The Golden State Warriors are back on familiar ground as they enter the 2022-23 NBA season as reigning champions.
With Kevin Durant gone and Klay Thompson having missed two full seasons, it looked like the team's championship window had closed if it wanted to keep building around Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.
Quite simply, Golden State's run atop the NBA seemed to be done.
The 2021-22 Warriors weren't as dominant as they were when they won back-to-back titles with Durant, but nobody questioned their status as the NBA's best team.
And with all of the key figures back, the championship might once again go through the Bay Area.
2022-23 Warriors Schedule Details
Season Opener: Oct. 18 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Championship Odds: 13-2 (via FanDuel)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
Memphis Grizzlies (First Game: Dec. 25)
Ja Morant's injury also provides Memphis with just enough reason to think it could have pulled through if he had been healthy for the final three games. Looking beyond that, maybe a title run was on the table.
Now the Grizzlies are going to quickly find out what it's like when there's a target on your back every night. The fate of the Atlanta Hawks, who went from reaching the conference finals to losing in four games in the first round, also showed how success is never guaranteed for a young team looking to break through.
Assuming the Grizzlies don't take a big step backward with the same players returning for the most part, they should present stiff competition in the Warriors' quest to claim the West crown again.
Phoenix Suns (First Game: Oct. 25)
You have to give this much to the Phoenix Suns: They know how to win in the regular season. They were second in the West in 2019-20 and posted the NBA's best record in 2021-22 (64-18).
Whether the Suns are built to win a title was thrown into doubt following their conference semifinals loss to the Dallas Mavericks and the ensuing fallout.
Although general manager James Jones was unable to swing a major sign-and-trade involving Deandre Ayton, matching his four-year, $133 million offer sheet meant maintaining what has been an effective core.
The 6'11" center now has a clear sense of purpose, too. He can show the Suns how much they misjudged his value and his status within the organization.
Unless the offseason drama spills out on to the court, Phoenix won't give up the No. 1 seed in the West easily.
It's somewhat difficult to predict the regular-season ceiling for Golden State.
Curry, Green and Thompson are all a year older, and Thompson is no longer the same kind of two-way talent he was before his knee and Achilles injuries. In 32 games, he averaged 20.4 points, 2.8 assists and 0.5 steals while shooting a career-worst 38.5 percent from beyond the arc.
A battle-tested roster such as the Warriors' also knows not to peak too early in the season. They finished 11 games back of the first-place Phoenix Suns last year and then became a buzzsaw in the playoffs.
While the Big Three are likely to manage their workloads, Golden State has plenty of younger contributors who could begin to take center stage.
Jordan Poole had a breakout campaign. Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody showed flashes as rookies. And James Wiseman is returning to the lineup after missing all of 2021-22. Imagine what this team looks like if one of Kuminga, Moody or Wiseman joins Poole in taking the leap.
Sixty-plus wins is a plausible outcome for the 2022-23 Warriors, but that's a benchmark they haven't hit since 2016-17. Mid-to-high 50s is probably a more realistic projection.
Record Prediction: 56-26
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