Western Conference Championship Contenders

Earlier this week here at ATB Network, we previewed and ranked the championship contenders in the Eastern Conference. The Western Conference, on the other hand, looks stacked with contenders as we head into the 2023 season. Let’s take a look.

The Denver Nuggets are one of the front-runner Western Conference Championship Contenders
Photo Credit- Bart Young, Getty Images

Tier 1: True Western Conference Championship Contenders

Warriors, Nuggets, Suns

The defending champions being on this tier is no surprise. At this point, the Warriors have justified their ranking on this list for many years. The Nuggets, however, are trying to finally take the next step.

Denver has their MVP in Nikola Jokic, and they have plenty of talent surrounding him. Denver has been a contender for a couple years now, but have yet to cement themselves as a true championship threat. They made it to the conference finals during the COVID bubble, but haven’t showed the same success since. With a healthy roster this year, though, the Nuggets find themselves with no better opportunity.

The Suns have had a rough offseason both on and off the court. As Phoenix attempts to hold their core group together amidst front office issues, they still have a real shot at the championship. They made the finals just two years ago, and still possess the same core group. It may be now or never for the Suns.

Tier 2: Fringe Western Conference Championship Contenders

Grizzlies, Mavericks, Timberwolves, Clippers

This list is still filled with a ton of talent. Memphis put up a decent fight against the would-be champions last year, and if Ja Morant can stay healthy, they should be a scary team to meet in April. So will the Mavericks, who made it all the way to the conference finals last season after throttling the Suns in a do-or-die game seven. They’ll keep the same squad around this year.

The Timberwolves made the playoffs last year, and really should have won their first round series against Memphis. Minnesota went ahead and added one of the best defensive players in the game in Rudy Gobert this summer as well. Their four-headed monster should bode well next season.

Finally, the Clippers. It’s been a long time since the Clippers had both of their stars healthy, but they’ll finally be back this year. Los Angeles also added John Wall, who should pair very well with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. The Clips are a team to watch out for this season.

Tier 3: Playoff Contenders

Lakers, Pelicans, Kings

Finally, rounding out this list we’ve got these three squads. The Lakers won the championship in 2020, but since then they’ve shown little success. Los Angeles’ trio of Lebron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook hasn’t panned out like they thought it would. At the moment, the Lakers don’t show a threat as a true championship contender.

Rounding out this group, we have the Pelicans and Kings. New Orleans found a way into the playoffs last year thanks to some stellar play from CJ McCollum. He’ll remain in NOLA for the next two years, and there’s no reason the Pelicans shouldn’t find themselves in a good position next year.

Finally, Sacramento. Ranking the Kings as a playoff contender is always a hot take, but with their roster it might not be a long-shot this time around. De’Aaron Fox and Domanas Sabonis worked well together last season, and they’ll be adding Keegan Murray and Kevin Heurter to the fray this season. Sacramento has a decent chance at ending their long playoff drought in 2022.

Championship Contenders: Eastern Conference

2023 Eastern Conference Championship Contenders
Photo Credit: Halftime Productions

As we slowly creep closer and closer to the 2022-23 NBA season, excitement is beginning to build around the league. The new year brings new hope and possibility for franchises all around the league, especially for these Eastern Conference championship contenders

For some teams, the new year presents another chance at chasing the illustrious goal of an NBA title. For others, it involves hope as their franchises hope to finally turn the corner. In this article, we will take a look at the Eastern Conference, and take a look at which teams have the best chance to be contenders for an NBA Championship.

Eastern Conference Championship Contenders

Tier 1: True Eastern Conference Championship Contenders

Celtics, Bucks, Heat

These three teams all have the best chance to come out of the Eastern Conference, and it’s far enough to clearly separate them from the rest of the conference.

First, we have the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are clearly capable of being in this category, with them being the team to come out of the Eastern Conference last year. They didn’t lose any major pieces, and were even able to add Malcolm Brogdon to the fold this offseason. They should enter as the favorites to come out of this conference.

The Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat should be considered the same. Neither team lost a key player, and both have been actively looking to add talent this offseason, albeit unsuccessfully — for now.

The Bucks nearly knocked the Celtics off last year without Khris Middleton. The Heat, on the other hand, were a missed-three-pointer from Jimmy Butler away from making the Finals last year. Both teams should be considered favorites.

Tier 2: Fringe Eastern Conference Championship Contenders

Nets, Cavaliers, 76ers

These three shouldn’t be considered favorites, but they all do still pose a real threat to make it out of this conference. The Brooklyn Nets have been surrounded by drama all off-season, but as of now it looks like they’ll be able to hold onto Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Those two alone pose a threat, and with the right squad around them they can certainly make some noise.

The Cleveland Cavaliers just made a splash move, trading for Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell, a proven star who has performed very well in the playoffs throughout his career, will join a very talented young corps. There isn’t enough star talent on the roster yet for them to be in tier one, but this team is extremely talented.

As for the Philadelphia 76ers, the perennial playoff disappointing team will have another crack at it this year. This time, James Harden and Joel Embiid will likely get to play a full season together. If Philadelphia can put it all together in the playoffs this time around, they’ll be a real problem.

Tier 3: Playoff Contenders

Bulls, Hawks, Raptors, Knicks, Hornets

These five teams should still be around come April, but they don’t have everything it takes to truly be championship contenders in the Eastern Conference — yet.

The Chicago Bulls started 2021 strong, but faded as the year went on, and haven’t made any major upgrades this summer. The Atlanta Hawks added Dejounte Murray, and they’re the only team in this tier that has a legitimate argument to be in Tier 2. Unfortunately, the team around Murray and Trae Young isn’t quite good enough yet.

The Toronto Raptors grabbed a playoff spot last season, but were quickly bounced by the Sixers. This unit has a ton of young talent, and they could be a true contender very soon. The New York Knicks added Jalen Brunson, but their inability to add any other star power leaves them down in this tier.

As for the Charlotte Hornets, well they seem to be the same team from last year. With the Bridges issues, and their silence on the market this offseason, they’ve shown no signs of improvement.

The NBA Took it Easy on Robert Sarver with Suspension

Photo is courtesy of USA Today

The NBA is an extremely well-known brand. It’s one of the most well-known brands in the world, and the league takes its reputation very seriously, for good reason. However, there’s been more than a couple scandals in recent memory, and it seems the league will continually be desperate to keep that reputation as shiny as possible. That is the case with Robert Sarver and his suspension.

Robert Sarver’s Career

Robert Sarver is the owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. He’s also the owner of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. Sarver graduated from the University of Arizona, and purchased both teams in 2004.

Sarver has overseen many monumental events in the Suns’ history. He’s overseen the recent, rapid improvement of the team that grabbed the 1st seed in the Western Conference for the first time since 2004, and for just the fourth time in the franchise’s 54-year history. Behind the scenes, in a scandal that was only brought to light recently, NBA fans learned about the dark secrets floating around the Suns front office.

Robert Sarver’s Actions and the Dark Reality of Suns’ Front Office

Robert has just received punishment for his actions after a long investigation was opened by the NBA into the workplace environment in Phoenix. Here are some findings:

Sarver, on five separate occasions, repeated the N-word when recounting statements of others. Sarver also “engaged in instances of inequitable conduct towards female employees, made many sex-related comments in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearence of female employees and other women, and on several occasions engaged in inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees.”

To add to this already extensive list, Sarver engaged in “demeaning and harsh treatment of employees.” This included yelling and cursing at them. These quotes have been pulled from the NBA’s statement regarding the punishment.

For those actions, Sarver has been suspended from both organizations for a year. He’s not allowed to be present at any events related to either team, and must stay away from the organizations entirely for a year. He was also fined $10 million.

How the NBA Failed With the Robert Sarver Punishment and Suspension

To put is bluntly, Robert Sarver received a slap on the wrist for actions that should have warranted a lifelong suspension.

The NBA has seen a situation like this before. In 2014, then-Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape disparaging his mistress for associating herself with African Americans. Sterling also made many more racist remarks, and was under investigation for a sexual harassment lawsuit, as well.

These issues received national backlash, and soon after the NBA decided to take a league vote, deciding whether Sterling should be forced to sell the team. The vote easily passed, and Sterling’s ownership of the team was removed.

Adam Silver released that news, and understandably the NBA was praised for laying down the hammer on a man who fully deserved it. Then, Robert Sarver was found to have done essentially the same exact things, yet received an extremely small punishment. Now, Silver and the NBA’s decision looks hollow, especially in light of Silver claiming the situations are “dramatically different“.

The truth is, Robert Sarver and Donald Sterling are the worst type of people. Both old, rich men who have proven themselves to be racist and sexist individuals. As is commonplace in our society, many men like that have been rich enough to get away with their actions.

The NBA seemed to set a precedent with their handling of Sterling. They completely reversed it with their shallow punishment of Sarver.

The NBA dropped the ball here. In no way should Robert Sarver have anything to do with the NBA ever again. However, the NBA’s light punishment shows how superficial they took these actions from Sarver. It’s disappointing, but not entirely surprising.

Donovan Mitchell Trade: What Teams Make The Most Sense?

Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell could find himself on the trade block
Photo Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

After the Jazz traded one of their franchise players in Rudy Gobert this offseason, there’s just one star left in Utah: Donovan Mitchell. Since being selected by Utah, Mitchell has established himself as a star. Most notably with his insane playoff run during the 2020 bubble playoffs.

Mitchell has helped lead the Jazz to the NBA playoffs each year since he was drafted in 2017. Still, Mitchell and the Utah Jazz haven’t seen much playoff success. It seems a change of scenery is needed for both sides. Here are three teams that would make the most sense for a Donovan Mitchell trade.

Donovan Mitchell Trade: Potential Suitors

New York Knicks

This team makes sense, for some obvious reasons. One of those is the fact that the NBA rumor mill has been flooded with trade rumors involving the Knicks and Donovan Mitchell. After picking up Jalen Brunson in free agency, the addition of Mitchell would make a very exciting backcourt.

The only thing holding this up is the lack of assets on the Knicks side of things. The Utah Jazz got a whopping four first round picks for Rudy Gobert. It’s expected that they have similar value in mind for Mitchell. The Knicks don’t have those options, but if they can get a third team involved, then they can get something going.

Miami Heat

The Heat are a capable trade destination for one main reason; Donovan Mitchell wants to go there, as was reported by Tony Jones. Miami is always an attractive destination. It became a lot more attractive after the Heat nabbed the first seed, and were one win away from the NBA Finals last year.

Unfortunately, like the Knicks, the Heat don’t seem to have the assets Utah is likely looking for. Because of that, Miami is in a similar situation. Like the Knicks, they’d likely need to find a third team to facilitate a deal and send some assets to Utah. If they can get it done, Miami easily becomes a favorite to win the NBA Finals.

Los Angeles Lakers

No, the Lakers do not have the assets or cap to trade for Donovan Mitchell themselves. What they do have is the ability to facilitate a trade, which is exactly why they are on this list. Any trade involving Donovan Mitchell will likely be a three-team trade, given the likely massive demands from the Jazz.

That is exactly where the Lakers come in. Here, Los Angeles finds an opportunity to get rid of Russell Westbrook’s contract. The Lakers would also be able to grab some role players from the Knicks or Heat in return as well, at the very least.

NBA Schedule Leaks: Most Exciting Matchups

Photo by Harry Howe/Getty Images

On Wednesday at 3 P.M. Eastern Time, the full, official NBA schedule for the 2022-23 season will be released. However, thanks to the fact that NBA insiders exist, we’ve gotten a sneak peak at some of the biggest matchups throughout the season. Let’s take a look at some of the most intriguing games in the new season.

Christmas Day

Christmas Day is universally known in the sports world as NBA-day. For many years now the NBA has dominated the sports world on one of the biggest holidays, with exciting matchups every year. This season will be no different.

This year’s slate has headlines written all over it. There will be rematches of last year’s playoffs with the Bucks playing the Celtics and the Warriors hosting the Grizzlies. The Bucks and Celtics have been crowned as the last two Eastern Conference champions, with both teams expected to contend again this year. The Warriors and Grizzlies have had some very public bad blood since their playoff series last year, and this game should have no shortage of storylines.

The remaining meetups on the slate are the Knicks vs. 76ers, Nuggets vs. Suns and the Mavericks vs. Lakers. These games all have a large amount of star power. Overall, almost every team playing on Christmas day has the potential to reach the NBA finals, so we should see some exciting performances.

Opening Night

Opening night is one of the biggest days on the NBA calendar, as it marks the return of meaningful basketball. This year, opening night will feature two huge matchups. The defending champion Golden State Warriors will play Lebron James and the Lakers. Before that, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers will kick the new season off.

The Warriors will receive their rings, and will begin a new year against the Lakers for the second straight year. Last year that happened in Los Angeles, but this time the two squads will meet in San Francisco. In the other game, the Celtics and 76ers will clash. This game brings a ton of star-power, and both teams have the potential to win the Eastern Conference as a whole.

Other Exciting Matchups on the NBA Schedule

On October 21st, the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic will face off in Georgia. This will be a significant matchup because it will be the first time Dejounte Murray and the first overall pick, Paolo Banchero will play against each other. Those two have been quite public with their recent beef on social media, making for an exciting game as the two start to settle it on the court.

On October 19th, the second night of the season, the New Orleans Pelicans and Brooklyn Nets will square off in New York. This will mark the return of two stars who have missed time; Ben Simmons and Zion Williamson. Both players have seen themselves stuck in the spotlight recently, but will soon finally have a chance to get back on the court.

Finally, we have the battle for Los Angeles. The matchups between the Lakers and Clippers are always contentious, but they matter more now that both teams are competitive. The two southern California squads will face off four times, on October 20th, November 9th, January 24th and April 5th. These three matchups are some of the most interesting on the NBA schedule.