The NBA season is slated to begin next month, and with teams reporting to training camps around the association this week, here are our top five contenders to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at season’s end.
1. BK’s Big Three Or Bust
The Brooklyn Nets were the overwhelming favorites to win it all last year, but injuries and attrition ended up costing them in the playoffs.
After dispatching of an undermanned Boston Celtics team in five games, the Nets faced the Milwaukee Bucks in what many were calling the Eastern Conference Finals matchup even though it took place in the conference semifinals.
Two heavyweights rumbled for seven hard-fought games, with the Bucks outlasting a Nets team that lost James Harden in the opening seconds of Game 1 and didn’t see him return until Game 5. Harden was a shell of himself with the bad hamstring.
When Kyrie went down in Game 4 with a high ankle sprain for the remainder of the series, it was advantage Bucks.
The great Kevin Durant, however, nearly singlehandedly defeated the soon-to-be NBA champions. If KD’s shoe size was a half foot smaller there would’ve been no parade or celebration in Milwaukee.
The city’s COVID-19 mandate could derail any championship hopes if Kyrie Irving doesn’t oblige.
2. LeBron’s Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers won the 2019-20 NBA title in the NBA bubble, led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but that duo was banged up last season after a quick restart to the season.
The Lakers were beaten by the eventual Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns in the opening round of the playoffs.
If you’ve ever heard the saying “the rich get richer,” this team’s makeup for the upcoming season could qualify just as that, but also “older.”
Somehow they got Russell Westbrook from the Wizards for Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell in a trade.
Who’s digging the Lakers’ new big 3 nickname for LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook? 👀 pic.twitter.com/UQUMnoBOUY
— LakeShow (@LakeShowCP) September 29, 2021
Carmelo Anthony signed as well. They brought back Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo, but also got younger with Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn.
Oh, and for good measure, they picked up Wayne Ellington and DeAndre Jordan. It’s the same thing with them as it is in Brooklyn — championship or bust.
3. Repeat For Greek Freak?
The Milwaukee Bucks are coming off an emphatic run which saw them bring “Cream City” its first championship in 50 years.
The Bucks overcame 2-0 deficits twice in the playoffs, led by two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was named NBA Finals MVP.
His 50-point masterpiece in Game 6 of the NBA Finals closed out the Phoenix Suns.
They don’t have as much star power as the Nets or Lakers, but don’t discount this Bucks team.
4. CP3 Still Seeking Ring Closure
Head coach Monty Williams had his Phoenix Suns on the cusp of an NBA title, and the Bucks snatched it away. Many felt that was Chris Paul’s best shot at an elusive ring.
Led by Paul, star guard Devin Booker, and rising big man DeAndre Ayton, the window for a title hasn’t closed in “The Valley of the Sun.”
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) September 28, 2021
If NBA executive of the year James “Champ” Jones can continue to make solid moves for the team they’ll be a force.
5. Return Of The Splash Brothers
This may sound crazy, but the Golden State Warriors are contenders again after not even making the playoffs last season.
This season brings a new optimism as they have Steph Curry and Draymond Green, plus they’re going to get sharpshooter Klay Thompson back at some point after a two-year vacation rehabbing multiple injuries.
James Wiseman is a year better, Andre Iguodala and his leadership are back. The team drafted two uber-talented wing players in Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody. Adding Otto Porter Jr and Avery Bradley via free agency was a quality move.
Utah Jazz — The top seed in the West last season is capable of going on a run led by “Spida Mitchell” and Rudy Gobert. Well-coached team here by Quinn Snyder.
Philadelphia 76ers — This ranking depends on what happens with the Ben Simmons drama. If Joel Embiid stays healthy, he can be MVP.
Denver Nuggets — Would’ve made the Top 5 if not for Jamal Murray being out with a torn ACL. Team re-signed both young athletic wings in Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon. They have the reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic.
Atlanta Hawks — The surprise of the 2021 NBA playoffs came two games from the NBA Finals. Led by “Ice Trae,” aka Trae Young, the diminutive dynamo this team is young and hungry. The addition of Nate McMillan as head coach in-season last year did wonders for this roster.
Los Angeles Clippers — The Clips won’t go very far in the playoffs without Kawhi Leonard, but this is still a solid roster with Paul George, Marcus Morris, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, Reggie Jackson, Terence Mann and Eric Bledsoe.