One of the busiest offseasons in recent memory shook up the NBA landscape dramatically, but one thing remains clear despite flurries of high-profile player movement: The Golden State Warriors will return to the hardwood in October as the unequivocal favorites to repeat as champions.
That title defense will begin Oct. 17 against the Houston Rockets, and it will be tracked closely by the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers as a hungry pack of contenders hunkers down and tries to expose flaws in the Warriors' attack a year after failing to do so.
For the full NBA schedule, be sure to check out NBA.com.
Beyond the Warriors, there are several other storylines to track.
Among them: Can the Boston Celtics avenge last year's Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Cavaliers? Will the Milwaukee Bucks make a leap? Are the Philadelphia 76ers capable of staying healthy and contending for a playoff spot?
Out West, the focus will be on whether or not James Harden and Chris Paul can form a backcourt partnership that legitimately threatens the Warriors' reign. Ditto for the Thunder with Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
Below, we'll provide a breakdown of the factors at play in each conference, complete with projections for each team's record, postseason probabilities and championship odds, via OddsShark.
- 1. Boston Celtics (57-25), 100 percent playoff probability, 9/1 title odds
- 2. Cleveland Cavaliers (51-31), 100 percent playoff probability, 4/1 title odds
- 3. Washington Wizards (50-32), 100 percent playoff probability, 66/1 title odds
- 4. Milwaukee Bucks (49-33), 100 percent playoff probability, 66/1 title odds
- 5. Toronto Raptors (47-35), 100 percent playoff probability, 75/1 title odds
- 6. Miami Heat (44-38), 90 percent playoff probability, 150/1 title odds
- 7. Charlotte Hornets (43-39), 65 percent playoff probability, 500/1 title odds
- 8. Philadelphia 76ers (41-41), 50 percent playoff probability, 66/1 title odds
- 9. Detroit Pistons (37-45), 45 percent playoff probability, 500/1 title odds
- 10. Orlando Magic (34-48), 35 percent playoff probability, 1,000/1 title odds
- 11. Brooklyn Nets (30-52), 5 percent playoff probability, 1,000/1 title odds
- 12. Indiana Pacers (30-52), 5 percent playoff probability, 500/1 title odds
- 13. New York Knicks (26-56), 5 percent playoff probability, 500/1 title odds
- 14. Atlanta Hawks (24-58), 0 percent playoff probability, 500/1 title odds
- 15. Chicago Bulls (20-62), 0 percent playoff probability, 500/1 title odds
The East is largely in a state of flux, but one thing seems clear: The Cavaliers and Celtics are bound to finish one-two in some capacity for the second year in a row.
Last season, it was the Celtics who edged out the Cavs for the East's No. 1 seed—although that triumph proved irrelevant in the Eastern Conference Finals when Cleveland throttled an injury-plagued Boston team in five games.
But now there's a clean slate.
And this time around, the Celtics are armed with more firepower after they added Gordon Hayward and No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum to a core that already featured Isaiah Thomas, Jaylen Brown, Jae Crowder and Al Horford.
"I think I'm a versatile player offensively and defensively, and that will help us to have guys playing multiple positions," Hayward said of the skill set he'll bring to the Celtics, per NBA.com's Ian Thomsen. "I can start the offense; I can play with the ball, without the ball."
In the next tier, there are three clubs who figure to jockey for seed Nos. 3-5.
The Washington Wizards will return all their core pieces after inking restricted free agent Otto Porter Jr. to a max deal, and he should continue to operate as an ideal three-and-D complement alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal.
The Wizards also return Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris, who teamed up with Wall, Beal and Porter to produce a net rating of plus-8.1 points per 100 possessions in a whopping 1,347 minutes together last season, per NBA.com's lineup data.
With no continuity concerns, don't be surprised if the Wizards crack 50 wins for the first time since the 1978-79 season.
The same can be said of the Bucks and Raptors.
Milwaukee's young core is bursting at the seams with potential, and the continued evolution of Giannis Antetokounmpo next to reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Tony Snell, Jabari Parker and Thon Maker should make the Bucks one of the East's most frightening up-and-coming clubs a year after they won 42 games.
The Raptors, meanwhile, are looking for their third straight 50-win season after successfully re-signing Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. But after failing to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in the last four seasons, there's serious pressure for Toronto to break through that Milwaukee doesn't have to deal with just yet.
The other big storyline to watch in the East revolves around the Sixers, who got a glimpse of a prosperous future last season when Joel Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks as a rookie.
However, Embiid was limited to 31 games, and the Sixers sputtered down the stretch to finish with 28 wins.
But now that Embiid is on the mend, Ben Simmons is primed to make his debut after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign with a broken foot and No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz is in tow with J.J. Redick slated to fire away from distance, it's not hard to envision the Sixers topping 40 wins and capturing a playoff berth that has been years in the making.
One last note: Don't sleep on the Miami Heat.
Although Erik Spoelstra's club missed out on Hayward and failed to make a big free-agent splash, the Heat will enter a new season with positive mojo after they went 31-17 in their final 48 games last season. The only clubs to best that record during that span were the Warriors, Spurs, Wizards and Celtics.
Toss in a healthy Justise Winslow, the arrival of Kelly Olynyk and improving rotational pieces like Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, and the Heat could be the one team title contenders want to avoid in the first round of the playoffs.
- 1. Golden Sate Warriors (69-13), 100 percent playoff probability, 5/8 title odds
- 2. Houston Rockets (62-20), 100 percent playoff probability, 10/1 title odds
- 3. San Antonio Spurs (54-28), 95 percent playoff probability, 16/1 title odds
- 4. Oklahoma City Thunder (51-31), 95 percent playoff probability, 20/1 title odds
- 5. Minnesota Timberwolves (48-34), 75 percent playoff probability, 20/1 title odds
- 6. Utah Jazz (45-37), 65 percent playoff probability, 200/1 title odds
- 7. Denver Nuggets (44-38), 55 percent playoff probability, 150/1 title odds
- 8. Los Angeles Clippers (43-39), 50 percent playoff probability, 100/1 title odds
- 9. Memphis Grizzlies (41-41), 50 percent playoff probability, 300/1 title odds
- 10. New Orleans Pelicans (40-42), 45 percent playoff probability, 150/1 title odds
- 11. Portland Trail Blazers (37-45), 35 percent playoff probability, 200/1 title odds
- 12. Dallas Mavericks (32-50), 17 percent playoff probability, 300/1 title odds
- 13. Sacramento Kings (31-51), 15 percent playoff probability, 1,000/1 title odds
- 14. Los Angeles Lakers (29-53), 3 percent playoff probability, 100/1 title odds
- 15. Phoenix Suns (21-61), 0 percent playoff probability, 500/1 title odds
Like the East, the West has a defined upper echelon. The only difference is it's comprised of a single team, and that team is the Warriors—who are primed for close to 70 wins assuming they don't suffer a series of catastrophic injuries.
That predictable dominance should make the race for the West's top seed rather boring. However, there's plenty of intrigue when it comes to the next few spots.
The Rockets fully embraced the challenge and made the offseason's most aggressive move to snag Chris Paul in a blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, giving last year's No. 3 seed one of the most unique and talented backcourts in recent memory.
Houston will have to figure out how to balance touches and divvy up playmaking responsibilities with two alphas in Paul and Harden, but the smart money is on offensive savant Mike D'Antoni devising a scheme that accentuates both players' best attributes.
If he can do just that, the Rockets will be poised to make a run for the Spurs' throne atop the Southwest Division—a perch they have occupied for six of the last seven seasons.
Speaking of the Spurs, it may be tough for them—systemic brilliance and all—to hang with the high-powered Rockets.
Not only were their offseason moves—re-sining Patty Mills and Pau Gasol and adding Rudy Gay—modest by comparison, but point guard Tony Parker will be sidelined indefinitely once the season starts as he continues to rehabilitate his ruptured quadriceps tendon.
However, even a small step back for the Spurs shouldn't be a big deal.
San Antonio hasn't won fewer than 50 games in a non-lockout season since the 1996-97 campaign, and it would be foolish to think a team coached by Gregg Popovich won't be able to excel north of the half-century mark even with some bumps and bruises.
The most fascinating club, though, may be the Thunder.
George's arrival will give Westbrook the star counterpart he lacked last season following Kevin Durant's departure, which means pressure will be off the reigning MVP to shoulder the statistical burden night in and night out.
The 2017-18 season will also represent an extended recruiting opportunity for the Thunder, who will hope to sway George to return to Oklahoma City as an unrestricted free agent next summer.
In order to make a convincing pitch, the Thunder will have to prove they can stave off some stiff competition from the Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets in the Northwest Division.
The Timberwolves immediately jump out among that group after adding Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but the Nuggets and Jazz shouldn't be overlooked.
Denver stayed busy in its own right and nabbed Paul Millsap as Nikola Jokic's new frontcourt running mate, and his arrival figures to put the Nuggets in the thick of a crowded Western Conference race that will see roughly six teams, including the Jazz, duke it out for three playoff spots.
The other contenders for those coveted seeds figure to be the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans, all of whom have the blends of star power and depth necessary to wedge their way into the postseason conversation.
Having said that, trying to separate them at this early juncture is an inexact science.
So as uncertainty continues to abound, it's time to gear up for another wild season out West as the Warriors get set to sit back and preside over the chaos that unfolds beneath them in the standings.