There is now a little more than a month away from the start of the 2015-16 NBA season.
This will the second full season that the league will be under the leadership of commissioner Adam Silver, who will be navigating behind the scenes in order to avoid a lockout in 2017. In the meantime he will also guide the NBA as it continues to grow as a brand globally, have a developmental league that is growing in both size and relevance, and prepare for a major infusion of money from a new television deal that itself will bring big changes.
One big change that is already happening is how playoff seeding will be done. No longer will division winners be guaranteed a top four seed in either the Eastern or Western conference. Instead seeding will be based solely on record.
Here is a look at how both the East and West will look like as the season begins.
The reigning conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers will look to defend their status as top dogs in their second LeBron James era, albeit slightly banged up. Guard Kyrie Irving‘s rehab from a broken kneecap suffered in last season’s NBA Finals has not produced a concrete timetable for his return. It’s projected that Irving might still be out of action as late as January. With that uncertainty Cleveland signed guard Mo Williams and have reunited much of the playoff contending team from the late 2000s with him, James, and center Anderson Varejao.
Standing in the way of the Cavs early on will be the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat. The Bulls, who gave Cleveland their toughest test in their Finals run, will come in with new head coach Fred Hoiberg and if last post season is an indicator guard Derrick Rose finally back at full strength. The Heat, who missed the playoffs last season, have made several additions to their bench to build the core of guards Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, and forward Chris Bosh.
The main story with the East will still be the comparison between the Cavs and Heat as most expect them to meet in the conference finals.
The West saw itself change drastically thanks largely to free agency. The defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors will be preparing for their move from the Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA to nearby San Francisco in 2019 by breaking ground on a new arena in mid season.
The main team chasing the Warriors will be the San Antonio Spurs who landed the summer’s top free agent, forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Having Aldridge will allow the to move franchise player Tim Duncan back to center after trading Tiago Splitter to the Atlanta Hawks.
The summer’s biggest drama in the conference involved the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers over center DeAndre Jordan. Early in the free agency moratorium Jordan agreed to a four-year $80 million deal with the Mavericks but had second thoughts and told this to Clippers head coach/president Doc Rivers. What happened next was the Clippers top brass (team owner Steve Ballmer, Rivers, guard Chris Paul, and forward Blake Griffin) flying to Jordan’s home in Houston, TX and essentially holding him hostage until he re-signed with Los Angeles. This changed much of the blueprint Dallas had in mind and forced to pay guard Wesley Matthews more that they initially offered in free agency.
The biggest story in the conference however will be every move that Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant will make as he prepares to headline the 2016 NBA free agent class.
Games to watch early on:
November 11: Clippers at Mavericks (ESPN) – This will be Jordan’s first game in Dallas since the episode mentioned above.
December 5: Heat at Cavs (NBATV) – This is the earliest date where the two teams might face each other at full health.
December 25: Cavs at Warriors (ABC) – A rematch of the Finals where Irving might be back on action.