Warriors’ Loss Means New Era For NBA’s Western Conference
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA Championship and potentially closed the door on one of the greatest dynasties in sports history at the same time.
The Raptors won the title by clinching a 114-110 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Thursday’s Game 6 in Oakland. It was the final game ever played at the Warriors’ Oracle Arena, but it may have also been the last game of the Warriors’ historic five-year run.
As the Raptors were dancing and celebrating on the floor after the game, the Warriors were literally and figuratively limping to the locker room. In the final series of the postseason, the Warriors had lost two of their biggest stars to major injuries. Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles in Game 5 and Klay Thompson tore his ACL in Game 6. The injuries had a large effect on the outcome of the Finals, but the overall effects could be even larger in scope.
Regardless of what happens in free agency this summer – Durant and Thompson are both free agents now – the Warriors will be without them for considerable time, if not the entire season. Durant is definitely out for the 2019-2020 campaign and Thompson is not expected to return until March or April. There’s also a high likelihood that both All-Stars could sign with different teams this summer and play their next game in a different uniform, whenever that may be.
At this point, it’s hard to imagine that Golden State will have the same level of dominance next season that the team has had for the last half-decade.
While that may seem like good news for the Utah Jazz, who have been awaiting a chance to make some major movement in the Western Conference, that’s not necessarily the truth.
It certainly appears that the West is now up for grabs, but the Jazz aren’t quite the clear-cut favorites to take that spot from Golden State. The Jazz, who finished fifth in the conference last season, still have considerable ground to make up and some teams, including a few that didn’t make the playoffs in 2018-19, are primed to make big improvements next season.
Lakers Favored By Vegas
Almost immediately after the confetti fell on Toronto on Thursday night, the oddsmakers at the Caesars sportsbook in Las Vegas revealed the favorite to win the championship next season. Their pick: the Los Angeles Lakers.
It may be a surprising selection as the Lakers finished 37-45 last year in a season that was defined by the organization’s extremely chaotic front office decisions.
However, the Lakers are anticipated to push strongly for a big-time player to join LeBron James on the hardwood. According to some reports, the Lakers are the strongest contenders to land Anthony Davis and may have a reasonably-good chance of signing this season’s NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler is also in the mix for the Lakers.
If they land one or both of those guys, and add some shooting on the perimeter, expect the Lakers to bounce back in a big way next season.
Pelicans Have Major Assets
Another team that missed the playoffs but should be much improved in 2019-20 are the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans struck gold in the NBA Draft lottery last month by securing the No. 1 overall pick and the rights to select the most exciting prospect since LeBron in Zion Williamson.
While Williamson will just be a rookie next season and still have a lot to learn about the elevated level of play in the NBA, he’s still good enough that he can make a difference and improve the Pelicans’ record.
Not only will the Pelicans have Williamson, they currently hold all the cards in the ongoing saga with Davis. Whether the team ends up shipping their disgruntled star to Los Angeles, New York or Boston, as has been rumored, they’ll receive a stockpile of talented young players and probably some first round draft picks in return. It may not happen immediately, but the Pelicans are going to get real good, real fast.
Kings, Mavs Expected To Improve
Two other non-playoff team that basketball fans should keep their eyes on are the Sacramento Kings and the Dallas Mavericks. The Kings made big strides last season and finished as the ninth best team in the conference, just outside of the playoff race. They could be continue to improve next season.
The Mavericks made a big trade last season in acquiring center Kristaps Porzingis from the New York Knicks in exchange for Dennis Smith Jr. Porzingis didn’t end up suiting up once in a Dallas uniform last season as he recovered from a torn ACL. Coupled with European sensation Luka Doncic, the two are expected to create a dynamic 1-2 punch to usher in a new era in Dallas.
Things are going to be very different in the NBA next season. Things were expected to change drastically in free agency prior to the drama that ensued in the Finals, but Durant and Thompson’s injuries have thrown an additional monkey wrench into the picture.
The Jazz will still have their work cut out for them to move up the ladder in the West. It’ll start with whatever moves the team makes in the offseason.