The 2014-2015 season was marked by the rise of the Golden State Warriors, the surprising championship appearance of the Cavaliers, and crucial injuries to stars like Kevin Durant, Paul George, and Kevin Love. The injuries that plagued the impact players of the NBA have now passed and with the trades of the summer, the 2015-2016 season looks to be the healthiest and most competitive season in the past 5 years.
For the most part, many essential impact players have opted to stay with their current teams. The successful runs of the Warriors under first year coach Steve Kerr has convinced the current team roster that they have the winning formula to captivate and capture the NBA championship. On the East coast, the Cavaliers, despite losing to the Warriors in the championship, have led a dominating season despite injuries to star players like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. After finalizing the new contact with power forward and alternate center Tristin Thompson, the Cavaliers have kept the roster the same. Lebron has the motivation to reach his sixth NBA Finals matchup in 6 years and win the Championship as a Cavalier.
The biggest move of the offseason, how-ever, was the San Antonio Spurs signing LaMarcus Aldridge, the former Portland Trailblazers superstar and a top-5 power-forward in the NBA. With the return of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, who are all fighting against Father Time, and the signing of Kawhi Leonard, the Defensive Player of the Year last season, the Spurs are the biggest challenger to the Warriors’ return to the finals.
One of the most dramatic off-season moves of the past summer was the tug of war battle for DeAndre Jordon, center for the Los Angeles Clippers. Jordan at first made a verbal agreement to join the Dallas Mavericks after several discussions with Maverick’s owner, Mark Cuban. However, that very same week, Jordan committed to staying with the Clippers and signed a contract with them. The unprofessionalism of this decision was the warning bell to team owners that impact players can dictate and choose where they will play, and Jordan was a prime example of this decision. In addition to keeping DeAndre Jordon, the Clippers also added Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, and Josh Smith to their bench to aid them in reaching the NBA Finals for the first time in their team’s history. Pierce will most likely be alternating between starting and coming off the bench, as he is in his twilight years, yet is still a clutch-time player. Stephenson looks to redeem himself after an unfulfilling year with the Charlotte Hornets, despite the hype he used to bring when playing for the Indiana Pacers. Smith had a surprising season with the Houston Rockets, bringing fresh energy from the bench and contributing to the Rockets’ rise to the Western Conference Finals last season. The Clippers’ additions may keep them up to speed with the star-filled Western Conference.
While the off-season trades and new player acquisitions have shifted the advantages around the league, it is arguably the return of injured players that will impact teams the most . Kevin Durant , the 2014 MVP, was injured midseason and did not play for the rest of the season. Durant’s recovery and offseason training, however, has given him the fire he has needed, especially as he has recently claimed that he will win the MVP this season. With his track record as a relentless sharp shooter, his claim may not be just talk. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving of the Cleve-land Cavaliers will also return to the courts since their playoff injuries. It is debated whether the Cavaliers would have won the championship had Love and Irving not been benched due to dislocated shoulders and fractured kneecaps.
Chris Bosh will also be in the starting lineup at the season’s start after a blood clot scare in his lung. According to SBNation, Bosh ended his season February of last year for surgery in order to remove the clot. Since then, Bosh has successfully recovered and has returned to the courts.
With all of these factors considered, the NBA season looks like it will start on a healthy, but very competitive, note. The Spurs’ and Clippers’ reinvented lineups look to challenge the Warriors’ current dominance over the West coast. The Cavaliers do not seem to have immediate challenges to the throne of the East, but the recovery of Paul George and the Miami Heat’s rebooted roster may rise to the challenge. The surging young stars, Leonard and George, will establish themselves as the next superstars of the West and East conferences, as unshakable players such as Lebron, Durant, and Stephen Curry will fight to reach the MVP recognition and the ultimate prize, the Larry O’Brian Trophy.
-Bar Hass ’16, Senior Sports Editor