With the NBA restarting its season in less than a month, all eyes are turning to the star players. With so much on the line and it all up in the air, it is tougher than ever to know who the favorite is for the title. This season has been wide open since the beginning, and there are many teams who could go the distance to win the O’Brien Trophy. I believe that there are five true contenders for the title, so here is my list of teams I truly think could win it all.
5. Boston Celtics
Since the rise of Jayson Tatum as one of the league’s best players, Boston has been on a roll. After adding Kemba Walker in the offseason and Tatum and Jaylen Brown taking huge leaps in production, the Celtics look like real contenders. They are the No. 3 seed in the East and have some serious star power. My only question about Boston is whether Tatum can keep up this pace in the playoffs. In just his third season, Tatum is very good, but young players need to get some experience before breaking through to superstardom. Tatum has not been the leader of a playoff team yet, but this year is his time. I don’t think they’ll win it all this season, but with a young core and room to improve, the Celtics will have plenty of cracks at the title in the years to come.
4. Toronto Raptors
The defending champions are still riding high, even after losing superstar and Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard in free agency last summer. Leonard was the best player on last year’s title team, and with him now in LA, the Raptors have a tougher task ahead of them this time. Still, after steady play from Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet and yet another leap from Pascal Siakam, Toronto is tough as nails. Led by Coach of the Year favorite Nick Nurse, the Raptors have a chance to repeat. I wouldn’t pick them simply due to the lack of a true superstar. Siakam is in a similar spot as Tatum, being young and inexperienced as a leader. Lowry is getting older and has been used as a second option for his entire career. They have a shot, but my money wouldn’t be on them.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are considered by many to be the overall favorite to bring home the trophy. I wouldn’t pick them today for a simple reason: lack of depth. The Lakers have their two stars on their team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Don’t get me wrong, those two are great players, but beyond that, the roster is pretty bare. Are Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope title contending role players? I don’t really think so. When rotations tighten up in the playoffs, will the Lakers’ bench players step up? I also don’t trust Frank Vogel as a head coach with so much on the line. The top two teams on my list have deep rotations and great coaching. In my opinion, the Lakers really don’t. James and Davis can take the Lakers far, but when push comes to shove, I don’t trust this team on the biggest stage.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has his team at the top of the Eastern Conference yet again, and now with some playoff experience under his belt, the Bucks are ready to take that next step. They’ve proven over the course of the regular season that this team is the real deal. Khris Middleton is a great complementary scorer, and Milwaukee has some serious role players in Brook Lopez, Eric Bledsoe, George Hill and Donte DiVencenzo. Reigning Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer takes this team to the next level. The Bucks should be the favorite in the East and have a legitimate shot to win the whole thing.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George now in the fold, along with their slew of role players and an amazing coach, the Clippers have it all. Leonard, George, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet, Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris and more — these are players I trust in a playoff series to be able to play at a high level. Doc Rivers is a title winning coach and is extremely well respected. This team is full of players who can defend, shoot, pass and play well with teammates. Leonard and George as a defensive wing combination are absolutely ridiculous and nearly impossible to score on. They match up well against the Lakers and Bucks, and will easily get through the first few rounds of the playoffs.
I was pretty set on the Clippers as my favorite in the preseason, and I still believe that. They’ve been somewhat underachieving so far this year, with both Leonard and George missing time for injury. The Lakers and Bucks have been impressive in the regular season, but I think that the Clippers’ plan was always to save as much energy as possible for a strong postseason run while still maintaining a strong record, and they’ve done that. I think the combination of a deep rotation, top-level coaching and star power gives them something no other team has, and so I’m picking the Los Angeles Clippers to win the NBA title when the season resumes on July 30th in Orlando.