Despite Free Agency having only just kicked off in the last few days, there have already been a number of important contract renewals, changes in scenery and, in the case of some teams, a frightening inability to attract players.
Taking all of the early deals, signs and rumours into account, here are the top six teams most likely to take the top prize when the 2015-16 NBA season does get under way in the Fall.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers – Eastern Conference
Despite losing out to the MVP Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, I, and many others, believe that LeBron James’ team would have taken that series were it not for the injuries to star players Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
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This, combined with the vast improvement of players like Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov means that the Cavs, should they remain injury free, will be a vastly improved team on the team that lost the Finals in 6 games.
On top of this, they are likely to retain the services of the best player in the world – King James. In spite of him opting out of the second year on his contract, it is widely believed he will re-sign to make the most of the increasing salary cap.
The risk remains though, that LeBron will take his talents elsewhere, potentially moving to the brighter lights, and sunnier climates of Los Angeles to team up with Kobe Bryant in what is commonly believed to be The Black Mamba’s last season. Should this deal, unlikely that it is, happen, the Cavs can all but kiss goodbye to any true aspirations they had.
2. Golden State Warriors – Western Conference
Last year’s champions, Golden State will without a doubt be in contention once again this year. With a promising young coach in Steve Kerr, two of the best shooters in the league making up the back court, and exceptional depth to the roster, the Dubs have it all.
With all their main players tied up to contracts for at least another year there is no reason to worry about players leaving during free agency either. On top of this, any team with the star quality of the Point Guard - who some believe is the best shooter in NBA history - Steph Curry has a solid chance of not only competing for the Conference Title, but has an excellent chance at taking the NBA title back to the Bay Area.
There are still worries though, that the Warriors success was a one off, and that they rely too heavily on the MVP Point Guards 3-Point Shooting. Should the lethal back court combination of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s scoring dry up for even a short period of time during the playoffs, it could prove fatal.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder – Western Conference
Despite not managing to make the playoffs last season, OKC still contains undeniable talent. With the best scorer in the league in Kevin Durant, the most athletic, and competitive Point Guard in Russel Westbrook and the best shot blocker in Serge Ibaka, the Thunder cannot be written off.
Having only missed out on the playoffs due to injuries to the aforementioned Durant and Ibaka, resident of The Dust Bowl city should remain positive that new coach Billy Donavon can not only lead the deadly trio back to the playoffs, but potentially to that elusive NBA ring.
The hopes of winning a title though do hinge on one aspect, the ability to stay fit and healthy. With Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka all subject to a long list of injury problems, the OKC cannot deal with the same injury problems they had last year.
Should either Durant or Westbrook be unable to feature come playoff time, that poses serious problems, and if that is twinned, like last year, with an injury to Ibaka, then their title hopes are over.
4. Chicago Bulls – Eastern Conference
With one of the best – if not the best – roster in the league, the Chicago Bulls have in my opinion been severely overlooked in relation to title contenders.
Any team with a Point Guard as lethal as Derrick Rose, a front court as dominant as Pau Gasol and Joakhim Noah, accompanied by 2015's most improved player in Jimmy Butler at Shooting Guard cannot be overlooked.
That, combined with a change in Head Coach which will in my opinion do the world of good, puts the Bulls as firm contenders.
The main problem which has tainted Chicago’s ability to win their first ring outside of the Michael Jordan era has been the lack of point scoring, this should be fixed, or at least improved, by the appointment of Head Coach Fred Hoiberg.
Defence has never been a problem at the United Center, with Noah and Butler both sensational on that end, and Taj Gibson also highly adept coming off the bench.
Former Coach Tom Thibedeau though seemed to struggle massively at putting together a working, functioning, successful offence, and on this point, Hoiberg will be vital if the Bulls are to reach their full potential.
As with the OKC though, the Bulls do struggle with injury problems, with every one of their starting five last season being out at some point last season. In particular, the health of former MVP Derrick Rose will be vital, his past record of staying fit though is pretty dreadful, with another injury last season adding to more strain and pressure on his knees.
This, though, is another aspect where Hoiberg will help. While Thibedeau worked his players exceptionally, and many believe too hard, in training to the point where it caused injuries, Hoiberg will not do this, thus helping the players to remain fit and healthy.
5. Los Angeles Clippers – Western Conference
Despite the loss of the hugely important DeAndre Jordan, the LA Clippers remain one of the teams to beat in the Western Conference.
With, in my opinion, the player that remains the best Point Guard in the NBA in Chris Paul, one of the top coaches in Doc Rivers and an ever diversifying Blake Griffin, the Clippers are still a frightening prospect.
This, with the introduction of the vastly talented, yet to fulfil his potential, Shooting Guard Lance Stephenson means the Clippers have a lot to be positive about.
The trade for Stephenson should also vastly improve their bench, an obvious weakness last season, as Lance will likely replace JJ Reddick at the Shooting Guard position, allowing Reddick to play second string to Chris Paul at his more preferred point Guard position.
As mentioned before though, the Clippers do have a gaping hole at the center position, after Deandre Jordan, one of the elite defender and rebounder in the league has moved to the Dallas Mavericks.
And this hole is likely to remain unfilled, as the Clips have very little wiggle room with cap space, therefore Coach Rivers must either rely on Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis, not a starting calibre player, or trade for a more competent centre.
They do have two of the best players in the league in James Harden and Dwight Howard, but are desperately lacking in depth.
San Antonio Spurs
A great Coach in Greg Popovich, a number of high class players and vastly experienced, but in my eyes, just too old to come back this time.
A very tough, hardworking team, with an astonishingly good front court, but they just lack the class to win a title.
A good start to free agency for the team from Texas, adding a top center in Deandre Jordan to from a formidable front court, and also recruiting Wes Mathews from the Portland Trailblazers, the Mavs remain in my eyes though, one star player short of success.
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