Rod Beard ranks NBA teams; Pistons ninth
Rod Beard of The Detroit News ranks the NBA teams from 1-30. Not surprisingly, the addition of Kevin Durant has vaulted Golden State into the No. 1 spot, while it looks like a long year for Brooklyn, which is No. 30. The Pistons are ranked ninth.
1. GOLDEN STATE
The target got bigger with the acquisition of Kevin Durant, moving a new “Big Four” model. The Warriors were the prohibitive favorites to win the title last year — and that didn’t quite turn out as expected. Are there enough shots to go around for all of their scorers?
LeBron James cemented his legacy as one of the all-time greats, but now comes the hard part: the aftermath of success. The Cavaliers are still the class of the Eastern Conference, and the expectation is another trip to the NBA Finals. The roster is mostly intact and primed to make another run at the Warriors.
3. SAN ANTONIO
Even after Tim Duncan’s retirement, the Spurs will continue to be one of the NBA’s elite teams, behind Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. They planned ahead for their veterans slowing down and their defense, depth and coach Gregg Popovich keep them in the conversation as a perennial contender.
They already were making strides, but adding Al Horford makes the Celtics an instant contender, should the Cavs falter. Isaiah Thomas could have a breakout year and their depth, with Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier, could push them over the top.
5. L.A. CLIPPERS
Their window of opportunity hasn’t closed yet and with the West more top-heavy, they’ll be in the conversation as one of the elite teams in the West. J.J. Redick, who hit 48 percent on 3-pointers, will be a critical piece.
Last season’s 56 wins were an anomaly; the Raptors will take a small step back this season without defensive stalwart Bismack Biyombo, who went to the Magic. The backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeRozan is one of the best in the league.
No Kevin Durant, no problem. That just creates more opportunities for Russell Westbrook, who easily could have an MVP-caliber season with more shots. With Victor Oladipo, the backcourt will be young and ridiculously athletic.
With a healthy roster and some more seasoning, the expectations are considerably higher for the Jazz. Adding point guard George Hill, veteran forward Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson are under-the-radar moves and add needed veteran experience.
After ending a six-year playoff hiatus, expectations are higher. How the Pistons hold the fort while leading scorer Reggie Jackson (knee tendinitis) is out for 6-8 weeks will be critical. Bench production and defense are the biggest keys to getting more than 44 wins.
With Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, the Trail Blazers still have an elite backcourt — and adding Evan Turner gives them another scorer and premium defender. If they get production from their big men, they could vault even higher in the rankings.
All James Harden, all the time. The Rockets have moved on from Dwight Howard and will be a more perimeter-focused offense, adding Ryan Anderson in free agency. Defense remains a question mark, with some of the better offenses in the West.
Nate McMillan takes over as head coach and has a new point guard, in Jeff Teague, who can jump-start the offense. Everything revolves around Paul George but he has more help in veteran additions Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to change the Bucks’ fortunes this season, almost singlehandedly. Moving him to the perimeter and letting him create will simplify the offense, but the injury to Khris Middleton will dull some of the enthusiasm.
The Hornets lost Jeremy Lin but kept the rest of their playoff roster intact. Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum are a nice 1-2 combo, along with Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller. If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can stay healthy, they can improve on last year’s 48 wins.
Can Dwight Howard turn back the clock with his change of scenery? Is Dennis Schroder the answer at point guard? There are more questions than answers for the Hawks, who still should be in playoff contention with all their changes. Kent Bazemore will have to earn his $70 million contract.
After years of mediocrity, the Nuggets could be on the rise, behind young guards Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. They have young talent, but need more veterans — beyond Danilo Galllinari and Kenneth Faried — to make it all stick.
Mike Conley (five years, $153 million) is the highest-paid player in NBA history. David Fizdale takes over as coach and the Grizzlies also signed Chandler Parson; with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, they should be a playoff team again, if they can stay healthy.
Scott Brooks takes over as coach and inherits a talented roster with some issues between Bradley Beal and John Wall. The Wizards missed out Kevin Durant and are trying to find a way to move up in the East. Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat keep them in the mix.
Tom Thibodeau brings the coaching acumen to help youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins mature into a strong 1-2 punch. Adding Kris Dunn in the draft makes the Timberwolves a chic pick to make the playoffs.
20. NEW YORK
The Knicks are building around Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, hoping to find the Fountain of Youth with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. If they stay healthy, they could make the playoffs, but the track record suggests otherwise. Brandon Jennings could play a bigger role.
DeMarcus Cousins is the best center in the league but needs better complementary pieces. The Kings’ draft strategy left some scratching their heads, but Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo and Matt Barnes are good pickups.
22. NEW ORLEANS
Losing Ryan Anderson will hurt offensively but rookie Buddy Hield could have a breakout year and Terrence Jones is a good addition. They’ll need Anthony Davis to stay healthy for a playoffs shot.
Among the league oddities this year is Dwyane Wade in a different team’s jersey. It was time to go in a different direction from Derrick Rose, but the long-term plan still seems to be unclear. Rookie Denzel Valentine could flourish and Robin Lopez and Rajon Ronda are question marks.
The “Big Three” era appears to be over, with the departure of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh’s injuries. Hassan Whiteside is the centerpiece but the Heat don’t have a go-to offensive player, now leaning on Goran Dragic to create for Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson
The Mavericks got what they wanted in free agent Harrison Barnes — but it may not be what they needed. He’ll get more chances to score but Dirk Nowitzki still will get his shots. Adding Andrew Bogut, Seth Curry and rookie A.J. Hammons could help.
Getting Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka will improve the Magic defense significantly but they need scorers — badly. They dealt Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo so the onus is on Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon to produce.
Through the draft, the Suns have rebuilt their core, adding Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and Tyler Ulis. With Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker, they have a good foundation, but need an impact player and more veteran leadership to make a bigger move.
After suffering through three dismal seasons of “The Process,” the 76ers could make a leap forward when rookie Ben Simmons returns from injury. They have high hopes for Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel, but the backcourt needs to improve dramatically.
29. L.A. LAKERS
In the post-Kobe Bryant era, the spotlight gets a little dimmer, as Luke Walton takes the reins. They overpaid for Timofey Mozgov, but can make some strides if rookie Brandon Ingram can get stronger and develop quickly.
The Nets are still young and lack a go-to player, but Jeremy Lin will give them some grit and perimeter scoring. Brook Lopez is their anchor, but beyond that, it will be a long rebuilding process before they’re relevant again.