The Golden State Warriors aren’t just NBA champions, they are league-changers.
Their collection of four in-prime All-Stars has forced all challengers to either accept defeat or attempt to construct their own superpowers. Blockbuster deals for Jimmy Butler (to Minnesota), Paul George (to Oklahoma City) and Chris Paul (to Houston) prove not everyone is willing to concede the Western Conference.
“It’s a weapons race in the NBA,” Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told reporters. “You’re either in the weapons race or on the sidelines.”
Of course, there’s also a difference between being in the race and anywhere close to the Warriors. But while there’s still a gap between them and everyone else, there’s also a hierarchy shaping up beneath the top spot.
The West’s cellar-dwellers aren’t even participating in the race, so they’ve been excluded from our exercise. But there are 10 teams—11 for our purposes, as we’re evaluating the Utah Jazz with and without All-Star free agent Gordon Hayward—clamoring for a shot at the throne, each ranked by overall strength and ability to challenge the three-time defending conference champs.