The start of the 2023-2024 NBA season is right around the corner, with a double-header scheduled on Tuesday, October 24th, to kick off the season. A lot of has taken place since the conclusion of last year: new coaches, the NBA Draft, and a few blockbuster trades. There have also been some rule changes to prohibit players from resting too much during the regular season. Changes aside, what really matters in pro sports is winning, and today we're going to discuss who I believe will win the next NBA title.
Let's start by stating the obvious. While a lot of teams and fanbases have good intentions at the start of each year, the reality is that in pro basketball, we can typically narrow down the championship contenders to six or less teams.
Here are those teams:
Golden State Warriors
I chose these 6 teams based on their rosters. Curious as to what Vegas had to say, they ironically had the same six teams. So much for gut instinct.
Who Won't Win
Sometimes the easiest way to arrive at a conclusion is to remove some of the noise. In this case, the Lakers and Warriors are noise, and here's why. LA, still led by an aging LeBron James, is one Anthony Davis injury away from not making the playoffs pretty much every year. Did they play well down the stretch last year? Sure they did. They added Gabe Vincent and Cam Reddish in free agency, re-signed Austin Reeves, and drafted Jalen Hood-Schifino out of Indiana in the first round. Jared Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura are both back. The Lakers roster is deep but it lacks some pop. Davis, whose 56 games played last year were the most in his previous three seasons, has been rumored to "be in the best shape of his life." It's great to hear, but I just don't buy it until he can get through a season. LA will be good but not great.
The Warriors add Chris Paul to an already old backcourt. Their other "big" free agent signing? Rudy Gay. Sorry folks, but that's not going to get it done. Golden State's upside is that guys like Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga finally break out of their "young guy" shells and become consistent contributors. Can it happen? Sure. Will it? I'd put the odds closer to 35%. I can never fully rule the Warriors out because Curry is too good for that. However, he's not getting any younger, and unless GS can spread out the burden, they too will be good but not good enough.
The Final Four
That leaves us with Milwaukee and Boston in the East and Denver and Phoenix in the West. Here's what I find intriguing about each team:
Milwaukee: GM Jon Horst makes a blockbuster move to appease Giannis. The Bucks will score a lot of points, be average on defense, and lean on Dame to win games down the stretch. The Bucks are super top heavy, meaning an injury to any one of their "Big 4" could hurt them significantly. I think one of the biggest factors to Milwaukee's success will be Marjon Beauchamp. The Bucks don't need him to score, but they need a versatile wing defender to slow down guys like Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown. If Marjon can be that guy, he'll fill Milwaukee's biggest weakness.
Boston: I love this roster. Getting Jrue Holiday was the ultimate savvy move by Brad Stevens. Boston has always had the talent, but Joe Mazzulla's coaching in the playoffs last year begged a lot of questions. Porzingis will help spread the floor for Brown and Tatum, and Derrick White is better than people think. Mazzulla will be better with another year under his belt, and Holiday will add a veteran presence to that locker room.
Denver: The Jokic/Murray duo is the best in basketball until proven otherwise. Losing Bruce Brown hurts, but Denver returns Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr, and KCP. What concerns me about Denver is their lack of depth. Similar to Milwaukee, Denver is in a "win now" stage and can't have one of their big guns get hurt. Could they repeat? Of course. But, I don't think it's likely unless they get consistent bench play and perimeter defense.
Phoenix: I love what the Suns did in the offseason. With hardly any operating room after the Bradley Beal trade, they managed to unload DeAndre Ayton's contract and bring in significant bench depth. Guys like Jusuf Nurkic, Yuta Watanabe, Drew Eubanks, and Eric Gordon take the pressure off of their "Big 3." Most importantly, they have the depth to win regular season games without having to push their stars too hard.
For those that know me, I'm a Milwaukee Bucks fan. To pick a team other than the Bucks takes a strong conviction, but that's what I'm going to do.
The 2023-2024 NBA Champion will be....the Boston Celtics.
Boston should've been in the Finals last year, but dug themselves in a 3-0 hole in the Eastern Conference Finals. The previous year, they lost to Golden State, 4 games to 2 in the NBA Finals.
This team is deep, balanced, and frankly, due. I'll take the Celtics in 6.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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