The Complete Idiot’s guide to picking an NBA team

It took several months, stringent negotiations and the annexation of Disneyworld but the NBA is back. The 22 teams invited are scrimmaging ahead of Thursday’s start with the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz inaugurating this brave new world. Nowhere near the real thing but the early feedback on the optics has been overwhelmingly positive with slick screening and camera work. Once again, the NBA is upholding its reputation as one of the more competent Leagues in professional sport. 

With the Premier League coming to a close and the popularity of the Last Dance stirring some pro-basketball sentiment, The S Word released a foolproof manual to getting into the great game. Part of said guide and fandom more generally is of course picking a team.  

Naturally, some of the most fulfilling moments of life are reveling in your team’s success and opponent’s failure and demands a certain level of investment even if that’s just knowing a few players on your team. But how do you make this lifelong and legally binding selection? Do you identify with a certain city, playing style, history or current position in the pecking order of the League? Do you love a certain player, want to observe a rebuilding project or an established winner? There is no right answer.  

To aid you in this conundrum The S Word has done a small synopsis on each team in the Association including a touch of history, current League position and a football team comparison for a bit of reference albeit some are on the more tenuous side. 

Atlanta Hawks  

The Hawks were one of a handful of unlucky Eastern Conference teams whose ceiling was capped by Lebron James’ historic 8 consecutive finals appearances. Having peaked in 2016 with 60 wins, a season with 5 Hawks as All-Stars but ended in a demolition by the Cavs in the Conference finals, the Hawks have reset and are rebuilding. Armed with the winning blueprint of Golden State, GM Travis Schlenk has identified the perimeter as the difference maker making the bold but also fireable decision to take point guard Trae Young over Luka Doncic in the 2018 draft. No one is questioning Young’s offensive ability but with his reputation as the league’s worst defender, doubts linger whether he is the player to build your franchise around.  

League Position (last season): 26 (26)  

Football Comparison: Real Betis – A promising rebuild on paper at the start of the year which has ended with disappointment and more questions than answers.  

Boston Celtics  

The eastern half of the great rivalry of the NBA, the Boston Celtics are the winningest franchise in NBA history in terms of Championships. From Bill Russell in the 60s to Larry ‘legend’ Bird in the 80s, the Boston Garden and its leprechaun emboldened court have seen the ribbons from 17 championships with the most recent coming in 2008. After false dawn in 2018-19 which saw Kyrie Irving skip town with both parties happy to see the back of each other, the Celtics are back with a bang. Riding the coattails of burgeoning superstar Jayson Tatum, swiss-army-knife Jaylen Brown and veteran point guard Kemba Walker, the Celtics are a modern NBA team on both sides of the ball. A strong core of complimentary players with the coach-gm nexus of Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, this team is knocking on the door of sustained title contention.  

League Position: 5 (9) 

Football Comparison: Liverpool – A city with Irish heritage back at the zenith of the game – supreme history and obnoxious fans with funny accents. (+ John W. Henry)  

Bill Russell

Charlotte Hornets  

In the unfortunate position of being an NBA team in a state obsessed by College Basketball, the Hornets have been trapped in the purgatory of mediocrity since their ill-fated name change to the Bobcats and back to the Hornets. Evidence that peerless ability on the court doesn’t translate to sound decision-making off it, the Hornets have been a bottom 3 market while Michael Jordan has owned the team. In a fully-fledged rebuild following the departure of Kemba Walker last offseason, the Hornets have a few promising young players in PJ Washington and Devonte Graham but nothing close to resembling a franchise cornerstone which will have to come through the draft given its status as a non-free agent destination  – a few rough years ahead for buzz city.  

League Position: 23 (17) 

Football Comparison: Real Valladolid – Ownership by an all-time great will not change their minnow status or geographic limitations 

Brooklyn Nets  

The team from hipsterville is the NBA’s newest franchise which jumped ship from New Jersey in 2012. For the sake of a few years of false contention, the Nets sold their soul to Boston GM Danny Ainge bringing in 2 over-the-hill stars in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for a glut of draft assets leading to several years in the wilderness. A couple of years ago, the Nets represented the nadir of the NBA caused by short-sighted decision making trapped with an aging squad on bloated contracts with no draft picks. A change in ownership and management saw GM Sean Marks cobble together a scrappy team of rejects and young talent that made some noise last year. Last summer, the Nets shocked the world attracting the services of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to the Borough. It is unclear whether this is a masterstroke or another Faustian pact. Durant is coming off an Achilles Injury and Irving’s enigmatic personality has left a bad taste in the mouth of two cities – only time will tell. 

League Position: 15 (14) 

Football Comparison: PSG – Part of the nouveau riche of the NBA. Having crashed out spectacularly first time overpaying for the wrong stars they are trying again this time through a top 5 player in the world with legs made of glass – still not a big club. 

Chicago Bulls  

The team of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson has really struggled to get close to the lofty standards of the 1990s. A brief challenger in the Eastern Conference in the 2010s with a team starring the likes of pre-Injury Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah which was quashed year after year by King James, the Bulls have since done their utmost to lose all resemblance to powerhouse of the 90s ever since. They have been one of this season’s biggest disappointments in which many touted a challenge to the late playoff spots in the east. The somewhat promising crop of youngsters such as Zach Lavine and Lauri Markkanen have continued to be turnstiles on defence while their offense has stagnated despite the best efforts of anachronistic head coach Jim Boylen. This is still a young team with plenty of upside but a chaotic front office and feckless ownership are concerning. 

League Position: 24 (27) 

Football comparison: AC Milan – Big market team with a fantastic history that has been mismanaged over the past 5 years complicating the road back to success. 

Cleveland Cavaliers  

The fate of ‘the Land’ has been intertwined with the trajectory of a teenager from the Cleveland suburb of Akron whom they took 1st in the 2003 draft – enter stage left – Lebron James. On his back, the Cavs steadily climbed the East culminating in a 2009 Conference semi-finals loss to the Celtics. Looking for a supporting cast that didn’t resemble a high school team, James bolted to Miami announcing his move live on TV as part of the infamous ‘decision’. Despite the wave of burnt jerseys, death threats and tantrum of owner Dan Gilbert, James returned in 2015 to form a rival to the Warriors as part of a big 3 with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love amounting to a championship in 2016. Much like the first time, life without Lebron following his move to LA has been tough and the roster features two young point guards who can’t play defence, disgruntled veterans from the title years and the firing of a rookie coach 1 year into a 5-year contract. 

League Position: 29 (28) 

Football Comparison: Arsenal – Only ever won anything with a legend with an English regal surname who left town not once but twice.  

Dallas Mavericks  

2020 was the first season in 21 years without franchise Legend Dirk Nowitzki – arguably the best foreign-born player to play the game. Even with their transcendent sharpshooting big man the Mavs had flatlined since their title in 2011, remaining competitive but with a couple of damaging trades and whiffing on free agents. The trajectory changed however in the 2018 draft when teenage Euroleague MVP Luka Doncic somehow fell into their lap and a trade for Kristaps Porzingis – a 7-3 shooting shot-blocker dubbed the Unicorn. Retaining that European flavour, Doncic has vaulted his way into the MVP conversation in only his second year and provided Porzingis’ can stay on the court, veteran Coach Rick Carlise and a solid collection of complementary pieces will likely make themselves at home in the upper echelons of the Western Conference for the foreseeable future. 

League Position: 13 (22) 

Football Comparison: Inter Milan – Have had a recent upturn in fortunes thanks to a duo of stars having regressed since winning the big one at the start of the decade. 

Denver Nuggets  

A dark horse in the West, the Nuggets don’t seem to draw the same cache as their glitzy Californian counterparts. Make no mistake – Denver is dangerous. This is in large part thanks to their leader Nikola Jokic, a 7-foot Serbian who is probably a top 5 passer in the League averaging a cool 7 assists per game. This anomaly releases the court for young guard Jamal Murray and a smattering of plug-and-play wings that produce a consistent and attractive style of basketball under Coach Mike Malone. The X factor for Denver might well be 2 punts in the draft over the past few years in Michael Porter Jr and Bol Bol who have star upside but seem to lack the medical and corporeal strength to back it up. 

League Position: 6 (4) 

Football Comparison: Atalanta – Quietly a very good team who has snuck into the later rounds of competition thanks to an eastern European star.

Detroit Pistons  

The precursor and bitter rival to Jordan’s Bulls teams, the ‘Bad Boys’ won consecutive championships – a feat that the 2.0 team of the mid 2000s came close replicating with one of the most unique teams ever that managed to win it all without a bone fide superstar. A period of mediocrity has since followed with a reticence to adapt and forsake the focus on size in a league that has become smaller and quicker. A mid-season trade of bigman Andre Drummond would bury the hatchet on a full-scale rebuild if it weren’t for the 2 years left on injury-prone star Blake Griffin’s supermax deal. At full strength, the Pistons might challenge for a playoff spot but this situation feels like one in need of a clean start if anyone can take Griffin’s contract to escape the cycle of mediocrity – easier said than done.  

League Position: 26 (16)  

Football Comparison: Valencia – Club with success in the 90s and 2000s but horribly managed over the past few years.

Houston Rockets 

Probably the most polemic team in the Association, the Houston Rockets and their sabermetrics driven front office under Daryl Morey are at the cutting edge of the analytics movement. Led by superstar James Harden, the Rockets were the only team to meaningfully challenge the supremacy of the Warriors in the West with only a shocking stretch of 27 missed 3s between them and possible ring in 2018. No team embodies the vanguard of the NBA more than the Rockets who this season traded away their only traditional centre in favour of a smallball – 5 out approach. One person’s revolutionary is another’s boring and the Rockets propensity for the long ball has attracted the chagrin of every talking head in the NBA. 

League Position: 10 (5) 

Football Comparison: RB Leipzig – Clever approach to analytics and recruitment has brought success and hate in equal measure.

Golden State Warriors  

Let’s call a spade a spade. The 2015-19 Golden State Warriors are at least the 2nd best team ever and would probably give the 90s Bulls a run for their money. Equal parts shrewd teambuilding and serendipity, the Warriors at times embodied basketball perfection. A backcourt comprised of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, a pair know as ‘The Splash Bro’s’ thanks to their penchant to drench the net with 3-point sauce, do-it-all Draymond Green were supported by a stellar supporting cast. Despite falling to Lebron’s Cavs in 2016, the Warriors won 3 titles in 4 years, hold the most wins in a regular season and managed to add top 3 player Kevin Durant thanks to a welcome bump in the Salary Cap. Fast forward to 2020 and the Warriors have taken a beat following the loss to Toronto with Steph and Klay both missing most of the year due to injury and KD leaving for Brooklyn. The prospect of a fully rested core with the addition of Andrew Wiggins and the possibility of a high draft pick marshalled by coach Steve Kerr is nothing short of bloodcurdling – they’re ready to continue writing their legacy.  

League Position 30 (3) 

Football Comparison: Barcelona (2008 vintage) – Has come as close as anyone to sporting perfection reinventing the game before adding another superstar yielding further success and dominance.

Indiana Pacers 

Without a doubt the surprise package of this season, many predicted a turbulent year for the Pacers with star Victor Oladipo out with a knee injury for most of the year. However, well organized defence, the emergence of Domantas Sabonis as an All Star and the offseason acquisition of former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon have propelled this team to the 5th seed in the east. This team has always managed to cobble together an overachieving team yet have always come up short against the royalty in the Eastern Conference be it Jordan’s Bulls or Lebron’s Heat/Cavaliers.  

League Position: 12 (11) 

Football Comparison: Athletico Madrid – A scrappy defence that is often a team more than the sum of its parts but has never quite reached the top honour despite numerous heart-breaking attempts  

LA Clippers  

Before this decade, the Clippers were the punch line of the NBA. Notorious draft busts, terrible trades and a racist owner caught on tape outlining how he doesn’t like to associate with black people (tricky in a League as diverse as the NBA) saw the Clippers wallow in the doldrums of the League. Those days, however, seem to be behind the Clips. A takeover by charismatic former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer and the acquisition of Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and star forward Paul George on top of a well-balanced and winning roster mean this is the best team in Franchise History. Perennially left in the shadow by their LA rival Lakers, the Clippers are perhaps poised to make some noise for the next few years after the ‘Lob City’ era of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin ended in disappointment.  

League Position: 4 (12) 

Football comparison: Man City – The better run team of two clubs in a huge sporting city that have enjoyed more success in recent years, will have the stigma of a ‘small club’ compared to their rivals but can recitfy this by winning it all this year.

LA Lakers 

The Lakers (along with the Celtics) are the other half of the NBA’s historical powerhouse with a run of dominance that is almost unparalleled. From Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry ‘the logo’ West to Magic’s showtime 80’s team and Shaq and Kobe in the 2000s, the Purple and Gold are the second winningest team in league History. Recent years have not been so fruitful with the team resembling a Hollywood drama in all the worst ways until this season.  With the arrival of Lebron James and long-awaited trade for stud Anthony Davis, the Lakers are ready to contend once more and give Lebron another title shot.

League Position2 (20) 

Football comparison: Real Madrid – A highly successful team that is star-obsessed (sometimes to its detriment) with internal workings that are a story in their own right.  A pit of vipers that somehow pulls it off.

Memphis Grizzlies  

One of the newer teams in NBA history following relocation from Vancouver, the Griz have been an interesting storyline throughout. After years as perennial winner but not necessarily a contender, the Grizzlies aged and bottomed out looking to rebuild through the draft with the 4th and 2nd picks in consecutive drafts. The players selected, namely Jaren Jackson Jr and Ja Morant, are one of the most exciting and complementary young duos in the League. The team has been ahead of the curve in terms of success with the Grizzlies currently in a playoff spot. The grizzlies have their core, but significant work lies ahead in building a contender in the loaded Western Conference. 

League Position14 (23) 

Football comparison: Borussia Dortmund – After a period of recent success, have undergone a pseudo-rebuild creating one of the most terrifying young duos in the League. Plus look at those beautiful uniforms.

Miami Heat  

Probably one of most well-known teams internationally thanks to 2010-2014 so-called ‘Big 3’ period with Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh winning back to back titles. Thanks to an impeccable organization from Team President Pat Reily and coach Eric Spoelstra, the Miami Heat are one of the most competent teams in basketball. The current team, led by firecracker Jimmy Butler and versatile big man Bam Adebayo along with youngsters such as Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro, is a dark horse to win the East. With the siren call of Miami and the institutional track record, the Heat will always be a player in free agency and are probably one move away.  

League Position: 7 (16) 

Football Comparison: Bayern Munich – A club with huge status internationally that ruled the roost at the start of the decade and are on their way back up after retooling for a few years  

Milwaukee Bucks  

The bookies favourite and holders of the best record in the League, the Bucks are one of a few teams in real title contention. There is one reason for this. Reigning MVP, likely defensive player of the year, point centre, the Greek freak Giannis Antetokounmpo. The uniqueness of their Hellenic superstar has allowed veteran coach Mike Budenholzer to construct the League’s best offense and 5th best defense surrounding him with complementary pieces like second fiddle Khris Middleton, centre Brook Lopez and a smattering of shooters. However, the clock is ticking with Giannis’ free agency in 2021 and with the vultures circling another disappointing finish could see the Bucks window slam shut before it even opened. 

League Position: 1 (1) 

Football Comparison: Spurs (prime Pochettino). A very successful one player team that is running out of chances to make it over the hump. 

Minnesota Timberwolves  

3 years ago, many would’ve predicted that the TWolves would be a regular fixture in the playoffs with a trio of former number 1 picks Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns as well as stud Jimmy Butler. The dictionary definition of a false dawn, Wiggins’ stunted development and subsequent trade to Golden State and Butler forcing his way out in spectacular fashion, Towns is the only one who remains in Minneapolis with the signs that he wants out as well. Even with 3 years left on his deal, things are pretty bleak for the club whose only period of extended success was with prime Kevin Garnett in the early 2000s which forced a clear win-now trade for Point Guard De’Angelo Russell. At the end of the day, Towns still has one of the highest ceilings for a player, but with such a loaded Western Conference even making the playoffs let alone a postseason run looks unlikely for one of the League’s historically worst franchises.  

League Position: 29 (21) 

Football comparison: Napoli – A toxic atmosphere and stench of decay will probably lead to the eventual departure of the team’s only remaining world class player.

New Orleans Pelicans  

How do you go from a team whose franchise player is striking, is located in a dominant NFL town with the spectre of relocation looming to a possible playoff run and one of the best and complimentary young cores in the League? Easy – luck. The rabbit’s foot in this case is none other than Zion Williamson. Probably the most highly touted prospect to enter the League since Lebron James, Zion is a once in a generation talent that subverts all trends. A 6-5 centre with oxymoronically the most explosive athleticism paired with reportedly with the 2nd highest weight in the League and an amazing handle. Zion joins a roster boasting budding star Brandon Ingram, former 2nd overall pick Lonzo Ball and veterans Jrue Holiday and JJ Reddick. Even if it doesn’t come off this year, the trajectory of this team will mimic the Zoom share price in quarantine. 

League Position 18 (24) 

Football comparison:  Bayern Leverkusen – A good young team build around a marquee singular talent (but imagine Kai Havertz on steroids ((and not about to go to Chelsea))) 

New York Knicks  

Ahh yes, finally we arrive at my team: the New York Knickerbockers. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the League’s most valuable franchise which plays in the biggest market in Madison Square Garden (The world’s most famous arena) that featured incessantly in the Last Dance were a pretty decent organization. Alas, the Knicks last championship came in 1973 and are currently in the throes of a 7-year playoff drought. The mediocrity of those occupying the coaching and general manager posts can’t be underplayed but ultimately the buck stops with owner James Dolan. The autocrat has gone from blunder to blunder alienating fans and legends alike in his pursuit of the accolade of the most unpopular owner in the League. If the ineptitude of the franchise is in any doubt, imagine trading away the best player you’ve had in decades for literally nothing after the 2 free agents you targeted chose the crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets. The Knicks have a few nice players and a new GM regime but you feel that the trickle-down incompetence will continue with Dolan still in charge. 

League Position: 25 (30) 

Football comparison: Newcastle – Good in the 90s which they still hang onto that despite it being 20 years ago. A massive fanbase that absolutely despises the owner due to his chronic ineptitude.

Oklahoma City Thunder  

The phoenix from the ashes of the bitter squabble between the NBA and Seattle which saw the north-western city lose its historic franchise, OKC has enjoyed consistent success since its inception albeit without a title for their trouble. This seems remarkable given the calibre of players that have suited up for the Thunder including Kevin Durant, Russel Westbrook, James Harden and Paul George. With the most recent iteration ended by a Damian Lilllard dagger, the Thunder seemed ready to embark on a comprehensive rebuild trading away both George and Westbrook for a litany of draft picks and a hodge podge of veterans and young prospects. The Thunder, however, didn’t get the memo with the team locking up a playoff spot led by future Hall of Famer Chris Paul and young stud Shai Gilgeous Alexander. This team is ahead of schedule with a good core and an arsenal of draft picks which savvy GM Sam Presti can use to build through the draft or package into a trade. 

League Position: 10 (10) 

Football comparison: Chelsea – The rebuild has been quicker than expected following the loss of a club legend. Pretty well hated by everyone outside of their fanbase. 

Orlando Magic  

Any success of the central Florida team has involved a dominant big man. The Magic, named after the same Disneyworld which now houses the NBA bubble, have reached the finals twice; the first in the 90s with a young Shaquille O’Neal and the most recently in 2009 with Dwight Howard. Despite the remarkable unpopularity of Howard, the Magic have drifted since the loss of the centre to the Lakers. One of a handful of Eastern Conference teams of the past few years that seem to exist to be cannon fodder in the first round of the playoffs, the Magic have hovered around the 8th seed; the position they currently occupy. 

League Position: 16 (22) 

Football Comparison: Southampton – Mediocre and by the sea (some bogus link between Le Tissier and Shaq)

Philadelphia 76’ers 

Another member of the old guard of the Eastern Conference, Philadelphia has had greats from Moses Malone to Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson play on its hardwood. In modernity, however, Philly has become infamous for doing the opposite; losing as many games as possible to acquire high draft picks for several years as part of then GM Sam Hinkie’s team building strategy dubbed ‘the process’. Hinkie’s cheat code attracted accusations of ruining basketball, rule changes from the league and ultimately his P45 but given the 6ers current position he seems to have been vindicated. Despite underwhelming this year, Philly still has one of the most talented rosters in the league led by tour de force centre Joel Embiid and 6-10 Australian point guard Ben Simmons. Nevertheless, another disappointing finish will likely lead to change whether to expedite the clunky fit between their two stars or the more likely firing of coach Brett Brown.  

League Position: 13 (7) 

Football Comparison: Juventus – Without doubt a big club with a very good team which despite their squad has been of colour when compared with the lofty predictions of many at the start of the year 

Phoenix Suns  

Throughout their history the Suns have had a track record of innovation and playing attractive basketball making their malpractice over the past few years all the sadder. Charles Barkley’s 1993 team gave Jordan a run for its money and no team has arguably had more influence over the modern style of basketball than the Mike D’Antoni (now Rockets coach) – Steve Nash team of the mid 2000s known as the ‘7 seconds or less’ Suns due to their lightening pace and penchant for the 3 pointer. With clownish owner Robert Sarver at the helm, the Suns built on this pedigree with a 10 year absence from the playoffs committing more mistakes than this article can even come close to writing – the most recent was passing on Luka Doncic in 2018. With burgeoning star Devin Booker, this year was supposed to spell a return however questions over Booker’s defense and ultimately his status as a winning player and the lack of development of other pieces mean the Suns have nothing more than a punter’s chance at the 8th seed in the West. 

League Position: 21 (29) 

Football Comparison: Aston Villa – A proud history which the past few years has certainly tarnished. Have made a comeback year of sorts based around 1 young star who will probably bounce at the first opportunity.

Portland Trailblazers  

Historically, the Blazers have been the most cursed team in Basketball taking the injury-addled Sam Bowie and Greg Oden over Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant – what could’ve been. Their recent record, however, could be described as incredibly competent. With the nexus of Superstar Damian Lillard, coach Terry Stotts and the credo that continuity is king, the Blazers have made the playoffs for 6 consecutive years with a run to the Western Conference finals last year and probably the best singular game winner ever which ended the Westbrook-George OKC team (seriously google it). Probably never an authentic contender, the Blazers embody the noble belief that putting an exciting, well run and winning team on the floor should be the MO in a League that often feels like a race to the bottom to acquire draft capital.  

League Position: 17 (6) 

Football comparison: Benfica – A well run team on the western fringes of the continent. Always there or there abouts, quite hipstery and don nice looking kits

Sacramento Kings  

A perennial contender for the biggest joke in the NBA, the Kings have outshone the competition (Suns, Knicks etc.) with the longest running playoff drought at a miraculous 14 seasons; honestly quite impressive given the League is set up to be cyclical and reward bad teams. For reference, Steve Maclaren was England Manager and Litvinenko was on his death bed when the Kings last made the postseason. The Kings do have a few nice pieces in De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield but in the West that doesn’t cut the mustard especially when management fires your most successful coach in a decade as they did last year.  

League Position: 19 (19) 

Football Comparison: West Ham – A new stadium can’t rectify awful management an mind-blowing decision making. A black sheep in their region surrounded by successful and better teams.

San Antonio Spurs  

The San Antonio Spurs have quite simply been the gold standard of the NBA for over 20 years. A top 3 coach of all time in Greg Popovich, progressive recruitment and capitalization of international talent has allowed the Spurs to achieve the impossible in the NBA; sustained contention and winning. Taking home the championship 5 times between 1999 and 2014 with a big 3 of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, the dominance of the Spurs seems to be coming to an end with the retirement of Popovich on the horizon and a depleted roster following Kawhi Leonard’s acrimonious departure. Currently outside of playoff spot with star LeMarcus Aldrige having surgery, it will take a miracle in Orlando to reach the playoffs – but there are few golden rules in the NBA – never write off the Spurs. 

League Position 20 (13) 

Football comparisonShaktar Donetsk – Have been able to punch well above their weight for decades thanks to incredible use of international talent and player development. A true David in a League of Goliaths.

Toronto Raptors  

It still seems strange writing ‘your 2019 NBA Champion Toronto Raptors’. The only Canadian team in the League, the ‘great white north’ had a torrid start to life in the NBA with draft selections even refusing to move to the city. One man changed everything. The high flying and recently retired Vince Carter captured the hearts and minds of the country, setting the foundation for future success and possibly saving professional basketball in Canada. Fast forward to 2019 and GM Masai Ujiri’s masterstroke acquisition of Kawhi Leonard via trade which added a blue chipper to an already winning team which ultimately bested the injury-plagued Warriors in the Finals last year. However, where many predicted a rebuild with Leonard’s departure to Los Angeles instead the Raptors have a realistic shot at retaining the title. The emergence of Pascal Siakam as a fringe MVP candidate, the development of OG Anunoby and Norman Powell and coaching of Nick Nurse have picked up the slack with the league’s best defence propelling the Raps to the 2nd seed in the East. 

League Position: 3 (2) 

Football comparison: Leicester – After a fairytale title run the team, the team has followed it up with a great campaign internally plugging the gaps left by former stars. The future is bright.

Utah Jazz 

Familiar to any viewers of the Last Dance, the Jazz have been a stalwart of the NBA since their inception. Thanks to their savvy use of the draft and trade market, the Jazz have always managed to transcend their station as a small market team from the Malone-Stockton years to the current team. A defence-first team anchored around Rudy ‘the stiffiel tower’ Gobert, exiting guard Donovan Mitchell and a handful of useful role players, the Jazz have been good for a playoff win over the past few years. The limitations of Salt Lake City have meant that, despite doing everything right, the Jazz struggle to both attract and retain star talent with Gordon Hayward the most recent to jump ship. 

League Position: 8 (8) 

Football Comparison: Ajax – Fantastic in the 90s. Always builds the team the right way and do everything right only to have their organs harvested by bigger teams. Currently a young winning team (here we go again) 

Washington Wizards  

Finally, the team from the nation’s capital are also a cautionary tale of the brutality of the salary cap if mismanaged. Following a few playoff wins, the Wizards locked up an all-star back court of John Wall and Bradley Beal to long term deals which didn’t look as prudent following Wall’s ACL injury. With large percentage of the cap being spent on an inactive player, the team has coasted while Beal has developed into one of the most potent offensive players in the League. Depending on Wall’s recovery the Wizards may trade Beal and rebuild or try to piece it all back together and pray that youngster Rui Haichimura develops into a third piece. 

League Position: 22 (25) 

Football Comparison: Crystal Palace – A midtable team from a capital city that are fun on their day but are hampered by poor financial decisions despite having a valuable attacking star.

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