Break out your Ben Simmons hand trackers—the NBA is back. We’re counting down the days until the 2018-19 season tips off on October 16 by taking a hard look at the floor and ceiling of every team in the league. This year, each Best Case, Worst Case capsule is also accompanied by The Ringer’s preseason ranking, our staff’s best guess about where that team will finish this season. We look forward to your emotionless, considered responses.
Ringer Preseason Ranking: 1
Last Season: 58-24 (second in West)
Notable Additions: DeMarcus Cousins (free agency), Jonas Jerebko (free agency), Jacob Evans (draft)
Notable Subtractions: Zaza Pachulia (free agency), JaVale McGee (free agency)
Vegas Over/Under: 62.5
Team MVP: Steph Curry
Best-Case Scenario: Golden State wins its third consecutive championship, but does so in unconvincing fashion amid a surprisingly formidable field of challengers in both conferences. The Warriors convince Kevin Durant that they can’t do this without him, and he decides to stay for the long haul.
This is just how NBA seasons will play out from now on: The biggest star on the upcoming market will brandish his impending free agency for the world to see, turning each and every game into a referendum on his future. It feels like just yesterday we were in the midst of LeBron James’s holding pattern of a final season in Cleveland; soon, we’ll transition into Durant’s year of transparency. It’s the most compelling bit of fan service KD has done in years, a convenient distraction from what will most likely be yet another championship run by the Warriors.
The Cousins acquisition sent the league and its fans into a frenzy over the summer, but it remains to be seen just how much of an impact he’ll be able to make; Steve Kerr has not established a time table for his return, and there is no reason for either the Warriors or Boogie to rush his return to the floor. For now, he is an icy Rolex on the Warriors’ wrist—a luxury item less about function and more about reaffirming a culture of superiority. But soon, he could be the latest bludgeoning device for a team with no shortage of high-end weapons.
The best any Warriors fan can hope for this season is a clean bill of health up and down the roster. Golden State is aiming for its fifth consecutive Finals appearance, a streak that hasn’t occurred in the NBA since the Celtics went 10 straight times from 1957 to 1966. If Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green can stay on the floor, there is still no team that can match that level of offensive and defensive synergy. If it all holds together for another year, it won’t matter what Durant decides by the end of it. They will have solidified themselves as one of the four most influential teams in NBA history.
Worst-Case Scenario: Pick your catastrophe! Maybe the Warriors’ mileage finally catches up to them, and their defense falls apart due to a lack of continuity among their core players. Maybe Golden State buzz-saws through a navel-gazing NBA caught up in its own hype, and Durant loses interest in the monotony of it all and leaves. Maybe Magic Johnson’s bizarro LeBron-led Warriors Buster actually lives up to its unearthly expectations and the Dubs fall short of their fifth Finals (and history).
Things fall apart, and it’s only a matter of when for the Warriors. But even for those unwilling to fast forward to April, May, and June, there are weak spots to be examined in the present. Last year’s squad was mired by a reserve unit that lacked in the one quality that this dynasty has turned into its lifeblood: perimeter talent. The Warriors haven’t completely remedied the issue this season. Andre Iguodala is still as important as ever, but he’ll soon turn 35, and his aversion to 3-pointers has only gotten worse with age; Shaun Livingston is 33, and has the game of a center from the early aughts in the frame of a slender wing. Patrick McCaw, a surprise contributor as a rookie, had a hellish sophomore campaign and remains ensnared in a bizarre holdout situation. (And even if the two parties reach an agreement, McCaw’s function on the court largely replicates both Iguodala’s and Livingston’s biggest weaknesses.) Jacob Evans, expected to be a plug-and-play 3-and-D contributor even as a rookie, went 0-for-10 from 3 in the preseason. Jerebko is an intriguing multitool big who ought to be what the Warriors thought they would get out of Omri Casspi last season, but what would it say about the team if Jerebko ended up being a better reserve than Cousins?
The Warriors’ fate will be dictated by their core, and the cumulative fatigue will be just too hard to ignore. Golden State has an overwhelming amount of miles on its tires: The Warriors have played more than an entire season’s worth of basketball (83 games) in the past four postseasons, all while being an elite team on both ends of the court at one of the fastest paces in the league. If the wheels come off this season, there’s no guarantee they’ll ever be able to put it all back together again.
TL;DR: The league’s reigning dynasty has reached an inflection point, and the pressure mounting on all sides could make the team must-watch television once again.