Finally, after a crazy offseason, the new NBA season tips off tomorrow. A number of high-profile players changed teams this summer and the preseason gave us a small sample of what we can expect from those teams this year. The Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, and Oklahoma City Thunder all looked spectacular with the additions of their key players, though it's important to remember that it's only the preseason.
30) Brooklyn Nets (2016-17 record: 20-62)
Sorry, Nets fans, it's still going to take time before you're good again. Despite moves to add D'Angelo Russell and other quality players, Brooklyn has a long, long way to go. They'll be much better than the dumpster fire they were last season, but they'll still be among the worst teams in the NBA.
29) Chicago Bulls (41-41)
The Bulls have pushed the button the rebuild, meaning it will be a long year in the Windy City. This season will be about identifying core players for the future because there aren't going to be many wins.
28) Orlando Magic (29-53)
The Magic will seriously compete with the Nets for the worst record in the league with no star and no clear direction. They're taking the season to evaluate everyone on the roster, especially Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton.
27) Atlanta Hawks (43-39)
Head coach Mike Budenholzer has taken after his mentor Gregg Popovich in regards to getting the most out of his team - the problem is, next year's team doesn't have much to give. Young players like rookie John Collins and Taurean Prince give them something to build on, but it's not much.
26) New York Knicks (31-51)
The Knicks finally got rid of Carmelo Anthony and can officially start their rebuild. We finally get to see Kristaps Porzingis be the focal point of an offense and rookie Frank Ntilikina will see a lot of playing time. While it was only the preseason...New York looks like they're going to be BAD.
25) Indiana Pacers (42-40)
With no Paul George, the Pacers are going to be among the worst teams in the league. Myles Turner needs to step up and become a go-to player since he's the most talented guy on the team and the roster around him is very much a work in progress. The Pacers are in danger of being in the worst spot in the NBA: not bad enough to get the No. 1 pick, but not good enough to actually compete.
24) Phoenix Suns (24-58)
The Suns have plenty of talent, but they're still growing. Phoenix simply isn't ready to make any major moves up the standings in the loaded Western Conference even though players like Devin Booker and Josh Jackson give the Suns a bright future. They're trending in the right direction, but as the youngest team in the league, they need time to grow. Look for them to unload some veteran players (namely Eric Bledsoe) this year as they commit to tanking.
23) Sacramento Kings (32-50)
Sacramento had an incredible offseason with quality draft picks and veteran signings, but this group still has a long way to go before they'll start winning games. The Kings will be improved and the future will look bright, yet their starting lineup just simply isn't good enough to consistently win against quality competition.
22) Los Angeles Lakers (26-56)
Look for the Lakers to make a small jump this year. There's plenty of young talent for Los Angeles, including Lonzo Ball, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Lakers are likely at least a year away from making a real playoff push.
21) Dallas Mavericks (33-49)
The Mavericks have a strong roster with aging pieces like Dirk Nowitzki, high-priced players like Harrison Barnes and a promising young rookie in Dennis Smith Jr. However, they're stuck in no-man's land right now - not good enough to make the playoffs and not bad enough to finish near the top of the lottery. With a limited ceiling, the Mavs rank lower than their record from last year says they should (especially in the West).
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20) Detroit Pistons (37-45)
The Pistons current roster is just blah. With trade rumors around Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, they could choose to blow it up. Right now, they're looking at bottom playoff seed if every single thing goes right.
19) Philadelphia 76ers (28-54)
Perhaps the biggest takeaway of the preseason: if Joel Embiid can stay healthy...WOAH. This group has plenty of promise but need to prove they can stay healthy and will need to learn how to play together. Expect there to be some major growing pains, particularly defensively.
18) Utah Jazz (51-31)
Without Gordon Hayward, the Jazz are going to have a very tough time making the playoffs. That said, players like Rudy Gobert will keep them from being a disaster.
17) Miami Heat (41-41)
Miami went 30-11 over the last half of the season and essentially return the same roster (though the addition of Kelly Olynyk is a boost), showing the front office's confidence they can repeat that success. I think they're a bottom seed in the playoffs, benefitting from playing in the East.
16) Charlotte Hornets (36-46)
The Hornets have a chance to be a sleeper team in the Eastern Conference. Hampered by injuries last year, they spent this offseason addressing their needs. Dwight Howard, while not the player he was, gives this team a dominant rebounder while rookie Malik Monk gives them a needed scoring boost off the bench. Nicolas Batum will miss the first couple of months with an elbow injury - how they perform in that time, without one of their best players - will tell us if this team can make the playoffs or not.
15) Memphis Grizzlies (43-39)
Memphis always seems a bit underrated. They frequently compete against better teams, even when they're injured. However, it may be time for a teardown and rebuild. A core of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol just isn't good enough to make a deep playoff run.
14) Portland Trail Blazers (41-41)
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are good enough to keep Portland in the playoff picture, but it's fair to question if the Blazers can win big without much talent around them. They're looking at a bottom playoff seed at best.
13) Denver Nuggets (40-42)
The Nuggets just missed out on the playoffs last year, and with the addition of Paul Millsap, they expect to make it this year. This team has plenty of talent, much of it young, and their success will depend on the continued growth of those young players.
12) New Orleans Pelicans (34-48)
Most of the NBA is zigging with the small ball trend, so the Pelicans are zagging with a pair of bigs in DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. The Pelicans weren't great after their big trade for Boogie, but it was mid-year and they were already playing catchup. That duo looked sharp in the preseason and both could be in for huge years. Unfortunately, it was also very noticeable how little the Pelicans have around them.
11) Milwaukee Bucks (42-40)
The Bucks are a promising young team and they seemed poised to make the leap this year. There's plenty of young talent, headlined by Giannis Antetokounmpo. Hopefully, Jabari Parker can stay healthy once he returns from a torn ACL in February. The Bucks aren't ready to take down the Cavs or Celtics, but they are trending upwards.
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10) Los Angeles Clippers (51-31)
The Clippers looked fine in the preseason in the post-Chris Paul era. The players they got back in that trade (Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker) will all fill vital roles and Danilo Gallinari returned to practice on Sunday. Oh yeah, and Blake Griffin looks fine as the unquestioned No. 1 option. Los Angeles isn't a contender, but they'll be fine.
9) Toronto Raptors (51-31)
What exactly does Toronto have left? Re-signing Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka was great, but this team appears to have hit their ceiling and lost a lot of depth with DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson, and Cory Joseph all leaving for salary cap purposes.
8) Washington Wizards (49-33)
The Wizards have a starting lineup that can compete with anyone. That said, their bench is a major issue, and nothing they did in the offseason or anything we saw in the preseason has us thinking that will change. Still, they're the third-best team in the East.
7) Minnesota Timberwolves (31-51)
Minnesota still has their promising young core of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns and added some MAJOR upgrades in Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson. Suddenly, this team went from a fringe playoff team to a real contender. It may take them a while to adjust to playing together, and they need to improve defensively, but they have a very, very high ceiling.
6) San Antonio Spurs (61-21)
Had the Spurs not lost Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, they surely win that game against the Golden State Warriors and maybe more. However, they didn't make any additions and lost a key bench player in Jonathon Simmons. It's never smart to doubt Gregg Popovich, but it looks like the Spurs took a step back this summer. Still, they'll win 50-plus games and be a top four team in the West.
5) Boston Celtics (53-29)
These offseason additions of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving have been working out well for Boston so far, but I still think they're behind Cleveland in the East. Boston got worse defensively and didn't get significantly better on the offensive end - but Brad Stevens now has more to work with than he ever has. If he can get the most out of Irving, Boston will potentially be a top three team.
4) Cleveland Cavaliers (51-31)
Is it possible to trade a guy like Irving and actually get better? Yup - and I break down why here. Isaiah Thomas will never be a good defender, but Kyrie was almost as bad. He's also capable of replacing Kyrie's production on the other end, taking some pressure off LeBron. He won't be available until January, but the Cavs have plenty of firepower to get by until then. They only won one preseason game but got promising performances from Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder, and Dwyane Wade. Finding consistent shooting will be the key.
3) Houston Rockets (55-27)
Chris Paul and James Harden don't appear to have any problems playing together as they have rotated playing point guard. However, this group still have questions defensively and gutted their bench in order to get Paul. They need to address those concerns before they move up this list.
2) Oklahoma City Thunder (47-35)
OKC has become a trendy pick following the offseason acquisitions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but I really liked what I saw from this team in the preseason. Anthony - still one of the best scorers in the league - has been lethal with teams focusing on George and Russell Westbrook, while those two players have been as good as advertised. They still need time to really mesh, especially considering Westbrook and Anthony's tendencies to play isolation basketball, but they look to be ahead of the curve.
1) Golden State Warriors (67-15)
Well, duh. No explanation required: the Warriors are the only team that can take the top spot and will hold it until they no longer have the best record in the league.