National Basketball Association 2017-18: Season preview

NBA: Same old Warriors, new-look contenders

The Golden State Warriors are heavy favourites to win a second straight title after they regained the Larry O'Brien Trophy last season with a dominant 16-1 post-season run.
The Golden State Warriors are heavy favourites to win a second straight title after they regained the Larry O'Brien Trophy last season with a dominant 16-1 post-season run. PHOTO: REUTERS

Champs going for third title in four years but major rivals have all beefed up their squads

LOS ANGELES • The Golden State Warriors are ready to take the next step in establishing a dynasty when the new National Basketball Association (NBA) season begins tomorrow (Wednesday morning, Singapore time).

They are heavy favourites to win a second straight title after they regained the Larry O'Brien Trophy last season with a dominant 16-1 post-season run. But their rivals have responded by pooling together talent of their own to challenge the Warriors' "Big Four" of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

The wildest off-season in NBA history saw moves that resulted in a new look for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets.

Cavs star LeBron James has an overhauled supporting cast as he tries to reach an eighth consecutive NBA Finals. Cleveland added plenty of experience, including three-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade, 35, the 2006 NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP); and Derrick Rose, 29, the 2011 MVP.

"He brings another championship DNA, championship pedigree," James said of his former Miami Heat team-mate Wade.

"He brings another playmaker who can get guys involved and make plays and also just has a great basketball mind."

Former Cavs guard Kyrie Irving was traded to Boston in a deal that brought over starting forward Jae Crowder and guard Isaiah Thomas.

For the Celtics, roster changes could see Al Horford play alongside four new starters - Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown.

Like Boston, the Cavs, who also added 36-year-old guard Jose Calderon, must now blend their talents into a team over an 82-game campaign to peak for the play-offs.

"You're a part of a team and you're going to have to sacrifice something to be here," Wade said. "This is all about winning."

Sacrifice has been an oft-repeated word as superstars join forces.

When the Rockets orchestrated the blockbuster deal with the Los Angeles Clippers in June to get nine-time All-Star Chris Paul, they knew that adjustments would have to be made.

With Paul alongside franchise player James Harden, Houston now have two ball-dominant guards. Some observers have questioned how the duo will gel but the Rockets are certain they will make it work.

"You put two high-IQ guys who are willing to pass, willing to sacrifice to do whatever it takes," Harden told The Ringer, acknowledging that he and Paul will play off the ball more than they have been used to in their careers.

"We've got the same, you know, goal in mind and that's winning a championship, you know it's definitely gonna work."

The Rockets went all in for Paul - sending seven players, a draft pick and cash to the Clippers - with a clear purpose.

"We're looking forward to trying to get as close as we can or better than Golden State," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "They seem to be the ones that set the bar and we know it's a high bar but we have a lot of potential and now it's up to us to try and do the work and get it done."

For the Thunder, the challenge is to get the job done at the first time of asking. With new additions Paul George and Carmelo Anthony able to become free agents next year, they are facing the pressure of winning the title this season.

The All-Stars will team up with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, who must find a way to thrive as a part of the re-balanced ecosystem.

He responded to Durant's departure last year by averaging 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists, joining Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson as the only players to average a triple-double over an entire season.

He won his second scoring crown but lacks the ultimate team title.

The arrival of George and Anthony means Westbrook will be able to share the offensive load. But it also means the trio will have to work on their chemistry.

"It's going to take time," Westbrook said. "It's not going to happen overnight... It's going to be a season-long process."

While their challengers revamp their teams, the Warriors are not exactly standing still. Most of their championship squad remains unchanged but they have also added Nick Young and Omri Casspi.

"We're going to be better, for sure," Golden State coach Steve Kerr told NBCSportsBayArea.com.

"If you look at last year's roster, the one thing that was lacking was (three-point) shooting off the bench... In terms of having designated shooters, we were able to add two really, really high-quality guys."

The rest of the NBA have been warned.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2017, with the headline 'Same old Warriors, new-look contenders'. Print Edition | Subscribe