For the third year in a row, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers met in the NBA finals after rolling through their respective conferences in dominant fashion. Following Kevin Durant’s departure from Oklahoma City Thunder last summer to join a Warriors team that had gone 73-9 the year before, there doesn’t appear to be any current roster in the Western Conference capable of taking four games out of seven from the 2015 champions. As far as the east goes, LeBron James led teams have been represented in The Finals for seven years in a row, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. However, there are three up and coming teams in the league that are just a piece or two away from contending with the champs.
With five championships since 1999, it seems odd to call the San Antonio Spurs an up and coming team. But the retirement of Tim Duncan, and father time finally starting to come after Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, the face of the Spurs franchise has changed. MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard has taken over the team in recent years, establishing himself as the main threat on offense and defense. Complementary pieces such as Jonathan Simmons and Dejounte Murray started to make a name for themselves during this postseason and will only continue to get better in the future. Despite all of the talent on their side, the Spurs will still need more firepower in order to contend with Golden State. Current Clippers point guard Chris Paul has the option to opt out of his contract with Los Angeles this off season, and as his career winds down, it is no secret that he is looking for his first ring. Although the Spurs would have to move some cap room around in order to offer him a respectable contract, it seems like a plausible option for both sides. Right now, Paul needs the Spurs, and the Spurs need Paul.
After a surprisingly successful season, the Boston Celtics may be the team in the best position to dethrone one of the conference champions. But after getting out classed in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Cavaliers this year, it is clear that the Celtics need to add another wing scorer. Isaiah Thomas was majestic on the offensive end this year, being voted to the second team All-NBA, but with such a one dimensional attack on the offensive end the Celtics game plan is easily broken. Throughout the regular season and the playoffs, the games in which the Celtics lost were the ones where Isaiah Thomas was shut down by the opposing defense. Three potentially players could fix this issue for the Celtics. Chicago Bulls Forward Jimmy Butler and Indiana Pacers Forward Paul George both have just one year left on their current deals. Any trade that would happen would either of these players would most likely have to involve the Celtics’ first round draft pick this year, which happens to be the first overall pick in this year’s draft. The third player that could push the Celtics over the edge is Free Agent Forward Gordon Hayward. After spending the first portion of his career with the Utah Jazz, Hayward has blossomed into a star. His free agent status means that the Celtics could acquire him without giving anything back. Hayward to the Celtics may be the most likely to occur out of all of these scenarios.
John Wall has been an incredibly player since the moment he stepped onto an NBA court, but somehow, it seems like he keeps getting better each year. The Washington Wizards took the Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals this year and were just a few shots away from advancing to the next round. There isn’t much room the Wizards to change up the roster, but they don’t have to. Their young roster is only going to keep growing stronger, and all they have to do is keep that core together, and one of the most essential members of that core is Forward Otto Porter. After struggling throughout the first few years of his career, Porter has become an elite perimeter shooter in the league, as well as one of the top defenders at his position. This combination is rare in the league, and losing him to another team is not an option for the Wizards this summer.
Whatever happens in free agency this summer, teams must be willing to make some big moves and spend a lot of money, because nobody wants to see Cavaliers vs. Warriors part four.