NBA Season Preview

Conor Scanlon, Sports Reporter

After three months of a shirtless J.R. Smith celebrating the city of Cleveland’s first National Basketball Association championship, the NBA season has finally arrived. The NBA offseason featured several huge signings and draft selections that will alter the landscape of the league for several years. However, most believe that the Golden State Warriors’ signing of superstar forward Kevin Durant makes them the favorites to win the 2017 championship.

The 2016 offseason was historic in terms of spending as it saw the largest increase in NBA salary cap ever. A new nine-year, $24 billion television deal with ESPN and Turner has raised the annual NBA salary cap from $70 million in 2015-16 to $94 million for 2016-17. As a result, free agency was a highest bidder driven free-for-all. Aging players like Timofey Mozgov and Joe Johnson received contracts that would have been close to maximum contracts last year. However, if the cap rapidly increases the next few years, these multi-year contracts will look like bargains.

While one of the three perennial contenders in Golden State, Cleveland, and San Antonio will likely win the 2017 championship, their paths to glory may have more roadblocks than ever before. These obstacles mainly come in the form of traditional challengers like the Los Angeles Clippers and the Toronto Raptors, but several younger teams may disrupt the league’s stagnant power dynamics of the past few years.

Two teams expected to have the highest increases in success this season are the Boston Celtics and the Utah Jazz. After losing role players Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger to free agency, the Celtics revamped last year’s 48-34 record team by signing four time All Star center Al Horford, and selecting electric Cal Berkeley forward Jaylen Brown third overall in the draft.

“First off, I want to say my excitement level, between one and 10, I’m about a 12 now. I’m happy to be here and I’m gonna go to war for this city,” Brown said when he was drafted. “I’m going to play with a lot of passion and leave it all on the floor every night.”

The additions of Horford and Brown should propel the Celtics to a potential second seed Eastern Conference finish and a legitimate chance to dethrone Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Utah Jazz, a team that finished with a 40-42 record season, missed the playoffs largely due to an abundance of injuries to key players. With a healthy team and the continued development of emerging stars, such as defensive menace Rudy Gobert and three-point ace Rodney Hood, the Utah Jazz are expected to finish as a fourth or fifth seed in the Western Conference. With their defensive supremacy and deep roster, fans should not be surprised if the Jazz manages to upset a playoff stalwart like the Clippers or Grizzlies in the first or second round.

“[The Jazz are] a little bit of a fashionable pick… obviously there have been some shifts with some players changing teams,” Jazz Head Coach Quin Snyder said. “But I think it’s still extremely competitive and I’d like to think we can be competitive.” Look for the Jazz to create some waves in the Western Conference this year.

While the Cleveland Cavaliers only lost two players from their championship team this offseason, if they meet the Warriors again in the NBA Finals this year they will be hard-pressed to win. Despite losing starters Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut, and key bench players Festus Ezeli and Brandon Rush, the Warriors’ addition of generational talent Kevin Durant may be too much for opposition to handle.

Durant received heavy criticism for leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder, particularly from NBA legends like Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller.

“Failing to win one with the Thunder would arguably be more admirable than collecting any number of titles with the Warriors,” Miller said of Durant. Either way, the Warriors are the team to beat this season.

Whitman students can tune in to national broadcasts of the NBA this year weeknights on ESPN and TNT as well as on Sunday afternoons on ABC.