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After four short months, basketball has returned to the shores of Lake Erie. There are banners to be raised, rings to collect, and another trophy to be chased.
This may not come as a surprise, but most odds-makers and pundits believe the league is destined for a third episode of the trilogy: Golden State vs. Cleveland in the 2017 NBA Finals.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, it’s hard to imagine anything other than that rematch.
Although the league appears to be a two-horse race, there are still in fact 30 teams in the league, and today, we will rank these 30 teams in order of which team is most-ready to win a championship all the way down to the teams that are farthest away.
It’s the first installment of our AmicoHoops Power Rankings and we’ll be updating these rankings every two weeks throughout the season.
Without further ado, here are our first rankings for 2016-17.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
They are the top dogs until proven otherwise. Not only that, but the team best-suited to dethrone them has several new faces and it’s unclear how long it will take their chemistry to develop.
If the Cavs and Warriors were to play a best-of-seven series right now, Cleveland would have the edge just on team chemistry alone. Kyrie Irving has grown into a superstar. LeBron is still the best player on the planet.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Warriors are the most impressive team a few weeks from now, but let’s see how it goes before anointing Golden State the label of “best team in the NBA.”
They didn’t quite live up to those expectations last time.
2. Golden State Warriors
Cue the Darth Vader Death Star music. Like it or not, Kevin Durant has joined forces with Cleveland’s arch-rivals, and they are the Vegas favorites to win the Finals for good reason.
That much talent on the same team is practically unprecedented, but talent alone does not always get the job done.
Although Golden State starts the season at #2 in our rankings, they could move up rather quickly if they get off to a hot start – something they are all to familar with.
Aside from health, the only question marks regarding the Warriors in 2016-17 involve how long it takes to build team chemistry, lack of depth, and whether or not any teams in the West can give them a run for their money.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
This may be the last chance for the Clippers to finally make it out of the Western Conference. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin could both opt out in the summer of 2017.
For any team in the West to upset Golden State, assuming all of their stars are healthy, the best chance would appear to be in Year One, when they still have to go through some growing pains.
All of this leads to an opportunity for the Clippers to take this one last stab at winning the West and possibly ruining everyone’s plans of a third episode of the trilogy.
It may not be likely, but they have as good a chance as anybody and the one thing they have that Golden State lacks is continuity.
4. San Antonio Spurs
It’s a bit of a transition year with Tim Duncan out of the league, but the Spurs’ way lives on with Kawhi Leonard as the face of the franchise and Gregg Popovich still at the helm.
Pau Gasol appears to be a perfect fit for their style of play and can still play at a high level at 36 years old.
Surprising rumors surfaced that the team is considering trading LaMarcus Aldridge, but let’s see how well this team is playing come February before buying into that notion.
The Spurs are still a legitimate threat in the Western Conference, but there’s some uncertainty surrounding the “new look” of the team.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
Considering all the injuries this team dealt with in 2015-16, it’s remarkable they were able to tread water in the second half of the season and reach the playoffs as the seventh seed.
Having a healthy Marc Gasol – one of the best centers in the league – and the addition of Chandler Parsons all point to this being a big year for the Griz.
Mike Conley was the subject of jokes and criticism surrounding his massive $153 million contract, but if there’s any player who fits the mold of someone who would not let that affect his drive and will to win, it’s Conley.
The former-Buckeye is a well-grounded, hard-working individual, and he heard all the jokes. Now it’s time for him to prove cynics wrong and show why he earned that contract.
Some people may have forgotten what this team is capable of when healthy, but with their already strong defense and new head coach David Fizdale looking to revamp the offense, this is a team that could make some noise in the Western Conference.
6. Toronto Raptors
Toronto lost Bismack Biyombo to free-agency and is expected to be without newly acquired Jared Sullinger for 2-3 months.
The good news is that Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas are still in town, forming a tough trio for most teams to match.
Unlike the other potential contenders in the East, this team can pick up right where it left off at the end of 2015-16 and should be in a groove from Day One of the regular season.
Although teams like Boston and Indiana may pass them up in the long run, the Raptors are still the second-best team in the East until proven otherwise.
7. Boston Celtics
Even without Al Horford, Boston had a well-balanced team under one of the best coaches in the league: Brad Stevens.
The addition of the All-Star-caliber center to go with rising star Isaiah Thomas and a solid supporting cast should make the Celtics one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Jae Crowder can now slide down to a “third-star” role, which better suits the solid two-way player, and Thomas does not have to carry as much of the load.
Boston’s backcourt was already a strength with Thomas, Marcus Smart, and Avery Bradley, but now the team appears balanced in every aspect.
They may not upset the Cavs, but have a great opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.
8. Indiana Pacers
Paul George has some more help. It was tough to watch him try to will his team to a series victory against the Toronto Raptors in the 2016 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, but he nearly pulled it off.
The additions of Al Jefferson, Thaddeus Young, and Jeff Teague make Indiana one of the most talented teams in the conference.
It may take them some time to get rolling, but with Myles Turner coming off an impressive rookie campaign and Monta Ellis having some other scoring options around him besides George, this team has the makings to finish with a top-four seed in the East.
9. Portland Trail Blazers
Portland did not add the type of impact player they were hoping to in the summer of 2016, but the core that is already in place was good enough to make a respectable playoff run in a “rebuilding” year.
Largely on the shoulders of Damian Lillard, the Blazers fought their way to the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs and gave the Warriors a good series.
C.J. McCollum is coming off of a breakout season and that backcourt should only improve, as they gain more experience in the league.
The additions of Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli don’t exactly raise eyebrows, but help to address depth on a team that sorely lacked it last season.
Look for the Blazers to be one of several teams fighting for the fourth seed in the Western Conference.
10. Utah Jazz
It’s a good time to be a Jazz fan, as the team finally addressed its point guard issue by acquiring George Hill.
The Jazz have had a solid core around for the past few years, with Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, but have been searching for that floor general the whole time.
Utah appears to be one of the better-suited teams to match up with Golden State’s length and athleticism, but it’s going to be a giant leap for the Jazz to go from missing out on the playoffs to challenging the top dogs in the West in just one year’s time.
Either way, the team is trending upward and worth keeping an eye on in the Western Conference playoff mix.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook seems destined to be named 2017 MVP.
Victor Oladipo could flourish in his new role in OKC. Steven Adams and Enes Kanter showed they are a great combo in the 2016 playoffs.
But nothing replaces losing one of the top three players in the league.
The Thunder still have a great chance of being one of the better playoff teams in the West, but until we see how that team plays together, it’s tough to put them ahead of teams with more chemistry, who didn’t lose an MVP candidate to free-agency.
Maybe Adams, Kanter, and Oladipo step up and prove they can contribute to a Western Conference-contending team without Durant in the center of it, but Westbrook filling up the box score does not always lead to wins.
Regardless, the Thunder and Warriors have to meet up in the playoffs at some point. It’s too good of theater for that not to happen.
12. Detroit Pistons
Starting point guard Reggie Jackson is expected to miss six weeks to start the season. Aside from that, Detroit is in fantastic shape.
For most teams, this would be a devastating blow, but newly acquired backup Ish Smith has quietly been one of the better point guards in the league for the past two seasons.
It’s not an ideal situation, but if any team can withstand this type of start to the season it’s Detroit. Smith should have high assist numbers, with a well-rounded team to distribute the ball to.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tobias Harris are both coming off of tremendous finishes to the 2015-16 campaign and should be able to build off of those strong performances.
Andre Drummond is still an elite center and a threat to put up 20 points and 20 rebounds on any given night.
Given the changing landscape of the Eastern Conference, Detroit is one of the teams to watch in the top five or six of the conference.
13. Washington Wizards
The Southeast Division is ripe for the taking. Atlanta, Charlotte, and Miami all lost key players to free-agency and trades.
Washington under-performed in 2015-16 and much of that is due to injury problems concerning Bradley Beal (played 55 games last season).
Those injury concerns still exist, but if they can just get close to a full season together, John Wall and Beal are a force to be reckoned with and can win that division. Marcin Gortat is still one of the better centers in the league.
Washington may not get out of the first round of the playoffs, but the only thing standing in their way of reaching the postseason is health, or lack thereof.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves
The young duo of Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns is as talented as most combinations around the league – veteran or otherwise.
The backcourt situation is crowded, but all three players (Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn) have plenty of positive attributes that most teams would love to work with.
The Timberwolves may have had expectations thrust upon them before they were ready to jump into the playoff picture, but given the positive foundation they have built upon over the last three years, this seems to be the perfect time for Minnesota to jump into the postseason.
New head coach Tom Thibodeau always gets the most out of his players and has a young, energetic, and hungry group to work with in Minneapolis.
Fighting for the seventh or eighth seed won’t be easy, but they have the pieces to make it in a new-look Western Conference.
15. Charlotte Hornets
Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, and a healthy Michael Kidd-Gilchrist make Charlotte a playoff contender, but losing Al Jefferson and Jeremy Lin could prove costly.
This season will prove if the impressive campaigns from Batum and Marvin Williams were the start of positive trends or if Charlotte received an unusually productive year from both.
16. Chicago Bulls
Dwyane Wade back home has a nice feel to it, but the Heat knew what they were turning down.
Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and Wade form an intriguing trio that could push the Bulls to the playoffs, but it’s unclear if this group will pan out.
Rather than get hyped up about a potential experiment working exactly as planned (which doesn’t tend to happen in the NBA), we’re in wait-and-see mode with the Bulls.
17. Houston Rockets
Houston’s biggest offseason acquisitions were Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson – neither of whom are known for their durability.
Gordon is the more troubling of the two in that regard. If Gordon stays healthy, it gives James Harden a solid second-scoring option.
If his injury-prone trend continues, it was a poor move by the Rockets’ front office and the team will struggle to finish .500.
Harden is always good for 27-30 points per game, but last season showed he can’t do it all.
18. Dallas Mavericks
Much like the Rockets, Dallas will be somewhere right around the neighborhood of 40 wins.
Dirk Nowitzki is riding off into the sunset and appears destined to play out his career on the same team where he spent his glory days, only the next few seasons he’ll be hoping to reach the postseason as a seventh or eighth seed.
The Harrison Barnes signing was probably the biggest head-scratching moment of 2016 NBA free-agency and even if Barnes plays well, the talent around him in Dallas is nowhere near enough to make any serious noise in the conference.
It will be interesting to see what Dallas does at the trade deadline and if they decide to fight for a low playoff-seed or sell some of their veteran pieces to contending teams.
19. Atlanta Hawks
Losing Jeff Teague and Al Horford is a big blow to a team that has been in the top half of the Eastern Conference in recent years.
However, it would have been a necessary step for a franchise that realizes getting knocked out of the playoffs by Cleveland every year is no way to live life and there’d be little reason to question the start of a rebuild before both Horford and Paul Millsap left town.
So why did they sign Dwight Howard? Only time will tell, but if past history is any indication, the Hawks will regret bringing the hometown kid back to ATL.
At least Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore are encouraging young players, trending upward.
20. New York Knicks
They’re not a super team, but they have three stars. Even though Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony’s best days are behind them, basketball will be entertaining at Madison Square Garden.
Kristaps Porzingis does not have to take the unreasonable burden of being the face of the franchise entering his second season and if Rose stays healthy, he’s still an above average point guard.
Anyone who has followed Rose’s career is well-aware of how quickly that dreaded “if” word comes into play and should history repeat itself, the Knicks get to see Brandon Jennings and Melo on the floor at the same time for significant minutes.
At least New York is back into relevance, but it may not be for good reasons if the health of the team goes south.
21. Orlando Magic
Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo, and Serge Ibaka make for a dynamic frontcourt. The problem is that aside from Evan Fournier, Orlando’s guards leave much to be desired.
One factor working to Orlando’s benefit is the decline of the division around them, so they could be in a dogfight with Atlanta, Washington, Charlotte, and Miami to see who places first in the Southeast – leading to a likely first round exit of the playoffs for whichever team wins the division.
22. Miami Heat
Hassan Whiteside got paid. Now what? Well, Dion Waiters cashed in on a decent 2016 playoff run.
Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow make a promising young core. Goran Dragic is either waiting to be traded or will put up decent numbers on a team with little chance at the postseason.
It’s not pretty, but it’s the start of a new era in Miami without Wade, which might be a hard-to-face reality, but is the beginning of a rebuilding process that could be best for the franchise in the long run.
Barring a breakout season from one or two of those young players and a monster campaign from Whiteside, Miami is in store for a sub .500 season.
23. Milwaukee Bucks
Khris Middleton’s injury is a devastating blow to a team that looked like it was ready to rebound in 2016-17.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, and Greg Monroe are all talented, but the former-Pistons forward/center may be on his way out of Milwaukee.
The Bucks will be fun to watch with all their young talent, but all of that excitement may not add up to wins.
Part of the problem is that they play in the Central Division, where Cleveland, Indiana, Detroit, and even Chicago have the edge in veteran experience.
This could be an interesting season to see the true value of Matthew Dellavedova, as he’s going to see significant playing time and won’t have championship-caliber teammates around him.
24. Phoenix Suns
Devin Booker is the future. Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, though both talented, are essentially wasting parts of their careers in Phoenix.
Whether it leads to mid-season trades or it takes a full year to start fresh, the Suns don’t have many wins in the desert horizon.
25. Denver Nuggets
The young nucleus of Nikola Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris is something Nuggets fans can get behind.
It’s somewhat similar to the Cavs when they had Irving, Thompson, and Waiters.
There are pieces worth building a franchise around. 2016-17 will be a part of the slow process, moving the team in the right direction.
Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried seem out of place for what the team’s long-term plans are.
26. New Orleans Pelicans
The point guard position is a mess.
Jrue Holiday is making the right decision by being with family during an incredibly difficult time, but from a purely basketball standpoint, it leaves the Pelicans in a bad spot.
Not that the team was reserving playoff tickets to begin with.
In all seriousness, hopefully Holiday is back on the court and more importantly his wife and family get through this rough stretch and are able to enjoy a care-free future together.
This situation does show the lack of depth on New Orleans’ roster. Tyreke Evans is expected to miss at least six weeks.
Anthony Davis has his own injury history that is troubling for Pelicans fans.
At least Buddy Hield is a promising player, who could end up winning Rookie of the Year, as he’ll get plenty of opportunities to score on an unimpressive roster.
27. Los Angeles Lakers
It’s hard to believe that a 20-30 win Lakers team would be something for LA to be encouraged about, but now that Kobe Bryant is gone, the rebuild can finally begin.
Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng were brought in for expensive contracts, but they’ll fill their roles of making the team somewhat watchable while the young guys develop.
Lou Williams can also still contribute, but with the Lakers, it’s D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, and Jordan Clarkson, who point to a better tomorrow.
This is possibly the first time in the history of the franchise that they are building “the old-fashioned way.” It’ll be fun to see how it plays out.
28. Sacramento Kings
For the third straight season, it looks like Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins should be on their way out of Sacramento.
This year is a bit different, though. Similar to New Orleans, point guard is a mess for the Kings.
Darren Collison will serve an eight-game suspension and assume the every day starting role for the first time of his career.
Ty Lawson, who has his own history with the law, is the primary option after Collison. Add Matt Barnes into that mix for a hefty two-year contract.
We thought the Memphis Grizzlies had “attitude” in their locker room last year? That may pale in comparison to what goes on in Sleep Train Arena this season.
29. Philadelphia 76ers
The injury to phenom Ben Simmons is something that pretty much no fan base can relate to other than supporters of the Cleveland Browns.
It seems like whatever can go wrong will go wrong in Philly, but despite that huge setback, there are positive factors to watch this season.
Dario Saric appears to have a chance to be a very good player. Joel Embiid is finally getting a chance to show what he can do. Jahlil Okafor has already shown some upside early in his career.
Aside from the Simmons injury, it’s not all that bad of a time to be a Sixers fan. It doesn’t make up for it, but at least there are reasons to pay attention this year.
30. Brooklyn Nets
Linsanity 2.0? Will Brook Lopez stay healthy? What pick will the Celtics receive from the Nets in next year’s draft?
Not a great time in Brooklyn, but these are the consequences for making historically bad trades – even three years later.
Preseason predictions are made to be disproved by the way the season plays out. We’ll check back in two weeks and update the list, but there’s a good chance the top two aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.