2018 NBA Power Rankings: How much does Leonard boost Raptors’ stock?

Tim Micallef returns from vacation and joins Faizal Khamisa to offer his thoughts on the trade that sent DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors.

In the big picture, the NBA’s landscape hasn’t drastically changed entering the 2018-19 season.

After an off-season featuring plenty of major names changing addresses, the Golden State Warriors remain the team to beat, with clubs like the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets nipping at their heels.

But with LeBron James in the West and Kawhi Leonard in the East, among several other moves, there’s no doubt that the league will feel different next season. How does that impact the power rankings?

Here’s a look at the 2018 off-season power rankings, reflecting all of this summer’s activity:

1. Golden State Warriors
The rich get richer. Already the favourites to repeat as champs heading into this season, the Warriors re-signed Kevin Durant and upgraded from the departed Zaza Pachulia to DeMarcus freakin’ Cousins.

Cousins’ injury will keep him sidelined until at least the new year, and perhaps even until the playoffs. It won’t slow the Dubs down from taking the West’s top seed, and will only make them that much tougher to best on either end of the floor.

2017-18 record: 58-24

2. Boston Celtics

Another year of NBA seasoning for the likes of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier is a scary notion for the rest of the East — now add a healthy Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and another strong campaign from Al Horford, and the Celtics have the makings of a juggernaut.

2017-18 record: 55-27

3. Houston Rockets

Chris Paul is returning to the fold, and Clint Cappella is expected to as well, joining James Harden to bring back the West’s top seed last season. But departures of key role players Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute could hurt Houston’s chances to advance past Golden State in the playoffs.

2017-18 record: 65-17

4. Toronto Raptors

Working under the pretense that Kawhi Leonard is at full strength to start the season, the Raptors are comfortably the East’s second-best team that has the players and depth to go toe-to-toe with Boston.

The 2018-19 Raptors are the closest the franchise has ever been to a potential Finals berth.

2017-18 record: 59-23

5. Los Angeles Lakers

This might feel a bit high, but LeBron James forces you to reconsider the ceiling of a team that won only 35 games last season. The Lakers’ roster is better than Cleveland’s last year, and while they may not be built to go deep in the playoffs quite yet, there’ll be plenty of winning during LeBron’s first year in L.A.

2017-18 record: 35-47

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

Re-signing Paul George was monumental to the Thunder remaining a threat in the West. Throw in under-the-radar pickups like Nerlens Noel and Dennis Schroder, plus the departure of Carmelo Anthony, and Russ Westbrook, Steven Adams & Co. shouldn’t be overlooked.

2017-18 record: 48-34

7. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers can say with confidence that they are at least the third-best team in the East heading into the season, with a decent gap separating them and the rest of the pack. With no major off-season acquisitions, the Sixers are banking on continued development of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, plus a breakout year from 2017 1st overall pick Markelle Fultz.

2017-18 record: 52-30

8. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs may have lost the best player in the Kawhi Leonard-DeMar DeRozan trade, but they’ll still stand to improve as a result.

A lineup built around the duo of DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, along with a deep roster of well-fitting role players should keep the Spurs as sneaky-contenders in the West and a good bet to outperform their spot on this list. It would not surprise me to see this team finish second in their conference.

2017-18 record: 47-35

9. Utah Jazz

After keeping their nucleus intact, look for Utah to continue to build off a surprising and impressive 2017-18 campaign centred around rising star Donovan Mitchell and one of the NBA’s most feared defences.

2017-18 record: 48-34

10. New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis and the Pelicans put the NBA on notice down the stretch last season and should continue to build on that in 2018-19. Rajon Rondo, now a Laker, was a key piece for them down the stretch but the addition of big man Julius Randle should give the team a boost. They are still looking for a reliable scorer on the wing.

2017-18 record: 48-34

11. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers surprised everybody last season, while Victor Oladipo emerged as a legit No. 1 option. The team made a number of nice additions this summer, including Tyreke Evans and Kyle O’Quinn, and should be a top-four seed in the East.

2017-18 record: 48-34

12. Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo may be the East’s best player, but the team around him still leaves a lot to be desired. The Eric Bledsoe experiment didn’t really work out, but Khris Middleton took a step forward and newly-signed Brook Lopez is a complementary big man who can spread the floor from the centre position.

2017-18 record: 44-38

13. Denver Nuggets

Who knows what to expect from Isaiah Thomas next season, but regardless the Nuggets should be competitive after retaining key free agents Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris and Will Barton. Rookie Michael Porter Jr., and whether or not he hits the floor, is Denver’s wild card.

2017-18 record: 46-36

14. Miami Heat

A team with no standout star but plenty of good players on the roster should continue to standout in the East, although the future of well-paid, underperforming centre Hassan Whiteside will dictate what direction Miami heads going forward.

2017-18 record: 44-38

15. Portland Trail Blazers

Portland will win games and outscore most opponents thanks to their potent backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but their post-season prospects remain bleak with their current core. Losing a pair of important role players in Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier doesn’t help.

2017-18 record: 49-33

16. Memphis Grizzlies

Rookie big man Jaren Jackson Jr. was a revelation at the Summer League and forms a scary front-court alongside Marc Gasol. Throw in a healthy Mike Conley and a supporting cast featuring Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks and Garrett Temple, and this team could surprise teams in the West.

2017-18 record: 22-60

17. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers lost DeAndre Jordan and are invested in rookie Canadian point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. That isn’t a win-now formula, but there is enough talent on the roster (Lou Williams, Tobias Harris) to keep the Clips in playoff contention.

2017-18 record: 42-40

18. Minnesota Timberwolves

Jimmy Butler turned down a lucrative four-year extension offer from Minnesota this summer, and maybe he’s onto something. The Timberwolves have talent up front, but questions about the drive and work ethic of high-paid stars Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns may limit Minny’s potential.

2017-18 record: 47-35

19. Washington Wizards

If it weren’t for the glut of bad teams listed below, the Wizards would have fallen further. The team shipped out Marcin Gortat, who bashed heads with John Wall, and replaced him with Dwight Howard. The addition of Austin Rivers helps Washington’s depth problem, but it’s hard to buy into the Wizards being anything other than a first-round flameout once again.

2017-18 record: 43-39

20. Detroit Pistons

Dwane Casey’s newest roster leaves plenty to be desired. He should help the Pistons improve defensively, and will be tasked with getting the most out of the imperfect pairing of Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin.

2017-18 record: 39-43

21. Cleveland Cavaliers

Kevin Love is still one of the top players in the East, and rookie point guard Collin Sexton looks like he may be good enough to build around. Still, the playoffs look like they’ll be firmly in the rearview mirror following LeBron’s departure.

2017-18 record: 50-32

22. Dallas Mavericks

Rookie Luka Doncic, the Slovenian phenom, is a game-changing talent. The Mavs’ backcourt of Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. will be exciting to watch, and signing DeAndre Jordan will keep Dallas out of contention for a top pick, but there’s not enough here to fight for the playoffs either.

2017-18 record: 24-58

23. Charlotte Hornets

Another disappointing off-season in Charlotte, in which the team swapped Dwight Howard with Bismack Biyombo. Their biggest addition is rookie Miles Bridges, who will get plenty of touches in Year 1 as the Hornets continue to look for a co-star alongside Kemba Walker.

2017-18 record: 36-46

24. New York Knicks

The Kevin Knox era will be a ton of fun to watch. The Knicks are genuinely building something with a clear vision with a roster of lengthy, athletic young players who can defend and cause matchup problems at virtually every position.

2017-18 record: 29-53

25. Chicago Bulls

The Bulls’ rebuild is in full effect, and rookie big man Wendell Carter Jr. should be a perfect fit alongside Lauri Markkanen. The team overpaid to keep Zach LaVine, and the Jabari Parker signing is questionable (although low-risk on a one-year deal), but keep your eyes on the progression of their front-court — the key to their future.

2017-18 record: 27-55

26. Phoenix Suns

The future is bright in Phoenix, with a team centred around Devin Booker, first-overall pick DeAndre Ayton and Josh Jackson. It’s as promising a nucleus as there is in the NBA, but don’t expect on-court success anytime soon. Highlights? Yes. Wins? Not so much.

2017-18 record: 21-61

27. Orlando Magic

Somehow the Magic STILL don’t have a serviceable starting point guard. It’ll limit them next season, but fans will still have plenty to be excited about given their ultra-long and athletic front court of Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and rookie centre Mo Bamba.

2017-18 record: 25-57

28. Brooklyn Nets

The Nets won’t be very good, and that’s sort of the point as the team should have plenty of cap space going forward and will (finally) own the rights to their own first-round draft pick, which could fall in the top three.

2017-18 record: 28-54

29. Sacramento Kings

Marvin Bagley III, the second overall pick in the draft, struggled mightily at Summer League and the team struck out on adding a scorer in the back-court. It’ll be another long season in Sacramento as the team continues to find out who is worth keeping as it searches for an identity and potential future stars.

2017-18 record: 27-55

30. Atlanta Hawks

A familiar spot for the East’s worst team last season, the Hawks should be contenders for a top draft pick once again. This year they drafted Luka Doncic third overall and traded him for fifth pick Trae Young. Young will have full control of the steering wheel in Atlanta, and will hit plenty of speed bumps along the way.

2017-18 record: 24-58

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.