This team that won 73 games last season essentially replaced Harrison Barnes with Kevin Durant. They are supremely talented, they share the ball, and they are well coached. They can challenge their win record from last season, without even making it a priority. The bench could be a concern, but they still have Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, and they have some young, unproven players that the organization likes. Statistically, rebounding will be the major weakness, but few teams in the West can expose them there.
- San Antonio
The familiar Spurs signed Pau Gasol to replace the retired Tim Duncan which offensively could be an upgrade, but defensively Duncan will be missed. The Spurs believe Kyle Anderson can fill the role left behind by Boris Diaw. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are slowing down, but Kawhi Leonard is still one of the best players in the world. Wing Jonathan Simmons could breakout and give the backcourt a boost of energy.
Blake Griffin had a disastrous season last year; expect a bounce-back year from the All-NBA forward. The bench is still spotty, but coach Doc Rivers can squeeze a lot out of what he has. This team is getting very old, but perhaps some guys will sense that and create some urgency. On the floor this team might be the best matchup to take down the Warriors.
The Blazers are looking to build off their momentum from last year. The backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can play with anyone. The addition of Evan Turner could really strengthen the bench unit. The energy created by the young players and coach Terry Stotts is impressive.
- Oklahoma City
This is Russell Westbrook’s team now, and he says he likes his team. The addition of Victor Oladipo is helpful. Westbrook, Oladipo, and Andre Roberson have menacing potential as a perimeter defensive unit. Coach Billy Donovan will have to push them to reach that potential to make up for that group’s lack of perimeter shooting on the other end. Outside shooting will be a problem overall with the loss of Durant and Serge Ibaka. Rebounding will not be an issue, as Steven Adams and Enes Kanter are back to terrorize opponents. Rookie Domantas Sabonis has the ingredients to stand out.
The Rockets have a new coach in Mike D’Antoni, and they will try to run opponents out of the gym like his old Suns teams did. James Harden will lead the offense and put up incredible numbers. Despite all the focus being on the offense, defensively sound players like Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, Corey Brewer, and K.J. McDaniels will try to keep the Rockets competent on that end of the floor. This team will be tough but they are built for the regular season more than the postseason.
The Mavericks still cannot seem to make the big offseason acquisition that they desire to leap back into contention, but the quiet additions of Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut will help. Those two round out a good starting five, but the bench is very suspect. Rick Carlisle is an effective coach making this team still playoff-worthy, but not a threat to win the West.
The Jazz are primed for a significant improvement, but the injury to their best player Gordon Hayward will stunt that improvement early on. The additions of veterans Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson will help this team climb into the playoffs, but the playing time carved out by their numerous intriguing young players will determine exactly how good the Jazz become.
The Grizzlies’ window may have closed. They employ a handful of injury-prone players, and they are counting on a few players well over 30 years of age. New coach David Fizdale will have to inject a new energy into this club for them to return to the playoffs.
This is the team of the future, but they are still a year away from making significant noise. Karl Towns is a force, and Andrew Wiggins is a great complimentary player. New coach Tom Thibodeau will have this team playing hard, especially on the defensive end. Thibodeau will have to figure out the guard rotation with rookie Kris Dunn, talented but oft-injured Ricky Rubio, and enigmatic Zach LaVine.
- New Orleans
Anthony Davis, if he can stay healthy, will return to form as one of the best players in the league. The absence of starting point guard Jrue Holiday will hurt, and it is only compounded by the injury to Tyreke Evans. There are a lot of good young players on this team, but experiments in the backcourt like Tim Frazier, E’Twaun Moore, and most of all Lance Stephenson could get interesting. Rookie Buddy Hield will have a positive impact.
The Nuggets have a lot of talented young pieces, but it is unclear if they all fit together. It feels like this team needs to make a trade, perhaps sending away Danilo Gallinari or Kenneth Faried for some more young talent. The inside combination of Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic could eventually become monstrous.
This team will be vastly improved, although it may not show up in the standings this year. The West is tough to make a rapid rise in the ranks, and this team has a lot of inexperience that could cost them late in close games. Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram are all great pieces for the future. If D’Angelo Russell can figure it out, they will surprise a lot of people. Luke Walton is the right coach too, to get this team on the right track.
DeMarcus Cousins, when engaged, is still one of the best players in the league, an unstoppable offensive force. New coach Dave Joerger has a nice history of getting the most out of his players, but Cousins will be a new challenge. The Kings have some players who give off the vibe that they do not want to be there, and that is obviously toxic. Willie Cauley-Stein has the potential to make a leap, and now is the time. The Kings are looking at another transition year as they try to build some momentum going forward.
The Suns seem to have mortgaged the present for the future, hiring a new young coach in Earl Watson, and drafting two teen forwards in June. Devin Booker has the potential to be a great young player, but it is difficult to envision this team winning a lot of games this season.
A post-championship hangover seems imminent for the Cavs. They will also cruise through the regular season, but still have the talent to rack a win total in the mid-fifties and finish atop the Eastern Conference nevertheless. Their energy was plainly better when Tyronn Lue took over as coach, and that should carry over to this season. Depth will ultimately be a concern, as they are presently relying on a handful of thirty-somethings to bolster their bench unit.
At this point the Brad Stevens effect is obvious, and the Celtics signed Al Horford, who will easily be the best player Stevens has coached in the NBA. Horford will improve their frontcourt offense and backline defense. This team won 48 games last year, so 50 should be attainable this season. Rookie Jaylen Brown will make an impact, and the low-key signing of Gerald Green may end up being a steal once Stevens works with him.
The Hawks signed Dwight Howard after losing Horford, hoping Howard will be rejuvenated after a messy breakup with Houston. They are also counting on Dennis Schroeder to step up into the starting point guard role after trading Jeff Teague. There has been some major turnover on this roster, but they have a nice mix of veterans and hungry youth and the reins are still held by a good coach in Mike Budenholzer. They still have the potential to be a very good defensive team with Kent Bazemore and Paul Millsap in the lineup.
Optimism is high in Canada after a banner season, but this season’s version of the Raptors has some questions that last year’s version did not. Bismack Biyombo was a rebounding menace in the playoffs, but he left to sign with Orlando. Star guard Kyle Lowry wore down in the playoffs and, over 30 now, may be beginning a slow decline towards the twilight of his career. A regression seems likely, but this team will still comfortably make the playoffs.
Skepticism is abound for this team after a strange offseason, but it has created individual chips that collectively could make this a very dangerous team. Dwyane Wade is out to prove Miami made a big mistake by letting him go. Rajon Rondo is out to prove that he is still an elite point guard. Jimmy Butler is out to prove that he can lead a team. Outside shooting will be an issue, but Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott will both help by getting more playing time. The Bulls have the pieces to be a solid defensive team, Year 2 of Coach Fred Hoiberg should be much smoother than Year 1.
Health is the key for the Wizards, as the roster, when fully constituted is one of the best in the East. The primary health concern is Bradley Beal. New coach Scott Brooks will give the team new energy and a bounce-back season appears likely.
Paul George is still one of the best players in the NBA, and he will lead this otherwise unimpressive roster to well over 40 wins. The additions of Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young will allow the Pacers to play much faster, something President Larry Bird clearly wants as he split ways with former coach Frank Vogel. New coach Nate McMillan will have to prove that he is not a downgrade from the departed Vogel.
- New York
The Knicks’ major trade which acquired Derrick Rose may not have improved the team that much, but they were on track to improve anyway. The signing of another former Bull, Joakim Noah could easily have a greater impact. Bringing in veteran guards Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings will help their fight, and new coach Jeff Hornacek could be a major upgrade. Sensation Kristaps Porzingis should continue to improve and could make a major leap. The health of Noah and Carmelo Anthony is obviously paramount, but this team should be headed to the playoffs.
The Pistons have a lot going for them, not the least of which is the mind of coach Stan Van Gundy. But there are some obstacles keep them from maintaining their momentum from last season. Starting guard Reggie Jackson will miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season. There is a decided lack of perimeter shooting on this team. Overall they will be very competitive, but just miss the playoffs, perhaps because of the missed time with Jackson. Rookie Henry Ellenson is worth keeping an eye on.
It will be interesting to see how the Heat approach the season, but they have the pieces to challenge for a postseason berth. The offense can revolve around Goran Dragic, and new guard Dion Waiters is hungry to prove his worth after a season on the Thunder. Second year man Justise Winslow can improve, and coach Erik Spoelstra quietly always gets the most out of his players.
The Magic might have had the most interesting offseason in the league, but the premise is that athleticism and defense will be the focus of new coach Frank Vogel. New additions Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka will anchor the defense (Ibaka will also help with much needed three-point shooting). A healthy Evan Fournier will help in all areas. The Magic need third year point guard Elfrid Payton to improve. They may be relying too heavily on Aaron Gordon who is very talented, but whose role is unclear. Vogel could turn this team into a defensive monster.
The Hornets had a great season last year, but they lost Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee, and Jeremy Lin from that team. They will try to offset those losses with Roy Hibbert, Marco Belinelli, and Ramon Sessions. Their depth is still nice, but they seem due for a regression as the middle of the East continues to improve.
This team was primed to improve, but the injury to Khris Middleton has thrown everything off. They traded Michael Carter-Williams to Chicago for Tony Snell, and that will not net an improvement. A lot is on the shoulders of Giannis Antetokounmpo, and while he will produce, the bench is weak. The Bucks do have a lot of pieces to employ positionless basketball, a style they should experiment with because it will lead to a bright future.
The Nets have enough pieces to be much more competitive than last season. The trio of Jeremy Lin, Bojan Bogdanovich, and Brook Lopez will be a handful on offense, but they will not provide much defense. There are some interesting young pieces on the bench. If rookie Caris LeVert can get healthy he could make a splash.
The injury to Ben Simmons may set this franchise back yet another year. The start of Joel Embiid’s career will be intriguing, but there is obviously not enough room for Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor all in the post. A trade seems necessary, but regardless the Sixers do not figure to be competitive this year.