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NBA Offseason 2017: Can Anyone Stop the Warriors?

James Harden and Houston
Every single June and July, NBA invest teams invest millions of dollars in free agency with one goal in mind: an NBA title. This year, that free agency madness was taken to a whole new level as teams across the league tried to add the star power they need to take a shot at the ultimate super-team, Golden State, who just completed a historical championship run. Houston gave up a ton to snag Chris Paul, Minnesota added the go-to scorer they need to take the next step in Jimmy Butler, the Thunder sent shockwaves throughout the nation when they added Paul George, and the Celtics reunited Brad Stevens with his old college star, Gordon Hayward. Yet, do any one of these teams really stand a chance at stopping the Warriors, who have averaged 69 wins over the past three years, set countless records, and have two undeniable superstars on their roster plus a terrific supporting cast? A closer look at each of the top contenders may just give us the answers to whether someone can truly derail the dominant Golden State train.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Unlike many of the other teams on this list, Cleveland did not make any significant moves over the off-season roster-wise, despite repeated rumors of them making a run at Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Carmelo Anthony. Despite this, there is no denying Cleveland is likely the biggest threat to Golden State in the league. They still have the clear-cut best player in the world in LeBron James, who has shown no signs of slowing down despite the fact he is getting older, and a player on the cusp of superstardom in point guard Kyrie Irving. Mixed with Kevin Love, a valuable stretch four, and rebounding specialist Tristian Thompson, this is clearly a talented roster, evidenced by their three straight Finals trips and title in 2016. Yet, the team will look ahead to '17-'18 with significant questions as well. The team has generally seem unsatisfied with Love's play almost since he arrived in Cleveland, but haven't been able to ship him off. The Cavs have plenty of solid bench options, but many of them are aging (Richard Jefferson, Deron Williams) or have significant flaws in their game (J.R. Smith). Another point to be made is the fact the Cavaliers lost in five games to Golden State just a few weeks ago in the Finals, and truly doesn't seem any better. Yet, with LeBron at the helm, Cleveland surely will be a major factor. Until he is knocked off, they are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference and in turn, still the most logical threat to the Warriors' aims of a second straight title.

Houston Rockets: If there is a team that can hang with the Warriors offensively for 48 minutes, it has to be Houston. The Rockets essentially accepted they didn't care about defense in 2016 and committed solely to offense by hiring offensive-minded coach Mike D'Antoni and moving James Harden to point guard. The move clearly paid off in '16-'17, as Houston nearly made the Western Conference Finals after a largely disappointing 2015-2016 campaign. The team made the offense even more lethal by adding Chris Paul, a nine-time All-Star eager to shed his label of being a Playoff choker. Rumors continue to swirl the team may still try to add one more superstar prior to the season but either way, this offense is going to be absolutely lethal, particularly if Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon can improve on a career year. Yet, for all the team's significant promise, the CP3 move was also somewhat confusing. Harden had a marvelous season since moving to point guard and the offense overall took major leaps. Adding Paul will not only limit Harden's touches, but move him to the off-ball. That doesn't necessarily mean that the offense will take a step back but it was an odd move at the time for Houston. Another issue that seems to need resolving is the lack of a true go-to option in the post. The Rockets retained veteran Nene and have a promising young center in Clint Capela, but the lack of a true low post presence could be a significant problem against some of the West's top teams. Even so, Houston does have the firepower it seems to need to at the very least, attempt to dethrone the Warriors. If the Paul-Harden experiment takes off the way GM Daryl Morey envisions, this team certainly has good shot at winning the Conference.

San Antonio Spurs: Despite talk of a Kristaps Porzingis or Chris Paul move, San Antonio has stayed relatively quiet on the free agent market, which fits the mentality of the organization. There is certainly an argument to be made that the team doesn't really need to make a big move, considering that they have the system and superstar (Kawhi Leonard) that others are lacking. They also seemed to be the biggest threat to Golden State's supremacy this past season, taking a huge lead in Game 1 of the WCF before Leonard was lost for the series. Leonard is probably the best two-way player in the sport; he's lengthy and freakishly athletic. He also has developed the ability to truly carry the team, single-handedly clinching a number of games this past for the Spurs, including one in the Western semis against Houston. Beyond Leonard, San Antonio is good, not great. Pau Gasol and Lamarcus Aldridge seem to be nearing the end of their careers but can still provide a number of things for this offense, while Danny Green and Jonathan Simmons (who is likely to be resigned) are incredibly valuable reserves. But, perhaps the biggest X-factor is at point guard, where 35-year-old Tony Parker still roams. Parker has been the steadying force in a number of Spurs' title teams, but there is no denying that age has taken it's toll, and he barely played this past season. However, if he can find the legs for one more Playoff run, this San Antonio team surely has enough to greatly challenge the Warriors.

Oklahoma City Thunder: When Kevin Durant announced he was leaving Oklahoma City last July, many assumed that the Thunder were on the road to a rebuild, almost surely to trade their last remaining star, Russell Westbrook, and begin to look towards the future. However, Westbrook put together an unbelievable MVP season and led the Thunder to the Playoffs, signing a long-term deal in the process. To make matters more interesting, OKC seemingly came out of nowhere to win the Paul George sweepstakes, giving up Victor Oladipo and Damontas Sabonis to land the star forward, not quite the price we expected anybody to have to pay. With George now in the fold, the Thunder suddenly look like a real factor again out West. Westbrook has proven he can carry the team when needed, but George gives him the help he so desperately needed, and also an extremely versatile defender that matches up pretty well against some of the Western Conference's elite wings, such as Durant and Leonard. Yet, much like Houston, beyond the "Big Two" this roster is rather underwhelming. Enes Kanter and Steven Adams are two very solid big men who can control the rebounding battle, but there is no obvious player to look to if Westbrook and George are struggling or on the bench. Facing a team with as many weapons as Golden State, who can beat you in so many ways, that is a serious problem.

Boston Celtics: After making an Eastern Conference Finals run this past season, Boston made perhaps the biggest move of the true free agent market, by convincing Gordon Hayward to head East and join Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford. Hayward isn't a superstar but the wing has proven he is an extremely reliable and efficient scorer that gives this offense a lot more versatility. Already comfortable in Brad Stevens' system, there is no reason to believe Hayward won't be a major force right away in Boston. Thomas is a pretty ideal complement as well; the fearless point guard can score in nearly every way possible and always plays with a chip on his shoulder. Horford is another guy that won't be a No. 1 on any team, but is a very reliable weapon that can help this team in a variety of ways. Overall, that creates somewhat of a "Big Three" in Beantown, but certainly not one of past super-team caliber obviously. The obvious question is whether it will be enough to overcome Cleveland out East. Hayward is definitely a major addition, but can he really change the course of a team that lost in five games to the Cavs, including a number of blowouts? Unless Boston gets a breakout year from sophomore Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum, or perhaps adds another rim protector, this team is still not close to an NBA title, including beating the Warriors.

Even with the frenzy that has happened in the NBA over the past few weeks, there is no denying Golden State is the team to beat. They are truly a transcendent team with four All-Stars, a number of players that can take over, and an insane amount of depth. Yet, that doesn't mean they are invincible. Injuries are going to happen, players are going to move and things will change. If I had to put my bet on a team to beat them? San Antonio. Kawhi Leonard is a legitimate superstar that has a shot at stopping Durant on the defensive end, the veteran presence on this team is extremely impressive, and it is a team with experience at beating superteams (Miami Heat in 2014). Yet, stopping a team like the Warriors is easier said than done, and until they lose it may seem next to impossible.

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