When the Warriors open training camp next month -- yes, it's that soon -- they'll do so with the singular goal of winning a third straight NBA Finals. Though most observers are expecting it, the Rockets are confidently arguing otherwise.
Two months removed from taking the Warriors to the precipice in the Western Conference Finals, Houston believes it is ready to complete the job.
Boston, one game short of reaching the NBA Finals despite being without its top two players, has faith that healthy returns will push it into the championship picture.
Then there is Utah, which twice routed the Warriors in the regular season. And Oklahoma City, which split four games with the Warriors and should be improved.
So, are the Warriors automatic champs? We scan their roster as of the morning of Aug. 1, with projected starters and an unscientific ranking of what we consider the five best players at each position around the league.
Stephen Curry: The two-time MVP is the hub of the offense and the voice of moderation in the locker room. He is essential to any championship aspirations.
Ranking: 1) Curry, for obvious reasons; 2) Jrue Holiday (surprise, eh?), the league's best two-way PG; 3) Chris Paul, the No. 2 two-way PG and a good leader; 4) Kyrie Irving, sick handles and thrives in the clutch; 5) Damian Lillard, second to Curry as a pure scorer. (Note: We dock Russell Westbrook because he leads the world in turnovers (1,161) over the last three seasons.
Klay Thompson: Though his scoring averaged dropped for the first time in his career (22.3 ppg to 20.0), he reached peak efficiency and still was a two-way beast.
Ranking: 1) James Harden, who offsets occasional unreliability with dynamic scoring; 2) Thompson; 3) Jimmy Butler, who has a two-way game an MMA toughness; 4) Victor Oladipo, whose 23.1 ppg led all SGs and whose 2.36 steals per game led the NBA; 5) DeMar DeRozan, because he can hurt you in more ways than Bradley Beal.
Kevin Durant: Back-to-back Finals MVP, an elite defender when fully engaged and perhaps the most comprehensive offensive toolbox in the league has ever known.
Ranking: 1-tie) Durant, who routinely outperforms LeBron James; 1-tie) James, who routinely lifts his teams to maximum potential; 3) Paul George, a tremendous two-way player whose shot is fire or ice; 4) Kawhi Leonard, who would be higher if he had not missed nearly an entire season; 5) Otto Porter, who simply is better than you think. (Note: Gordon Hayward's status is too uncertain.)
Draymond Green: Most versatile defender in the NBA and also his team's top rebounder and chief offensive playmaker. A dangerous 3-ball would make him illegal.
Ranking: 1) Anthony Davis, a top-5 NBA talent without a discernable weakness; 2) Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is so gifted he is a top-10 player despite lacking a jump shot; 3) Green; 4) Al Horford, whose two-way skills are nothing short of magnificent; 5) LaMarcus Aldridge, a mastodon in today's game but still a load on the block or facing up.
DeMarcus Cousins: The most offensively gifted C in the league is coming off a major injury and upon returning in midseason will have to prove he's still a game-changer.
Ranking: 1) Joel Embiid, he's young and impetuous but supremely talented; 2) Nikola Jokic, whose 10 triple-doubles last season illustrate his skill at running offense; 3) Karl-Anthony Towns, double-doubles king hides soft defense with fine offense offense; 4) DeAndre Jordan, can't shoot a lick but inhales rebounds and commands the paint; 5) Cousins, who moves up if his "resurgence" is real.
Jordan Bell (C/F). Strengths: Running the floor, defensive energy, ability to play above the rim. Weaknesses: Nascent offensive arsenal, engagement consistency. He likely will open the season as the starter.
Quinn Cook (PG). Strengths: Shooting range and quickness. Weaknesses: Defensive intensity and application. He is the No. 3 PG with the scoring ability to also play off the ball.
Andre Iguodala (SF). Strengths: Two-way court awareness, intellect and defensive anticipation. Weaknesses: Scoring consistency and durability. He's still crucial to the cause, so it's imperative to keep him healthy and active.
Jacob Evans III (SG). Though it's too soon to fairly assess the rookie wing, two things are clear. His court feel is real and his jump shot is going to need a lot of work.
Jonas Jerebko (F). Strengths: Energy, ability to switch on defense and shooting from all three levels, particularly from deep. Weaknesses: Consistency. He was hired to score off the bench, an element often missing in recent seasons.
Damian Jones (C). Strengths: Athleticism and length. Weaknesses: Court awareness, prone to fouls. This is his probationary NBA season, as JaVale McGee's absence creates an opening the Warriors are hoping Jones is able to fill.
Shaun Livingston (PG). Strengths: Midrange shooting, intellect, sneaky athleticism. Weaknesses: Deep shooting, occasional lapses in defensive fundamentals. The vet is often summoned the coaching staff senses a need to restore stability.
Kevon Looney (C/F). Strengths: Fundamentals, length, wisdom beyond his years. Weaknesses: Average explosion, lack of a go-to move. He carved out a role last season and the Warriors would gladly accept a repeat performance.
Patrick McCaw (SG). While he remains unsigned, he still is more likely to return than leave. We will withhold assessment until this situation is resolved.
Even with the uncertainty around Cousins, the Warriors potentially have a top-five player at every position while no other team has more than two. But Warriors coach Steve Kerr is adamant about limiting the minutes of the starters during the regular season to keep them fresh for the playoffs.
That means the bench will have to fill in. In the best of times, the bench has been good but not exceptional. There are at least three conditions under which this component could leave the Warriors vulnerable: If Iguodala's body renders him unreliable, if Jerebko can't stretch the floor by lighting it up from deep and if the young big men can't hold it down until Cousins is ready.
In short -- and despite popular notion -- the Warriors are not a lock to win it all.