5 Big Storylines For The 2015-2016 Season

The NBA season is still two months away, but after the draft, free agency, and the slowest month on the NBA calendar, we’re not too far from the resumption of activity in preparation for another 82-game odyssey. One month from now, preseason basketball will be discussed.

You’ll obviously get a much deeper examination of these points in late October, but let’s simply set the table and lay out five big storylines for the coming NBA season:



The 2014 NBA season witnessed the sustained dominance of two teams in the Eastern Conference: the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat. The two teams that were supposed to rule the conference at the start of the season were the two teams left at the end of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

In 2015, the dynamic changed. Miami and Indiana didn’t even make the playoffs due to a combination of flights (LeBron James to Cleveland) and injuries (Chris Bosh for the Heat, Paul George for the Pacers). Cleveland, not a playoff team in 2014, promptly went to the Finals with its dramatically different roster. Atlanta, the No. 8 seed in 2014, became the top seed in the East and — for the first time in the Georgia-based portion of its history — a conference finalist. The Hawks benefited from a healthier Al Horford, which they did not have for much of 2014, and an improved supporting cast that meshed extremely well under Coach Of The Year Mike Budenholzer.

This year, Cleveland should reign in the East, but after the Cavs, we could very easily see more teams come from relatively low places in the conference pecking order to emerge as top-tier contenders. One of those teams is the group of young Bucks from Milwaukee. A No. 6 seed and a team not remotely ready to contend last season, the Bucks are the East team of the future. Is the future now, though, or will Milwaukee need at least one more year to make a serious run at the East finals?

In a fascinating plot twist, what was once the old guard in the East, quickly displaced last season, might be ready to return to the No. 2 and (or) No. 3 slot(s) in the conference: Miami and Indiana get superstars (Bosh and George) back in the lineup, and with Miami having a chance to put Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic on the floor with Bosh and Dwyane Wade, the Heat will have one the of better starting fives in the league. Miami and Indiana will both need their benches to exceed expectations, however — that will be the main obstacle for the Heat and Pacers.


Statement: The fourth-best team in the 2016 West would be able to handle the second-best team in the 2016 East.

How many NBA commentators would disagree with that statement? Not many, if any.

The West, as deep and as ferocious as it was last season, should actually be even better this year, barring injuries. Oklahoma City puts Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook together on the court with Serge Ibaka. If the Thunder aren’t ravaged by the awful injury luck they endured last season, they are in position to challenge the world champion Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs.

The Clippers are in many ways the most fascinating, soap-operatic team to watch in the NBA. They still fail spectacularly — gacking away Game 5 against Oklahoma City in 2014 and then Game 6 against Houston last May — and while Steve Ballmer carries none of Donald Sterling’s baggage, his competence and credentials as an owner remain very much in question. With Doc Rivers trying to be general manager and president — with mixed results in both, especially on the front office side of the divide — the Clippers are tied to a precious few individuals. Another is Chris Paul, whose relationship with DeAndre Jordan continues to be the source of constant gossip and speculation.

Do the Clippers, with an odd combination of wise men (Paul Pierce) and knuckleheads (Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith), have what it takes to reach the first conference finals series in franchise history, and possibly more? The answer is relevant to them, but the mere journey is relevant to fans and analysts, who can’t wait to see what this season holds in store for the Clippers.


The Cleveland Cavaliers not only made the NBA Finals in coach David Blatt’s first season; they swept their way into them. If you thought that would happen in the middle of January, you were expressing a great deal of faith in LeBron James… which is a pretty sensible thing to do.

LeBron (with valet James Jones, who only “kinda sorta” counts in the most technical and narrow way) has become the first man in the post-Bill Russell Boston Celtic era to make five straight NBA Finals appearances. If he could carry last season’s Cavs to the Finals, how in the world will he be denied in 2016? The odds are scant, no matter how you slice them.

Really — which East team is in really good position to stop LeBron? The Hawks lost DeMarre Carroll, who did so much for them at both ends of the floor. The Bulls are changing coaches and have not upgraded their bench in any meaningful way. They’re not significantly younger, either. The Wizards lose Paul Pierce, who was their clutch shotmaker in the playoffs. The Raptors? Well, look at what happened to them against the Wizards in the playoffs. Milwaukee might have the best chance, but the Bucks would be completely unfamiliar with late-stage playoff basketball.

If the Cavs don’t win the East, it will rate as a mammoth surprise.


The Boston Celtics (17) and Los Angeles Lakers (16) tower over the rest of the NBA in terms of world championships. In third place are the Chicago Bulls, thanks to Michael Jordan’s march through the 1990s. In fourth place stand the San Antonio Spurs, with five crowns. The Spurs, Tim Duncan, and Gregg Popovich would certainly elevate their place in history with a sixth championship. Getting LaMarcus Aldridge, keeping Danny Green, and picking up some bargain-basement veterans such as David West have put the Spurs in very good position to make a run at the brass ring after a first-round exit in the 2015 playoffs to those very confounding Clippers.

If the Golden State Warriors don’t repeat as Western Conference champions, this is the team most likely to engineer the overthrow.


The Golden State Warriors were statistically and historically great last season. Including the postseason, they won 83 games against 20 defeats. They were never taken to a Game 7 in the playoffs. They went 7-3 on the road in the playoffs. Their first-year head coach, Steve Kerr, made all the right moves. Their sixth man, Andre Iguodala, was named the MVP of the Finals. They were hugely and impressively resourceful, as great champions should be.

Yet, the Warriors — while being great — were also lucky. This isn’t a criticism; it’s merely a part of the journey, and moreover, just about every championship team (with a few rare exceptions) needs at least some luck in an important moment.

The Warriors benefited in the second round of the playoffs from injuries to Memphis stars Mike Conley and Tony Allen. They didn’t have to play the Los Angeles Clippers in the West finals; Houston was a much better matchup for them. In the NBA Finals, the collection of injuries absorbed by the Cavs gave Golden State plenty of leverage, and yet, Game 5 of a 2-2 series was completely up for grabs with just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors will be very, very good again this season. They should certainly win around 60 games. A 55-win season should be the absolute floor for the Dubs, with an upper-60s total being their ceiling. How will this team — which is still relatively young at most spots — handle the pressure which comes with defending a title?

We can’t wait to find out… but we’ll have to. The season’s still two long months away.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |