Now that the free agency period has cooled off, the San Antonio Spurs have the shortest NBA odds in the entire Western Conference. Can they make it pay next June?
It's never too early to make predictions. Too late, yes, but never too early. Here's one: LeBron James Jr. will take over the NBA in about 10 years. Or how about this: The NBA will eclipse the NFL as America's favorite sport within the next 20 years – but then soccer will take over. I've got a million of them.
So let's take an early stab at how the 2016 Western Conference Playoffs will shake down. Of course we can't say for certain which teams will even make the playoffs, let alone who will survive all the way to the NBA Finals. But we can imagine, and in doing so, we can start making better basketball picks for next season. Note that we're assuming DeAndre Jordan officially signs with the Dallas Mavericks; you should have that information by the time you read this.
Eight Is Enough
First off the bat, we have to make a prediction about how the league will address its playoff format. It looks like the current divisional seeding process is going to get chucked out the window when the NBA's competition committee meets later this summer, so we're assuming the Top 8 teams in the West will be seeded as such. So let's start there:
1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Golden State Warriors
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
4. Dallas Mavericks
5. Houston Rockets
6. Los Angeles Clippers
7. Memphis Grizzlies
8. New Orleans Pelicans
Looks pretty good from where we're standing. It's too early for SCHOENE projections or anything like that, so we've just taken the basketball odds from Bovada's NBA futures market and rattled off the top eight teams in the West. Now the fun part: The kayfabe 2016 Western playoffs.
Conveniently enough, this particular seeding allows us to revisit some of the results from the 2015 playoffs. Houston will face Dallas once again, and while the Mavericks will presumably have Jordan at center, we're going to stick with the Houston team that won last year's series. We'll also take the Warriors over the Grizzlies again.
That leaves us a couple of fresh matchups. The Pelicans are on the right track, but they've still got some catching up to do before they're breathing the same air as San Antonio. And the Clippers will likely take a step back this year after an unsuccessful free-agency window – good grief, they're going to convince Jordan to stay, aren't they? Never mind, we'll take the Thunder anyway. Just because the Clippers don't have Donald Sterling around doesn't mean that they're being run properly.
At this point, we've got the Spurs advancing to face the Rockets, and the Warriors taking on the Thunder. That's some quality basketball right there. But it's also quite easy to pick the Spurs and Warriors to advance. These are the No. 1 and No. 1A programs in the West right now – take you pick as far as which team is No. 1.
Matchup-wise, James Harden will have to deal with either or both of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, while Dwight Howard will have to deal with both Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge. Tough gig. As for the Thunder, they've got a college coach in Billy Donovan who probably has a thing or two to learn at the NBA level.
Were you expecting anything else? The main topic of discussion going into the 2015-16 season will be whether or not the Spurs have leapfrogged the Warriors. This would be an outstanding matchup, but the Warriors have a major advantage at point guard with league MVP Stephen Curry, so we'll stick with the defending champions in this particular scenario – NBA odds notwithstanding, of course.