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Empire of the Suns previews, predicts an overhauled NBA landscape

Empire of the Suns gets you ready for another season of Phoenix Suns basketball by zooming out and looking at the NBA as a whole with some key questions to answer.

The Warriors dynasty is dead! We think! We will get to Finals picks later, but after all the shuffling, who do you think is in the best position to win it all?

Kellan Olson: The Los Angeles Lakers have LeBron James so they are the answer.

If LeBron snaps out of lifestyle choice Space Jam 2 LeBron and back to best player on the planet LeBron, it’s over. Spoiler alert, by the way, he still is numero uno. Dude averaged 34.0 points, 9.1 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game over 22 games two postseasons ago on 41.9 minutes per game and a true shooting percentage of 61.9 for a garbage Cleveland team. Respect the GOAT.

That guy is playing with Anthony Davis, who I think wins MVP this year. I mostly dislike the roster around them but I don’t think it matters too much because there’s enough shooting.

With all that said, I used “if” for a reason with LeBron and I won’t pick them to even make the Finals until James proves we are truly getting the “this league is still mine” season while Davis stays healthy. Not to mention the clown show of an organization they’ve been lately and a sketchy coaching staff situation.

Kevin Zimmerman: The Clippers. They built a really good framework of role players before putting it on the foundation, and while that sounds backward, I think Doc Rivers has the chops to pull it off. Kawhi Leonard is a certified No. 1 option and so is Paul George — they’re also arguably the two best defensive wings in the NBA.

I don’t know what can stop than other than injury or it taking too long to get the dynamics of the team in sync with George out a significant portion of the year after shoulder surgeries.

There’s parity but it seems like the favorites are in Los Angeles. Who should we take the most seriously as a title contender outside of the Clippers and Lakers?

Zimmerman: It might be easy to take the Eastern Conference’s odds favorite and pick the Milwaukee Bucks to take the title, but I have to pump the brakes on them with the loss of Malcolm Brogdon and belief that Giannis Antetokounmpo won’t be able to push that team over the edge until he gets a decent jump shot.

I love what the Denver Nuggets did this offseason in acquiring Jerami Grant, and their playoff run from a year ago should serve them well. They’re deep, full of role players and have dudes like Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray capable of making for big playoff moments.

Olson: Kevin stole MY Nuggets pick. I adore that squad. A comeback season from my dude Will Barton (he was SO bad last year) and breakout from either Murray (to one of the league’s best under 25) or Michael Porter Jr. (to a top-3 rookie being the athletic and big perimeter ball-handler Denver needs) is all they require for a Finals run if the stability holds.

After that, I’m going with the Philadelphia 76ers. They are a matchup nightmare a nightmare factory spent years crafting. Tobias Harris is going to eat now that he’s settled in. Josh Richardson is not actually just good, but really good. Ben Simmons is a two-way playmaking monster. Al Horford, still pretty good too, and if Joel Embiid can better pace himself through the season and turn it on around April, they will ruin everyone in the East with lethal swiftness. Also, Mattise Thybulle.

What’s the one acquisition or general story that is being too overlooked after an offseason filled with them?

Olson: We went through a weird six weeks with Leonard where he was taking over postseason games in a way we’ve only seen a few times in decades, declaring him as arguably the best player in the NBA.

Then the trade happens, he gets to team up with PAUL GEORGE AND a 48-win Clippers team that is mostly intact. Fast forward a few months later and they aren’t the clear title favorites? Seriously?

I know I just talked about the Lakers above, but from a narrative perspective, it’s strange to me how this isn’t one.

In the past eight NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors have won three, James’ teams have also won three and Leonard’s two.

Leonard is just now is hitting his prime at 28 years old. The Clippers are clearly the pick.

Zimmerman: It’s hard to pinpoint one after one of the most wild offseasons we’ve seen, but the Portland Trail Blazers are running it back and — like every one of the last few years — is being overlooked. Did anyone remember they traded for Hassan Whiteside this summer? Adding an elite defensive center to a team with two of the best guards in the league should be getting more headlines.

Who are the three teams you are the most interested in this season?

Zimmerman: Warriors (Steph Curry can go nuclear factor), Mavericks (Luka-Porzingis-Carlisle) and Pelicans (Zion and Zo).

Olson: We both already mentioned Denver.

I have the same dilemma with them as I do with New Orleans. Jrue Holiday is one of my favorite players in the league and Zion is going to be a positive contributor right away. They’ve got depth too but the core of their team is relying on one of if not both of Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram to be good. Neither has been in the NBA thus far. Regardless, watching Zion with Ball and Holiday at a breakneck pace is going to be awesome.

Out of sheer curiosity, I will be closely monitoring the Golden State Warriors. It’s an incredible litmus test for how good D’Angelo Russell really is because Stephen Curry can’t go all out in every game to carry them to a playoff spot. D-Lo will have to more than do his part. And, you know, Marquese Chriss actually turning out to be competent would be something.

Rattle off all the players you are particularly transfixed on.

Olson: Rapid fire questions from me.

Are Devin Booker and Luka Doncic closer to being stars who carry bad teams to the playoffs than we think? Farther? Should I have included De’Aaron Fox and Trae Young in that group? Wait, Karl-Anthony Towns is pretty much one of those guys, right? I know Jimmy Butler is one and can do just that for the Heat but will everyone in Miami hate him too much by December? How long of Blake Griffin’s prime is left? Is Pascal Siakam really that good? Is Terry Rozier really that bad? Josh Richardson seems perfectly positioned to be the guy who pushes the 76ers over the top as the favorites out East but will Ben Simmons start shooting jumpers? They really had to my man Shai Gilgeous-Alexander like that? If another outstanding Bradley Beal season happens on a laughably irrelevant Wizards roster, does it make a sound? Did we do the full 360 degrees on Jayson Tatum and he’s back to being the dude we thought he was before the draft?

Zimmerman: Besides the obvious guys in Los Angeles, who haven’t I discussed yet? All of the Knicks’ forwards, Al Horford playing with Joel Embiid, Tomas Satoransky flying free on the Bulls, T.J. Warren on a good team, Nikola Jokic with more blubber, the wacky Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander duo, Russell Westbrook bucking the assumption he won’t help the Rockets, Dejounte Murray returning to the Spurs. Sorry, that was long. (Editor’s note: Kevin’s cute assumption on length was before he saw Kellan’s writeup.)

PICKS

West playoff teams

Olson: Nuggets, Jazz, Clippers, Rockets, Lakers, Spurs, Warriors, Pelicans

Zimmerman: Nuggets, Clippers, Rockets, Blazers, Lakers, Jazz, Warriors, Spurs

East playoff teams

Olson: Bucks, Sixers, Heat, Magic, Celtics, Raptors, Pacers, Nets

Zimmerman: Bucks, 76ers, Raptors, Celtics, Pacers, Heat, Nets, Pistons

WCF, ECF and Finals

Olson: Clippers over Lakers in 7, 76ers over Bucks in 5, Clippers over 76ers in 6

Zimmerman: Clippers over Nuggets, Bucks over Raptors, Clippers over Bucks

MVP

Olson: Anthony Davis

Zimmerman: Giannis Antetokounmpo

ROTY

Olson: Zion

Zimmerman: Williamson

DPOY

Olson: Rudy Gobert

Zimmerman: Rudy Gobert

Coach

Olson: Mike Malone

Zimmerman: Mike Malone

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