- We ranked 14 NBA teams that have a shot at winning the championship.
- Last year’s Finalists, the Bucks and the Suns, land in our top four.
- The Nets are the favorites to win the title, but Kyrie Irving’s status hangs over the team.
The 2021-22 NBA season is here, and the league’s landscape has been altered by the events of last season and this past summer.
We’ve ranked the 14 teams with a legitimate shot to win the championship this season.
14. Philadelphia 76ers
2020-21 record: 49-23, 1st in East
Biggest additions: Andre Drummond (C), Georges Niang (F/C)
Biggest losses: Dwight Howard (C), George Hill (G)
2021-22 outlook: The Ben Simmons saga hangs over this team. A happy, motivated Simmons would vault the Sixers back into our top tier, but the unknowns of whether Simmons will play for them again, or what they might get in return for him in a trade, makes Philly nearly impossible to project. Joel Embiid is an MVP-caliber player, but without a legitimate second star, the Sixers aren’t good enough to contend with the top teams in the East. Stay tuned.
13. Portland Trail Blazers
2020-21 record: 42-30, 6th in West
Biggest additions: Larry Nance Jr. (F/C), Cody Zeller (C), Chauncey Billups (head coach)
Biggest losses: Carmelo Anthony (F), Enes Kanter (C), Zach Collins (F/C), Terry Stotts (head coach)
2021-22 outlook: Last season left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, but there is reason for optimism. Chauncey Billups was hired as head coach after the Terry Stotts era ran its course. Though Billups’ hire was criticized after a rape allegation from 1997 resurfaced, he may nonetheless bring a needed new voice to the Blazers locker room. The top of Portland’s rotation is rock-solid, and they brought in Larry Nance Jr., one of the offseason’s most underrated acquisitions. It wouldn’t be surprising if Portland reemerges as a threat in the West.
12. Boston Celtics
2020-21 record: 36-36, 7th in East
Biggest additions: Al Horford (C), Dennis Schroder (G), Josh Richardson (G/F), Enes Kanter (C), Ime Udoka (head coach)
Biggest losses: Kemba Walker (G), Tristan Thompson (C), Semi Ojeleye (F)
2021-22 outlook: The Celtics are a bit of an unknown. After an Eastern Conference appearance in 2020, a lackluster season last year resulted in fairly major turnover. In a glass half-full outlook, Horford brings defense, shooting, and playmaking that was missing in last year’s frontcourt, and Schroder brings an element of speed that could help this offense. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are studs on the wing, and Marcus Smart is the heartbeat of the team. Of course, there is a chance that the offseason additions are bigger in name than impact and that last year’s malaise was not a fluke.
11. LA Clippers
2020-21 record: 47-25, 4th in West
Biggest additions: Eric Bledsoe (G), Justise Winslow (G/F),
Biggest losses: Patrick Beverley (G), Rajon Rondo (G)
2021-22 outlook: It looks like something of a stop-gap year for the Clippers, who may be without Kawhi Leonard for the entire season as he recovers from a torn ACL. He is aiming to return in the spring, but historically, Leonard is not the type to rush back from an injury. Still, the Clippers have a perennial All-Star in Paul George and a deep rotation that should allow them to hang around the playoff picture. If Leonard makes a quicker recovery than expected — look out.
10. Golden State Warriors
2020-21 record: 39-33, 8th in West
Biggest additions: Otto Porter Jr. (F), Nemanja Bjelica (F/C), Andre Iguodala (F), Jonathan Kuminga (F – R), Moses Moody (G/F – R)
Biggest losses: Kelly Oubre (F), Eric Paschall (F)
2021-22 outlook: There is optimism heading into the season about the Warriors’ Big 3 taking the court again, surrounded by a better-fitting supporting cast. Of course, that optimism is largely floated by the idea that Klay Thompson can resume All-Star form after missing back-to-back seasons with a torn ACL and torn Achilles — a major “if.” All indications are that Thompson looks good so far, and if the Warriors are whole come spring, well, we’ve seen the damage Thompson, Steph Curry, and Draymond Green can do together.
9. Dallas Mavericks
2020-21 record: 42-30, 7th in West
Biggest additions: Reggie Bullock (G/F), Jason Kidd (head coach)
Biggest losses: Josh Richardson (G/F), JJ Redick (G), Rick Carlisle (head coach)
2021-22 outlook: There was turnover in Dallas, with Rick Carlisle and longtime GM Donnie Nelson opting to leave the franchise amid inner-turmoil. Jason Kidd, with a spotty head coaching record, now takes over a team desperate to win a playoff series and take the next step. All of it would make for a gloomy outlook if Luka Doncic wasn’t already so good. Doncic is off to an historic start to his career and looks capable of carrying a team through the playoffs if he can get some help. The biggest X-factor will be Kristaps Porzingis, who had a career-best season in terms of efficiency, but was unhappy with his role. If Kidd and his staff can revive Porzingis, some view the Mavs as a darkhorse contender.
8. Miami Heat
2020-21 record: 40-32, 6th in East
Biggest additions: Kyle Lowry (G), PJ Tucker (F/C), Markieff Morris (F)
Biggest losses: Goran Dragic (G), Kendrick Nunn (G), Andre Iguodala (F), Trevor Ariza (F), Precious Achiuwa (C)
2021-22 outlook: Miami made arguably the biggest free agent signing by landing Kyle Lowry, whose skills and savvy should be a marked improvement over the aging Goran Dragic. Lowry, Jimmy Butler, and Bam Adebayo is an intimidating trio on both sides of the ball, but they’ll need help and that’s where questions arise. Can Tyler Herro make a third-year leap after looking like a star-in-the-making in the bubble? Can they get anything out of Victor Oladipo? Is there enough depth to survive an injury to one of their Big 3? There will be times where the season is a slog for Miami.
7. Atlanta Hawks
2020-21 record: 41-31, 5th in East
Biggest additions: Delon Wright (G), Gorgui Dieng (C)
Biggest losses: none
2021-22 outlook: A surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals suggests the Hawks’ time is now. They’re deep and talented, surrounding Trae Young with versatile wings and an elite rim-runner and protector in Clint Capela. With continued improvement from young players and better health (their role players were rarely healthy at the same time last year), the Hawks might be another headache in the postseason.
6. Utah Jazz
2020-21 record: 52-20, 1st in West
Biggest additions: Rudy Gay (F/C), Eric Paschall (F/C), Hassan Whiteside (C)
Biggest losses: none
2021-22 outlook: After posting the NBA’s best regular season record last year, the Jazz hit another wall in the playoffs. Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley got injured. The Clippers were able to pull Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert out of the paint by going uber-small and spreading shooters around the arc. This is a big season for Utah to prove they’re legitimate contenders, but they didn’t make big enough changes to suggest they can overcome their annual playoff struggles.
5. Denver Nuggets
2020-21 record: 47-25, 3rd in West
Biggest additions: Jeff Green (F/C)
Biggest losses: Paul Millsap (F/C)
2021-22 outlook: After trading for Aaron Gordon at last year’s trade deadline, the Nuggets went 8-1 before Jamal Murray tore his ACL, effectively ending their championship hopes. Denver looked like a dangerous team in the West with their preferred starting five healthy — a deep, versatile bunch of shooters and slashers surrounding MVP fulcrum Nikola Jokic. Murray will miss the start of the season but is expected to return later on. If he can shake off the rust by the spring, Denver looks like a team with the right pieces to make a run.
4. Phoenix Suns
2020-21 record: 51-21, 2nd in West
Biggest additions: Elfrid Payton (G), JaVale McGee (C)
Biggest losses: Torrey Craig (F)
2021-22 outlook: Don’t blame for Phoenix for playing who was in front of them in last year’s playoffs. Sure, each of their opponents was missing a top player, but the Suns nonetheless jelled in remarkable time, going from a lottery team in 2020 to two wins away from the Finals in one year. They return their core pieces this year, and while age could start to catch up to Chris Paul, it’s possible that the deep postseason experience makes Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Cameron Johnson better.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
2020-21 record: 42-30, 7th in West
Biggest additions: Russell Westbrook (G), Carmelo Anthony (F), Trevor Ariza (F), Dwight Howard (C), DeAndre Jordan (C), Malik Monk (G), Kendrick Nunn (G), Kent Bazemore (F), Wayne Ellington (G), Rajon Rondo (G)
Biggest losses: Kyle Kuzma (F), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (G/F), Alex Caruso (G), Montrezl Harrell (C), Marc Gasol (C), Andre Drummond (C), Dennis Schroder (G)
2021-22 outlook: This is an entirely new Lakers roster and one that comes with a lot of questions. How will Russell Westbrook and LeBron James fit together? Who are the other two starters next to James, Westbrook, and Anthony Davis? Will Davis truly commit to spending most of his time at center? These are big questions and ones that will take a while to solve, but assuming good health, James and Davis are too good and too talented not to make it work. The Lakers are the favorites in the West.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
2020-21 record: 46-26, 3rd in East
Biggest additions: Grayson Allen (G), George Hill (G), Semi Ojeleye (F)
Biggest losses: PJ Tucker (F/C), Bryn Forbes (G)
2021-22 outlook: It feels as if the Bucks may have exorcised some demons en route to winning last year’s championship. Khris Middleton settled in as the the late-game ball-handler and scorer while Giannis Antetokounmpo reached a new level by playing like a modern big man. The Bucks are returning their core from last year and have made some noteworthy additions to the bench. With the weight of championship expectations off their shoulders, it’s possible the Bucks make another leap this year, playing more freely and confidently.
1. Brooklyn Nets
2020-21 record: 48-24, 2nd in East
Biggest additions: Patty Mills (G), LaMarcus Aldridge (C), James Johnson (F/C)
Biggest losses: DeAndre Jordan (C), Jeff Green (F/C)
2021-22 outlook: The Nets looked like they might steamroll through the East until injuries struck in the playoffs. They still nearly knocked off the eventual-champion Bucks with Kevin Durant and a clearly hobbled James Harden. This year, they return their Big 3, plus a deep supporting cast of shooters, smart passers, and cutters. Their offense should score at will; an average defense might make them a 60-win team. The big question, of course, is whether Kyrie Irving being unvaccinated prevents him from playing home games in New York — a major blow to the easy favorites to win the championship.
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