadelphia.
And in the rare scenario he doesn’t get traded, he’s out of there by July 1st.
So, for Oklahoma City, it’s time to just wait for the 2020 draft,
and the one after that,
and the one after that,
and the one after that,
and the one after that.
Need A Star
The Orlando Magic have a nice young core, they really do.
But they just need “that guy.”
You know, “that guy.”
The guy you look at and think, “woah, that guy’s special. That guy is a star.” Every great team or great young core has that guy.
Whether already a star, or a clear star in the making, it is essential to have someone like this if you’re looking to build anything championship-level in the future.
Just look at some of the leagues best young teams:
The Bucks have Giannis.
The Nuggets have Jokic.
The 76ers have Embiid and Simmons.
The Pacers have Oladipo.
The Celtics have Tatum.
The Mavericks have Doncic.
Last year’s Nets had D’Angelo Russell.
The Magic have…
Orlando has a nice young group of talent; I really don’t think there is any disputing that. They did make the playoffs this past season, don’t forget.
However, “nice young talent” isn’t going to get you anywhere big in the future.
You need “that guy.”
And until Orlando gets that guy, the first round of the playoffs is the absolute ceiling.
Now, somebody already on their roster could potentially one day emerge as that guy.
Or more likely, a future high draft pick could become that guy.
Or possibly a trade could happen to acquire that guy.
Bradley Beal maybe?
The point is, the Magic are in desperate need of some sort of star-level talent.
However they get it, whenever they get it,
they NEED to get it.
Booker vs Suns
Remember in part 1 of this article when I talked about saving Bradley Beal by trading him the out of Washington?
This is like that times a million.
SAVE DEVIN BOOKER.
Those would have been my three words for this one if my three words for Washington weren’t “Save Bradley Beal.”
Just take a look at Booker’s statistics by season since 2016:
2016: 22.1 ppg, 3.2 apg, 3.4 rpg, 42%, 36%
2017: 24.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.7 apg, 43%, 38%
2018: 26.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 6.8 apg, 47%, 33%
Then look at his Phoenix Suns record each year:
This now 22 year old kid from a small town in Michigan has been doing absolutely everything he can for this franchise, putting up better and better numbers as the years go on.
He has matured into an absolute star.
But Phoenix just continues to get worse.
They just continue to fail him.
Awful draft selections, a poor player-development team, and a horribly mesmerizing 7 head coaches over the past 10 years has created a recipe for constant failure.
If you squint your eyes, really really hard, there do seem to be some vague bright spots here and there though.
DeAndre Ayton had a very good rookie-campaign last season. He should make a big leap this year.
And the acquisition of Monty Williams as the new head coach comes across as a great signing. Many were of the belief that he would’ve been this years Lakers head coach if Phoenix didn’t go out and snag him when they did.
Phoenix is going to be bad yet again.
And Devin Booker’s going to be great.
However with Monty Williams and DeAndre Ayton, a bright future hopefully awaits this parlous Suns franchise..
a bright, distant future.
Oh yeah and just for laughs, look at the Suns first 6 games this season:
Sacramento, Denver, Clippers, Lakers, Utah, Golden State.
Young, But Good
With an average age of just 24.7 years old, the Sacramento Kings are one of the youngest teams in the association.
After earning themselves a surprising 39 wins and being right there in the playoff race up until about February, this young team has proven to be undoubtedly on the come up.
De’Aaron Fox is the future of this franchise. He’s an incredible point guard defender, a great finisher around the rim, an extremely underrated playmaker, and may just be the fastest player in the NBA.
The only thing there really is to nitpick about Fox is that it would help for his 3-point shot to be more consistent, which is by no means an unsolvable problem, especially for a guy just 21 years old.
Buddy Hield, Fox’s backcourt mate in Sac-Town, is already one of the leagues best pure shooters. While he may not be in the tier with guys like Steph and Klay, he is at the for-front of whatever tier is next. I mean the guy has now shot 43% from 3 each of the past three years of his career. That’s special.
Marvin Bagley, now second year player out of Duke, may have just had one of the most underrated rookie seasons we have seen in a while. The man averaged 15 and 8 in only 25 minutes per game. That’s really, really good. His “per 36” is 21 and 7, meaning if he were to play an average starter’s minutes, that would be the best estimation of his production.
With a supporting cast of proven talents like Harrison Barnes, Trevor Ariza, Corey Joseph and Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Fox-Hield-Bagley trio may just be able to do some damage this season.
The Sacramento Kings future is the NBA playoffs, that can be pretty clearly seen.
But will that first playoff appearance with this new group come this season, or will we have to wait a little longer to see the young Kings make a postseason appearance?
We’ll just have to wait and see.
San Antonio Spurs
Playoffs, I Guess
There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and the San Antonio Spurs making the NBA playoffs.
Head Coach Gregg Popovic and his Spurs have now made the postseason 22 seasons in a row.
Gregg Popovich is now 70 years old (I know right, props to this guy), and has coached in the NBA playoffs every year since he was 48 years old.
Anyway, the Spurs at this point are just in a weird spot.
With the Tim Duncan-Manu Ginobili-Tony Parker-Kawhi Leonard era officially over in San-Antonio, they are now in a spot where they can no longer compete for championships, but still can not miss the playoffs.
At this point, it would really be in the Spurs best interest to trade their older guys like DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge for young assets and draft picks.
They could then build for the future around guys like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Bryn Forbes, Lonnie Walker IV, Luka Šamanić and Keldon Johnson.
But, they’re the Spurs.
So they would never do that.
They’re going to continue to fight for postseason appearances year after year until they are forced to do otherwise.
It’s just the San Antonio way.
At this point, I’m convinced Gregg Popovich will coach until he’s 100 and the Spurs will make the playoffs every year for the rest of all of our lives.
The East’s Sleeper
Just like the Warriors in the West, people are SLEEPING on the Raptors.
Yes, the Warriors lost Kevin Durant. They are still a great team.
Yes, the Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard, but they are still a great team.
Okay maybe there’s a difference there, but it should be noted that without Kawhi Leonard in the lineup last season, the Raptors went 17-5.
That is a large enough sample size to assume they will be just fine without him.
Are they the favorites to come out of the East this year? Obviously not.
But everyone who is saying they may miss the playoffs entirely, is crazy.
The reigning champion core of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell is still intact. With OG Anunoby returning from injury and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson joining the team this offseason, the Raptors could be a scary team to face in a first round playoff series.
Do not be the least bit surprised if they finish the regular season with home-court advantage and end up winning a playoff series.
Don’t sleep on Toronto,
they are the reigning NBA champs.
Tough to Predict
There are people out there saying that the Utah Jazz can legitimately contend for a championship this season.
Others say those people are insane, that the Jazz are simple not talented enough to compare with other star-studded Western Conference teams.
A starting lineup of Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert with a bench consisting of Jeff Green, Ed Davis, Emmanuel Mudiay, Dante Exum and Royce O’Neale looks great on paper.
It looks really, really great on paper.
Its a roster of perfect balance.
Offense, defense, great youth, great veterans, three point shooting, speed, this roster really does have it all.
Well, almost has it all.
A lack of star power is the only thing standing in the Jazz’s way of being universally recognized as a true championship contender.
They just dont have a LeBron James.
A Kawhi Leonard,
A James Harden,
A Steph Curry,
A Dame Lillard.
They just dont have the star-power that some believe is a necessity for any team contending for a title.
However, they’re perfectly balanced and extremely talented roster may be enough to overcome the lack of “star-power.” They may prove their critics wrong and go on to hit their ceiling of an NBA championship.
Or, they may prove their critics right and hit their floor of a first or second round flake-out.
This team is just so tough to predict.
It really could go either way.
– By Zack Weiss