I hate to be the messenger of bad news, but there is a chance, however slim, that the Spurs will not repeat as champions this June. Are you sitting down? I feel like you should probably be sitting down. I don't wish to make anyone upset, but there's nothing wrong with having a bit of pragmatism in your life, just to steel you emotionally for the possibility of negative outcomes. Gregg Popovich is one of the world's great pragmatists, and his life seems to be going swell, so perhaps we should try it a bit too.
Just for the sake of argument, let's play devil's advocate and engage in a hypothetical where the Spurs don't win it this year. Blame injuries or a dumb foul or a lucky shot -- whichever scenario derailed past San Antonio efforts to repeat. (Note: I've long maintained that none of those three teams were good enough to win it all had they even made the Finals, but some of you may disagree.) This exercise assumes that the Spurs aren't winning for whatever reason, and someone's just put a gun to my head to force me to pick somebody else to win from among the other 15 hopefuls. Well, I'm going the extra mile and not just picking a team, but ranking them all.
Pros: They play a fun, open style, with a fast pace and plenty of ball movement. Almost everyone on the roster is likable. They're coached by Steve Kerr, who's not only one of ours, but engaging and friendly with the press, proving that you don't have to be like Bill Belichick to win big in this business. Golden State winning it all would make Mark Jackson look particularly bad, which I would enjoy for some reason. Last but not least, the Warriors have a passionate fan-base and they haven't won a championship since before Tim Duncan was born. They're long overdue for one.
Cons: I'm not particularly fond of Klay Thompson and I'd probably be a little grouchy afterward about the media darling team winning it all. It would create bitterness and resentment and like three columns J.R. Wilco would never let see the light of day. Let's move on.
The next few teams will all be from the Eastern Conference. Are you one of those "Well if the Spurs can't win, I'll root for the Western Conference, especially the Southwest Division teams, to represent us" types? Because I'm not.
Pros: Another one of ours in Mike Budenholzer (plus Danny Ferry, though nobody wants to mention him at the moment) and a championship for the Hawks would be a championship for team basketball. No unlikables on the roster. They would make a lot of talking heads who are on the "their lack of talent won't take them far in the playoffs" track look dumb, and that would bring me pleasure. They would have terrible ratings in the Finals and I'd find that morbidly vindicating. I love their court design and wish they'd bring the old unis back.
Cons: If the system wins without having any all-timers on the roster like a Duncan or a Manu Ginobili or a Tony Parker, then it'd be bittersweet in a way, like it'd diminish their careers a tad. I can't lie, I'm a bit ambivalent about the Hawks. They're a long-suffering franchise in that they've never won a title, but it seems a bit like their fans are bandwagoning at the moment.
Pros: It'd be a nice redemption story for Derrick Rose, not to mention Pau Gasol, a long-time favorite of Stampler. I've also been a fan of Joakim Noah forever and am warming up to Jimmy Butler as well. I just really like their roster, top to bottom. And they probably have the best logo in the NBA.
Cons: I find their front office scummy for the way they treated Luol Deng. I'm not a fan of Tom Thibodeau's methods. I like his no-excuses style when it comes to injuries, but the way he plays his guys to death might set a bad precedent should they win it.
Pros: John Wall and Marcin Gortat are two of my favorites. DeJuan Blair could get a ring. It'd make them more appealing for Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016. I'm basically for any scenario where he leaves OKC. The Wizards are another franchise who haven't won it since the 70's. It'd make Colin Cowherd look really, really, stupid.
Cons: I'm not sure I could stand all the love sonnets Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe would pen about Paul Pierce. Also, I find Kris Humphries gross.
Pros: I love the idea of a Canadian city winning the championship. I don't actively dislike any of their players though am not a huge fan of any either. The "We the North" thing is kind of cool, even though it's liberally borrowed from Game of Thrones. It'd make the fellas on The Basketball Jones (I'll never call them The Starters) really happy. They would absolutely be ratings poison. Their fans love Matt Bonner and Cory Joseph and are supportive of the Spurs in general.
Cons: Tyler Hansbrough is a bit of a goon. I found Kyle Lowry quite annoying when he was a Rocket. The team was literally named after the main antagonists from Jurassic Park. I still can't make up my mind whether I really like the guys from The Basketball Jones or not.
Pros: Everybody would lose their minds and nothing in the world would make sense anymore. I like chaos. Ersan Ilyasova would be my first countryman to win a championship. Everybody likes Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jared Dudley seems like a cool dude. "Fear the Deer" is a catchy slogan.
Cons: Terribly drab uniforms. Kenyon Martin. I categorically cannot support any enterprise where the word "Mayo" is prominently involved. Or a "Bayless" for that matter.
Pro: Likable players, fun team to watch, long-suffering, passionate fans, prominent SBNation presence.
Cons: I dislike their announcing team. I don't want to see Chris Kaman on my television for two months. It would shrink the odds of LaMarcus Aldridge becoming a Spur from .01 percent to zero percent.
Pros: I like their "Grit & Grind" style, love what they stand for, and am a big fan of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. They jettisoned Tayshaun Prince and fired Lionel Hollins, moves I give them gold stars for. They hired John Hollinger to the front office. Beno Udrih is their backup point guard! More non-Spurs-related ratings death.
Cons: I'm still not sure if I've forgiven Tony Allen for that flop against Ginobili in the Western Conference Finals in 2013. The same .01 percent to zero percent thing I mentioned for Aldridge applies here to Gasol. I'm not on best terms with their biggest fan online (and I don't mean Justin Timberlake).
Pros: It would make Jesus Gomez very happy and I'm a big fan of Jesus. I like Omer Asik and Ryan Anderson could probably use a little happiness in his life. It would lead to all sorts of "Is Anthony Davis" better than LeBron or KD?" columns which I'd enjoy. Monty Williams is another one of ours.
Cons: I've never cared for Eric Gordon. I'd worry about Jesus breaking up with Manu for good, perhaps conjuring up photoshops of Davis with Ginobili's haircut from 2005. It'd be quite the existential crisis for him.
10. Dallas Mavericks
Pros: Love Dirk Nowitzki, love Rick Carlisle, and like Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea. I've always been a huge Rajon Rondo fan though I'm come around to realizing he's wildly overrated, kind of like Allen Iverson was, but in a totally different way.
Cons: Mark Cuban, need I say more? Also, He Who Shall Not Be Named is on the roster. And Chandler Parsons' whole existence inspires all kinds of jealousy within me I should probably speak to a therapist about.
11. Phoenix Suns
Pros: I like Goran Dragic a lot, I like their playing style and they're not any of the teams below them on the list.
Cons: Dragic may not be a Sun by the time you read this and I dislike almost everything else about Phoenix, from their state politics, to their fans, to their announcers. Even their airport is terrible.
If you have a soft spot in your heart for any of the following teams, then it's unlikely that we'll ever be friends.
Pros: DeAndre Jordan is okay, I guess. They upgraded their owner somewhat.
Cons: Literally everything else. Two months of Bill Simmons columns where he attends their playoff games, smugly reminds you how neat it is to be him and shamelessly pretends like he saw their postseason run coming the whole time.
13. Houston Rockets
Pros: I like most of their role players, though Patrick Beverley is a bit spazzy. GM Daryl Morey would be vindicated.
Cons: I really dislike their two best players, to the point of them almost giving me facial tics. They have, without question, the worst announcing team in the NBA. GM Daryl Morey would be vindicated. I don't need to see any more columns about the James Harden trade.
Pros: It'd be nice for the people of Cleveland.
Pros: I'd probably lose some weight after six months without any appetite at all.
Cons: I'd probably have to visit the doctor about that.