1. Miami Heat
Projected starters: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony.
The defending NBA champions only improved in the offseason when they acquired Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, who should both fit in very well with their system. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole should both be better this year after another year of experience, and the Big 3 are still three of the best players in the NBA, with Lebron James being the best player in the world. This is a team which should easily finish with the best record in the eastern conference and they are the favorite to repeat as NBA champions again.
2. Brooklyn Nets
Projected starters: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez.
You may think that I am picking the Nets to win this division and have the second best record in the eastern conference just because I am a big Nets fan, but this is not the reason. They have the most complete team in the Atlantic and have talent to compete with anybody in the eastern conference. In the offseason, Billy King carefully chose the players he wanted on the team so that no position is either overloaded or undermanned (with the exception of maybe center). I believe that with talent around him, Deron Williams will show his potential, which we have seen flashes of during his time in New Jersey, on a more consistent basis. He will be an MVP candidate. Joe Johnson will thrive in his new role of second superstar and will get more open looks than he ever had in Atlanta. Despite his recent injuries, Brook Lopez is a smart guy and he knew that he needed to improve his rebounding. He gained a lot of muscle and strength during his time off and we will see a big improvement on his rebounding this year. He should still be a force to mess with on offense, too. I don’t believe that the Nets are a championship contending team quite yet and I will be surprised to even see them in the eastern conference finals, but I do believe that they will be an excellent regular season team and will win a lot of games this year.
3. Indiana Pacers
Projected starters: George Hill, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert.
This is a very weak division and I believe that Indiana should be able to win it easily because of their depth. The Pacers already had one of the deeper teams, but they added to that in the offseason with the additions of D.J. Augustin as a backup point guard and former Net Gerald Green as a scoring option off the bench. However, they lost their starting point guard from last season, Darren Collison. George Hill will have to take over the starting pg role now, and there is a lot of pressure on him because of the contract he received from Indiana in the offseason. Speaking of big contracts, Roy Hibbert received a max deal and the Pacers are expecting big things from him as well. Indiana has a balanced front line of Hibbert, David West, and Danny Granger, with Tyler Hansbrough bringing energy off the bench. Also, I think that Paul George may have a breakout season this year and score as much as 18 ppg. Indiana proved to be a tough playoff team when they took a 2-1 series lead against Miami last season, and they won’t be any easier to deal with this year.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
Projected starters: Jrue Holiday, Jason Richardson, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Andrew Bynum.
The big move for the Sixers this offseason was obviously adding Andrew Bynum, but that is not the only reason I think they will have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Despite losing Andre Iguodala, they also added Jason Richardson and Nick Young, two talented players on offense where Philly needs more help. They also added Dorell Wright, one of the better 3-point shooters in the game. On top of that, I think this may be a breakout year for Evan Turner with Andre Iguodala out of the way. There is no reason for him not to be a full-time starter this year and average at least 15 ppg. Andrew Bynum is arguably the best center in the NBA and he also has a good amount of talent around him. Because of that, expect Philadelphia to be one of the top teams in the east this season.
5. Boston Celtics
Projected starters: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass, Kevin Garnett.
Most people are picking the Celtics to win this division and finish as high as second in the east. I agree that they are a very good team and nobody will want to face them in the playoffs, but I just don’t think they are a great regular season team. Last season, they won a much weaker Atlantic Division, but only finished 5th in the east and didn’t get home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. This year, they lost Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are another year older. So why should they have a better record than last year? Of course, they did make some good additions with Jared Sullinger in the draft and Jason Terry in free agency, but I expect Boston to rest its players towards the end of the season so they could be ready for the playoffs. All Boston cares about is making the playoffs because that is where they will do their damage. The first 82 games will just serve as preparation for those playoffs.
6. Chicago Bulls
Projected starters: Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah.
If not for the fact that Chicago finished with the best record in the eastern conference last season, I don’t think I would even consider them a playoff team. Unlike Indiana, Chicago has no depth at all. On top of that, their former MVP Derrick Rose will be out for most of the season and the rest of the roster is pretty old. My question for the Bulls is who will be the leader here? Richard Hamilton is old and very injury prone. Luol Deng cannot carry a team. Carlos Boozer is very overrated. Joakim Noah is really not that much more than a good energy player. And their best bench player is Taj Gibson, who averaged under 8 ppg last season. I still think Chicago will make the playoffs, especially if Rose can come back on schedule and healthy, but it will be a struggle for this team as it is composed now.
7. New York Knicks
Projected starters: Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler.
These Knicks are no better than the Knicks of the last two seasons. In the offseason they lost overrated players Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields and got nothing in return. To compensate, they signed ancient and washed up players Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, and Kurt Thomas. Unfortunately for the Knicks, all these players will have to play pretty big roles, which means that this team could be in trouble. Additionally, nobody in this starting lineup aside from Tyson Chandler plays any defense and this team has to hope that Chandler can recover for all the mistakes they are sure to make. Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have proved that they do not play well together and one of them may have to be traded (most likely Stoudemire) if the season is going downhill. The only player I like on the roster is Iman Shumpert, who does play excellent defense. However, his shot selection on offense is very poor like most of the other players on this team. I think that the Knicks will be able to sneak into the playoffs this year mostly riding on the offense of Carmelo Anthony. If they don’t make the playoffs, just imagine the criticism they will receive from fans and reporters.
8. Milwaukee Bucks
Projected starters: Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, Samuel Dalembert.
If Milwaukee can’t make the playoffs this season, I believe the whole team should be gutted and the Bucks should start over. However, I think they will just be able to slide in this year even though it seems like every year they finish 9th or 10th in the east. The Bucks have one of the best offensive backcourts in the NBA with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. They have a pretty strong rebounding frontline of Ersan Ilyasova, Samuel Dalembert, and Drew Gooden. Although they can use a better starting small forward than Luc Mbah a Moute, this team doesn’t really have any gaping holes. I just don’t think that any team is afraid of them and I don’t think they will be able to compete with the better teams in the eastern conference. Expect Milwaukee to beat up on the Detroits and Charlottes of the NBA, but lose to the Miamis and San Antonios.
Projected starters: Jeff Teague, Lou Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia.
Even though the Hawks traded Joe Johnson and acquired some of the worst New Jersey Nets from last year’s team, they still should be in the running for a playoff spot. Despite losing Johnson, they acquired Devin Harris and Lou Williams, who are both pretty good players. Additionally, they still have Jeff Teague, who might have a breakout year, Josh Smith, one of the most athletic forwards in the game, and Al Horford, a top 10 NBA center when healthy. Expect this team to compete with Milwaukee for the last playoff spot in the east, with the team who suffers less injuries clinching that spot.
10. Washington Wizards
Projected starters: John Wall, Jordan Crawford, Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely, Nene.
It is now or never for Wizards point guard John Wall, who has disappointed in his first two seasons in Washington. He should have a better team this season with the additions of #3 pick Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, and Emeka Okafor. Although I don’t think that the Wizards are a playoff team just yet, I think they will be more competitive than they have been in years. On offense, this team should be very good, but the problem will be defense. Both Jordan Crawford and Bradley Beal are undersized shooting guards and their only good defensive player in the front court is Emeka Okafor. If the Wizards can make some upgrades on defense next offseason, they may become a playoff team, but until then this team will still be in the bottom half of the eastern conference.
11. Cleveland Cavaliers
Projected starters: Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao.
Aside from Kyrie Irving, I think the Cavs have really screwed up their drafts the past two seasons. They had the #4 pick each season and did not take a top-5 quality player either year. Last year they selected Tristan Thompson, who was a disappointment, and this year they selected Dion Waiters, who I believe will be a draft bust. In addition, some of the other moves the Cavs have made don’t make too much sense. Why are Anderon Varejao and Daniel Gibson still on the team??? Those guys are role players that can help out contenders. They shouldn’t be stuck playing on bad Cleveland teams who don’t need them. C.J. Miles is another one of those role players who the Cavs signed to start at small forward this season. Why not instead develop someone like Omri Casspi, who has not yet reached his potential. If the Cavs had drafted right and made good free agency moves, they could be a tough team by as soon as next season. Instead, I don’t see them moving in any direction and if I’m Kyrie Irving, I am definitely considering pulling a Lebron James and ditching the Cavs once my contract is up.
12. Toronto Raptors
Projected starters: Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields, DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani, Jonas Valanciunas.
The Raptors are stuck in a pretty tough position because they can never sign any big name free agents. Nobody wants to play basketball in Canada, especially after superstars Vince Carter and Chris Bosh left the team. Because of that, they have to overpay overrated players like Landry Fields to come to the team. The only reason anybody has even heard of Landry Fields is because he was on a big market team in New York. His stats (8.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg) don’t back up his contract at all. The Raptors did make a pretty good move in trading for Kyle Lowry, but he will not be able to bring this team to the playoffs anytime soon. Toronto won’t be terrible this season, but they will be pretty bad, especially because they are playing in the toughest division in basketball.
13. Detroit Pistons
Projected starters: Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, Greg Monroe.
The Pistons are another team that is going nowhere. Since their glory days in the mid 2000′s, the Pistons have been one of the worst run organizations. It all began by trading Chauncey Billups to Denver for Allen Iverson, and bad moves are continuing to be made today. The Pistons’ drafts of the past 5 or so seasons have not resulted in any franchise player despite being in the lottery every year. Greg Monroe has been good during his time in Detroit, but Brandon Knight is looking like he could be a draft bust. In free agency, the Pistons have made bad decisions too. I have no idea why Tayshaun Prince and Jason Maxiell are still on the roster. They both could hold some value in a trade, so why doesn’t Detroit do that? Also, they recently traded for Corey Maggette, a proven loser, to backup Prince. The Pistons will be lucky to win 30 games this year.
14. Charlotte Bobcats
Projected starters: Ramon Sessions, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Byron Mullens, Bismack Biyombo.
After a historically bad season last year, the Bobcats have nowhere to go but up. And I do think that they will be significantly better than they were last year. In the offseason they signed Ramon Sessions, who was the starting point guard for the Lakers last season. He will never be a great player, but he is serviceable. They also traded for Ben Gordon and picked up Brendon Haywood. Although I am not a big fan of either of these players, they will make the Bobcats more competitive than they were last season and they are upgrades. In more good news, because Orlando is in the same division as Charlotte, these teams will meet 4 times next season, and the Bobcats should win the majority of those games. I expect the Bobcats to more than triple their win total of last season, which means that they will win 21+ games.
15. Orlando Magic
Projected starters: Jameer Nelson, Aaron Afflalo, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Gustavo Ayon.
Boy are the Magic in trouble. They had one of the worst offseasons in NBA history, and it wasn’t only because of the Dwight Howard disaster. Besides that, they re-signed veteran point guard Jameer Nelson to a 3 year contract, which made no sense. They also lost their breakout star Ryan Anderson to free agency. Now, the team is composed of washed up veterans and players not good enough to fill their roles. If Orlando had acquired some young players and better draft picks in the Howard trade, they would have a few bad years but then turn it around. Now, they are in a big hole and may not make the playoffs for another five seasons, which is a long time in the NBA. The Magic better hope to get lucky in the lottery this year or else they will be in big trouble beyond this season.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected starters: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha (James Harden), Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins.
I don’t know if the Thunder will be able to repeat as western conference champions this season with the Lakers’ offseason additions, but I do think that they will have a better regular season record than LA. OKC didn’t lose any pieces from their team last season. In fact they were able to add Perry Jones III with a late first round pick. At one point, he was considered a top-5 pick, if not the #1 overall pick. Also, Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka are all a year older and have more experience from all playing in the Olympics. This team should compete with Miami for having the best record in the NBA, and I think the Thunder might even have the edge.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
Projected starters: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard.
The Lakers arguably had the best offseason of any team this year and may be the favorites to win the NBA championship. However, I don’t think they will finish with the best record in the western conference, and there is no chance that they will win even close to 70 games. The reason for this is that they are too old and injury prone, and they know that the regular season really isn’t very important. First of all, we don’t know when Dwight Howard will return from his back injury and until then failed Knick lottery pick Jordan Hill will probably have to start at center. Also, Steve Nash will be turning 39 this year and it is impossible to know if his body will hold up for an entire season. I think that the Lakers will be a very good team this year and easily win this division, but I don’t see them breaking any regular season records.
3. Denver Nuggets
Projected starters: Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee.
I really, really like the offseason moves from the Denver Nuggets. Andre Iguodala is a pretty good upgrade over Aaron Afflalo because Iguodala can be “the guy” on teams, while Afflalo was just a very good role player. The move is great because one thing the Nuggets were lacking last season was one player who can take the last second shot and know how to be a star. Iguodala has these abilities and has a lot of experience from his years in Philadelphia. Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri did a great job of finding very athletic players who can tire out their opponents and he has built an excellent basketball team. The Nuggets are also one of the deepest teams in the west with Wilson Chandler, Andre Miller, and intriguing rookie Evan Fournier coming off the bench. Denver will surprise some people this year and they are my dark horse team to make an NBA finals run. Since the Carmelo Anthony trade, in my opinion, Denver has been the best run team in the NBA.
4. San Antonio Spurs
Projected starters: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw.
I expect this season to finally be the year that the Spurs take a step backwards, but I would not be surprised at all if they prove me wrong yet again. It has been incredible watching this team the last two years finishing with a better regular season record than every other team in the western conference despite being much older and less talented than some of the other top teams. The Spurs have just about the same roster as they did last season when they were two wins away from the NBA finals. With the additions that the Lakers and Nuggets made and the Big 3 of the Thunder, it may be difficult for San Antonio to get back to the western conference finals again, but they are on a mission to prove me wrong. Tony Parker continues to be one of the most underrated point guards in the NBA and Tim Duncan is still performing at a high level. The role players know their roles and Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA. This division is not very strong this season and the Spurs should easily win it.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
Projected starters: Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan.
The Clippers will be one of the more disappointing teams in the NBA this season because they will not improve on their 5th place finish last year. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are one of the most overrated front courts in the NBA and Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Caron Butler are all injury prone. The Clippers should still have enough talent to easily make the playoffs and finish second in this division.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
Projected starters: Mike Conley, Wayne Ellington, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol.
The Grizzlies are looking more and more like the Atlanta Hawks of the last 5 seasons. They have a pretty good roster, but it is no more than that, and they haven’t done anything in the offseason to make it better. They added Jerryd Bayless to back up Mike Conley, but they lost O.J. Mayo, a very good scorer. Without Mayo, Memphis is very weak at the shooting guard position and a combination of Wayne Ellington and Quincy Pondexter will attempt to fill that hole. Memphis still has a pretty good front court with Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol, but none of these players have proven that they can win in the playoffs when it really counts. I am expecting another first round playoff exit from Memphis this year.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
Projected starters: Ricky Rubio, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic.
I think that the Minnesota Timberwolves will finally have their breakthrough season and make the playoffs for the first time since 2004, which is an eternity in the NBA. As long as Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio stay healthy for the whole season, I see no reason why the Timberwolves should not make the playoffs in the top-heavy western conference. In the offseason, Minnesota added recently un-retired superstar Brandon Roy, along with quality role player Chase Budinger. Additionally, Derrick Williams will have had another year to develop and Nikola Pekovic is turning into an above-average NBA center. If the Timberwolves can get to 43 or 44 wins, which I think they can do, expect them to be in the playoffs.
8. Utah Jazz
Projected starters: Mo Williams, Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson.
In the offseason, Utah added Mo and Marvin Williams and lost Devin Harris. Mo Williams is an average starting point guard and should play a similar role to Harris’s last season. One player to look out for on Utah is second year guard Alec Burks. This may be a breakout year for him. Watch out. One problem with Utah is their logjam at the power forward/center position. They have three players who want to start at two positions. The player left out of a starting role right now is third year player and former Net Derrick Favors. Favors has said that he wants to start this season, and if the Jazz refuse to do this he may begin causing some problems in the locker room. I don’t think the Jazz want to trade Favors, and instead would rather trade either Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap. Expect one of them to be moved before the trade deadline.
9. Golden State Warriors
Projected starters: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee, Andrew Bogut.
The Warriors have one of the more intriguing teams in the west and they could sneak into the playoffs. It all depends on if Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut can stay healthy for an entire season. When healthy, Bogut will average a double-double and is one of the better defensive centers in basketball. The Warriors have not had a center like this in the last 10 years. Klay Thompson is one of the best shooters in basketball, but does not play any defense. Harrison Barnes is a sleeper rookie of the year candidate. The Warriors could potentially finish as high as 6th in the west, but there are just too many “ifs” and they will barely miss the playoffs this year.
10. New Orleans Hornets
Projected starters: Austin Rivers, Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Jason Smith.
New Orleans is a team that I think could sneak their way into the playoffs this year if everything goes well for them. By winning the NBA draft lottery in May, the Hornets acquired Anthony Davis, and I don’t think there has been a more experienced 19-year-old in the history of the NBA. As a teenager, Davis has already won a national player of the year award, a national championship, and was a contributor to a USA gold medal team. Wow. In addition to Davis, the Hornets also drafted Austin Rivers, who I think will be a very solid NBA point guard. In free agency, the Hornets made a sign-and-trade for the NBA’s most improved player and former Net Ryan Anderson. He compliments Davis nicely because he is a better shooter and offensive player, while Davis is a better rebounder and defender. New Orleans may be a little weak at center, but they added Robin Lopez to backup Jason Smith. On top of all this, they have a rising superstar in Eric Gordon starting at shooting guard. It will not surprise me at all if he averages 25 ppg this season if he can stay healthy. I don’t think New Orleans quite has enough experience yet to make the playoffs in the western conference, but watch out for them next season and every season after that.
11. Dallas Mavericks
Projected starters: Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman.
After making the playoffs in every year since 2001, a very, very long time, I think this will be the year that Dallas will not earn a playoff birth. After missing out on Deron Williams in the offseason, Dallas was still able to make moves that appear to be good ones now, adding Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, and Elton Brand. But I don’t really like any of these players. Collison is a below-average NBA starting point guard, Mayo is a Carmelo-like scorer (too many shots, not enough passes), Kaman can put up pretty good numbers, but he has never been on a good team, and Brand is too old to be a real contributor at this point in his career. Their best bench player is Vince Carter, who is way too old to even be a sixth man. I expect Dallas to have a slow beginning to the season, and possibly even explore trading Dirk Nowitzki at the trade deadline. Dirk will surely not like that idea, but it may be best for the organization moving forward. Dallas will be in the playoff hunt for most of the season, but I think they will really crumble down the stretch and finish under .500.
12. Houston Rockets
Projected starters: Jeremy Lin, Kevin Martin, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Omer Asik.
I don’t like the Rockets’ moves at all in the offseason. Their too biggest moves were overpaying both Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, two very unproven players. They also amnestied Luis Scola, who had been one of their best, most consistent players over the last 5 seasons. The Rockets could potentially have a starting lineup of Lin, Jeremy Lamb, Parsons, Patterson, and Asik. Combined, those players have played a total of 391 games total in the NBA, averaging out to about 78 games per player. That means that on average, each starter would have played less than one full NBA season. That does not bode well for Houston. Also, the team will have at least 4 rookies in the rotation, and only one proven veteran in Kevin Martin. Martin has only made the playoffs once in his 8-year career. This will not be an easy season for Houston.
13. Phoenix Suns
Projected starters: Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat.
The Phoenix Suns are a team full of players who have done well for bad teams. When you put all those players together, it usually results in a bad season. With the departure of Steve Nash, expect Phoenix to finish near the bottom of the western conference this year. They added 3 semi-big name free agents this summer, but I don’t expect any of them to make a very big impact. Goran Dragic is a below-average starting point guard. Michael Beasley can score a lot, but he has never played for a good team and he is a selfish player. Luis Scola is a solid starter, but he cannot carry a team to the playoffs. Also, expect a huge drop-off in production from Marcin Gortat with Steve Nash gone. Instead of signing these free agents, the Suns should have just started rebuilding from scratch this season. They will pay for it in the future.
14. Portland Trail Blazers
Projected starters: Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Meyers Leonard.
Even though 6th overall pick Damian Lillard has looked very good in the summer league, I am expecting very little from Portland this season. Before I say anything else, I would like to say that the Gerald Wallace trade worked out very well for both the Nets and the Blazers. The Nets would not have wanted their lottery pick this season because they want to win now and Portland would have probably lost Gerald Wallace in free agency had they not traded him. Now on to the Blazers’ roster. Aside from LaMarcus Aldridge, this team is a mess. In the offseason, they re-signed Nicolas Batum to a 4 year/$46 million contract, which really didn’t make a lot of sense. That is more than the Nets payed Gerald Wallace! Also, I really don’t like Meyers Leonard, who Portland selected with the 11th pick in the draft. And backing him up is former Net Dan Gadzuric, so there is almost no assurance if anything goes wrong with Leonard. Unless Lillard can play out of his mind, this will be a long season in Portland.
15. Sacramento Kings
Projected starters: Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins.
The Kings have been so bad for so long and they still are not showing any signs of improvement. The good news is that they will have a good chance at landing the top pick in the 2013 NBA draft. I don’t see any direction with the moves they have made over the last 5 years. This offseason, they signed Aaron Brooks to take playing time away from young, developing point guard Isaiah Thomas. That doesn’t make sense. Marcus Thornton has averaged about 20 ppg since coming to Sacramento, which should make him valuable in a trade, but the Kings have not traded him. The Kings now have 3 recent high-lottery picks playing for them in Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, and Thomas Robinson. They should be a good team at this point, but unfortunately, they will probably be adding another high lottery pick to the team next season.