Sunday, January 29 2023

Ranking Warriors’ title repeat threats after KD, Nets reconcile originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The biggest story of the NBA offseason officially wrapped up Tuesday when the Brooklyn Nets announced they have patched their relationship with superstar Kevin Durant.

With that drama over, can we simulate to the start of the regular season, please?

Just a couple of months removed from celebrating their fourth title in eight years, the Warriors‘ core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will begin their hunt to earn a championship ring for their thumbs.

Who will stand in their way? Below is an updated list of the Warriors’ top-10 championship repeat challengers following Brooklyn patching its relationship with the superstar Durant:

What are the Lakers doing on this list, you might ask?

It’s a valid question. Los Angeles was the NBA’s biggest disappointment last season, beginning as one of the championship favorites and ending up missing the play-in tournament, much less the playoffs.

With Monday’s Durant news paired with the Nets stating they won’t part with Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook — an old friend of KD — will remain in Los Angeles. Westbrook has been the butt of many online jokes during his Lakers tenure and often is handed the blame for the team’s struggles, but new coach Darvin Ham believes he can unlock the best way to utilize the guard past his prime.

No matter what team they’re on, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are still a threat. Those two players alone can make for an interesting playoff series.

Nikola Jokić says hello.

The back-to-back NBA MVP will get his co-star in the Mile High City back this season, as Jamal Murray returns from a torn ACL.

Many believe the young Timberwolves squashed all hope of any team landing a Durant trade by sending a small village of role players and enough first-round picks to the Utah Jazz to make Sam Presti jealous.

Their return in that deal? Rudy Gobert.

The trade left the rest of the basketball world befuddled. While the rest of the NBA zigs by going small, the Wolves are zagging by putting two of the game’s top centers next to each other in Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns. Question marks linger over what the team’s plan is for playoff series, where Gobert’s offensive shortcomings have been exposed in the past.

But … what if it works? At the very least, it will be an interesting experiment to watch from afar.

7. 76ers

We are one month away from training camp, which means we are one month away from storylines about James Harden being in the best shape of his life.

Harden, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey are scary. If newly-acquired P.J. Tucker can discover his shot from the corner again, the 76ers could finally get past that pesky second round.

Only one team from the Eastern Conference can really threaten the Warriors’ championship repeat hopes, which is why the Miami Heat are left off this list. But Philadelphia definitely is a serious contender on the other side of the bracket.

After a new rivalry was born in the spice-filled Western Conference semifinal series, the Warriors will see Memphis for the first time on Christmas Day.

Led by Ja Morant, the Grizzlies are motivated to gift Golden State with a knockout punch this season. Someday, perhaps, but today is not that day.

Phoenix was one win away from matching up with the Warriors in the Western Conference finals before falling flat and losing in upset fashion to the Dallas Mavericks.

Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton — whether he wants to be there or not — will be running it back.

The most intriguing Western Conference squad to watch over the first few months of the season will be that other team that plays at Crypto.com Arena.

Kawhi Leonard will be back after missing last season while rehabbing his knee. Paul George returns from an elbow injury that limited him to 31 games in 2021-22. And one of the biggest unknowns in basketball, five-time All-Star John Wall — who hasn’t played over 41 games in a season since 2016-17 — was brought in to play point guard alongside the Clippers’ star duo.

Without Leonard and George for the bulk of last season, that Clippers team, full of proven role players, finished over .500.

Leonard and company will give the Warriors a run for their money.

3. Nets

It’s not recency bias, I swear.

Sure, Brooklyn bowed out of the playoffs this summer by handily getting swept by the Boston Celtics. But let’s not forget Kevin Durant had the Nets one shoe size away from knocking out the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the 2021 playoffs.

Durant has a partnership with two players who have recently been unreliable in Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons. Those three have much to prove, but that core surrounded by sharpshooters Seth Curry and Joe Harris will be a tough out of the postseason.

2. Celtics

Jayson Tatum struggled at times in the 2022 NBA Finals, but he recently revealed that a wrist injury prevented him from playing to his potential in the postseason.

With Tatum back healthy, Jaylen Brown, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, Robert Williams III and company will get back to their ways of suffocating opposing offenses.

RELATED: What KD staying with Nets means for Warriors now, in future

The defense is frightening enough. What’s worse? Boston got even better this offseason by acquiring Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari.

1. Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo had a chance to rest this summer. And you can bet he hated every minute of it.

Khris Middleton went down with injury two games into Milwaukee’s recent playoff run, but Antetokounmpo still had the Bucks one win away from reaching the Eastern Conference finals before running out of gas.

Antetokounmpo’s fatigue was understandable. So was the exhaustion of the rest of his team. Hours after winning the 2021 NBA Finals, Middleton and Jrue Holiday hopped on a plane to suit up for Team USA in the Olympics.

The Bucks will be rested, hungry and ready to challenge the Warriors’ crown.

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Source: Yahoo Sports

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