It’s a fool’s errand to predict this NBA offseason, with so many high-profile players available either via free agency or trades. But that didn’t stop ESPN from projecting where each team will stand heading into the 2019-20 campaign.
ESPN.com published way-too-early power rankings Friday on the heels of the Toronto Raptors defeating the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to secure their first championship in franchise history. The rankings — compiled by a panel of more than 40 reporters, insiders and editors — took into account potential player movement and the NBA draft, although, again, that’s no small task.
The Milwaukee Bucks, owners of the best record during the 2018-19 regular season, earned the top spot, finishing ahead of the defending champions, who must figure out whether Kawhi Leonard plans to leave in free agency this summer. The Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers ranked No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5, respectively.
The Warriors, who have represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals for five straight seasons, winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy on three occasions, landed outside of ESPN.com’s top five at No. 6. The Houston Rockets ranked one spot behind at No. 7.
So, what about the Boston Celtics?
The C’s once looked like a team on the cusp of becoming a legitimate title contender, but a tumultuous season in Boston has changed the narrative. There’s now a very real chance Kyrie Irving leaves in free agency, at which point Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will need to decide whether to build around a young core led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown or swing a blockbuster trade, perhaps for New Orleans Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis.
This unpredictability led to the Celtics landing at No. 9 in ESPN.com’s way-too-early power rankings, just behind the Los Angeles Lakers, who also face a crucial offseason after LeBron James’ first year in Tinseltown proved disappointing. The Lakers, like the Celtics, have been linked to Davis.
Here’s what ESPN.com’s Tim Bontemps wrote about the Celtics:
Six months ago, Boston looked as if it had the brightest future of any team in the league. Now? That future is much more muddled, beginning with Kyrie Irving’s impending free agency. His declaration that he was going to return to Boston, “If you’ll have me,” at a season-ticket holders event feels like a lifetime ago — as does his commercial saying he hopes no one else will ever wear No. 11 again for the Celtics. Whether Irving decides to remain also could have a huge impact on Boston’s pursuit of Anthony Davis, as it will make it far tougher to give away long-term assets for Davis if Irving departs. The Celtics also have three first-round picks in this year’s draft, plus the potential of Al Horford having to decide whether to pick up his player option for next season and Terry Rozier hitting restricted free agency. To say it will be an eventful summer in Boston is an understatement.
The NBA landscape is bound to change this offseason, making it extremely difficult to project each team’s championship odds months down the road. ESPN.com’s way-too-early power rankings show how much the league already has changed over the past year, though, especially with regards to the Warriors and Celtics, who once looked like they’d be on an NBA Finals collision course for several seasons.