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The Neersyde 2017-18 NBA Preview

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The flurry of activity this off-season has plenty of fans hoping their team may have a shot to get to the NBA Finals.

The flurry of activity this off-season has plenty of fans hoping their team may have a shot to get to the NBA Finals.

The flurry of activity this off-season has plenty of fans hoping their team may have a shot to get to the NBA Finals.

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Every offseason always feels like an eternity for sports fans. However, some would argue October is the best time of year – the Major League Baseball playoffs are in full swing, college and NFL football are nearing the midway point of their seasons, hockey has begun, and the NBA is about to get underway   As this new and exciting NBA season is just around the corner, many questions come to mind. Will the Warriors’ “super team” once again reign supreme? Will this be the fourth consecutive year we get a  Warriors vs. Cavaliers  matchup in The Finals? Which teams will rise to the opportunity in the “weak” Eastern Conference and make the playoffs to make a name for themselves? What impact will Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball have on their new teams?

To begin with, there were some blockbuster trades and signings that took place during the offseason. Here are the basics you need to know about the biggest deals.The Timberwolves acquired All-Star shooting guard Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls and point guard Jeff Teague from the Indiana Pacers. The Cavaliers signed former MVP Derrick Rose from the New York Knicks and twelve time All-Star  Dwyane Wade from the Bulls. They also traded for  All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas and defensive minded small forward Jae Crowder from the Boston Celtics. The Celtics, in return,  got former Rookie of the Year and All-Star Kyrie Irving from Cleveland, and drafted Jayson Tatum from Duke. The Thunder acquired three time All-NBA player Paul George from the Pacers and ten time All-Star Carmelo Anthony from the Knicks. Finally, the Rockets got point guard Chris Paul from the Clippers.

NBA viewership  because the Ball era has begun. The Los Angeles Lakers took point guard Lonzo Ball from UCLA with the second overall pick in the draft, keeping Ball in his hometown of L.A. With a mentor like Magic Johnson, Ball has the opportunity to learn from one of the best players in the history of the game. Ball is a great all-around player, but especially excels at passing. Let’s not forget about the number one overall pick, Markelle Fultz, that the 76ers drafted. Fultz is also a great all-around player and is a dominant scorer. Averaging 23 points per game at the University of Washington, he looks to give the 76ers another young player with sky-high potential.

Another reason this NBA season promises to be a little more excited is the changes made to the annual All-Star Game. Similar to what the NFL did a few years ago, the NBA will now have two team captains that will “draft” players to determine the teams. So, the East vs. West format has been eliminated, meaning players from the two different conferences will now have the opportunity to be teammates, a first for the league’s superstar showcase.

Without further adieu, let’s begin The Neersyde’s 2017 NBA Preview by looking at the top contenders in each conference.

East Contenders

Can King James lead his Cavaliers to another NBA title?

Cleveland Cavaliers: It always seems like LeBron James’s teams succeed the most in the Eastern Conference. Although they lost Kyrie Irving via a trade with the Boston Celtics, they gained  point guard Isaiah Thomas and small forward Jae Crowder, one of Boston’s best defenders last year. Also, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade took considerable pay cuts to join arguably the best team in the East. A thing that could have them not live up to their potential this season is that star point guard Isaiah Thomas could be out until the All-Star Game with a hip injury, which is a big blow since considering that they just traded for him on August 30.

Boston Celtics: Last year, this team surprised nearly every fan and outlasted the Cavaliers for the number one seed going into the NBA Playoffs last season, though they were  dominated by the Cavs 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Over the summer, they acquired three big names: small forward Gordon Hayward from the Utah Jazz,  the Cavs’ star point guard Kyrie Irving, and rookie Jayson Tatum out of Duke University, whom the team drafted #3 overall. The Celtics signed Hayward to a 4-year/$127 million contract, then acquired Irving, weakening the Cavaliers. However, Boston also sent Cleveland the Nets 2018 first-round pick, a valuable commodity in today’s NBA, especially since that may be a top five pick next summer.  The Celtics also traded Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris, which many believed was a bad trade for the Celtics because they lost an amazing defensive player and simply received  a decent role player in return.

Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan are arguably the best backcourt in the East and have always seemed to find themselves as the three or four seed in the playoffs. At this point, the chemistry that this team has is definitely a force, but it will depend upon how their two stars in the backcourt play in the playoffs. In recent years, it is because of them that they lose in the early rounds. Both Lowry and DeRozan have struggled in the playoffs throughout their careers.  Also, the addition of rookie small forward O.G Anunoby from the University of Indiana should help the Raptors significantly.

Washington Wizards: A team with another stellar backcourt  featuring the  electrifying point guard John Wall and sharpshooting shooting guard  Bradley Beal, the Wizards are always dangerous. Center Marcin Gortat is a solid rebounder but is getting up there in age. They re-signed small forward Otto Porter to 4-year/$97M dollar contract. Similar to the Raptors, this team has great chemistry even though they did not sign a big name in the offseason.

Even though the Miami Heat aren’t expected to contend this year, they may squeeze into the postseason and are worth mentioning because they are South Florida’s favorite team. After barely missing the playoffs last year, the Heat acquired Bam Adebayo, a center from the University of Kentucky. They also signed  center Kelly Olynyk from the Celtics which fills a hole at the backup center and power forward spot.

Despite not being considered one of the powerhouses in the East, Heat fans are still hopeful.

“I’m excited to see how the Miami Heat do this season in a weak Eastern Conference,” said seventh grader Hunter Krieger. “I think the Heat have a great chance of making the playoffs.”

West Contenders

Kevin Durant and company look to secure the Golden State Warriors’ third title in four years.

Golden State Warriors: The defending champs. The “Super Team.” The Warriors currently are the best team in the league according to most and maybe even the best team of all time. All-around superstar Kevin Durant (last season’s Finals MVP), star sharpshooter Stephen Curry, defensive stalwart Draymond Green, and three-time All-Star Klay Thompson. The Warriors added another sharpshooter in Nick Young over the offseason and are once again heavy favorites to win the NBA title.

For these reasons, some students think the Warriors have what it takes to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy this year.

“I think the Warriors will go back to back. They just have to much talent on their roster for them to lose four out of seven games to one team.” said eighth grader John-Vincent Janin.

San Antonio Spurs: This team may not be that great of a team on paper, but are always in the mix of things at the top of the west. Gregg Popovich is one of the greatest coaches of all time and likes to play smart basketball. Signing small forward Rudy Gay could help this team significantly with veteran Manu Ginobili returning . Rudy Gay has always been a solid scorer at around 15 points per game. Also, nobody can forget about MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, arguably the best two-way player in the league. Young point guard Dejounte Murray also looked very solid at the end of last season and may  be the future point guard for the Spurs.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Many ask, what if this team, led by reigning MVP Russell Westbrook,  still had Kevin Durant and James Harden? But this offseason, the Thunder arguably made the biggest splash, acquiring two star small forwards in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. They lost backup center Enes Kanter from the Anthony  trade, but still gained offensive fire power in the deal. The Thunder also  drafted Terrance Ferguson, and he should help them for their bench depth. They also signed Patrick Patterson to help their bench.

For these reasons, some students think the Thunder has what it takes to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy this year.

“Oklahoma City Thunder [will win the championship this year] because I feel like they are a pretty young team with a lot of talent,” said eighth grader Will DiMaio.

Houston Rockets: After acquiring Chris Paul via trade, many think  this is the year the Rockets can make a name for themselves and possibly go to the Finals. Others say the Warriors are just too good. Houston’s backcourt is now probably one of the best in the league with two all stars in Chris Paul and James Harden. They acquired small forward P.J Tucker from the Raptors in free agency and also got  center Zhou Qi from China who has high expectations. They are also hoping young center Clint Capela will take the next step and become their future starter.

Some students now see the Rockets as a legitimate threat in their conference.

“I think the addition of Chris Paul will affect the Rockets more than any other team,” said eighth grader Zach Loceff. “I think he will give the Rockets a star passer and help them go to the top half of the playoffs in the West. ”

Now, after naming the contenders in each conference this season, let’s look at the teams that could be on that contenders list in a few years.

On the Rise

The 76ers have a strong group of young core players like (left to right) point guard Ben Simmons, center Joel Embiid, and rookie Markelle Fultz.

Philadelphia 76ers: Many think that this year is the year the 76ers can make a name for themselves and make it to the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference. They traded up in the draft from pick three to pick one and they got Markelle Fultz, all-around point guard from the University of Washington. The 76ers filled a big hole in the guard spot after not having a standout guard in  seasons past. Coming back from injury is center Joel Embiid and point forward Ben Simmons. Slightly over halfway through the season last year, Embiid – who was playing great on a minute restriction – tore his meniscus and missed the rest of the season. Then, shortly after the draft, Ben Simmons fractured his foot and missed the full season. These two players and Markelle Fultz look to lead the 76ers to the promise land.

Milwaukee Bucks: Although the Bucks made the playoffs last year as the five seed, they are still improving. Rising star Giannis Antetokounmpo led the team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals last season which is remarkable. Giannis is still very young. Another bright spot is Malcolm Brogdon who was a second round draft pick and won Rookie of the Year last season. Another solid player is Thon Maker, whom they drafted with the tenth pick of the 2016 draft. He is looking to make the next big step in his career and the Bucks have high expectations for him. Another big positive is that Jabari Parker is returning from a torn ACL which will help them drastically. Parker has had a bad injury twice in his short three-year career and hopes to make it through the entire 2017-18 season healthy.

Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves are another team that also made a huge splash in the offseason. On draft night, they acquired star shooting guard Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls and gave away young players  Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. The Timberwolves definitely won that trade. In free agency, they also signed point guard Jeff Teague who will be their starter. They are looking for Andrew Wiggins and superstar center Karl-Anthony Towns to take the next  step as they look to make a huge jump into the playoffs. Also in the draft, they got center Justin Patton who will increase their bench depth.

Denver Nuggets: Out of the blue, the Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to a big three-year deal. Now they have one of the best  backcourts in the league. Young superstar and all around center Nikola Jokic looks to make an impact and emerge as a top center in the league. They also acquired guard Monte Morris from Iowa State in the draft. Just recently,  the Nuggets extended guard Gary Harris’ contract for three more years. They also hope that guard Jamal Murray can take another step and emerge as a top scorer for their team. This young team looks to make a push for the playoffs this season.

While these times are on the rise, there are a handful of others whose futures look bleak because they’ve lost or traded away their star players.

On the Decline:

Atlanta Hawks: After losing All-Star power forward Paul Millsap via free agency, the Hawks are looking to enter complete rebuilding mode, and many say they might dethrone the Brooklyn Nets from last place in the East. The Hawks now look like they will get a top pick in the draft and possibly a great player like Michael Porter, Jr. from Missouri or Marvin Bagley III from Duke. There are rumors swirling that  the Hawks will most likely tank this season and rebuild through the draft after losing Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, and Kyle Korver in the span of just three years.

Chicago Bulls: After trading away star shooting guard Jimmy Butler, the Bulls have near to nobody good on the team. Their “star” currently is young shooting guard Zach LaVine. LaVine is a two-time slam dunk champion and a good scorer. However, he is coming off a bad ACL tear and nobody knows how he will respond from that devastating injury. Similar to the Hawks, many expect the Bulls to tank this year and get a top pick in the draft next season (and maybe for several  seasons to come).

Utah Jazz: After losing all-star small forward Gordon Hayward, the Jazz look like they are heading for a drop off. Hayward, who was just entering the prime of his career, signed with the Celtics this offseason. The only bright spot on the Jazz now is defensive star center Rudy Gobert. The Jazz now have no standout superstar, and that should push them out of the playoffs in a very challenging Western Conference.

Dallas Mavericks: Just a few years ago, the Mavericks beat the big three in Miami to win their first NBA title. Now the Mavericks team is old and on the decline. Future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki at age 39,  is at  the end of his career, and although the Mavericks got Dennis Smith, Jr. in the draft, he may be the lone bright spot on the team after Nowitzki. Last season, Dallas  was  one of the worst teams in the league and it doesn’t look like it will get any better for the Mavs this season.

And now, onto The Neeryde’s playoff predictions.

AP
Will the Boston Celtics’ Kyrie Irving, left, and Gordon Hayward be enough to provide General Manager Danny Ainge, right, the firepower they need to get past Cleveland?

East

The Neersyde Staff believes it will be (1) Cavaliers, (2) Celtics, (3) Raptors, (4) Wizards, (5) Bucks, (6) Heat, (7) 76ers, (8) Hornets. Of those eight teams, The Neersyde picks the Cavaliers, Celtics, Raptors, and Wizards to advance. The Eastern Conference Finals should be a rematch of last year with the Cavaliers and Celtics meeting once again, and just like last year, LeBron James will carry his team to the Finals for the eighth year in a row.

West

In the West,  it will be (1) Warriors, (2) Spurs, (3) Thunder, (4) Rockets, (5) Timberwolves, (6) Clippers, (7) Trail Blazers, (8) Nuggets. The Neersyde likes the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, and Rockets to advance. The Western Conference Finals will be a showdown between the Warriors and Thunder in a series featuring former teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook facing off in an exciting series. Ultimately, though, the Warriors will have too much fire power and experience for Oklahoma City.

Finals

For a record fourth time in a row,  the Warriors will  battle the Cavaliers in The Finals. The Warriors should prevail once again, but this time, in seven games.

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The Neersyde 2017-18 NBA Preview