The 2018-19 NBA season is here. Hope springs eternal for the league’s 30 teams, most of whom believe they can win the championship, despite the Golden State Warriors adding another All-NBA talent to a team that has won three of the last four titles. We’re here to preview the season and rank every team on a scale of rational to delusional based solely on each team’s most irrationally confident quote.
30. Sacramento Kings
“You look up at the score, you’re down 30, not putting your head down and not playing hard, that’s something I try not to do. I just try to keep attacking, keep going, keep playing like it’s a tie game or like we’re winning. I think that’s the big things for us, stay positive, pick each other up, no matter what’s going on.”
— Marvin Bagley III, Kings rookie, Oct. 14
This is the most realistic assessment I’ve ever heard from anybody on any team, let alone a rookie. The Kings, who haven’t had a winning season in more than a decade, indoctrinate everybody into the harsh reality that they are going to be an abomination, even a second overall selection who flat-out said he’s better than No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton and should believe his arrival changes that culture.
Take Kings coach Dave Joerger, for example, who, when asked on media day if Sacramentoans can expect an end to that playoff drought anytime soon, could only muster this pragmatic prediction for 2018-19: “It’s a season where we’re going to commit to playing even more young guys than we have in the past. It’s an opportunity for guys to develop and it’s an opportunity for the organization to evaluate long-term which guys will still be considered a core guy two, three, four years from now.”
29. Golden State Warriors
“If we stay together, only old age will get us — and not anytime soon.”
— Draymond Green, Warriors forward, Oct. 11
Stephen Curry, another of Golden State’s five starting All-Stars, echoed that sentiment from Green, saying last week, “This league is crazy, things change from year to year, and nothing’s guaranteed obviously — but if we take care of business when it counts, in the playoffs, then we can’t be beat.”
If this were any other team, it might be wildly brash, but these are the Warriors, winners of three championships in the past four years, sandwiches around what should have been a fourth, and this is the sobering reality for the rest of the league: The biggest threat to the Warriors is the Warriors. Golden State is so good that one of the biggest internal question marks entering the season is whether or not they will place all five of their starters on the 2020 U.S. Olympic national team.
28. Atlanta Hawks
“We’re starting out with four guys that have never played an NBA game. How much better can they be at the end of the year and at their position what are they capable of doing? The goal is to upward mobility. The reality is you’re going to have some good nights, some bad nights, some stretches when you’re rolling and some stretches when you’re not.”
— Lloyd Pierce, Hawks coach, Sept. 24
The Hawks aren’t kidding anybody. This team is going to be bad. Real bad. Maybe worst-team-in-the-NBA bad. They’re not pretending they’re a playoff team. The best outcome this season is improvement from their recent lottery picks, followed by the welcome addition of a couple more as high in the draft as possible. If the Hawks could openly discuss this strategy without warranting hefty fines, they might.
The boldest claim from Atlanta this preseason was promising third-year forward Taurean Prince proclaiming, “I think I can be up there with the All-Stars and the best in the league. There’s no doubt in my mind.” Even he conceded “it’ll take a minute” to find that ceiling for himself, while the Hawks are better off setting goals “to get better” and “play hard as hell” rather than assigning any win total.
27. San Antonio Spurs
“The goal will be the same as it has been every year. We want to be the best team we can be as the playoffs roll around. Get into the playoffs and do the best job we can.” — Gregg Popovich, Spurs coach, Oct. 9
This is as bold as it gets for Popovich, a legendary coach known for terse assessments of his own team and thoughtful analysis about everything else. The Spurs have made the playoffs 21 straight times, and Popovich said this before his top two starting point guard candidates suffered significant injuries, but there is some question as to whether San Antonio makes it 22 in a row. Even still, this is no playoff guarantee from the 69-year-old coach, just hopeful thinking from a man who’s earned the right to be.
26. Brooklyn Nets
“Do you really think I’m gonna sit here and think that the Knicks are going to be better than us this year? We had almost the same record last year and their best player is not gonna be playing until like February. This is no shot at the Knicks. I respect everybody in the NBA, so let’s get that straight. Everybody, respect you. I just don’t feel like they’re gonna be better than us. So when I said what I said, it wasn’t to say, ‘Hey we gonna beat the Warriors.’ I didn’t say none of that. I said we’re better than the Knicks.”
— Spencer Dinwiddie, Nets guard, Oct. 13
There are few sadder commentaries on the state of New York basketball than the Nets setting the very reasonable goal of being better than the Knicks — and this still being a matter of debate.
25. Houston Rockets
“I don’t think we’ll be satisfied with anything less than a championship.”
— Mike D’Antoni, Rockets coach, Oct. 11
This is a common sentiment around the Rockets. And why shouldn’t it be? When asked about Houston’s expectations for this season, reigning MVP James Harden laughed and said “championship” over and over. Eric Gordon agreed, as did Carmelo Anthony, whose arrival is one of the few reasons people are doubting this team’s ability to push the Warriors as far as they did last season, when an injury to Chris Paul late in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals fueled a blown 3-2 series lead.
Despite the losses of gritty wings Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, cornerstones of last year’s defensive improvement, the Rockets should absolutely be disappointed with anything less than a championship. They’re going to be disappointed, but still, that’s no reason to set the goal again.
24. Utah Jazz
“We can go as far as we want to go. We control our own destiny.”
— Donovan Mitchell, Jazz guard, Oct. 13
Besides the fact that, if destiny is a thing, you literally can’t control it, the Jazz are among the NBA’s short list of realistic challengers to the Warriors, even if they’re not all that realistic, so this isn’t exactly going out on a limb. Despite Mitchell’s cliched proclamation, the Jazz are taking a cue from coach Quin Snyder and remaining levelheaded about the daunting task ahead of them in the West. As Utah center Rudy Gobert said, “I might win a championship. I might win two or three. I might not.”
23. Milwaukee Bucks
“Look, last year I was massively depressed when we lost Game 7 (to Boston). I thought it was a series we should have won and we didn’t. You look at this year and you’re hoping to get, if not to the second round, you’re hoping to get to the Eastern Conference finals. I think everybody wants the same thing. I think we’re in the position to be there and hopefully we’ll get there.
“You can make an argument that we’re No. 1, 2, 3 or 4. If we stay healthy and if we play to our potential, we’d be one of the top two or three teams. So, I think we’re there. It all depends sort of how the other teams do. Does Toronto mesh? Wes and I were talking about Boston earlier and the fact their younger players are going to be playing less whereas last year they played more. Is that going to create issues? There’s a lot of issues. I don’t think we have a lot of issues. I think we’re pretty good.’’
— Marc Lasry, Bucks owner, Sept. 25
I’m not sure the Bucks should have beaten the Celtics in the playoffs last season, as Giannis Antetokounmpo also suggested, but they certainly could have, and I agree with Lasry on a few points here — namely that Milwaukee has a perfectly clear shot to be one of the East’s top four seeds. Should Antetokounmpo play at an MVP level in new coach Mike Budenholzer’s pace-and-space offense, which is entirely possible, the Bucks are absolutely capable of making a run to the conference finals.
Still, it’s weird to say “we’re there” as potentially the No. 1 seed in the East, before detailing exactly how your team’s success is entirely dependent on the Raptors and Celtics failing to mesh. The Bucks have been a pillar of failing to mesh, and Khris Middleton understands this, offering a counter to his owner’s confidence: “We’ve been saying it — 50 wins, 60 wins, whatever — and it hasn’t happened yet. To me, I hate saying it, but we’ve looked like fools in the past saying we’re going to do this and that and we haven’t backed up what we’ve said.” So, it’s probably best to let performance speak for itself.
22. Los Angeles Clippers
“Our expectation is to be in the playoffs. I don’t think there’s any other way to really look at it.”
— Tobias Harris, Clippers forward, Sept. 24
The loss of DeAndre Jordan and depth of the West might make it even more of an uphill climb this year, but the Clippers were firmly in the Western Conference playoff hunt last season until they finally succumbed to a series of injuries, so playoffs isn’t out of the question for them. Clips guard Avery Bradley routinely slotted his Celtics in the Finals over the years, and even he is dialing it back a bit in Los Angeles, lowering his bar to the cliche “anything is possible for this team in the playoffs.”
This is a humbled franchise, and yet, it’s still wild to hear big man Montrezl Harrell say of an organization that has long been a speed bump on the rest of the NBA’s road to glory, “When you look up at who you’re going to play tonight and it says Los Angeles Clippers you just go into the game like, ‘Man, we got to play them? Man, this is going to be a fight tonight.’ That’s just who we want to be.”
21. Boston Celtics
“Can we beat Golden State in a seven-game series? Yes.”
— Kyrie Irving, Celtics point guard, Sept. 21
That’s quite a claim, even if the Celtics are heavily favored to emerge from the East, and Irving knows it, which is why he couched that statement by calling the Warriors “a powerhouse” and acknowledging “we have to grow immensely in the next six months to beat them consistently.” If anybody knows what it takes to top Golden State, it’s Irving, and if any team is capable of beating the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s probably the Celtics. This is fairly sane commentary from somebody not known for it.
The confidence is real in Boston, where Jaylen Brown also proclaimed, “Oh, we’re getting to the Finals. No question about it,” adding that he was “kind of mad” LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers, “because we feel that whether he was there or wasn’t there, we were coming out” of the East. That’s presumptuous, since LeBron won the conference every year since Brown was in grade school, but it’s also not irrational, since the C’s pushed the Cavs to seven games without Irving and Gordon Hayward.
20. Toronto Raptors
“First off, 60 wins. We fell a game short last year. And in the playoffs, win a championship. I feel like each year I’ve been here that’s been our goal, but I think it’s more realistic now.”
— Delon Wright, Raptors guard, Sept. 26
“Sixty [wins]? I’m talking about championship,” added Norman Powell.
They were joined by a chorus of Raptors who believe, after swapping DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard this past summer, they are primed to win a title. This despite getting swept in the second round by a Cavaliers team that narrowly escaped playoff series losses to the Pacers and Celtics.
Toronto perennially feels disrespected, and this time they might be right. I have no reason to doubt a 59-win team that added an MVP candidate, save for concerns about Leonard’s health and commitment to the team, but here I am, thinking they’ll take a step back this season. Despite the opinions of often-wrong sportswriters, the Raptors should think they can win this year, so I can’t begrudge them
19. Indiana Pacers
“We all feel like we can be No. 1. We feel like the East’s open. A lot of people know Boston is good, but we feel like we can beat any team and compete with any team. Our mindset every night is to go out there and just play with heart, knowing that we can win the game. We don’t look as nobody, no team, as better than us. That’s what I like about this team. We go with the mindset that we can compete with anybody we’re playing and we can win any game if we play hard.”
— Tyreke Evans, Pacers guard, Oct. 5
In a sense, Evans is right. The Pacers also pushed the Cavaliers to a seventh game last season, and they added a few intriguing pieces around All-NBA guard Victor Oladipo, including Evans, so there’s no reason for Indiana to believe it can’t compete with any team on a given night. At the same time, superior effort can only overcome so much, and there’s still a serious talent disparity between the Pacers and the Eastern elite, so carrying the day over the course of a season or series is a lot harder.
The Pacers are as much a candidate to fall back to the pack as they are to take another step toward legitimacy, but you have to respect Evans for maintaining this level of irrational confidence in the face of a nine-year NBA career that has seen all of four playoff games and precisely zero playoff victories.
18. Los Angeles Lakers
“September, probably not [a championship contender]. Do I think come April, come playoff months? Absolutely I think we are. It takes time. You never just put a team together and they’re instantly a championship contender. That’s what the regular season is going to be all about this year. That’s what these guys coming in every day, playing together, getting to know each other, lifting weights together, is about. I think by the time the season comes and goes and we get towards the playoffs, if all goes the way we plan, then yeah, I truly believe we are.”
— Luke Walton, Lakers coach, Sept. 16
There is a growing faction of folks who believe the Lakers won’t make the playoffs this season, let alone compete for a championship, what with the wealth of inexperienced young talent and oddball veteran contributors around newly acquired superstar LeBron James. Yet, even James, who should be supremely confident after reaching eight straight Finals, can’t bring himself to reach Walton’s level.
“We’ve got a long way to go to get to Golden State,” James said on media day, tempering expectations a week after Walton’s bold claim. “They can pick up right where they left off. … We’re picking up from scratch, so we have a long way to go. We can’t worry about what Golden State is doing. Golden State is Golden State and they’re the champions and they’ve been together for a few years now. We put that to the side. We can only focus on what we can do to get better as a Lakers franchise, and hopefully someday we can put ourselves in a position where we can compete for a championship.”
Methinks this won’t be the last time LeBron corrects Walton this season.
17. Miami Heat
“I know that [Bam Adebayo] is gonna be the best player in our organization. He will lead our franchise one day to the promised land.”
— Alonzo Mourning, Heat scout (and legend), Oct. 10
Wait, what? Adebayo is a promising young player, but I honestly thought that was a made-up quote from Zo, until I saw video of him fixing his mouth to make one truly wild prediction. Bam may one day be the best player on the Heat, but if he is, they won’t be reaching the promised land anytime soon.
Another Heat legend, Dwyane Wade, who remains on the team, even if he discusses the team as though he’s not, had a far tamer expectation level for a roster that earned a sixth seed last season.
“They want to be competitive,” the retirement touring Wade said. “We’re not just coming in saying, ‘Hey, we’re just going to keep growing every year.’ No, they want to get to the playoffs, they want to win in the playoffs, they want to go further and further. That’s what we’re going to go through this year.”
Personally, I feel like Goran Dragic, the best player in the organization right now, probably, had the most realistic assessment of the Heat: “I think we’re going to be good.” Good, not promised-land good.
16. Dallas Mavericks
“If you’re not thinking ‘Why not us?’ regardless of the Rockets and Golden State — if you go in with the mind-set of, ‘oh, we can make the eight seed,’ then I think we’re already in a bad place. We want to come out here and strive for something that’s bigger than that. We don’t want to just make the playoffs.”
— DeAndre Jordan, Mavericks center, Oct. 10
You have to appreciate that Jordan — the same guy who annually failed to meet expectations with fellow All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on the Los Angeles Clippers — believes his success against the West elite will be different now that he’s joined a Mavericks team that won 24 games last season.
Listen, I’m all for the Mavs being a pleasant surprise this season, what with the additions of Jordan and European wunderkind Luka Doncic over the summer, but coach Rick Carlisle provided a far more realistic response to the possibility of Dallas making the playoffs for the first time since Dirk Nowitzki was still in his mid-30s: “We haven’t done anything yet with this group. So we got a lot of work to do.”
15. Denver Nuggets
“I would say my personal goals for the team is to win an NBA championship, and that’s just because I’ve never been one to shy away from having the biggest goals possible. I remember my high-school team was 3-21 the year before we came and the first day of practice I told the team our goal is to win a national championship and be the best team. Other people hearing that would’ve never thought that, but that’s just how I am. We went undefeated that year and so for this team I would say the goal is to definitely be a playoff team but taking it even further for me, I want us to win the whole thing. I don’t see … I mean everybody has to get on the basketball court and play, you know what I mean?”
— Michael Porter Jr., Nuggets forward, Oct. 11
Porter made the media rounds over the past week, telling every outlet what he’s apparently told his teammates: “We want to make the playoffs. (But) I always tell the guys, ‘Why not take it a step further and try to win a championship?’” All this while saying in one breath he will win Rookie of the Year and acknowledging in another he may not play at all this season. That is elite-level irrational confidence.
The Nuggets most definitely should make the playoffs after narrowly missing the eighth seed the last two seasons, but I’d say there’s a different between Porter transforming a three-win high school team into a championship outfit overnight, thanks to a handful of elite prospect transfers, and an NBA team making the leap from the lottery to title contention by adding a few injury-plagued players to the mix.
14. Detroit Pistons
“The time is now. We have everything we need to be a great team. There’s no reason why we can’t be a top team in the East, or a top team in the NBA. We have all the tools, one of the best coaching staffs in the NBA. The time is now to be great, so why can’t we do it now?”
— Andre Drummond, Pistons center, Sept. 25
Well, for starters, Andre, you’re returning the same core that finished last year’s 39-win season, you still don’t have much shooting on an oddly constructed roster for the modern era, and you haven’t been a top team in the East since Chauncey Billups left town a decade ago. I like the Pistons well enough to consider them a fringe playoff team in an Eastern Conference with only a handful of capable rosters, but Drummond is talking some nonsense now, and he’s not the only one in Detroit.
“Our expectations should be high,” recently acquired Pistons forward Blake Griffin added. “In the East, with our roster, I don’t see why getting home court in the playoffs is not a reasonable expectation.”
OK, man. OK.
13. Charlotte Hornets
“I spoke at an event last night and that kind of question came up — ‘Championship, Mitch? Really?’ The only way I answered the question is I played on a team in Washington in 1978, the Bullets, and we won a championship. Our record was 44-38. And we won a championship, a world championship. Now, in the West, Portland was the best team and Bill Walton was the center, but he got hurt in March. And they won like 60 games, but he was out for the playoffs. So, all of a sudden, something that was not realistic — getting past Portland — all of a sudden, everything opened up for everybody. And we ended up playing our best basketball at that time of the year in March and April. And a team that was 44-38 ended up winning a championship.
“So, that’s how I answered the question. Get into the playoffs and then go from there. And I think this team has a realistic chance to get in.”
— Mitch Kupchak, Hornets general manager, Oct. 15
Did Kupchak just suggest that the Hornets could win it all this year, the way his Bullets did 40 years ago? I think he did. Listen, the Hornets may well reach the playoffs in the watered-down East, but in order to win a championship, not only would the reigning MVP have to suffer a season-ending injury the way Bill Walton did in 1978, half the league would need to be wiped off the face of the flat Earth.
What’s more, new Charlotte coach James Borrego seems to be in the same boat as his boss, saying, “There is no ceiling for us. People can speculate, they can talk all they want about what they think, it’s really up to us to go make it happen and there is an opportunity here in the East right now.” The opportunity for the Hornets in the East right now is to be swept as an eighth seed in the first round.
It says something about a franchise that, as the GM and coach are touting their contender status, their best player is of sounder judgment. “You see guys who are on elite teams. I don’t want to do that,” said All-Star point guard and free agent-to-be Kemba Walker. “I want to create something special here in Charlotte, something that we have never had here before. I want to create some consistency.”
12. Oklahoma City Thunder
“Absolutely [the Thunder are built to contend]. We’ve got the chemistry. Me being around these guys going on about to be two years now, there’s an expectation and a level we know we need to play at. I think the consistency part you’ll see with us now being able to play well against the sub-.500 teams. But I definitely think this team has a chance. The reason why I signed back here is because I believed in it. And everybody in here believes. It’s on us, we’ve got our work cut out and it’s not going to be easy, but we’re up for it.”
— Paul George, Thunder forward, Sept. 24
I really like the Thunder, and think they could be better than most projections, many of which already have them among the Western Conference elite, but I think George should be reminded that Oklahoma City didn’t win a playoff series last year. I’m not sure the wildcard additions of Dennis Schroder and Nerlens Noel suddenly launch them three rounds further. Hopefully he considered that before signing on for four more years of thinking the Thunder are built to contend when they’re not.
11. New Orleans Pelicans
“Since I’ve been in the NBA, I haven’t been in any type of winning environment. This is a team with aspirations of winning a championship. I’m all in for that. The leadership we have here, with Jrue (Holiday) and (Anthony Davis), and we just added Jarrett Jack, who everyone knows is a huge presence in the locker room. The veteran leadership to hold you accountable. That’s what I’m really excited about, to know we have a lot of people here who are aiming for the same goal and will hold each other accountable and make everybody better.”
— Jahlil Okafor, Pelicans forward, Sept. 25
You have to applaud Okafor, a former No. 3 overall pick who helped the 76ers tank for the first few years of his career, until they salary dumped right before they got good, for shoehorning Jarrett Jack’s arrival into a paragraph about “aspirations of winning a championship.” I think the former almost precludes the Pelicans from achieving the latter. It takes some serious irrational confidence to knock Anthony Davis’ proclamation that he’s the best player in the league down a peg, so kudos to Okafor.
10. Philadelphia Sixers
“We believe we could have played in the NBA Finals. I understand the magnitude of that statement, but I stand by it and I own it. It is our goal to go play in an NBA Final and it is a respect of championship habits, it’s a respect of each other.”
— Brett Brown, 76ers coach, Sept. 22
The 76ers have all the confidence of a team that dropped confetti at the end of regulation in a tie Game 3 against the Boston Celtics, only to have to clean it up before losing in overtime. Like their coach, fledgling Sixers stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid also believe this team is prepared to compete for a championship, even though they lost in five games to an undermanned Celtics team in the second round last season. It seems like the one person in Philadelphia who doesn’t believe the Sixers are title contenders yet is the man recently hired to ensure they eventually get there.
“I still think we need a piece,” newly hired general manager Elton Brand said upon accepting the job. “We’re close. If you ask Joel, we have enough, and if you ask Ben, we have enough, because that’s the chip they have on their shoulder. … They don’t want to hear that, but I think we still need a piece.”
How’s that for a sobering cup of reality?
9. Minnesota Timberwolves
“You f—ing need me, Scott. You can’t win without me.”
— Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves forward, Oct. 11
What a wild thing to say in front of your teammates, coaches, the front office and ownership during a practice to which you showed up late and left early. Also, what a wildly accurate thing to say. The Wolves are an entirely different animal without Butler, who has remains on the roster after repeatedly requesting a trade, despite Anthony Tolliver’s insistence that, “I think we have guys here that, if he’s not here, we can play with, and we have enough talent that we can go out and win some games.”
Yet, as accurate as this may be, few players are more irrationally confident than Butler, who carries himself like he has a handful of rings, even though he’s never been to a conference finals before.
8. Orlando Magic
“I don’t think you put limits or numbers [on things], especially as we’re just getting to know each other. But certainly I think that the potential to make the playoffs is realistic. I think that we have a number of guys who’ve had really good summers. We have some talented players, both younger and older. So depending on how things [progress], if we can develop that type of team game, there’s no reason as you look at the East that we can’t be competing for a playoff spot.”
— Steve Clifford, Magic coach, Sept. 21
Everyone in the organization, from general manager Rick Weltman to impending free agent forward Aaron Gordon, said similar things — that the Magic shouldn’t be making bold predictions, but they are going to anyway, with Gordon going so far as to say, “No matter how many losses I have. I still believe there will be a point in time where I am not only competing for championships but holding a trophy.”
Not in Orlando, my friend. Call us when your team’s not perennially picking in the top 10.
7. Memphis Grizzlies
“I’m very confident we’ll be back in the thick of things in the Western Conference, and we’ve had a lot of success against these teams over the years. We’ve done well in the playoffs against some of the top teams in the West. I think we can continue that after a year on the sidelines. We’re raring to get back into the playoffs and be a real factor again.”
— Chris Wallace, Grizzlies general manager, Sept. 24
Listen, the Grizzlies are getting back a healthy Mike Conley — who, by the way, also believes Memphis has “just as good of a shot as anybody” this season — and they’re adding a few more interesting pieces around All-Star center Marc Gasol, including lottery pick Jaren Jackson Jr., which could make them frisky on some February nights, but the rest of us buried Grit ‘n’ Grind more than a year ago.
6. Phoenix Suns
“I’m done with not making the playoffs. I’m serious. This is probably my last year ever not making the playoffs. If that’s putting pressure on myself, I’m going to take this summer and work that hard so that it doesn’t happen again.”
— Devin Booker, Suns guard, April 11
Booker said this before breaking his hand, and he hasn’t come close to matching that audaciousness since, because he’s not done missing the playoffs, but fellow young Phoenix star and No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton was there to pick up the slack, declaring himself and Booker, “Shaq and Kobe 2.0.”
This is a franchise whose GM said on media day, “Our goal is to be the most improved team in the league,” only to be fired shortly thereafter. These are marks of an A-plus irrational confidence team.
5. Chicago Bulls
“Be ready. Chicago is a big-time sports town and you deserve winners, and we’re going to try to get back to the glory days of the 1990s when you guys got spoiled.”
— Zach LaVine, Bulls guard, Sept. 10
You hear that, Chicago? LaVine believes his return to health and the arrival of fellow high-priced, balky-kneed and defensive-challenged 2014 draft class alum Jabari Parker are enough to lift these Bulls from 27-win teardown project to the shining beacon of light that Michael Jordan built into six titles. It takes some serious conceit to trump Bulls forward Bobby Portis’ playoff “guarantee” as the most irrationally confident claim out of Chicago this summer, but LaVine sure found a way.
4. Portland Trail Blazers
“Bro, we have the team. We have the capabilities. Anything is possible. We can win a championship, bro.”
— C.J. McCollum, Blazers guard, July 25
This came in response to Warriors star Kevin Durant telling McCollum on his own podcast that, “You know you guys aren’t gonna win a championship,” which was the verbal equivalent of slapping someone from a dream. If irrational confidence handed out rings, the Blazers would be a dynasty. There are few teams capable of demanding respect so soon after getting swept in the first round.
3. Washington Wizards
“I think we’re the No. 1 team. Raptors going through a little bit when they changed DeMar DeRozan but other than that, Boston has never been better than us. Record shows, but internally we don’t think they were better than us last year. You know, we just got to play up to our ability and we’re better than anybody in the East.”
— Markieff Morris, Wizards forward, Sept. 24
The Wizards are irrational confidence legends, proving themselves over and over again, most notably when John Wall and Bradley Beal spent an entire year saying LeBron’s Cavs tried to duck them in the playoffs, only to lose in the first round this past season. You’d think the Wizards might heed coach Scott Brooks’ media day advice to “stop talking,” but they managed to triple down that every same afternoon. Wall and Austin Rivers joined Morris in declaring Washington the class of the East. This may be true when it comes to irrational confidence, but they’ve yet to prove it on a basketball court.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
“We’re still four-time Eastern Conference champions. Until you take us down from that, teams ain’t got much to say. Boston, Philly — they ain’t got much to say. Boston had home court in Game 7, and lost. Philly? You guys almost got swept. Toronto? We already know that story. So until someone takes us down, there’s not much they can really say.”
— Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers forward, Sept. 27
As it turns out, Boston and Philadelphia had plenty to say in response to Thompson’s claim that the Cavaliers, without LeBron, are still the class of the East. Most notably and accurately, Celtics forward Marcus Morris responded to Thompson by saying, “Ain’t s— going through the Cavs this year!”
1. New York Knicks
“When I think about the playoffs, my nipples get hard.”
— Enes Kanter, Knicks center, Sept. 24
Ladies and gentlemen, your irrational confidence champion. Congratulations, New York.
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