The next NBA season is still two months away but some clubs in the league are already feeling the pressure of expectations. Varied reasons that account for such stance by fans and team hierarchy alike; while some clubs are expected to compete for the title, others just need to show promise to achieve expectations.
Through the offseason trade frenzy that could change the landscape of the division, teams considered non factors in previous seasons have vaulted themselves into mainstream contention. Take Philadelphia Sixers, the City of Brotherly Love’s NBA franchise has ranked at the league’s basement for only God knows how long.
However, due to a blend of improved health and shrewd acquisition in the free agent market, the Sixers are expected to make the playoffs next season. Bringing back a healthy core of Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz plus acquired veterans JJ Reddick and Amir Johnson gives Philly a true NBA roster. Aside the Sixers, other clubs are on the clock to make a change once the upcoming season concludes.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans simply have to make the postseason this year after three straight years since its last appearance in 2015 where the side got swept in the first round by eventual champions Golden State Warriors. Injuries to star men Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday have been cited as the main reason behind the team’s failure to make it out of the Western Conference regular season. However, a full offseason workout with All Star Center DeMarcus Cousins plus the additions of Rajon Rondo and Ian Clark gives New Orleans depth at Point Guard where the oft injured Holiday has missed a lot of time.
The Wolves were expected to inch closer to end a 13 year postseason drought last season due to the appointment of Coach Tom Thibodeau and the presence of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. However, the team ended the season in just about the same position it has been in prior seasons signaling another roster shake up. Rather than shuffling through endless scouting reports on draftees, Minnesota went with sure fire production from veterans instead. By signing up All Stars Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague and three time Sixth Man of the Year Winner Jamal Crawford, Minnesota’s postseason run is expected to countdown.
The Rockets have been an ever present feature in the postseason since James Harden got traded from Oklahoma City Thunder. Despite the immense input from the Beard, the Rockets have failed to translate two near MVP winning campaigns in three years into an NBA Finals series. To close the gap on San Antonio Spurs and reigning Champions Golden State Warriors, Houston cleared its asset haul for Chris Paul and signed free agents PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah Moute. Feeling a bit outgunned in the “weapons race”, the Rockets are in the hunt for Carmelo Anthony. Irrespective of what transpires with his acquisition, Houston is in the spotlight to make the finals or risk Paul walking away as a free agent.
Over in the Eastern Conference, Boston Celtics is the one true outfit that will feel the intensity of the spotlight following a massive offseason. After flipping all but four of last season’s roster, Boston’s intent on bridging the gap on Cleveland Cavaliers pushed General Manager Danny Ainge to trade for Cavs Guard Kyrie Irving and sign Gordon Hayward. Signing Hayward cost his son an election and a seat in Utah’s Congress while a package including Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and potentially next year’s top pick for Irving. Giving up so much put Boston on the clock to get past LeBron James and the Cavs to the NBA Finals particularly how the roster is unbalanced with several Guards yet thin on Power Forwards.
Taking a major haul from the chest of assets has left Brad Stevens with a shallow team not deep enough to make a long run in the playoffs. Boston has seven rookies on the team and need to make further moves before the season starts. Altering the roster further brings more attention to the most talked about team now.
The team on the end of the headline trade with Boston is equally under the spotlight as critics and fans look out for the team’s performance next season following the swap. In the interim, Cleveland came out tops in the deal but ramifications down the months will determine ultimately which team got better. A poor season only fast tracks LeBron James exit from the team again and could see Thomas and Derrick Rose end their stay in “The Land”.
Notable Mentions: Washington Wizards, Oklahoma City Thunder
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter