LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers got out of the 52-year championship drought in the cursed city of Cleveland this June. The drought came to an end as they geared up to defend their title against the 29 other teams in their way.
Cleveland retained the nucleus that took them to where they are right now as they re-signed James, J.R. Smith and Richard Jefferson to multi-year contracts.
Still, the Golden State Warriors stole the spotlight when they announced that they had successfully lured megastar Kevin Durant away from Russel Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Up three games to one in the championship with two of the three remaining games at home, Golden State could not complete what would have been the greatest overall NBA season in history.
In the regular season, they hit the most three-pointers as a team ever at 1,077, Steph Curry accounting for 402 of them breaking his own record by 116. Not to mention, the Warriors only lost nine times in their 82-game campaign.
In the so-called “summer of Durant,” teams lined up hoping to sign the superstar, but only a handful were successful at securing a meeting with the former OKC hero. Durant ultimately left the franchise that drafted him to join the already-dominant trio of Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson on the Warriors.
Durant faced a fury of backlash over his decision, as his former team did hold a 3-1 lead over Golden State in the Western Conference Finals. Durant’s running mate Russel Westbrook was among the critics, seeing Durant’s move as a weak cop-out from the city that depended on him for so long.
In the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook takes sole spotlight in the Thunder’s starting lineup; the young baller is primed for a monster season. Few play the game with as much passion and heart as Westbrook, and an even more motivated player will undoubtedly be seen this year thanks to the departure of his previous teammate. It is a relatively safe bet to pencil the Thunder point guard in for MVP before the season even tips off.
Elsewhere around the association, many high caliber players packed their bags and hit the road. Lifelong Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade signed with his hometown team the Chicago Bulls, Al Horford took his talents to Boston, Dwight Howard is now the Atlanta Hawks’ problem, Pau Gasol will replace Tim Duncan in San Antonio and the Knicks traded for Derrick Rose.
Along with the signing of Rose, the Knicks made some intriguing moves this summer to bolster their stagnant starting five. Phil Jackson signed Joakim Noah to man the paint on a $74 million contract, while journeyman Courtney Lee is set to assume the starting shooting guard role. Brandon Jennings was brought in to back up D-Rose.
New York is going to be a team with a ton of potential as Kristaps Porzingis now has a full NBA season under his belt and Carmelo Anthony continues his evolution as a shoot-first player. The roster is the most talented since they won 54 games in 2012-13.
Anthony, Noah and Rose have all missed their fair share of games over the past few seasons so health will be a key indicator as to whether or not this team plays up to its potential.
On the other side of the East River, the rebuilding Nets will look to discover which players will be in Brooklyn for the long-run. Newly hired general manager Sean Marks spent his first summer in New York signing Jeremy Lin to be Brook Lopez’s sidekick, giving former No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett a two-year contract and introducing Kenny Atkinson as the head coach. Shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick returns as he looks to continue his impressive scoring from last year where he averaged 21.4 points per 36 minutes.
Since the Nets do not have their own first-round draft pick until 2019, thanks to the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade, Marks will have his work cut out for him in developing players and scouting the D-League for talent like Kilpatrick.
The team also drafted hometown hero Isaiah Whitehead, the Lincoln High School product, as a point guard and shooting guard hybrid. Whitehead is sure to draw in crowds eager to watch Coney Island’s very own, much like Lance Stephenson does.
As far as this season goes, expectations are mild for the Nets, especially considering how the Eastern Conference continues to improve from top to bottom.
It is not as easy to make the playoffs on the east side of the country given the recent creation of numerous super-teams; the Nets simply do not have what it takes to compete for one of those last spots.
Barring significant conflict, it would be a shock not to see the Cavs and Warriors face off in the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year. The Warriors are banking on the tremendous boost Durant brings to their already elite-level roster to make the 2016-17 final a sure win, rather than a fierce battle.
Although a Warriors vs. Cavs championship does not seem to fall out of style, fans will look to the rest of the pack to at least make it tough on these two elite level clubs. Given that these two teams will be favorites to win every season, it will be important that more teams step up to maintain interest in the playoffs.