Everyone knows that the Golden State Warriors made a few significant upgrades to their front court this summer in Zaza Pachulia and David West, oh yea and that Kevin Durant guy, but around the league this summer, the theme of the 2016 offseason has been “the rich get richer.” Last time, we looked in Cleveland’s conference for new competition that will make returning to the Finals a bit more difficult for the defending champs. Today, we’ll go out West.

San Antonio

Notable Additions:
Pau Gasol (Free Agent), Dejounte Murray (29th Overall Pick, 2016)

Projected Starting Line-up:
Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol

The Rundown:

San Antonio is without a doubt one of the (if not the) best and most consistent team in sports. They have not had a losing season since Gregg Popovich took over as Head Coach, won five titles in fifteen years and have been led by a man known as “Big Fundamental” for 19 years. The word dominance can be found next to San Antonio’s name in the dictionary and this year seems to be showing no sign of stopping. Tim Duncan’s retirement was no surprise this offseason, but unlike most franchises that would find themselves having to retool after their franchise face leaves, San Antonio has been prepared for years with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Instead of simply resting on their laurels, however, San Antonio has strengthened their positions, making themselves legitimate contenders against the so called Super Team in Golden State.

Edward A. Ornelas | San Antonio Express-News

San Antonio went with a mix of youth and age in their offseason acquisitions. On the less notable side of acquisitions, San Antonio brought over several of their European acquisitions over the past several years. Likely D-League or Garbage time bound, they may find a star in one of these players (they always seem too) but most likely these players will not make an impact in 2016-2017. More importantly to the Title Chase for San Antonio are veteran Center Pau Gasol and Rookie Point Guard, Dejounte Murray.

Starting with Pau Gasol, San Antonio took their front court and injected one of, if not the, best veteran center into it. Gasol, despite being 35 is brimming with energy. Averaging 16.5 points, 11 rebounds a game, he actively was one of Chicago’s best players last year at Center, and was even more effective the year before at Power Forward (18.5 points, 12 rebounds). Gasol’s age has been in question for years, yet he has shown no signs of slowing down. He shows weakness on the perimeter, but Gasol also is a versatile low post defender. Likely having to match up against an All Time Great in Kevin Durant, this mismatch may create some issues, but adding another massive offensive weapon that embodies the selfless nature of the San Antonio system may simply provide too much of an advantage for most teams to handle.

Dejounte Murray is a far more interesting case. An absolute steal at the 29th overall pick, it almost was fate that he fell to the San Antonio Spurs. Murray was projected to be taken somewhere in the low teens according to Raul Dominguez of AP. In Murray, San Antonio has found a fantastic replacement for Tony Parker, someone who’s timeline falls within the prime of players like LMA and Kawhi. Even LeBron had something to say, going as far as to tell a disheartened Murray that “You might not feel like you landed where you wanted, but you’re with the best organization in the NBA.” Murray was more of a scoring point guard, averaging 16.5 points and 4.5 assists in college, however, this may fit the San Antonio system that likes to run the ball through Point Forward Leonard more often anyway. Murray’s skill set mirrors that of Parker’s quite well, and tutelage under the French floor general may serve him well in the future. What should be noted is that without a doubt in the long term, Murray can run the floor for San Antonio and may even be good enough to see some minutes on the floor this season.

Jerry Lai | USA TODAY Sports

How the Cavs can beat them:

Alright, enough praising San Antonio to heaven and back, let’s talk about how Cleveland can beat their potential finals opponents.

Pau Gasol is a double edged sword, and Cleveland will need to take advantage of that. While he may be an offensive genius, and not a terrible defender in the post, his wing game and P&R defence are abysmal. Running someone more offensively minded such as Kevin Love against him in the post could find it an answer. Despite Pau Gasol’s defence the roster itself has very few flaws. LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the best stretch forwards in the League, and Kawhi Leonard is a fantastic. That being said, Cleveland does have a few advantages when it comes to age.

Cleveland isn’t exactly young, but they aren’t old. LeBron is on the wrong side of thirty, but clearly the Finals proved elsewise. JR Smith is the same age as LeBron. Mike Dunleavy and Richard Jefferson are both long term veterans, as well as Mo Williams. Even Kevin Love is 27, entering his prime but won’t last for more than another few years. That being said, San Antonio isn’t much better. While Leonard and Danny Green are young and in their prime, Tony Parker, their starting point guard, is 34 years old. LaMarcus is similar in age to LeBron, and Manu Ginobili is 38. Playing all of these players for more than thirty minutes a game seems unlikely. On the other hand a large deal of the members of the supporting cast are young. All of the European imports are relatively inexperienced, and may not provide the necessary ability to keep up with the League’s top players.

Golden State

Notable Additions: Kevin Durant (Free Agency), David West (Free Agency), Zaza Pachulia (Free Agency)

Projected Starting Line-up:
Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia

The Rundown:

Alright it’s time to address the elephant in the room. Golden State, on paper, has improved exponentially. Adding a former MVP to an already excellent group of a top power forward, top shooting guard and two-time MVP on paper should easily be the best team of all time. No one needs proof of Kevin Durant’s skill, he is arguably one of the best (number two on my personal list) players in the NBA, and is just hitting his prime. Clearly this team will be excellent, but the story of Golden State’s offseason will truly be determined by their losses, not their gains.

Many may disagree, but I believe that this Golden State team is not as good as the previous years. Signing Kevin Durant may make this team have the strongest starting five in the league, but their losses combined threaten both the depth of Golden State and their consistency. To sign Kevin Durant, Golden State revoked the rights on the following players: Harrison Barnes, Jermaine O’Neal, Leandro Barbosa, Marreese Speights, Festus Ezel and Brandon Rush. On top of this Golden State Traded Andrew Bogut, their starting center, for simply the ability to open cap space. With this Kevin Durant signing, Golden State has created two obviously exploitable weaknesses; Center and Bench.

Starting with the Center position, Golden State filled out their roster with veterans and a rookie, David West, Zaza Pachulia, Anderson Varejao and Damian Jones. All three are older, and have little value on the defensive end, as well as for the long term. Varejao may have been a great offensive PF/C in his prime, but that is far removed. Zaza Pachulia had a break out year last year, but provided little on the defensive end averaging only one block for every four games played and less than a steal a game, while also adding on an average of 1.5 turnovers a game. Moreover Pachulia is already thirty two and will likely be the starter for Golden State. Playing only around 25 minutes a game in Dallas last season, Pachulia is a risky choice at center. Damian Jones being a rookie really has little to look at for professional experience, and likely will not see many minutes in his first season. Lastly David West may be the most consistent of the three, but having contemplated retirement several times over the past two years and being 35 he will not be able to consistently provide minutes for Golden State either. It seems Coach Steve Kerr will be forced to run a small ball-esque line-up with Draymond Green at Center, however this leads into the second problem Golden State will be facing this season, their depth.


Looking at the Center position alone should give fans a good idea of the difficulties that Golden State will be facing next season. Their only two returning main contributors are Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Backup guards for Golden State include limited minutes seer Ian Clark, rookie Patrick McCaw and previous third stringer Brandon Rush. The Small and Power Forward positions on the other hand are filled out by James McAdoo, who has averaged nine minutes a game in his career and Kevon Looney who saw four minutes in his rookie year. Sure Kevin Durant and Draymond Green may handle most minutes, but fielding the rest of your roster with rookies will create a unique challenge for Kerr when choosing to rest players.

How the Cavs can beat them:

Cleveland is going to have to take advantage of the same things they did in the NBA finals. Cleveland really made a turn when Golden State lost Andrew Bogut. Losing their rock in the middle really opened them up to penetration attacks by LeBron and Kyrie Irving. Now running four different centers, none of which have successfully passed the defensive eye test. LeBron might be matched up against Draymond Green or Kevin Durant more often than not, but that won’t stop him from playing of the pick and driving to the basket. On the other hand, a lackluster bench is going to cause problems exploitable by playing combo rest set, where not all the starters sit at the same time, leaving one of either Kyrie or LeBron to run the offensive while Golden State’s star line-up continues to rest.

Several other problems could be exploited by Cleveland. First off, when running Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and a center together, you’ve now found yourself with three players all of whom are over 6’10. The same size problem that New York is facing in their front court. On the other hand, Golden State may have found themselves with a too many cooks in the kitchen type scenario. With Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry all playing together, who is going to take the most touches, run the offense etc.

Who, among a prolific scoring guard and two MVP’s is going to take a back seat (spoilers it’s most likely Klay Thompson). Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad roster, this is a fantastic roster, but that being said it was more than just skill that brought an NBA championship to the bay area in 2015 and brought them to the finals the next year. Golden State is betting that their chemistry stays in check from last season, otherwise this upgrade may turn out to be more toxic than beneficial.


Notable Additions: Boris Diaw (Trade), Joe Johnson (Free Agency), George Hill (Trade)

Projected Starting Line-up:
George Hill, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert

The Rundown:

I’ve been preaching the gospel of the Utah Jazz for three years now, this time I may turn out to be fruitful. Let’s first talk about what Utah did wrong this season. They traded Trey Burke for an eighth grader (2021 second round pick). Burke was still a project, but nothing that was bad. He put up some solid numbers from the bench, and just because Exum and Hill were on the roster didn’t mean he couldn’t find a place to pick up the occasional minutes. Shame on you for underselling Utah, and shame on you more so for sending him to the void that is Washington D.C. As for things that Utah did right this season? Just about everything else.

Besides Trey Burke (sorry buddy), Utah kept the core intact ***Editors Note*** Please Please PLEASE if they trade for DMC let me know and I need to rewrite a major portion of this article ***End Editors note*** Hayward is looking more and more like an elite small forward with point guard-esque court vision. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are excellent as the big men in the middle, and Exum might just be able to come back for a full healthy season. With Lyles and Burkes returning to come off the bench despite being starting calibre players, it was hard to see how in the madness that was free agency that you could make this roster better without a super star, but somehow Utah found a way.

One thing that Utah needed was capable veteran players. In Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw (who I totally thought was a point guard last time I wrote about him so, my apologies about that) and George Hill, Utah has found the answer they were looking for. Hill fits almost perfectly into the Utah system. Pass first and quiet, he’s flown under the radar, and is a perfect roleplayer for Favors and Hayward to play off, as well as to mentor the young Exum. Johnson brings scoring to the second unit, as he did to Miami, but brings a journeymen’s voice to the Utah Locker Room. Most importantly though might be the Diaw acquisition. Gobert and Favors may be excellent starters but the bench of Utah’s front court is less well off. Diaw brings a superb selfless player to the Utah Roster. On San Antonio he wasn’t a first option, nor was he a starter despite his skill, yet Diaw played excellently without any questions. Diaw also brings with him the professionalism of San Antonio to Utah, upping the ability and selflessness already apparent in the Utah locker room.

Gene Sweeney Jr. | Getty Images

Utah is improved on paper, they filled all their holes and now just need to wait until their players reach their primes, the question is if this year is that prime. While the western conference is clearly a gauntlet, Utah has a serious chance to snag a top four seed, and make a real challenge at the sitting Western Conference Champions, The Golden State Warriors.
How the Cavs can beat them:

That being said, it is unlikely that Cleveland will ever face Utah in a playoff series. Utah is the hipster pick, the dark horse of the Playoff race and will have to surpass Golden State, San Antonio, The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trailblazers for a chance at the champs, but that being said, crazier has happened in the NBA.

If Utah is to face Cleveland, Cleveland is going to have to exploit the two things they have that Utah doesn’t, experience and a superstar.

This Jazz team, outside Hill, Johnson, Diaw and other non-playing vets, has not tasted playoff action yet. The lights, glitz and glam of the NBA finals will get to any and everyone. Athletes will tell you the spotlight makes you malleable, you’re just as susceptible to that pregame hype up speech as you are to the on court trash talk. Cleveland would need to take advantage of this, crush all hope in a depressing spectacle and prove that they are still the top dog in this competition.

To accomplish this thorough dream smashing, Cleveland is going to have to employ Kyrie and LeBron. A superstar can, on any night, go out there and drop 40. Starting in games one and two, no matter if it’s at home or in Utah, Cleveland would need to go out there and prove they are alpha. Kyrie would need to play out of his mind, and LeBron would have to play, well LeBron-like. Cleveland has the talent to match anyone on Utah’s roster, it’s crushing them psychologically during the start, middle and end of the games, that is more pressing to a victory.