It’s almost time for NBA basketball. Another offseason of transitions, adjustments, changes, and necessary drama gives us new storylines and dynamics to watch unfold. I’m always looking forward to watching teams based on who they were last season and how they’ve progressed, matured, or evolved, or even regressed. These are six teams (with a few extras) that I’m especially looking forward to observing throughout the 2015-16 season.
Last season brought Jimmy Butler to the forefront in Chicago. The 2014-15 Most Improved Player took a noticeable leap of ability and confidence as now one of the top shooting guards in the league. For the Bulls that’s a big enough adjustment to deal with, mainly because Butler’s ascension has begun to cast over the leadership of Derrick Rose, but they also have to adjust to new coaching, which is why I’m most looking forward to watching the Bulls. New head coach Fred Hoiberg brings a more adamant offensive approach to Chicago as opposed to the more defensive-oriented emphasis of former coach Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls have elite and versatile offensive weapons and I’m looking forward to seeing if Hoiberg can make better use of those skill sets on that end of the floor (check out BBallBreakdown’s comprehensive look at how Hoiberg’s coaching style can fit with the Bulls).
Think back to last postseason when the Clippers were playing the best basketball of any team in the league. They validated themselves and made a psychological stride by taking out the Spurs in the seven-game first-round playoff series from hell. They brought that momentum into the conference semifinals against the Rockets, but a 3-1 series lead turned into a meltdown. The way last season ended for Doc Rivers’ team makes for an even bigger test of fortitude this season. With additions like Paul Pierce, Wesley Johnson, Lance Stephenson, and Josh Smith, the Clippers did their best job so far of supplanting their talent core with more contributors.
Plenty of people are quietly gun-ho about Miami, and for good reason, but then those three circumstantial words come up, “if they’re healthy”. With their core pieces healthy and clicking — Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and Luol Deng, the Heat have a perfectly reasonable shot at competing for the Eastern Conference. Some would even argue that at full strength this team has the best chance at competing with the Cavs of any team in the East. Pat Riley thinks the Heat have the makings of a championship team. Having Bosh back after missing the majority of last season will be an instant relief. It will be interesting to track the Heat’s progress and see if they can hit a rhythmic stride with all of their talent healthy and on the floor together.
Golden State Warriors
Repeating is hard, and that goes for anyone. It was beautiful watching the Warriors dominate the league last season. Now we get to see if they’re built and prepared to possibly dominate an era. I wrote some words for Def Pen Sports about the inherent and very humanistic factors that will play into the Warriors’ challenge of repeating. Watching this team take on that challenge is going to be a lot of fun because the targets on their backs are much bigger and the challenge will be much greater. For that reason I’m always curious to watch the response and mentality of a team defending their title.
San Antonio Spurs
I’m not a Spurs fan, but man, I really can’t wait to watch LaMarcus Aldridge play with this team. The idea of San Antonio having Aldridge-Duncan-Diaw and David West as their front line rotation wreaks of savvy and flexibility. As one of the top big men in the league Aldridge was the biggest free agent signing of the summer, and he gives the Spurs a franchise-changing jolt for the future. As great as the Spurs have been in stretches for over the last decade, I feel they’re now in position to possibly be as good as they’ve ever been. A focal point and versatile offensive player such as Aldridge adds a formidable presence that supplements Kawhi Leonard too perfectly. I can’t wait to see how Aldridge’s game is impacted by playing alongside Duncan and in Pop’s system.
Oklahoma City Thunder
We all have to be itching to see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the floor together again, but it’s also the potential implications of summer 2016 that puts massive pressure on the Thunder franchise for this season. Durant will be a free agent next summer, and Westbrook the summer after. New head coach Billy Donovan still has to settle in. The stakes are high in Oklahoma City this season. At full strength I think the Thunder have a championship roster. I can’t wait to find out if I’m right. This team has the most frightening wild card potential in the West.
New Orleans Pelicans – Anthony Davis playing more minutes at the five in an Alvin Gentry offense is probably about to take the NBA’s next superstar to the next level.
Toronto Raptors – Another Eastern Conference team trying to elevate themselves and with team-changing additions in DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph.
Houston Rockets – Ty Lawson should make a difference and I’d like to see James Harden get to play off the ball more.
Milwaukee Bucks – The dangerous hot-ticket young gunners of the league with an exciting potential and minimal expectations.