Western Conference teams got stronger this off-season with multiple acquisitions
Fans of the National Basketball Association (NBA) can rejoice as the wait for 2017-18 season ends on Oct. 17, with the Boston Celtics traveling to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers. This past off-season was full of league-altering moves, as seven of last season’s All-Stars ended up with new teams. This has hoop fans drooling to see how these new-look rosters will click, and if any teams are good enough to topple the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. Here are three interesting stories to keep an eye on throughout the upcoming season.
Most of the big-time off-season moves saw big-name talent move from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference. Three perennial playoff teams in the Eastern Conference—the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks—chose to move their former franchise players to the Western Conference in favour of rebuilding with younger players. Chicago traded shooting guard Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana moved forward Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and forward Paul Millsap was traded from Atlanta to the Denver Nuggets.
The West was already widely considered the more talented conference of the two, winning three of the last four NBA champions. This influx of talent has created multiple contenders to be Western Conference champions, such as the Timberwolves and Thunder.
The Warriors, who didn’t lose a single playoff game in the Western Conference before last year’s final, will undoubtedly have a harder hill to climb in trying to be champions again this year.
The year of the rookie
This year’s draft class is being hailed as the best since the famous 2003 NBA Draft, which saw the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony enter the league.
Now, multiple teams are counting on rookies to make an immediate impact. The Philadelphia 76ers drafted point guard Markelle Fultz with the first pick, and hope his addition to their collection of top prospects will help end their five-year playoff drought. The Los Angeles Lakers used the second pick on polarizing prospect Lonzo Ball. They hope the point guard’s court vision and passing ability can kickstart a new generation of stars in Los Angeles. Ninth pick Dennis Smith Jr. is the dark horse to win Rookie of the Year honours, as he is an athletic, scoring point guard who will play plenty of minutes for the Dallas Mavericks.
Pending free agents (LeBron James)
At the end of this season, James has an option on his contract that allows him to stay with the Cleveland Cavaliers or become a free agent. His big decision is inevitable, as he is likely to opt-out in search of more money, and maybe even a new team. Whether he acknowledges it or not, the success of his team this season will play a heavy role in his decision.
A number of All-Stars, such as Cleveland’s Isaiah Thomas, Houston Rockets’ Chris Paul and the New Orleans Pelicans’ DeMarcus Cousins, also have expiring contracts this year. If those teams are not successful this season, look for them to trade these players late in the season for prospects or draft picks, in case they plan to leave in the off-season.
Graphic by Ze Ze Lin.