The 2015-2016 NBA regular season tips off Tuesday, October 27. The league champion Golden State Warriors host the New Orleans Pelicans in the only Western Conference matchup. The Cleveland Cavaliers, winners of the Eastern Conference, face the Bulls in Chicago. And the Atlanta Hawks, who finished the regular season with the East’s best record, welcome the Detroit Pistons.
The West is still the better of the two conferences, with six teams expected to contend and five more likely to figure into the playoff race. Who are the players and teams to watch? How will it all shake out next spring, when records (and not division standing) will determine the conference playoff seeding?
CBS Local previews the NBA’s Western Conference.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors rolled through the league wire to wire last year as one of the best teams and there’s no reason not to expect them to be back in the title hunt. They return all of the cogs from last year’s machine and add first-round pick Kevon Looney to the mix. Head coach Steve Kerr’s health is concerning, as he continues to battle back issues after multiple surgeries this offseason. Kerr’s ability to push the right buttons night in and night out with this team last season was a major reason for their rise to the top. It’s going to be about maintaining that same focus and defensive intensity if they want to repeat as champs.
Projected Starting 5: Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Green, Bogut
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder organization has to be feeling the pressure to win a title. Derailed by injuries the last two years, both Durant and Westbrook will be back healthy to start the season. But health will continue to be a concern for this team, as will depth. They need to find a leader for the second unit, so Durant and Westbrook can get some rest during games. A lighter minutes load will keep them productive.
Projected Starting 5: Westbrook, Morrow, Durant, Ibaka, Adams
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers had, shall we say, an interesting summer. The DeAndre Jordan saga/hostage situation was one of the weirder stories this past offseason. With DJ back in the fold, this team is once again expected to contend. Adding the wily veteran Paul Pierce, reclamation project Lance Stephenson and still serviceable Josh Smith were all smart moves. They will adress this team’s biggest area of need from last year: depth. If the second unit can gel and Stephenson can find his Indiana form again, this team has the firepower to make things uncomfortable for Golden State.
Projected Starting 5: Paul, Redick, Pierce, Griffin, Jordan
San Antonio Spurs
All the Spurs did this offseason was add one of the game’s 15 best offensive bigs and one of its more underrated bigs to an already experienced and loaded roster. LaMarcus Aldridge and David West will let Pop rest Tim Duncan plenty during the season. Kawhi Leonard continues his trajectory towards superstardom, and Jimmer Fredette could prove productive as Pop’s next great reclamation project. Okay, maybe Jimmer won’t do a thing for this team, but doesn’t he just seem like the type of guy the Spurs turn into a good role player? The league’s most consistent franchise will continue to infuriate opposing fans.
Projected Starting 5: Parker, Green, Leonard, Aldridge, Duncan
Adding Ty Lawson to this team should alleviate some of the stress for James Harden and open him up to more off-the-ball creativity. Harden was great last year in getting to the bucket and setting up teammates, but now he has another backcourt threat for defenses to contend with. The addition of Lawson also frees up Patrick Beverley to do what he does best: hound opponents for 94 feet for 10-15 minutes a game. As in the past couple of years, this will be a pace-and-space team, spotting up four shooters around Dwight Howard and bombing away from three. Rookie Montrezl Harrell will be similar to Terrence Jones, who emerged last year as a bouncy, uber-athletic, high-motor player who annoys opponents to no end. Look for him to get some good minutes in the big man rotation.
Projected Starting 5: Lawson, Harden, Ariza, Jones, Howard
The team you’d least want to get in a fight with just got tougher. The Grizzlies added noted scrapper Matt Barnes, solid backup big Brandan Wright and a possible backup point guard in Russ Smith. Grit-n-grind returns for another year, should be fun.
Projected Starting 5: Conley, Green, Allen, Randolph, Gasol
New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis proved last season that he’s the third-best player in this league. I’m pretty sure he’s not human and was sent here from another planet to destroy basketballs. If the Pelicans can just put a competent group of four players around him, they’ll be a playoff team. If it’s an above-average group, that’s when you get into contender territory. First and foremost, Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon need to stay healthy. That’s a big ask considering the two have combined to miss 129 games over the last two years. The team lacks depth, which will hurt them come playoff time.
Projected Starting 5: Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Asik
This chemistry experiment can go one of two ways. Either all of the parts will fit together nicely, or it will blow up into an epic dumpster fire. Rajon Rondo, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein reads like a great starting lineup on paper. How will it play out on the floor? We’re about to find out.
Projected Starting 5: Rondo, McLemore, Gay, Cousins, Cauley-Stein
I can’t make heads or tails of the Suns organization. Two years ago, they were the surprise team, led by a fun and feisty backcourt. Last year, they brought in Isiah Thomas, and things got complicated. Gone were Dragic and Thomas, in comes Brandon Knight. Knight and Bledsoe looked good down the stretch, and if they keep that chemistry going the team will be fun to watch. The Suns nearly won the offseason lottery in getting Tyson Chandler to pair with LaMarcus Aldridge, but Aldridge headed off to San Antonio instead. What’s left is a fun team with some intriguing pieces, that could give teams fits, but will ultimately jockey for one of the final couple playoff spots.
Projected Starting 5: Bledsoe, Knight, Tucker, Morris, Chandler
The Mavs struck out on Deandre Jordan, or more appropriately failed to bring a S.W.A.T. team to rescue him from the Clippers grasp. That said, they still had a solid offseason, adding Deron Williams and Wes Matthews. Williams looked to have regained his form at the end of last season, and the Mavs are banking on that continuing. Matthews is coming off a torn Achilles, and you never know how well a player can come back from that. But if he returns to pre-injury form, this team will fill it up. The problem is at the five spot, where the options are uninspiring. Javale McGee, Zaza Pachulia and Samuel Dalembert don’t exactly strike fear into opponents. Justin Anderson should be a good 3 and D guy right away in the league. If things break just right, there’s a sliver of hope that they can send Dirk out on top.
Projected Starting 5: Harris, Matthews, Parsons, Nowitzki, Dalembert
I like some of the Jazz’s parts, I really do. Gordon Hayward is a solid player; Derrick Favors is fun down low. Rudy Gobert is a rim protector extraordinaire. The rest is untapped potential right now. Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Dante Exum and Rodney Hood could all be good players, but haven’t lived up to expectations yet. Defensively this team can lock down opponents. On offense it will stagnate and get clunky at times.And who’s playing point? Still, the Jazz will be in the mix for the last couple seeds come playoff time.
Projected Starting 5: Burke, Burks, Hayward, Favors, Gobert
Jockeying For Draft Position
Portland Trail Blazers
Poor Blazers fans. Just two years ago, you were enjoying a team that appeared ready to step up to contender status. Now, Aldridge and Matthews are gone, replaced by role players. Ed Davis is a nice piece, same with Al-Farouq Aminu. And CJ McCollum seems primed for a breakout year. But there’s just not enough here to contend.
Projected Starting 5: Lillard, McCollum, Aminu, Davis, Kaman
It’s time for a rebuild in Denver. The Nuggets got rid of Ty Lawson in the offseason and drafted Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay will be good, and Jusuf Nurkic is a solid big man. But outside of those two, where does the production come from? Does Danilo Gallinari finally show the form they expected?Seems unlikely. This roster has a bunch of question marks.
Projected Starting 5: Mudiay, Foye, Chandler, Faried, Nurkic
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are rebuilding. Sure, they got Hibbert for a bargain-basement price and brought in savvy vets Lou Williams and Brandon Bass to help mentor the young guys. But relying on those two, an aging Kobe and Jordan Clarkson/rookie D’Angelo Russell is not a formula for success in a stacked West. Swaggy P is still here, and Julius Randle will return from injury, so just how far away from contention they sit remains to be seen.
Projected Starting 5: Clarkson, Bryant, Young, Bass, Hibbert
The fun young players on this roster, along with a stabilizing veteran presence, will help the Timberwolves begin to climb back to relevance in the West. Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng and Adreian Payne get to learn from Kevin Garnett. Zach Lavine and Tyus Jones can study the ageless wonder professor Andre Miller. Kevin Martin and Tayshaun Prince can help Andrew Wiggins continue to grow. The problem will be finding minutes for everyone. If they can correctly balance that equation, this will be a fun team to watch. In two years, they’ll scare the daylights out of the rest of the league… but not this season.
Projected Starting 5: Rubio, Lavine, Wiggins, Garnett, Towns
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him. Agree/Disagree? Thoughts, comments, complaints? Email or tweet him.