2019-20 NBA championship rankings: Rockets still in mix with Westbrook; Lakers, Clippers lead way; Warriors a factor
In the East, it's all about the Sixers and Bucks
After a wild first week of free agency, the Clippers and Lakers now fielding four of the top 10 players in the league, and perhaps three of the top five. The Warriors are not done. The Bucks and the 76ers are right there as well. The Rockets just traded Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook.as it's been in decades. The battle for Los Angeles supremacy becomes the epicenter of the league with the
You can say there are favorites next season, but there are no sure things. No complete super-teams. Even teams like the Jazz, Nuggets and Trail Blazers -- all probably conference finals teams at best in years prior -- are now within a puncher's chance if things break their way.
All things considered, with a bit of projection for how a few of these teams might not be done dealing, the top 10 contenders for the 2019-20 NBA championship are below.
All odds courtesy of Westgate SuperBook
Current odds: 7/2The Clippers won 48 games -- and took two playoff games off the fully healthy Warriors -- last season, and now they've replaced Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George . This team has an elite offense, an elite defense and elite depth. I wouldn't call them the runaway favorite, but yes, they are the early favorite.
Current odds: 9/2The Lakers missed out on a lot of good role players while waiting for Kawhi, but at the end of the day they have LeBron James and Anthony Davis . On the periphery, they wound up with Danny Green and DeMarcus Cousins . They retained Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope . They still have Kyle Kuzma . Depth will be an issue, but assuming health, LeBron and Davis are going to be beasts in the playoffs -- when rotations generally shrink and the value of multiple elite scorers who demand a double team becomes even more heightened.
Current odds: 12/1Talk of Golden State's demise has been grossly overstated. To start next season they will have three All-Stars in their starting lineup, including perhaps the best offensive AND best defensive player in the league in Steph Curry and Draymond Green . By the time the playoffs roll around, Klay Thompson will presumably be back. If you don't think a team with Curry, Thompson, Green and D'Angelo Russell as the fourth-best player (or whoever the Warriors potentially trade Russell for) can win a title, you're mistaken. The loss of Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala makes it very difficult for them to match up defensively with two-superstar teams like the Clippers and Lakers, but they're going to score a ton and they'll defend collectively once Thompson rejoins Green, alongside Kevon Looney and Willie Cauley-Stein for size. They also just signed Alec Burcs and traded for Omari Spellman, both of which a sneaky strong additions. They'll end up somewhere around the No. 5 seed, I suspect, and absolutely nobody will want to play them in the first or second round. From there, you take your chances with some pretty good value.
Current odds: 8/1
There's a strong argument to made the Sixers belong ahead of the Warriors. Philly's defense is going to be monstrous, and just for argument's sake, if Philly and Golden State were to meet up in the Finals, I don't know how the Warriors would contend with all that size. At the moment, the Warriors get the nod as a known championship entity even without Durant and Iguodala, but man the Sixers look good. They essentially swapped Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick for Al Horford and Josh Richardson .
On paper, that's a relatively even swap, but on the court this makes the Sixers better than they were last season -- when, remember, they were one Kawhi Leonard rim-roller from taking the eventual champions to overtime in Game 7.
Richardson gives them a pick-and-roll initiator and floor spacer to continue accounting for the unique challenges Ben Simmons ' presence presents for an offense, and Horford arguably becomes a top-10 player in the playoffs on his defense alone. The two best players in the East are Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid . One of them still has to deal with Horford, the other now gets to play alongside him. Philly could still use shooting and depth, and Simmons' inability to score outside of the paint is still a problem that grows exponentially in the playoffs, but from a pure talent standpoint the Sixers can make up for a lot with what is probably the best starting five in the league.
Current odds: 9/2The Bucks have continuity. They have arguably the best player in the East. They bring back Khris Middleton , Brook Lopez and George Hill , but they lose Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic , which are not insignificant losses. Wesley Matthews replaces some of Brogdon's shooting and perimeter toughness, but not even close to all of it, and Robin Lopez joins his brother. If Giannis improves as a shooter over the summer (he was showing very positive signs through the playoffs last year from 3), and if Eric Bledsoe plays up to his contract, that takes this team to another level. But as it stands, they are still vulnerable to Giannis being swarmed the way Toronto, and even Boston to a degree, was able to do in the playoffs.
Current odds: 16/1Jamal Murray , Denver has one of the best two-man games in the league. They have shooting, depth, versatility, defense -- they bring everyone of consequence back from a team that was a fingernail from the conference finals, and realistically, was probably a better team than the Blazers, who edged them out in seven games. Continuity goes a long way, and now they've added Jerami Grant, who makes them even more versatile and athletic on the defensive end. That is a really big pickup for Denver. So big, in fact, I am tempted to put Denver ahead of the Bucks. The only reason I won't is the conference factor. Milwaukee simply has a way easier path.
Current odds: 14/1Outside the Clippers and Lakers, the Jazz made the biggest offseason splash. Adding Mike Conley takes the "run the team" pressure off Donovan Mitchell and allows him to just attack and score, and Bojan Bogdanovic is one of the best shooters in the world and a two-way player with size. Ed Davis was a nice pickup to keep Utah's defense elite when Rudy Gobert is off the floor. Jeff Green -- a sneaky nice signing -- and Emmanuel Mudiay add depth. Dante Exum can take another step. Joe Ingles combined with Bogdanovic and Conley gives a lot of spacing for Mitchell to drive. Utah has relied on its elite defense the past few years, but now it has an elite offense to go with it.
Current odds: 25/1Kemba Walker is going to approximate Kyrie Irving's on-court production and he's going to be way better for this team's morale off the court. Head to head, I honestly think the Celtics are better with Walker than they were with Irving. With Walker, Marcus Smart , and then Jayson Tatum , Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward all capable of taking a step up from last year and playing at an All-Star level, Boston's perimeter remains stacked. The big loss is Al Horford. The front line is very thin with Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis , and that keeps them outside of the top championship contenders. But don't rule out a trade to fortify the front line and replace Horford's pick-and-pop spacing. Kevin Love , anyone? The Celtics still have a good package if they're willing to go for it.
Current odds: 8/1Houston's title chances, in mind, don't move an inch after trading Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook. They still have a puncher's chance. They still have Clint Capela and Eric Gordon and of course James Harden. Westbrook will bring a lot of firepower, though not terribly efficient firepower. He can't shoot. Paul is a better defender. Still, Westbrook is triple-double-averaging All-Star, and fit isn't everything. Last year's Sixers didn't fit particularly well and they were one Kawhi Leonard rim-rolling game-winner from taking the eventual champion Raptors to overtime in Game 7. Houston will be in the mix.
Current odds: 30/1Portland lost seven players off its conference finals team. The Blazers bring in Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore and re-sign Rodney Hood . In a complete blue-sky outlook, Whiteside returns to the player who got a $100 million contract with a change of venue and better guards to support him, and Bazemore is an upgrade from Moe Harkless. But neither of those are certainties by any stretch. The X-factor here is Jusuf Nurkic . The Blazers made it to the conference finals without him and he was having the best year of his career. If he comes back strong after almost a year off in time to be a real impact player in the playoffs, with what we know Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum bring, the Blazers can make some real noise. Also, don't rule out a mid-season trade. I still think Kevin Love makes too much sense here if Portland is willing to go all-in with a big future-draft-pick package plus Zach Collins and Nassir Little .
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