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NBA preview: LeBron to Lakers threatens Warriors dominance

Caleb Macurdy, Contributing Writer

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The National Basketball Association season is almost upon us. The NBA’s thirty teams begin play on or after Oct. 16 to determine who will host the Larry O’Brien trophy as NBA champions next June. While the Golden State Warriors have won three of the past four championships, this season promises to introduce many new challengers to their thrown.

Eastern Conference

This season will be the first time in eight years that a LeBron James-led team will not represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals after his offseason move to the Los Angeles Lakers. That is good news for teams like the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and Toronto Raptors who have spent the last few years ready to assume James’ vacant throne.

The Raptors acquired All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard (16.2 points per game) who should be an upgrade if healthy over former-Raptor guard Demar DeRozan (23 ppg) who was traded to the San Antonio Spurs for Leonard in a larger deal. The 76ers hope to the first pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Markelle Fultz, back from injury while maintaining the same marque players from the roster last year like forward Joel Embiid (22.9ppg) and the reigning Rookie-of-the-Year winner Ben Simmons (15.8 ppg).

However, the favorite to win the Eastern Conference should be the Boston Celtics. The Celtics were a game away from the NBA Finals last season and have two former All-Stars set to return injury in guard Kyrie Irving and forward Gordon Hayward. The Celtics also have a quantity of young talent like guards Jaylen Brown (14.5 ppg), Terry Rozier (11.3 ppg) and Marcus Smart (10.2 ppg) along with forward Jayson Tatum (13.9 ppg).

Western Conference

The Western Conference has become both deeper and more talented as the fourteen other teams outside of the Bay Area seek to prevent the Warriors from winning the conference for the fifth straight year.

The Warriors added a fifth All-Star to their team when they signed the injured DeMarcus Cousins to their roster, giving the team five All-NBA players in primes if Cousins can return from an Achilles injury.

Other teams have not kneeled before the Warriors. The Houston Rockets resigned point guard Chris Paul(18.6ppg) to pair with last year’s Most Valuable Player James Harden (30.4ppg) as well as signed Carmelo Anthony (16.2ppg) who spent last season struggling to find a role in an Oklahoma City Thunder offense that featured guard Russell Westbrook (25.4 ppg) and forward Paul George (21.9 ppg) before him. Despite losing forwards Trevor Ariza (11.7 ppg) and Luc Mbah a Moute (7.5 ppg), Houston expects to push Golden State like last year when it took the Warriors to the seven games in the Western Conference Finals.

The biggest addition of the offseason happened when James signed with Los Angeles along with a cast of veterans on one-year deals like Michael Beasley, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Lance Stephenson. James is a four-time league  MVP and will look to make his ninth straight NBA Finals appearance this season.

Despite being spurned on the free-agent market by George who re-upped with the Thunder and failing to acquire Leonard from San Antonio, the Lakers managed to keep all its young assets like point guard Lonzo Ball and forwards Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. The young trio combined to average 42.4 points per game last season.

Los Angeles can develop its young core around LeBron, package some of it in a trade for another All-Star level player or sign a player next offseason when it will have room for one max-salary contract. This makes the Lakers the team to watch out West this year.

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NBA preview: LeBron to Lakers threatens Warriors dominance