Another short off-season has the 2021-22 NBA season just a under a week away.  It feels like we haven’t been without basketball since the NBA returned to action towards the back end of lockdown with the bubble.  While the second short turnaround to start another season could have some early season affect on playing time and rotations, we are getting a full 82 game season for the first time since the pre-Covid days, and while the virus will certainly rear its ugly head and have some players missing stretches as the Celtics have already been bitten by the Covid bug losing Jaylen Brown & Al Horford for the next couple weeks after positive tests, this should be the closest thing we’ve seen to normal NBA basketball in quite some time.  Here’s a look at my early power rankings. 

  1. Milwaukee Bucks  

The Bucks are the reigning champions and giving the top spot to anyone else would be complete disrespect in my opinion.  Do I think the Bucks have a repeat run in them?  No, but I certainly see them as a 60+ win team, as they are returning nearly the entire championship roster minus PJ Tucker.  They’ve also added Grayson Allen’s long range shooting and return George Hill to their bench through free agency, and hope to have Donte DiVincenzo back from last years season ending injury sooner or later.  The Champs are solid and are the top dog in my rankings until someone proves otherwise. 

  1. Phoenix Suns  

The reigning Western Conference champs aren’t getting the 2 spot on my rankings just from being the representative in the West in the Finals.  They’ve built an incredibly solid roster over the last few years, with the executive of the year award going to James Johnson as evidence last season.  The Suns return their entire rotation and have added a little depth at center with the signing of Javele McGee in the off-season.  This gives them the ability to matchup withholding opposing centers when DeAndre Ayton hits the bench for a rest, which they couldn’t do last year, and we’re forced to play a small ball lineup anytime Ayton rested or encountered could trouble.  The natural progression of youngsters Ayton, Bridges, Payne, Cam Johsnon, as well as hope that Jalen Smith develops in his second year has the Suns looking solid as ever around the CP3/Book core. 

  1. Utah Jazz 

Last season’s top seed out West, the Jazz also are running back nearly their entire rotation minus George’s Niang who signed in Philly this off-season, while adding some depth with the signing of Hassan Whiteside & Rudy Gay.  The Whiteside signing plays the same for Gobert as the McGee signing does for Phoenix, as the Jazz won’t be forced to go small when Gobert is off the court.. This team is super deep and with a healthy Donovan Mitchell for the whole year, the sky is the limit for the Jazz.  I expect a close to 60 win year for Utah with a nice playoff run. 

  1. Denver Nuggets 

Denver handed out big bucks this off-season to maintain its core and see if they can finally get them all on the court at once.  Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic will be the go to guy, as he’s been for the last several years, but the Nuggets should have their entire arsenal at their disposal for the first time since they’ve put this roster together by about mid season..  Jamal Murray is still recovering from last years tragic ACL injury that sent the Nuggets title hopes sideways.  They secured trade deadline acquisition Aaron Gordon long term, as well as signing Michael Porter Jr to the max.  This team is committed to what t he I’ve put together and a full healthy season from Will Barton, a full season integrating Gordon into the organization, and the hopeful return of Murray has a lot of buzz around this squad.  If Murray can come back healthy, I have them as my favorite to win the West.  Only time will tell though. 

  1. Brooklyn Nets  

They had my number 2 spot on the rankings until news broke that Kyrie won’t only be limited to away games but won’t be available at all this season unless he caves in and gets vaccinated.  There’s little to no chance someone as strong in their personal beliefs will be pandering to the media, or his organization on a personal choice matter, so I am expecting a Kyrie-less Nets all season.  That doesn’t mean this squad won’t be hella dangerous though.  Patty Mills and Paul Milsap were added to an already stacked roster this off-season and I have James Harden as my preseason MVP pick.  He will have car-blanche in this offense without having to share a back court with Irving and while many think KD is the obvious MVP, the loss of Kyrie opens things up more for Harden in my opinion.  This is still a 55-60 win team without Ky, and they may even be championship caliber if everything plays out right and they stay healthy. 

  1. Golden State Warriors 

Another off-season filled with hopes of a return to the old Warriors dynasty days as they are expecting Klay Thompson back with Draymond and Steph.  If, and it’s a big if, Klay can regain his pre-injury form, the Warriors have the depth outside of their big three to be a major contender in the West. They bring Andre Igudola back to town, and added Avery Bradley & Otto Porter on underrated deals, while adding Jonathan Kuminga & Moses Moody in the draft to an already solid rotation.  If James Wiseman & Jordan Poole can continue to develop, and with Wiggins cleared to play all 82 after being vaccinated, this team is set up to be a force.  Don’t sleep on the Warriors, they’re gonna be a problem. 

  1. L.A. Lakers  

They’re old.  They’re always hurt.  They turned over their roster like a cheap hooker turning tricks.  But they’ve still got Lebron.  And counting a Lebron lead team to be anything but a top contender is simply foolish at this point.  The Westbrook experiment forced me to rank them out of the top 5, as I’m going to have to be convinced he can play within a system and do his job without all the extra shit before I consider the Lakers as legit championship contenders.  An Anthony Davis full season of health would also help out their rankings with me, but I’m still not sleeping on Lebron’s custom made roster of aging vets ring chasing.  They’ll be around, but health and Russ’ ability to play a team game will be the deciding factor of for how long. 

  1. Philadelphia Sixers 

Last year’s top seed in the East, and your favorite Mo Sports personality’s favorite team would find itself much higher on the rankings if they didn’t have Bitch Ass Ben Simmons dragging everything down like his free throw percentage in the playoffs.  Simmons surprisingly backed off his weirdo holdout and showed up to camp this week, but let’s not think he’s suddenly going to integrate back into an organization that he all but signed the divorce papers with after he turned into a giant pussy and refused to shoot in the playoffs.  He’ll be dealt at some point soon, and the return will determine if the Sixers are legit contenders this season.  Ben aside, the Sixers return the rest of the squad that ran through the East in the regular season behind MVP runner up Joel Embiid.  If Joel can stay healthy, which hasn’t been his calling card, the Sixers are dangerous.  We’ll see how the Simmons drama plays out and they’ll certainly have movement, whether it be up or down in my next rankings. 

  1. Miami Heat  

Maxed out Jimmy Butler.  Sign and traded for Kyle Lowry.  Not exactly what Pat Riley had in mind when he spun the roster all sorts of ways to make sure he had room to make an offer to Giannis this off-season.  After Giannis resigned in Milwaukee long term and Kawhi was injured and almost forced to sign an extension in LA, the top end talent in what was supposed to be a monster free agent pool was heavily lacking.  But… Lowry is a baller and had done nothing but win in Toronto.  He adds a second veteran presence to the Heat, who return a ton of young talent alongside Jimmy Butler and Lowry in Bam, Herro and Duncan Robinson.  They’ll be an interesting wildcard in the East and I favor them to scoop up the last home seed in the East. 

  1. Atlanta Hawks 

The young, shooting deep Hawks, led by Trae Young took the Eastern Conference by storm last postseason and even took the champs to 7 games under Nate McMillan, who took over after a shitty start.  John Collins was retained, which I thought was impossible before the McMillan change, which bodes well for the Hawks.  They’re gonna be good again, but the question remains as to how good since the NBA is cracking down on the diving into defenders to get foul calls move that Young has made his go to move in big spots.  He’s an immense talent though, so he should adjust well enough to make the Hawks equally competitive to their late season push last year. 

  1. Chicago Bulls  

They went in this off-season and added Demar Derozan, Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball to a back court that already had a Coby White/Zach Lavine combo.  Add in last year’s trade deadline jackpot Nik Vucevic, and the Bulls have their eye on the playoffs for the first time in ages.  The Derozan acquisition to me is the one that makes the Bulls incredibly versatile in the lineups they can march out throughout the course of 48 minutes. He’s big enough to play the 3, is a natural 2, and proved last year that he is beyond a good enough distributor to handle the point.  His ability to bounce to all three perimeter positions is underrated and gives the Bulls so many options..  The Bulls, Hawks, and Celtics almost feel interchangeable at the 10-12 rankings 

  1. Boston Celtics 

I still believe that the Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown duo is a legit contender if they can avoid bad luck, they’ve endured the last couple seasons.  Tatum’s rough go with Covid paired with the Brown injury and Danny Ainge’s inability to get a big to replace the loss of Al Horford a couple years ago ran the Celtics off the rails last year.  A Horford return gave hope, but he and Brown both have Covid now, so we’ll have to temper expectations until we see how they’re affected after their recovery.   

  1. Dallas Mavericks 

This team is so weird to figure out. But, as long as they have Luka, they’re gonna be a close to 50 win team, even if he doesn’t have enough help.  Tim Hardaway Jr rose to the level needed for a secondary scorer, but KP turned into an absolute bum and seemed unhappy with his place on the team  as Dallas headed to the off-season appearing to be ready to move on.  They didn’t, and KP has looked a little more locked in this preseason. They didn’t do much to add help outside of taking on more of the New York Knicks unwanted parts in Reggie Bullock and Frank Ntilikita.  But Luka’s Luka, so they’ll still be good.  How good is the question. 

  1. L.A. Clippers 

Kawhi’s ACL injury limits just how good this team can be this season.  He claims that he’s laser focused on trying to come back this year, but with his lengthy history of opting to sit out over risking his future health has me and others full of doubts.  Paul George will have to carry this squad for at the very least the first half of the season.  Eric Bledsoe was their only move of any significance this off-season, and we all know he ain’t it, so PG, Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson are in for some heavy lifting until Kawhi’s healthy. Which could be never.  Only time will tell. 

  1. New York Knicks  

They spent a zillion dollars on a bunch of non-superstars, which seemed like a massive L after their fans declarations that the Mecca had returned, and superstars would be lining up to play in the hallowed, leaky halls of MSG.  They threw $19.5 a year at the French version of Reggie Bullock in Eric Fournier, and traded for Kemba Walker who the Celtics had to give up draft picks to sucker someone into taking his contract just months prior.  Expect a slight regression from the Knicks this year. It’ll be nice to hear less from their fans.  They were unbearable last year. 

  1. Memphis Grizzlies 

 was much, much higher on the Grizz heading into the off-season than I am now.  The trade that sent Jonas Valanciunas to New Orleans for Steven Adams and some other spare parts was a fucking head scratcher, but the Grizz weren’t going to be able to resign all their bevy of young talented players on the rise along with Jonas, so I guess they chose to move him while they had the opportunity.  JA Morant, Dillon Brooks and JJJ are on helluva trio of youngsters to build around and they remain a solid 10 deep rotation, so the Grizz still are in position to grab the last playoff spot out West.  This is the year they break out and get back to the playoffs.  Too bad it’s gonna be at the next teams expense.  It should cause the end of an era. 

  1. Portland Blazers  

Yup.  Dame and Co did nothing to improve their roster.  And that was a poor choice.  They’re gonna miss the playoffs, and Dame’s as good as gone.  If the wheels fall off early enough, he could be gone by the deadline.  But… he is Dame and could still drag this same old crappy roster to a 45-50 win year and sneak in the playoffs.  

  1. Toronto Raptors 

The Raptors will return to being competitive this year after spending the entirety of the 2019-20 season being forced into being a nomadic franchise.  Homeless due to travel restrictions into Canada, the Raps played the entire season away from home, calling Tampa “home” for the year.  They couldn’t have picked a city further away from their real home, so I expect this roster that was a perennial 50 win franchise prior to its year of homelessness, to bounce back to fight for the last playoff spot.  They could wrestle it away from the Knicks.  That would be fun. 

  1. Charlotte Hornets 

The Hornets are fun.  They’re young.  They’re exciting.  But they’re also chalk full of injury risks.  Don’t have a legit center.  And have a lot of guys who play the same position.  They’re gonna be in striking distance and LaMelo Ball has superstar written all over him, while Miles Bridges has breakout star potential.  The question will be if Terry Rozier, Gordon Heyward, and Kelly Oubre can stay healthy enough to put them over the top and into a playoff spot. 

  1. New Orleans Pelicans  

They found a way out of the Eric Bledsoe mess.  And somehow spun that into Jonas Valanciunas.  Big win there.  Zion & BI were low key the best, most efficient 1-2 punch since Shaq-Kobe.  I’m not joking, look it up.  Unfortunately, everyone else on the roster was toilet water shooting the ball.  They’ll rely on DeVonte Graham to handle point, which he’s adequate enough of a distributor to play the role, but is sort of a shoot first guy, which isn’t exactly what they need having BI-Zion-Jonas running a dangerous front line that no one in the league can match up with if they’ve got the right guy setting up the offense.  Idk if Graham is that guy. 

  1. Indiana Pacers  

Tons of talent. Always, and I mean fucking ALWAYS, hurt.  Between Brogdon, Sabonis, Warren, Turner, and LeVert, I can’t give you one of them that I trust to play over 70 games this year, and I wouldn’t be shocked if more than one of them misses at least half the season.  I also wouldn’t be shocked if none of them played over 50 games.  This could get messy if they can’t find some magical healing powers. 

  1. Sacramento Kings 

The future holds some serious potential.  A three guard lineup of Fox, Halliburton and Mitchell has the sounds of an up and down tempo game that few teams could match.  They love Tyrese Halliburton enough to refuse to send him to Philly with Buddy Hield for Ben Simmons, so his future feels pre bright.  They suck up front though, as the Barnes, Bagley, Holmes combo ain’t stopping anyone with some talent over 7 foot, so this year won’t be the year the Kings re-emerge.  Back to the lottery. 

  1. Minnesota T’Wolves 

So much surface talent.  Zero cohesiveness or leadership.  On paper, a KAT, D’Lo, Edwards trio sounds great.  On the basketball court, ASS. They’re said to be a front runner for Ben Simmons and even went as far as to abruptly fire their President of Basketball Operations because he wouldn’t include D’Lo in a deal for Simmons.  This place is a mess and it makes sense now why Jimmy Butler was acting wild in practice a few years back. 

  1. Washington Wizards 

Free Bradley Beal.  They tried their best to get some talent this off-season, but they ended up with Lebron’s unwanted toys.  Kuzma, KCP, and Trezz will try to rebuild their rep after being discarded and replaced by Bron after last year’s failures.  If Bron can’t win with them, how’s Bradley Beal supposed too???  Come on, just let Beal go win somewhere. 

  1. San Antonio Spurs  

It’s over.  Pop had a nice 20 year run of dominating the NBA.  But all good things come to an end.  And it did last year for the Spurs.  They’ll be rebuilding for a little while, but hell of a two decade run. 

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers  

They’re rebuilding.  They’ve been rebuilding.  They’re gonna keep rebuilding.  The post-Bron era has not been easy for the Cavs.  It’s gonna be a while as they’re out there shopping what seemed to be their foundation pieces of their rebuilding process in Sexton & Garland, while still paying Kev Love his 2015 worth.   

  1. Detroit Pistons 

They’re rebuilding.  They’re doing it better than Cleveland though, so they could end up ahead fo them despite only rebuilding for about 1/5 of the time.  Cunningham is gonna be a beast and Jerami Grant is a borderline all-star.  Plenty of other young talent that has potential around them too.  Future looks solid, this year’s gonna be rough again though. 

  1. Houston Rockets 

Feels like forever ago they were a CP3 injury away from the finals and James Harden was winning MVP.  Nah, they’ve managed to fuck the whole thing up in like 2 and a half years.  Messy messy. 

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder 

They will hold 1,893,769 first round picks over the next decade.  There’s a kid in 6th or 7th grade that will be a starter for them when they get back to the playoffs.  But at least they’ve got all them picks. 

  1. Orlando Magic 

You’ve gotta be TRASH CITY to get ranked below the OKC 1st Round Pickers.  The Magic are just that.