With hockey and basketball over, who should be favored next year?

Posted: 06/19/2014 by levcohen in Basketball, Hockey

Both the Stanley Cup Final and the NBA Finals were short series in which the Western Conference team was clearly better than the Eastern Conference team. In one case, the NHL, that was expected coming into the series, but the Spurs’ dismantling of the Heat in five games shocked everyone. The hockey series was actually closer than I thought it would be. The New York Rangers outplayed the Los Angeles Kings in games one and two in LA, but lost both. The same happened in game three at home. While it didn’t end up being a close series, it’s fair to say that the Rangers played pretty well and will be at least somewhat happy with the way the season ended. They played good hockey and just ran into a team that was much more talented than they were. The Heat, on the other hand, probably won’t be as happy. After taking game two in San Antonio, the Heat looked ready to defend their back-to-back titles. It was never going to be easy, but this at least looked like it was going to be a good series. And then Kawhi Leonard and the last three games happened. Leonard, who became the third youngest Finals MVP behind Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan, flat-out outplayed the best player in the world in the last three games. And when LeBron James gets outplayed, there’s no way the Heat are going to win basketball games. The Spurs won the last three by 19, 21, and 17. Not only is it an embarrassing way to end the series for the Heat, but it opens up all sorts of questions about their future. Will LeBron want to stay? Will he go back to Miami? Are the big three willing to restructure their contracts? If so, is a top free agent like Carmelo Anthony willing to take a lesser deal to play with James, Wade, and Bosh? What can Wade be relied on to do in the future? How are they going to find better rotation players? Still, as long as they get LeBron James back, the Miami Heat are going to be one of the best teams in the East next year. Not much will have changed, and the addition of a player like Shabazz Napier (whom many have being taken by Miami) will be a boon to the bench, and players will always want to sign at the minimum to play with a championship contender. While the Heat and Rangers got blown out in their respective finals, both will be back in the mix next year. So, too, will the amazing Spurs and Kings, who were rightful champions of basketball and hockey. But who will join them? A lot will change between now and the start of next season, but here are the early favorites.

Hockey:

The favorites: Chicago, Boston, Anaheim

To go along with the Kings, this looks like the top tier next season. I don’t really need to say much about LA or Chicago, as these two are the best organizations in hockey, have the best teams, and win year after year. Meanwhile, the Bruins are a great all-around team who will continue to be boosted by the lesser teams in the East. They have a good goalie, good defense, a good attack, and experience. They’ll definitely have a chip on their shoulder after falling to arch-rival Montreal in the second round of the playoffs. Finally, Anaheim’s offense is already elite, and I just have a feeling that their defense, and behind them 20 year old goalie John Gibson, who was amazing in the playoffs, are going to take a step forward. The Ducks will be much improved.

Darkhorses: San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues, an Eastern Conference breakout team

The first three teams have a lot in common. Each has a ton of talent, each had great regular seasons, and each lost in the first round in the tough Western Conference. I also think that all three will be back in the mix next season. The West is still very crowded, but these three all have a lot of talent. I also had to add an Eastern Conference team because, while it’s the lesser conference, there are some teams on the rise and I feel there will be a team we aren’t talking about right now who will make a run next season.

Basketball:

The favorites: Oklahoma City, LA Clippers, the winner between Houston and Chicago of the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes

To go along with the two finalists, the Thunder and Clippers have to be considered favorites to win it all next season, if only because they both have two superstars. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook aren’t going to get worse, and the Thunder will be at least as good as they were this year. If they can get a supporting cast, watch out. Meanwhile, the Clippers are going to make the breakthrough one of these years. Next year, with new ownership and an in-his-prime Blake Griffin, seems like the right time. As you can see, I’m assuming that either Houston or Chicago will sign Carmelo Anthony. Yes, Miami is in the mix (I don’t think Melo would work in Miami), and Anthony could conceivably return to the Knicks or team up with Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. But realistically, these are the two best fits for Anthony. Both are ready to win now, and both have the cap to give Anthony the max deal. Anthony would give either team the big three they crave with a solid supporting cast. Houston would have James Harden, Melo, and Dwight Howard, while Chicago could have Derrick Rose (fingers crossed), Melo, and Joakim Noah. I think the winner between these two of the Melo sweepstakes will leapfrog the previous two and join the Heat (assuming LeBron stays) and Spurs as favorites.

Darkhorses: Golden State, Portland

Basketball is a lot less wide-open than hockey is. In all likelihood, the NBA Champion will be one of the six teams I mentioned as favorites. If not, I think it will be either Golden State or Portland. The Warriors could conceivably be considered favorites if they were to trade for Kevin Love, which is a definite possibility. Even without Love, they have Stephen Curry and young pieces who will take steps forward. The same goes for Portland, who has two stars in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. Each team has a great offense and good future, and each could be a threat to win it all as soon as next year.

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