Shifting Leonard to the Western Conference alters the balance of power once again. The East is relatively weak, or so it seems.
With most of the offseason moves confirmed, we’ve ranked the top NBA teams by title chance for the 2019/20 season…
1. Los Angeles Clippers
Defensively, the Clippers will be a juggernaut and they’ve added star power they craved. Leonard and George might be the league’s best duo.
Pairing LeBron James and Anthony Davis warrants a place high up on this list. James and Davis will be a dominant pick-and-roll pairing, and Rob Pelinka quickly moved to add Danny Green to provide shooting and defence after missing out on Leonard.
There are concerns with the Lakers, but a trip to the Conference Finals at the very least is probable if James and Davis remain healthy.
Yeah, we know we’re meant to write off the Warriors this year. But, maybe that’s not a great idea.
With Leonard gone, the Eastern Conference is wide open. The Sixers were a four-bouncing buzzer-beater from taking the Raptors to overtime in Game Seven.
Having lost Jimmy Butler, the Sixers have a new look roster once again. The fit with Josh Richardson and Al Horford alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris will be interesting, but they will fancy themselves as Eastern Conference favourites right now.
Despite a magnificent regular season, the Bucks fell short in the playoffs. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s MVP campaign wasn’t enough against the Raptors, as Eric Bledsoe struggled in the postseason once again.
The loss of Malcolm Brogdon will hurt. They may well chalk up 55 or more wins, but it feels like they’re weaker than they were in 2018/19. In Antetokounmpo, though, they have one of the NBA’s top five players and that gives them a shot at a ring.
6. Utah Jazz
An already stellar defence has been further improved. Donovan Mitchell has a backcourt mate that can carry some of the scoring burden.
Star power might be lacking, but Utah are a definite threat in the Western Conference.
It feels weird putting last year’s two seed in the West this low down.
Denver, led by the ever-brilliant Nikola Jokic, suffered a painful Game Seven defeat to Portland in the second round.
The upside is huge with Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and the recently drafted Bol Bol, though they might still be a year or two from being ready to compete with the Clippers, Lakers and Warriors in a playoff series.
Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum guided Portland to the Conference Finals last season, only to get swept by the Warriors.
Barring a big trade during the season (Kevin Love is a candidate), Portland are outsiders in the West. Another top four seed is possible, but Lillard and McCollum probably need further help if they are to really challenge the top three.
After murmurings of a move for Butler, Daryl Morey hasn’t done any Daryl Morey things this offseason, leaving the Rockets with a roster similar to what they had last season.
The conflict in the organisation has been downplayed as you might expect. Few will know what the relationships are really like, but it’s hard to see how Houston improve from here after missing sign-and-trade opportunities this offseason.
Chris Paul is a year older. His relationship with James Harden is far from perfect, and Mike D’Antoni’s system has fallen short in successive playoff runs. Houston could find themselves without homecourt in the first round of the playoffs.
10. Indiana Pacers
Indiana, like Utah, had a great summer, acquiring Malcolm Brogdon from Milwaukee and Jeremy Lamb from Charlotte. Once Victor Oladipo returns, they’ll have the best backcourt in the Eastern Conference along with the talented big man duo of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner.
Neither Milwaukee nor Philadelphia will fancy a playoff series against the Pacers, though uncertainty remains with the fit of Sabonis and Turner.
11. Boston Celtics
After a disappointing 2018/19 campaign, Brad Stevens needs to work his magic again for the Celtics to be truly competitive. Gordon Hayward has to find somewhere near his best form, while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum need to take the next step.
There’s upside there, but the Celtics are a hard team to predict. Their ceiling is very high, though the frontcourt is a concern, particularly against Embiid and Antetokounmpo.