The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors provided us with one of the more entertaining NBA Finals in recent memory, but the league calendar has already flipped with teams focusing their attention towards next season. The Cavs and Warriors will undoubtedly be title contenders again in 2016, but who are the teams that can stop a potential rematch? Let's break down the contenders in each conference:
The ageless wonders are always dangerous in the West, and according to Tony Parker, his teammates Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will be back for what will likely be one last season. That will give this already talented team extra motivation, and as long as they re-sign restricted free agent Kawhi Leonard (which they will), Gregg Popovich's system will have them challenging for the top seed in the conference again.
However, their age started to show last year as they struggled to guard the younger, athletic teams in the West, and that's not going to suddenly change this year.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka are all expected to start next season healthy for the first time since they made the Finals in 2012, and this year's lottery pick should give them another weapon. If they can stay healthy, they have a real chance to go from missing the postseason to winning the West.
Unfortunately for them, there are still major questions about their bench production, so unless they bring in a free agent or make a move at the trade deadline, they'll likely come up short again.
Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan looked like they were on the verge of breaking through and threatening the Warriors after beating the Spurs in the playoffs, but yet another collapse kept them from reaching the Western Conference Finals. Their biggest problems are a lack of depth and chemistry issues, which Lance Stephenson will only make worse.
Los Angeles certainly has the talent to win the West, but I think there are too many question marks to keep them from doing so.
Houston's surprising run to the Conference Finals gives the Rockets a lot of hope for the future, but their trademark depth will be depleted in free agency this offseason. Add in the fact that there are still a lot of questions about whether James Harden and Dwight Howard can actually lead a team to a championship, and it doesn't seem likely that they'll have the wherewithal to get past Golden State.
Golden State is in perfect shape to make a repeat trip to the Finals. All of their key pieces will be back, and they have the cap space to sign another key role player or two. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green will be ready to take the Warriors back to the Finals.
John Wall and Bradley Beal proved again this postseason that they're a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference, and may have faced the Cavs in the conference finals if Wall didn't break his hand. They're at risk of losing Paul Pierce and need to find an athletic backup point guard, but the pieces are in place for the Wizards to be extremely competitive in 2016.
Atlanta will be returning the same group that won 60 games last season, but it's also the same group that fell apart in the playoffs. They'll be competing for the top seed in the East again, but without a true superstar, they won't truly be competitive in the postseason again.
Injuries struck the Bulls harder than any team in the league last season, but the core of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Nikola Mirotic are lethal when healthy. The biggest question facing Chicago is how new head coach Fred Hoiberg will do, and if he can find a way to create a more free-flowing offense for the Bulls, they may very well beat the Cavs.
Cleveland proved they were easily the best team in the East last season, cruising through the conference even without Kevin Love for most of last postseason. With a healthy supporting cast around LeBron James, the Bulls are the only team that can compete with the Cavs - though Cleveland is still the favorite.
All signs point to a rematch in the 2016 NBA Finals, with the Warriors and Cavs emerging as the heavy favorites in their respective conferences. The Chicago Bulls appear to be the biggest threat to crash the party, but Cleveland and the Bay Area can start getting excited about June basketball again.Back to the NBA Newsfeed