Did I mention yet that I love the NBA?
Now we are in the upper crust of the NBA. These teams today are legitimate title contenders and have a very real shot at winning the championship this year. Once again, it depends on health and breaks going their way, but each of these three teams have a real chance. Today I'm going to reveal my number 6, 5 and 4th ranked teams in the NBA.
Coming in at number 6 I have the Los Angeles Clippers. Everyone who reads my blogs knows how I feel about the Clippers. I wrote a very long piece on my irrational hatred for this team. I loathe them. I'm going to put that all aside today and judge them strictly on their recent playoff history and their current roster. Here goes nothing. The Clippers had an epic collapse in last years playoffs. They choked away a 20 point lead in the second half of a close out game and went on to lose the series. Their "stars" couldn't come through in the clutch and their coach made poor decision after poor decision. They were failures last year and I think last year was their best shot at the Finals. Sure they would have had to beat the Warriors in the West Finals, but they had their chance and blew it. Their roster is still very talented and while I really like the addition of Paul Pierce, I hate the acquisition of Lance Stephenson, and the dirty tactics they went to in keeping DeAndre Jordan. Resigning Austin Rivers was a HUGE mistake and the most blatant form of nepotism that I've ever seen and Josh Smith is no savior. With all that being said, the Clippers still have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. As you all well know, I think both of these guys are overrated, but they are very good NBA players. Chris Paul, while moody and whiny, is one of the best point guards in the game today. He can shoot, but he'd rather find the open man for an easy basket, as a point guard should do. He's also a pretty decent defender, but watching Steph Curry destroy him with a crossover lasts season was a huge delight. He is getting older and whinier and he's played a lot of minutes in the NBA. Blake Griffin is the most puzzling "superstar" I've ever watched. Some nights he looks unstoppable, but in the playoffs, in critical moments, he fades away. Superstars rise to the challenge, but Blake Griffin does not. He's the Alex Ovechkin or Andy Dalton (ed note: The currently 6-0 Andy Dalton) of the NBA. He's great in the regular season, but shits the bed when it matters most (ed note: good point). DeAndre Jordan is a glorified rebounder and rim protector. The only reason people talk about him, or that he was offered a max contract was, ESPN puts him on their highlight reel every night. Spoiler alert ESPN, he's 7 feet tall, I'd sure hope that he'd be able to finish an alley oop. Dwight Howard owned him in the playoffs last year and he has been a top tier center since he left Orlando. He also proved how childish he truly is this offseason with the whole backing out of a contract to return to a team that he openly complained about being on. You're a joke DeAndre Jordan. JJ Redick is still just a haircut, but he's also a good shooter. That's it, just a shooter. He's a lousy defender and cannot get to the basket. Lance Stephenson replaces Matt Barnes in the starting lineup, but is that really an upgrade? The Hornets and Pacers couldn't get rid of him fast enough and now he thinks the Clippers will turn him into the "star" he claims to be. He's a classic under achiever who believes his own hype. He's mediocre at best. The addition of Paul Pierce was great. He has a great repertoire with Doc Rivers and is a clutch player. That being said, he's very, very old and I don't think he has a lot of life left in his legs. The rest of the bench is really bad for a "contending" team. When Austin Rivers is the sixth or seventh man off the bench, you have a huge problem. Jamal Crawford is still a good offensive player, but gives this team nothing else. Josh Smith, the same Josh Smith that complained about taking a pay cut this offseason, is not that good. His time in Houston last season was an anomaly. He will still shoot way too many threes and air ball free throws, but this time around it will be all over TV since he's playing in LA now. Other than those guys, and those guys aren't very good, with Pierce being the exception, the rest of the bench is god awful. The Clippers will win 48 or 49 games, but that will be a step back for them and they will be the fifth, maybe fourth seed in the West, probably the fifth though and will have a rough season. The players don't like each other, and that will finally bubble over and there will be a lot of in fighting in the Clippers locker room.
How the Clippers will win it all.
The Clippers will win the title if they can somehow forget about last years playoff collapse, all come together and leave their woes and whining at home. This team complains way too much and they're not that good anymore and they missed their best chance at a title last year.
Coming in at number 5, I have the Oklahoma City Thunder. Full disclosure, this is my favorite team in the NBA. I'm a Thunder fan. This team's shot at a title fully depends on health. They haven't had their three star players all healthy, at the same time, in about three years. If healthy, the Thunder are one of the best teams in the NBA. When three of your starting five include Kevin Durant. Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, that's pretty damn impressive. Durant was the MVP of the league two years ago, but rushed back from offseason foot surgery last year and ended up missing most of last season trying to fully heal. He looks good right now, and can easily get back to being one of the three best players in the NBA, but he needs to string together a lot of games healthy before he is fully back. Russell Westbrook is a beast in every sense of the word. I used to think he was an out of control ball hog, but after watching him last year, without Durant and Ibaka for a lot of the year, I have a newfound respect in him. He's still kind of a ball hog, but he's the most in control out of control player. When he explodes to the rim, or starts a fast break, watch out, because he is going to do something special. He is the new Allen Iverson in my opinion. Serge Ibaka is one of the best defenders in basketball and can give the Thunder 17 or 18 points a night. He's worked on his outside shot and, while I feel he uses it a bit too much, he makes it at about 50 percent. I wished he played a bit more back to the basket, but that's not his game. Enes Kanter is a very good offensive player, but he cannot play professional level defense. He may be the worst defender in the NBA. Steven Adams is a good, young player still fully learning the game of basketball, but he can be a nuisance at times, and if he wasn't on the Thunder, I probably wouldn't like him all that much. People say he's this generations Bill Laimbeer, but I feel like that's a slight to Laimbeer. Sure, he was a nuisance as well, but he was a good scorer and rebounder. He was much better at this point in his career than Adams is right now. The bench is fine. Guys like DJ Augustin, a good back up point guard, but getting older, Kyle Singler, a hustler, but not very good at any one skill, Mitch McGary, another guy with an unstoppable motor, but can't stay healthy and Nick Collison, an elder statesmen in the league, are good enough to help steal a few minutes here and there from the starters. Anthony Morrow is super interesting coming off the bench for the Thunder. He's an excellent three point shooter and can catch fire at any time, but he's a liability on defense. I think their draft pick Cameron Payne will soon take over Augustin's spot as the second team point guard, and I think he will become a valuable bench player for the Thunder. Like I said before, if the Thunder can stay healthy, they can compete with anyone at anytime or place. Their title chances lie solely on health and I see them winning 50 or 51 games and being the four seed in the West.
How the Thunder will win it all.
The Thunder will win the title if their "big three" can stay healthy and produce like they're supposed to all season and Enes Kanter and Steven Adams become unstoppable at the things they're best at, Adams being a pest on defense and Kanter scoring double figures every night. They'll need help from their bench as well, but that's a very real possibility. Thunder Up.
My number four team is the Houston Rockets. This team has all the potential in the world, it's just a matter of putting it together at the right time. James Harden leads this team and while he's a tremendous scorer, he is a lot like Blake Griffin and fades when the spotlight is on him. When playing for OKC, he was great all the way through their run to the Finals in 2012, but then he crapped out in the Finals, averaging less than 10 points per game. Same thing happened last season in the West Finals. He was bested every night by MVP Steph Curry. He's also dating a Kardashian now, so he's bound to take a dip in production, just ask Kris Humphries or Reggie Bush. Dwight Howard was, at one time, the most unstoppable force at center since Shaq. Now, he is constantly injured and making excuses. When he puts his mind to it, he's a really good player, but his head isn't always in the game. Houston needs him to focus on basketball. They have Patrick Beverly coming back at point guard, and he's a good point guard, but they traded for Ty Lawson this offseason, and he's an upgrade. Lawson will be starting over Beverly by midseason. Donatas Motiejunas is a good power forward, and if he and Howard can both stay healthy, their front court is as good, if not better than most. Trevor Ariza is still there and he's still a lock down defender and an excellent three point shooter. Ariza is a very underrated player. Jason Terry is still playing basketball, and he's still hitting clutch shots. He can't keep up on defense, but Houston doesn't ask him to do that, they need him to hit big threes. Corey Brewer is a great bench player in the NBA and people finally get to see that since he's on a good team. Both draft picks, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell can be valuable to this team. Dekker is very athletic and can step back and hit the three and Harrell will do all the dirty work and do it happily. The Rockets are good and got a taste of a deep postseason run last year. They will win somewhere in the mid fifties, maybe 55 or 56 games and fight the Thunder for that third spot in the West.
How the Rockets can win it all.
The Rockets will win the title if Harden can perform in the clutch and Howard stays healthy and focuses on basketball solely, all season. The rest of the roster needs to keep doing what they do and the Rockets will be very good. I love the addition of Ty Lawson and I feel that he makes this team a very real threat to compete for a title.
There you have it, teams 6, 5 and 4. Tomorrow is my final NBA preseason piece and I'll give you my top three teams and all my predictions.
Who will be the champion?
Ty is the Pop Culture editor for SeedSing and the other host of the X Millennial Man podcast. He once held court 100 straight times against the editor on NBA Street. Follow Ty on twitter @tykulik.