My original pitch for this post was simple: I was going to spend an hour or two this morning reading a bunch of the NBA predictions that have gone up online over the course of the last 24 hours, find a few brave souls from reputable publications willing to pick someone other than the Golden State Warriors to win the NBA title this season, and then give them props for going against the grain and at least trying to pretend that it’s not a foregone conclusion that the Warriors will once again win the championship when June rolls around.
If I could put together a collection of enough smart NBA people picking teams other than Warriors, I figured it might add some intrigue to the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, and if nothing else, I figured that, if you’re willing to stick your neck out and pick anyone except the Warriors to win the title, then you deserve some extra credit for doing it.
The pitch was approved, and I started working my way through all of the various NBA predictions posts I’ve bookmarked this week. I read this one from Bleacher Report, this one from The Ringer, this one from SB Nation, this one from Sporting News, this one from USA Today, this one from the Washington Post, and… uh oh. It took me about 20 minutes to realize that this wasn’t going to go well.
As it turned out, my original premise was flawed, and it was flawed for the simplest of reasons. Despite the fact there are dozens, probably even hundreds of trusted NBA analysts making predictions right now, no one is picking anyone other than the Warriors to win the NBA title. Literally, no one. And in fact, most publications aren’t even entertaining the idea of there being a remote possibility that it could happen. The Warriors are as close to a consensus pick as it gets.
From Bleacher Report: "The Golden State Warriors are going to win the title again. And though that might be a boring prediction (and outcome), it’s also the only realistic one."
From SB Nation: "The Warriors will win the championship."
From Sporting News: "Even without Kyrie Irving, [the Cavaliers] should be better equipped to deal with the Warriors…But they’re not going to beat Golden State."
From our own predictions post: "When all is said and done the Warriors will be hoisting the trophy once again. Why? Simple. Because as much as other teams added, they’re still not good enough."
Every single NBA predictions post I came across featured thousands of words that made it seem like the upcoming NBA season is going to be the best one ever. But they all ended with some variation of, "Oh, the NBA champion? Warriors. But you already knew that, right?"
Maybe this shouldn’t have been all that surprising. When I started this exercise, I knew it wasn’t going to be super easy to track down a bunch of analysts predicting that the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, or Boston Celtics would win the NBA title this season. The Warriors are, after all, the Las Vegas odds-on favorite to win the NBA title this season, making them the first team since Michael Jordan’s 1997-98 Bulls to be an odds-on favorite to win a title at the start of a season. And the Warriors are even more heavily favored than MJ’s Bulls were, seeing as how they are -240 favorites at most Vegas sportsbooks compared to the -125 the Bulls were in 1997.
But still, no one thinks that anyone else stands a chance of competing for the championship? Maybe the Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony project really pans out in Oklahoma City. Or maybe the James Harden and Chris Paul experiment explodes, in a good way, in Houston. Or maybe LeBron James musters up one more title push in Cleveland before setting sail for Los Angeles or wherever the hell he’s going to end up next (his recent comments about Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert in GQ make it seem like he’s headed somewhere other than Cleveland after this season, right?).
There has to be at least a sliver of hope for the other 29 NBA teams. Otherwise, why even bother getting excited about the 2017-18 NBA season if we already know how it’s going to end?
Just when I was ready to give up hope, I finally found someone who was willing to entertain the idea of a team other than the Warriors winning the title. That someone was none other than former NBA player Paul Pierce, who is now an NBA analyst for ESPN and who knows a thing or two about winning an NBA title. Pierce appeared on The Jump last week and predicted that the Thunder, not the Warriors, will take home the title this season.
Pierce also defended his prediction during a media call on Monday and said that he wasn’t just trolling—or trying to make Draymond Green mad after what transpired between the two last season—when he picked the Thunder to win it all.
"You got three All-Stars," Pierce said. "You need minimum three All-Stars to win a championship. What other team outside of OKC, Golden State, and maybe Cleveland can produce three All-Stars? So they have the criteria that you need to win a championship."
Pierce went on to list a bunch of basketball reasons for why he believes the Thunder have a legitimate chance to take down the Warriors and then beat the Cavaliers (or Celtics?) in the NBA Finals. And while I don’t know that I’d necessarily agree with everything he said or buy into the Thunder as a team that can actually contend with the Warriors, it was a decidedly different take from just about all of the others I read through today.
But it’s telling that this is where we’re at with the NBA. After what was probably the most unpredictable offseason ever, filled with trades, drama, and more pettiness than we could ever have imagined, the upcoming season comes with almost no suspense attached. We’re all basically going to gather together at a theater tonight and start collectively watching a movie, even though we all know exactly how it ends.
Despite my overall tone here, I’m not one of those fans who thinks the Warriors are awful for the NBA. After spending a few years paying more attention to some of the other sports out there, most notably the NFL, the Warriors have piqued my interest in recent years and brought me back into the NBA fold. I’m right there next to everyone else tuning into Warriors games and staying up way later than I should to watch Steph Curry & Co., even though I know how most of their games are going to end.
But I’m also hoping that, at the end of this NBA season, we all look back at this year’s batch of preseason predictions and think about just how silly it was when no one picked anyone other than the Warriors to win the title. That’s not to say that I’m hoping an injury or a suspension or some other fluky thing derails Golden State’s season. But I do hope that the outcome of the season doesn't just end up being the foregone conclusion we’re all expecting. It’ll obviously result in a better NBA product, and just think, it might even result in a few people picking teams other than the Warriors next October. Wouldn’t that be something?