Ranking the 10 best starting lineups in the NBA

Now that the bulk of free agency is over and only a few star players remain on the trade block, we have a solid understanding of what teams will look like next season.

It was a whirlwind around the Association in free agency. The Los Angeles Lakers added the biggest prize in that of LeBron James. Meanwhile, the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors picked up one of the game’s best bigs, DeMarcus Cousins, on the cheap.

This further created imbalance between the Eastern and Western conferences. Adding to this was the ability of the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder to retain Chris Paul and Paul George, respectively.

It’s in this that we look at the top-10 starting lineups in the NBA following free agency.

1. Golden State Warriors

Lineup: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant

Even with Cousins likely out through the midway point of the coming season, this is still undoubtedly the best lineup in the Association. Jordan Bell will likely hold down the starting job until Cousins returns. He’s among the best young bigs in the game. Once Cousins returns, this lineup could very well be the best in Association history.

We’re talking about three players who averaged 25-plus points per game last season. Two of them — Curry and Durant — being former NBA MVPs. The others not mentioned above? All-Stars and elite defensive forces Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. This is next level absurd, and the NBA world doesn’t seem to be too happy with it. That’s what happens when you’ve won three of the past four titles and have taken the whole super team mantra to a new level.

2. Boston Celtics

Lineup: Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum

This lineup could go any number of ways. That’s what makes Boston so darn formidable back east. It can start both Marcus Smart (should he re-sign) and Terry Rozier in the backcourt. Marcus Morris becomes an option at the three should anything happen with Tatum (mainly talking trade there). Such is the nature of the beast for a Celtics squad that was one win from the NBA Finals last year with both Irving and Hayward sidelined.

Even if the Celtics don’t make a blockbuster trade between now and opening night, they have to be considered odds-on favorites back east. The presence of both Brown and Tatum on this roster certainly can’t be overstated. The two youngsters averaged a combined 28.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and shot at a 47 percent clip from the field last season. Adding two All-Stars in Irving and Hayward to the mix only makes this lineup that much stronger.

3. Philadelphia 76ers

Lineup: Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Robert Covington

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons might be the next dynamic duo.

Philadelphia did well to add Wilson Chandler and Nemanja Bjelica to its rotation. But these aren’t the eye-opening moves that most anticipated heading into the summer. Fans were excited about the possibility of picking up either LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard (who’s still reportedly a possibility). As most will tell you within this organization, it’s all about the process. It’s in this that Philadelphia still boasts one of the most-talented rosters in the entire Association.

It starts with the duo of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, both of whom put up stellar 2017-18 campaigns. They are the true building blocks moving forward. Retaining Redick and his outside shooting ability also helped here big time. The only question moving forward is whether Philadelphia will move Saric and/or Covington along with other assets to upgrade the starting frontcourt.

4. Los Angeles Lakers

Lineup: Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, Brandon Ingram, LeBron James

Even LeBron will tell you that this lineup is a work in progress after he shocked the NBA world by signing with the Lakers. Will fellow recent acquisition Rajon Rondo beat out Lonzo Ball for the starting point guard job? Are JaVale McGee and Ivica Zubac realistic options at center now that the Lakers didn’t land DeMarcus Cousins? Will Brandon Ingram or Kyle Kuzma start at the four? That’s a lot of questions with pretty much everything decided from a roster standpoint.

Certainly, the Lakers will continue to be linked to Kawhi Leonard in trade talks. That would change the entire dynamic here. But for now, Los Angeles has the planet’s best player in LeBron and a bunch of high-upside youngsters looking to mesh. It’s going go be an interesting ride in Hollywood. That’s for sure.

5. Houston Rockets

Lineup: Chris Paul, James Harden, Clint Capela, Ryan Anderson, P.J. Tucker

Assuming restricted free agent Clint Capela returns (he will), Houston will continue to boast one of the best starting lineups in the game. It includes former NBA MVP James Harden and a recently extended Chris Paul. Both are future Hall of Famers. Capela, 24, emerged big time for Houston last season, averaging 13.9 points and 10.8 rebounds while shooting at an NBA-best 65 percent from the field.

The two question marks here are in the frontcourt with Anderson and Tucker. We’re not even sure at this point if Anderson will be with the team. Houston could even go with a three-guard lineup by starting Eric Gordon with Paul and Harden. Even then, there’s some concern after losing Trevor Ariza in free agency.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

Lineup: Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Steven Adams, Jerami Grant, Paul George

We’re going to assume for a second that Carmelo Anthony is done in Oklahoma City. Suggestions are that the team is going to buy him out. If so, the recently re-signed Jerami Grant will take over starting duties. Grant, 24, averaged 8.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. He’s an upgrade over Melo from an overall basketball standpoint.

But in reality, it’s all about Russ and George here. Oklahoma City committed a ton of cash by re-signing George in free agency. This came after the Thunder’s disappointing first-round playoff exit last season. The talent is certainly here to compete, but OKC must do a better job meshing together to have a chance out west.

7. Dallas Mavericks

Lineup: Dennis Smith Jr., Luka Doncic, DeAndre Jordan, Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews

Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic

Depending on the maturation of Doncic during his rookie season, this lineup could help Dallas to a playoff spot after a one-year hiatus. Here’s a dude that earned the EuroLeague MVP as a teenager last season. That’s some absurd stuff. He’s joined in the backcourt by rising sophomore Dennis Smith Jr., who averaged 15.2 points and 5.2 assists last season. That’s a tremendous young tandem to build around moving forward.

Though, the addition of former NBA Defensive Player of the Year DeAndre Jordan changes pretty much everything on the court. Add in Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews in the frontcourt, and this is truly one underrated unit. Barnes has averaged 19 points per game in two seasons with the Mavericks, and likely won’t be tasked with providing as much of a scoring punch moving forward.

8. Washington Wizards

Lineup: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris, Otto Porter Jr.

Following yet another disappointing season in the nation’s capital, Washington sought to improve its supporting cast behind the star backcourt duo of Wall and Beal. It’s in this that the team dealt Marcin Gortat to the Los Angeles Clippers for Austin Rivers. It then replaced Gortat with an upgrade in Dwight Howard at center. On the court, that’s going to help the Wizards in a big way. Off the court and in the locker room, we have absolutely no idea how it’s going to turn out.

What we do know is that Wall and Beal are each among the top-10 players at their positions in the NBA. We also know that Porter Jr. failed to live up to expectations last season after signing a four-year, $106.5 million contract. He averaged less than 15 points. Short of Porter taking that next step, these Wizards will not be considered top-end title contenders.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves

Lineup: Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Taj Gibson, Andrew Wiggins

The potential of this starting five is untapped. We’re talking about two former No. 1 picks in Towns and Wiggins who should at this point in their careers be better all-around players. Both struggled big time on defense last season, and it seems that Butler is not happy about their effort. Whether that changes the landscape for these Wolves heading into the 2018-19 season remains to be seen. Though, there’s some pretty alarming rumors coming out of the Twin Cities.

Realistically, these Wolves should be a top-three seed out west. Butler has proven himself to be an All-NBA performer. Towns is among the most-skilled big men in the game. Meanwhile, Teague and Gibson both provide veteran leadership for the squad. It’s now all about putting everything together.

10. Denver Nuggets

Lineup: Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, Gary Harris

Denver did a world of good during free agency, retaining both Barton and Jokic as core pieces after the young squad barely missed out on the playoffs last season. Barton averaged a career-best 15.7 points while shooting at a 37 percent mark from distance last season. Meanwhile, Jokic remains one of the most skilled bigs in the game. In addition to him putting up 18.5 points per, the 23-year-old center averaged 6.1 assists per outing. That’s absurd from the center position.

If it weren’t for the injury to prized free agent acquisition Paul Millsap that cost him 44 games, Denver likely would have earned a postseason spot in 2017-18. Add in the presence of a dynamic young point guard in Jamal Murray, and these Nuggets are going somewhere next season. That’s for sure.