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NBA 2015-2016 Season Preview & Predictions

Another NBA Season is upon us! Here is my preview for all 30 NBA teams, the postseason, the award winners, and everything else! Best of luck to your team, unless you don’t root for the team I like. As always, leave your feedback in the comments. -Tommy Rothman

EASTERN CONFERENCE

#1 Cleveland Cavaliers, 57-25 (Last year: 53-29, 2nd in East)

Roster: Jared Cunningham, Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Harris, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Richard Jefferson, James Jones, Sasha Kaun, Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, Mo Williams. Coach David Blatt. 

Notable injuries: Irving, Shumpert out until at least December.

For the 100th year in a row, LeBron James’ crew has to be the favorite in the East. James is the best player alive and his teammates aren’t bad either. Kevin Love is a star, as is Kyrie Irving, although the latter will miss at least a couple months. So will Iman Shumpert, a very good perimeter defender. JR Smith is a solid scorer off the bench but cannot be trusted in any way. Tristan Thompson is a very solid role player who got paid like a star, and Timofey Mozgov finally learned how to translate his huge frame into actual NBA production. Matthew Dellavedova is a great guy to bring in off the bench, even if his 15 minutes of superstardom will never return, and Anderson Varejao is the ultimate hustler who just needs to find a way to stay healthy. All in all, the Cavs have a lot of good players and three great ones. In a weak Eastern Conference, they’re the obvious top dogs, and it’s hard to see LeBron falling short of a sixth straight Finals appearance. Playoff Odds: 95%

wade heat

#2: Miami Heat, 51-31 (Last year: 37-45, 10th in East)

Roster: Chris Andersen, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Luol Deng, Goran Dragic, James Ennis, Gerald Green, Udonis Haslem, Tyler Johnson, Josh McRoberts, Josh Richardson, Amar’e Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow. Coach Erik Spoelstra.

The Heat suffered the shocking blow of losing LeBron James last summer, and lost Chris Bosh to a serious medical scare during the season, missing the playoffs after four straight trips to the Finals. James is gone for good, but Bosh is back, as is Heat legend Dwyane Wade. Goran Dragic was brought aboard at the deadline and given an extension this summer, and Hassan Whiteside came out of nowhere to become a very solid NBA center in South Beach. Luol Deng isn’t the same player he once was, but he’s still a good role player, as is Amar’e Stoudemire, who is finally being paid in a manner consistent with his remaining potential. Gerald Green was a great get at the minimum, and Justise Winslow might prove to be the steal of the draft if he can develop offensively and overcome his lack of size to remain a great defender through his transition to the NBA. Mario Chalmers is nothing more than a decent player, but he’s a very good option as a backup point guard. Udonis Haslem will never not be on the Heat, so he’s obviously back. And then you have the Birdman, as Chris Andersen returns for another campaign. This Heat team is deep, talented, and dangerous. And the pain is out of their system. Miami is ready to bounce back from the desertion of LeBron and challenge King James (not Ennis) in the East. Playoff Odds: 90%

butler bulls

#3: Chicago Bulls, 50-32 (Last year: 50-32, 3rd in East)

Roster: Cameron Bairstow, Aaron Brooks, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Cristiano Felicio, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore, Joakim Noah, Bobby Portis, Derrick Rose, Tony Snell. Coach Fred Hoiberg.

Notable injuries: Dunleavy out until at least late November.

The Bulls fired Tom Thibodeau, a bold move considering that Thibodeau is one of the best coaches around. But Thibs constantly clashed with the front office, and his departure was inevitable. Also inevitable is the eventual absence of Derrick Rose, who will at least play in the opener despite breaking his eye over the summer (He broke his eye! How do you break an eye? Seriously, Derrick…). But Rose’s fall from the ranks of the NBA’s elite does not spell doom in Chicago. Jimmy Butler is ready to emerge as a true star on both ends of the ball after signing an extension this summer, and Pau Gasol, while he can’t possibly be as good as he was last year, showed that he’s not done just yet. Joakim Noah has regressed sharply, but is still a good player who is strong on defense and unique, if not prolific, on offense. Taj Gibson is a seriously underrated big. Nikola Mirotic could win Most Improved Player, and fellow sophomore Doug McDermott can give the Bulls a major boost by showing off some of the scoring chops he displayed in college two years ago. Bobby Portis was a good pick where the Bulls got him. Overall, this is a stacked frontcourt, and Aaron Brooks can give solid minutes at the point alongside Butler, even in the event of Rose’s demise. But don’t completely count out Rose. He won’t be able to go full-throttle, but when he’s on the court, he’s still a dynamic point guard who can spearhead the offense and close out games when needed. Speaking of the offense, look for that side of the ball to become the main focus with Fred Hoiberg joining the NBA ranks and filling in for the defensive-minded Thibodeau. This Bulls team isn’t elite, but they should be very good and continue to be a serious factor in the East. Playoff Odds: 85%

horford hawks

#4: Atlanta Hawks, 48-34 (Last year: 60-22, 1st in East)

Roster: Kent Bazemore, Tim Hardaway Jr., Justin Holiday, Al Horford, Kyle Korver, Shelvin Mack, Paul Millsap, Mike Muscala, Lamar Patterson, Dennis Schroder, Mike Scott, Thabo Sefolosha, Tiago Splitter, Walter Tavares, Jeff Teague. Coach Mike Budenholzer.

The Hawks outdid themselves last year, so we should definitely expect some of that good ol’ “regression to the mean” business down South. When you add in the loss of DeMarre Carroll, the impossibility of a second straight year with no major injuries to key players (although bench player Thabo Sefolosha had his leg broken by an NYPD cop), the improved Eastern Conference and the strengthening of many of last year’s “doormat” teams, a win total in the 40s is far more likely than one in the 60s. Expect the Hawks to go back to being what they usually are, a very solid but not elite team. Jeff Teague has become a very good point guard and Al Horford is quietly a star-caliber center. It looked like Paul Millsap might chase the money elsewhere, but the Hawks brought him back too, keeping the core of last year’s Eastern #1 seed intact. Playoff Odds: 85%

lowry raptors

#5: Toronto Raptors, 46-36 (Last year: 49-33, 4th in East)

Roster: Anthony Bennett, Bismack Biyombo, Bruno Caboclo, DeMarre Carroll, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Cory Joseph, Kyle Lowry, Lucas Nogueira, Patrick Patterson, Normal Powell, Terrence Ross, Luis Scola, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright. Coach Dwane Casey.

The Raptors are the main casualty of the new rule in which winning the Division means absolutely nothing. No longer does Toronto have an easy road to a top-four seed. But with the dynamic backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the newly-added DeMarre Carroll on the wing, and the towering Jonas Valanciunas down low, the Raptors have plenty of balance and no shortage of very skilled players. Bismack Biyombo might prove to be a steal, as he can protect the rim with the best of them. Don’t expect anything from Anthony Bennett, as the former #1 overall pick is merely a guy you take a flyer on at this point, but don’t expect much of a challenge from a weak Atlantic Division, against whom the Raptors will play 16 times over the course of the East’s easiest schedule. Playoff Odds: 75%

giannis

 #6: Milwaukee Bucks, 45-37 (Last year: 41-41, 6th in East)

Roster: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jerryd Bayless, Michael Carter-Williams, Chris Copeland, Tyler Ennis, John Henson, Damien Inglis, OJ Mayo, Khris Middleton, Greg Monroe, Johnny O’Bryant III, Jabari Parker, Miles Plumlee, Greivis Vasquez, Rashad Vaughn. Coach Jason Kidd.

Notable injuries: Parker out indefinitely. Ennis out until at least early November.

The Bucks went from 15 wins to 41 despite not having the guy they landed with their draft pick for much of the season. Jabari Parker will miss the beginning of this season as he continues to rehab that torn ACL, but he should work his way back and into the starting lineup before long. Giannis Antetokounmpo has gotten better every year and, although he is currently overrated because of his potential, his odds of reaching that much-talked about ceiling seem pretty good. Greg Monroe was the big offseason splash for Milwaukee this summer, and while he isn’t a franchise big man, he’s certainly a very good player on the offensive end and will fill the Bucks’ low-post scoring void right away. Khris Middleton gives the Bucks a solid scoring guard and Michael-Carter Williams can do a bit of pretty much everything— aside from shooting, as his jumper is a glaring weakness that must be addressed if he is to become anything more than “pretty good.” The Bucks lost Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia and Jared Dudley, and they probably outplayed themselves a bit last year with the roster that was on the floor, so I’m not projecting them for a big jump to the 55+ win mark. But they have 50-win upside, and their 40+ win campaign will be much less shocking than the previous one. Oh, and I would remiss if I did not take this opportunity to endorse Chris Copeland’s MVP campaign. Playoff Odds: 75%

wall

#7: Washington Wizards, 43-39 (Last year: 46-36, 5th in East)

Roster: Alan Anderson, Bradley Beal, DeJuan Blair, Jared Dudley, Drew Gooden, Marcin Gortat, Kris Humphries, Gary Neal, Nene, Kelly Oubre Jr., Otto Porter Jr., Ramon Sessions, Garrett Temple, John Wall, Martell Webster. Coach Randy Wittman.

Notable injuries: Anderson out until at least early November.

John Wall has become a superstar in Washington, and Bradley Beal looks like he’ll become a very good player, if not an elite one. Marcin Gortat is an underrated weapon at center, and Otto Porter Jr. finally started to make good on some of his potential late last season. But this team isn’t all that deep, and an(other) injury to Wall could send this team spiraling out of the playoff picture, if a letdown from his supporting cast doesn’t do that already. This is the first truly risky team in the East, at least until Kevin Durant returns home as the prophecy has foretold. Playoff Odds: 60%

melo knicks 1

#8: New York Knicks, 38-44 (Last year: 17-65, 15th in East)

(Complete Knicks-centered preview coming later)

Roster: Arron Afflalo, Lou Amundson, Carmelo Anthony, Jose Calderon, Cleanthony Early, Langston Galloway, Jerian Grant, Robin Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn, Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Seraphin, Lance Thomas, Sasha Vujacic, Derrick Williams. Coach Derek Fisher.

Notable Injuries: Afflalo day-to-day with hamstring.

The Knicks had the worst season in franchise history last year and were the second-worst team in the league, which, as we saw on Lottery Night, is the only thing worse than being the worst team in the league. After winning 54 games three years ago and 37 the next, the Knicks plummeted to an unthinkable 17 wins last year as Murphy’s Law (not the one bringing joy to the hearts of Mets fans) took hold. Injuries plagued many of the team’s good players and the rest were shipped off to better places, leaving a team of nobodies playing out the string. This year’s Knicks should be much better, even if that’s not saying much. Reason number one? Carmelo Anthony. Melo played hurt from the second week of the season to his merciful shutdown after the All-Star Break, leaving the Knicks with no stars and hardly any role players as JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Amar’e Stoudemire and others were sent packing. But Melo is back and looked healthy during the preseason. As long as he stays healthy (not a given), the Knicks have one of the league’s premier scorers, giving instant credibility to what was a punchless offense last season. Carmelo might not be enough to take a team to the championship on his own, but he can certainly carry a team to the playoffs in the East. The defense should also be much better thanks in large part to the addition of Robin Lopez. Langston Galloway, one of the lone bright spots in last season’s debacle, is a very strong defender and rebounder with a solid, if not consistent, jumper. Arron Afflalo came cheap after a down year in Portland, but if he can defend half as well as he used to and knock down his threes, he’ll be very valuable to this team. José Calderón was a disappointment last year as he battled injuries throughout the season, and his defense is a major negative at this point, but he is still a steadying hand on the offense with a terrific jumper. Kristaps Porzingis is a mystery, but his elite length and athleticism, combined with his sweet stroke, will manifest in the form of highlight blocks and a barrage of pick-and-pop jumpers. Porzingis will also be able to blow by slower bigs and help create mismatches all over the floor. He’s probably a couple years away from reaching his potential, but he can contribute in year one. Another rookie who should make an impact is former Notre Dame star Jerian Grant, a skilled, smart guard who sees the floor well, plays great defense, and can get to the rim. Grant could, and should, push Calderón for minutes out of the gate. Another guy with upside is 2011 #2 overall pick Derrick Williams, a great finisher and an incredible athlete who needs to start playing harder on the defensive end to become a starting-caliber player. Phil Jackson also made a couple of sneaky frontcourt adds in high-energy bruiser Kyle O’Quinn and skilled scorer Kevin Seraphin, who needs to learn to move the ball to have any success in the Triangle Offense. This Knicks team has the firepower to be pretty good, in large part owing to the fact that they now have more than two or three decent players. Everything hinges on the health of Carmelo Anthony. If he stays on the court, and the new guys play like they should, the Knicks could very well return to glorious mediocrity and put last season behind them. Again, Melo’s health is a big if. That’s why I’m giving the Knicks a 40% chance at making it. I think they’re more likely to pull it off than the two or three teams closest to them, though. A not-so-fun factor: They have nothing to lose and no reason not to chase the 8 seed, as they’ve traded their upcoming draft pick for Andrea Bargnani. Playoff Odds: 40%

smart

#9: Boston Celtics, 37-45 (Last year: 40-42, 7th in East)

Roster: Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, RJ Hunter, Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson, David Lee, Jordan Mickey, Kelly Olynyk, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jared Sullinger, Isaiah Thomas, Evan Turner, James Young, Tyler Zeller. Coach Brad Stevens.

The Celtics unloaded Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green midway through last season, but still fought their way to a playoff spot. Most of the team returns this year, with Amir Johnson and David Lee making for a solid pair of frontcourt additions. After years as a complimentary option in Golden State, however, it remains to be seen how Lee can perform when relied upon to play a major role in an offense. It’s unlikely that he’ll play as well as he did in New York during the Isiah Thomas era, however. The other Isaiah Thomas (he spells it differently, helping to reduce the confusion) could contend for Sixth Man of the Year if he comes off the bench behind Marcus Smart. Between those two, Avery Bradley, and Evan Turner, Boston has a few solid weapons in the backcourt. James Young and Terry Rozier have upside, but are unlikely to make real impacts this season. Jae Crowder could develop into a star, as he already has the tools to be an elite defender alongside Bradley on the perimeter. Jared Sullinger is skilled offensively, but the rest of his game needs serious work, as does his conditioning. Kelly Olynyk’s sophomore year will be remembered for his potentially-intentional destruction of Kevin Love’s shoulder, but he quietly had a pretty solid season while he was healthy, helping further dispel the popular notion that he would be a draft bust. This Boston team is nothing more than a mix of pretty good players, but they don’t have too many weaknesses (although they could use a few more shooters). The upside might not be too high (aside from that of Marcus Smart), but the floor isn’t low, and Brad Stevens’ crew should finish somewhere between 35 and 45 wins in the Atlantic, making them a very strong contender for one of the final playoff spots in the East. And while what Boston lacks is an offensive star, it’s worth noting that they have plenty of assets that could be used in a midseason trade if they decide to be buyers rather than sellers this time around. Playoff Odds: 35%

george pacers

#10: Indiana Pacers, 36-46 (Last year: 38-44, 9th in East)

Roster: Lavoy Allen, Chase Budinger, Rakeem Christmas, Monta Ellis, Paul George, George Hill, Jordan Hill, Solomon Hill, Ian Mahinmi, CJ Miles, Glenn Robinson III, Rodney Stuckey, Myles Turner, Shayne Whittington, Joseph Young. Coach Frank Vogel.

The Pacers are the third team in what should be a very exciting (in a sad way) race for the final playoff spot in the East. If the Wizards slip, or another team takes a shocking tumble, it’s possible that more than one of the Knicks, Celtics, and Pacers could sneak in. Indiana will have a full season of Paul George after the two-way stud missed most of last season with a broken leg. They’ve also added Monta Ellis, a gifted scorer with a knack for late-game heroics. Gone, however, are Roy Hibbert and David West. Hibbert has many flaws, but his role as a defensive anchor on the interior was an important one and he will be hard for the Pacers to replace. West was certainly past his prime, but was still an important scoring option on an offense that will almost certainly struggle to put the ball in the net. With a lack of depth, shooting, defenders, interior scorers, or a go-to offensive star (if Ellis tries to take over, it will only get worse), the Pacers might not improve much even with the return of George. With other teams in the East and around the league due for big jumps, the Pacers will likely end up with around the same win total, as there are fewer easy wins to be had. But if things break right, Indy could crack 40 wins and return to the playoffs. Playoff Odds: 35%

#11: Orlando Magic, 34-48 (Last year: 25-57, 13th in East)

Roster: Dewayne Dedmon, Evan Fournier, Channing Frye, Aaron Gordon, Tobias Harris, Mario Hezonja, Roy Devin Marble, Shabazz Napier, Andrew Nicholson, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Jason Smith, Nikola Vucevic, CJ Watson. Coach Scott Skiles.

The Magic have quietly built an okay team that has some upside, making them a decent contender for a playoff spot in the East. Tobias Harris is a talented scorer and Victor Oladipo is turning into a solid player who can become a two-way star if he improves his jumper. Nikola Vucevic is a terrific center who rarely seems to get the attention he deserves, and Elfrid Payton’s career got off to a promising start as he earned a spot on the All-Rookie First Team last year. Aaron Gordon’s rookie year was derailed by injury, but don’t count out last year’s #4 overall pick. And keep an eye out for Mario Hezonja, a knockdown shooter with explosive athleticism, great size and absurd swagger. Add in veteran stretch-fours Channing Frye and Jason Smith, and the Magic have several guys who could contribute. If this team gels and the young guys stay healthy and develop, they could surprise a lot of people as early as this season. Playoff Odds: 30%

al

#12: Charlotte Hornets, 31-51 (Last year: 33-49, 11th in East)

Roster: Nicolas Batum, Troy Daniels, PJ Hairston, Tyler Hansbrough, Aaron Harrison, Spencer Hawes, Al Jefferson, Frank Kaminsky, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeremy Lamb, Jeremy Lin, Brian Roberts, Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller. Coach Steve Clifford.

Notable injuries: Kidd-Gilchrist out until April.

Charlotte has basically every college star ever, but the likes of Tyler Hansbrough won’t do them much good in the NBA. Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson give Michael Jordan’s team a strong guard-big core, but an injury-prone one. Even putting potential injuries aside, the loss of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a shoulder injury will open up a huge hole on this team, which relies on MKG’s defensive skill-set. Bismack Biyombo is gone as well, opening up the paint a bit more for opposing scorers. Kemba is fun and flashy, but a bit overrated as an offensive option— he shot 38% from the field last year. Nicolas Batum had a down year last season, but swapping Gerald Henderson for him was still a good move. Frank Kaminsky will struggle to be an impact player at the NBA level, but he knows how to make shots from all over the court facing all types of defensive pressure, which is something that can’t be taken away from him. Jeremy Lin has probably become a bit under-rated, at least offensively. This team might score a decent amount of points. But they don’t have many steady options and lack an elite player on that end, and the defense might be downright horrible. Look for the Hornets to tread water in the middle of the East’s bottom tier, which is the worst place to be for a team that needs to rebuild through the draft— not that recent picks have yielded them much success. Playoff Odds: 30%

Andre Drummond

#13: Detroit Pistons, 28-54 (Last year: 32-50, 12th in East)

Roster: Joel Anthony, Aron Baynes, Steve Blake, Reggie Bullock, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Spencer Dinwiddie, Andre Drummond, Darrun Hilliard, Ersan Ilyasova, Reggie Jackson, Brandon Jennings, Stanley Johnson, Jodie Meeks, Marcus Morris, Anthony Tolliver. Coach Stan Van Gundy.

Notable injuries: Jennings out until at least mid-November.

Detroit lost Greg Monroe, which everybody saw coming, but they still have Andre Drummond down low and Reggie Jackson at the point, so they’re not completely devoid of talent. They also have intriguing rookie Stanley Johnson, who probably should have stayed in college for another year or two, and Brandon Jennings, who should return within the first couple months from his Achilles tear. Jodie Meeks is nothing more than a role player and Marcus Morris isn’t nearly as good as his twin, but they are worthy rotation players. Ersan Ilyasova and his contract were acquired from the Bucks over the summer, and he could serve as a useful stretch four next to Drummond. But with Drummond’s offensive skill-set quite limited, the Pistons will have a lot of trouble scoring inside, and they don’t have that many sharpshooters on the squad to stretch the floor. Defensively, Drummond can’t do it all himself inside, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will need help shutting down the perimeter. The Pistons won’t be dreadful, and they could contend for the 8th seed if Jackson can translate his strong finish last year into 82 games of excellence, but they likely need help from outside if they are to build a seriously competitive team. Playoff odds: 25%

lopez

#14: Brooklyn Nets, 27-55 (Last year: 38-44, 8th in East)

Roster: Andrea Bargnani, Bojan Bogdanovic, Markel Brown, Wayne Ellington, Justin Harper, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jarrett Jack, Joe Johnson, Sergey Karasev, Shane Larkin, Brook Lopez, Chris McCullough, Willie Reed, Thomas Robinson, Donald Sloan, Thaddeus Young. Coach Lionel Hollins.

Notable injuries: Reed, McCullough out until December. Bargnani day-to-day.

Brooklyn’s “Five Year Champion Plan” completely fell apart, leaving the team without much talent, flexibility, draft pick ammunition, youth, or star power. They salvaged some hope by somehow flipping a washed-up Kevin Garnett to the sentimental Timberwolves for Thaddeus Young, but after Young, the aging Joe Johnson and the injury-prone Brook Lopez, the team is very weak. Most of these guys are reclamation projects. Jarret Jack is pretty good, but is a far cry from Deron Williams, whose decline and unhappiness in Brooklyn led to a buyout this summer. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson might turn out to be pretty good, but the move to trade one of the team’s lone bright spots in Mason Plumlee was absolutely baffling. Andrea Bargnani may have been a solid get for the minimum salary, but he’ll need to shore up his defense and rebounding if he wants to be a viable option for this team rather than a net-negative scoring “specialist.” If Lopez stays healthy and has a career year, and Johnson can be selective while remaining productive with his shot, this Nets team might compete for a playoff spot in the East, but even their spot in the weak Atlantic Division isn’t enough for me to see this team posting more than 30 wins. There’s no depth and very little promise. Playoff Odds: 25%

 

noel

#15: Philadelphia 76ers, 18-64 (Last year: 18-64, 14th in East)

Roster: Isaiah Canaan, Robert Covington, Joel Embiid (out), Jerami Grant, Richaun Holmes, Carl Landry, Kendall Marshall, TJ McConnell, Jordan McRae, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, JaKarr Sampson, Nik Stauskas, JP Tokoto, Christian Wood, Tony Wroten. Coach Brett Brown.

Notable injuries: Embiid out for season. Wroten out until at least December. Covington out until at least mid-November.

The 76ers are the worst team in the league, once again by design. Joel Embiid looks like the second coming of Greg Oden. They traded reigning ROY Michael Carter-Williams at the deadline last year. They have made no effort to improve in the short term. They do have Nerlens Noel and rookie Jahlil Okafor, so the team will be worth watching once in awhile. But injuries to Embiid, Robert Covington, and Tony Wroten take most of what little punch this team may have had away from them. The Sixers will serve to pad the records of the other teams in the East, especially the Atlantic teams. If the Timberwolves want to continue their streak of having the #1 overall pick on their roster, Philly looks like it might be the team to trade with. Playoff Odds: 15%

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

curry ws

#1 Golden State Warriors, 59-23 (Last year: 67-15, 1st in West)

Roster: Leandro Barbosa, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Ian Clark, Stephen Curry, Festus Ezeli, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Kevon Looney (Out), James Michael McAdoo, Brandon Rush, Marreese Speights, Jason Thompson, Klay Thompson. Coach Steve Kerr. Notable Injuries: Looney out for season.

The Warriors essentially return the entire squad which cruised to the best record in the league and the NBA championship in Steve Kerr’s first year as coach. Stephen Curry blossomed into an MVP-caliber player (and took home the trophy), while Klay Thompson and Draymond Green took huge strides as well. This team can kill you with the three, they can kill you with small-ball, and when they want to play more traditional ball, they have one of the best defensive anchors in the league in Andrew Bogut. This team is so good that they practically gave away David Lee to help him get minutes on a team that actually needed him. With a terrific starting five and a great bench headlined by Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, look for this team to lead the way out West again this season. Playoff Odds: 95%

#2 Houston Rockets, 55-27 (Last year: 56-26, 2nd in West)

Roster: Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer, Clint Capela, Sam Dekker, James Harden, Montrezl Harrell, Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, Ty Lawson, KJ McDaniels, Donatas Motiejunas, Jason Terry, Marcus Thornton. Coach Kevin McHale. Notable Injuries: Motiejunas out indefinitely.

The Rockets rode a career year from James Harden all the way to the Western Conference Finals, where they dropped two nail-biters to begin the series with the Warriors and eventually bowed out to the eventual champs in five. Houston led the league in threes attempted by a wide margin, which helped them lead the league in threes made despite having only the 14th best percentage in the league from beyond the arc. The Rockets were near the top in free throws attempted, but near the bottom in accuracy from the line, much of which can be attributed to Dwight Howard. Speaking of Howard, he’s happy in Houston. If he’s healthy, the Rockets have the game’s most dominant physical big man anchoring the paint. As if Harden and Howard weren’t enough, Houston added star point guard Ty Lawson for practically nothing, as the Nuggets were desperate to get rid of the troubled speedster. If he keeps focused on the game (a big if), Lawson can turn the Rockets into a true title contender. Playoff Odds: 85%

#3 San Antonio Spurs, 54-28 (Last year: 55-27, 6th in West)

Roster: LaMarcus Aldridge, Kyle Anderson, Matt Bonner, Rasaul Butler, Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Boban Marjanovic, Ray McCallum, Patty Mills, Tony Parker, Jonathon Simmons, David West. Coach Greg Popovich.

The Spurs practice hypnosis. It’s the only way. It’s the only explanation for how they routinely get star players, both young and old, to bend to the financial whims of Greg Popovich and his salary-cap-managing minions. After keeping the old stars together, getting Danny Green to sign quickly and (relatively cheaply), getting Kawhi Leonard to wait for the rest of the roster to fall into place before getting his big payday, the Spurs brought in star forward LaMarcus Aldridge before getting veteran big man David West to sign for the minimum. Other than Tiago Splitter, San Antonio suffered hardly any casualties in this daring raid of the free agent market. Their team is loaded, and Aldridge, Leonard and Green are ready to take the mantle from Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili. All three of whom are still around, by the way. While their inevitable breakdown (soon, soon, I promise) could come this year and knock the Spurs down a couple notches in the West, the suddenly young core gives this team what is likely a 50-win floor and a ceiling in the 60s, if their coach (well into his 60s, mind you) pushes his players harder in the regular season after a low seed and a tough matchup led to a first-round exit last season. Playoff Odds: 90%

durant thunder

#4 Oklahoma City Thunder, 53-29 (Last year: 45-37, 9th in West)

Roster: Steven Adams, DJ Augustin, Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, Josh Huestis, Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter, Mitch McGary, Anthony Morrow, Steve Novak, Cameron Payne, Andre Roberson, Kyle Singler, Dion Waiters, Russell Westbrook. Coach Billy Donovan.

If the Thunder are healthy, they could be the best team in the league. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are absolute superstars, and OKC also boasts a terrific pair of big men in Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter, with Steven Adams in the mix as well. Dion Waiters can create a shot from anywhere (for better or worse), and Anthony Morrow and Steve Novak are two of the game’s top sharpshooters. Cameron Payne was a steal in the draft, and Billy Donovan may have been the biggest coaching hire of the summer as he finally opted to leave his post at Florida after 19 seasons. But can this team stay healthy? Durant and Westbrook have each had their health issues. And although they tend to put up otherworldly numbers in each other’s absence, one must not forget that, when both are on the court, they won’t both be putting up 40 points a night. Still, this team should be able to grab a playoff spot if one of the stars misses time, and could push 60+ wins if both enjoy a full campaign. The upside his high, and so are the stakes: Durant’s contract expires next summer. Playoff Odds: 80%

cp3cl

#5 Los Angeles Clippers, 52-30 (Last year: 56-26, 3rd in West)

Roster: Cole Aldrich, Jamal Crawford, Branden Dawson, Blake Griffin, Wesley Johnson, DeAndre Jordan, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, Pablo Prigioni, JJ Redick, Austin Rivers, Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson, CJ Wilcox. Coach Doc Rivers.

The Clippers-Mavericks-DeAndre saga is the craziest thing that has happened in the NBA since either the Clippers-Lakers-CP3 saga or the Clippers-Sterling-America saga. While the CP3 chaos was horribly mishandled by the NBA and the Sterling ordeal was a complete disgrace, the kidnapping of DeAndre Jordan will go down as one of the finest moments in league history, as it gave us Blake Griffin’s legendary tweet and exposed the absurdity of the “moratorium” period. More importantly, it kept the Clippers together, and they now have a Big 3 of the game’s best pure point guard, one of the best offensive big men, and one of the top rim protectors. The Clippers also have a great mix of veterans, playmakers, cold-blooded late-game killers, versatile swingmen, sparkplugs, the horrible hands, horrible hook shot, great energy and great size of Cole Aldrich, and, of course, Pablo Prigioni. They also have one of the game’s best coaches running the show in Doc Rivers. The Clippers are the team that matters in LA— look for them to make some noise in the West once again, as the fifth and likely final team in the West with real championship upside. Playoff Odds: 85%

#6 Memphis Grizzlies, 50-32 (Last year: 55-27, 5th in West)

Roster: Jordan Adams, Tony Allen, Matt Barnes, Vince Carter, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, JaMychal Green, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, Jarell Martin, Zach Randolph, Russ Smith, Jarnell Stokes, Beno Udrih, Brandan Wright. Coach David Joerger.

Notable injuries: Martin out indefinitely.

Memphis continued its eternal run as a staple of the Western Conference’s upper-middle-tier last year, and they should be back this year after managing to keep star center Marc Gasol. Gasol and Randolph give the Grizzlies a fantastic tandem down low, and Mike Conley (as long as he sticks around) has proven to be a very, very solid point guard. Jeff Green is a great complementary option, and Tony Allen remains one of the elite defenders in this league. The Grizzlies could use a better bench, and they’ll probably drop some wins this year as the league is much deeper, but they remain a factor in the West, a team nobody wants to run into when the season is on the line. Playoff Odds: 75%

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#7 New Orleans Pelicans, 45-37 (Last year: 45-37, 8th in West)

Roster: Alexis Ajinca, Ryan Anderson, Omer Asik, Luke Babbitt, Norris Cole, Dante Cunningham, Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans, Alonzo Gee, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Kendrick Perkins, Quincy Pondexter, Nate Robinson. Coach Alvin Gentry.

Notable injuries: Evans, Ajinca out until at least early November, Pondexter out until at least mid-November, Cole out until at least late November, Babbit, Asik battling injuries and in flux.

The Pelicans took a good team on paper and finally translated it into a strong record and a playoff appearance. Anthony Davis is an absolute superstar and will be a fixture in the MVP race for years to come. Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Omer Asik, and Eric Gordon make up the rest of what could be a great starting five, but injuries always seem to be the issue here, and New Orleans has already had some health issues in the preseason. Ryan Anderson gives the Pelicans a very solid stretch four off the bench. Summer coaching hire Alvin Gentry, fresh off an assistant role with the champion Warriors, has spent over 25 years in the league and served as the head coach for four teams, so he is only new to New Orleans. All in all, the Pelicans have a good amount of upside tied in large part to health, and a reasonably stable floor thanks to Davis (assuming he can stay on the floor). They’ll probably end up right around where they did last season, but they could be dangerous. Playoff Odds: 50%

#8 Dallas Mavericks, 43-39 (Last year: 50-32, 7th in West)

Roster: Justin Anderson, JJ Barea, Jeremy Evans, Raymond Felton, Devin Harris, John Jenkins, Wesley Matthews, JaVale McGee, Salah Mejri, Dirk Nowitzki, Zaza Pachulia, Chandler Parsons, Dwight Powell, Charlie Villanueva, Deron Williams. Coach Rick Carlisle.

The Mavericks were on the short end of the DeAndre Jordan battle, and also lost Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler. Wesley Matthews salvaged the offseason for the Mavericks, but he is something of a question mark coming off an Achilles tear. Deron Williams was practically free after the Nets bought him out, but he can no longer be counted on as a top-flight point guard. Dirk Nowitzki is definitely in decline, but he is still very solid. Chandler Parsons has emerged as a very, very good player, albeit not a star, and the Mavericks need to keep him healthy on what is certainly a brittle team. This team has enough to finish over 500, and could push 50 wins with some health and some luck, but things look a lot bleaker in Dallas than they did a year ago. This is a good team, but not a real contender. Playoff Odds: 50%

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#9 Phoenix Suns, 40-42 (Last year: 39-43, 10th in West)

Roster: Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Tyson Chandler, Archie Goodwin, Cory Jefferson, Brandon Knight, Alex Len, Jon Leuer, Markieff Morris, Ronnie Price, Mirza Teletovic, PJ Tucker, TJ Warren, Sonny Weems. Coach Jeff Hornacek.

The Suns brought in Brandon Knight and shipped out Goran Dragic at the deadline last year, guaranteeing them several more years of having a good young point guard manning the backcourt with Eric Bledsoe. Tyson Chandler was brought aboard this summer to anchor the defense, and the sharpshooting Devin Booker was added in the NBA draft. Markieff Morris is unhappy that the Suns traded away his inferior twin Marcus, but he is a solid forward who will contribute if he can suck it up and play. Alex Len took some strides last season and could push Chandler at center. This is not a team with top-four upside in the West, but they could certainly contend for a playoff spot with their (mostly) youthful depth and balanced team. Playoff Odds: 40%

Los Angeles Clippers v Sacramento Kings

#10 Sacramento Kings, 39-43 (Last year: 29-53, 13th in West)

Roster: Quincy Acy, James Anderson, Marco Belinelli, Caron Butler, Omri Casspi, Willie Cauley-Stein, Darren Collison, DeMarcus Cousins, Seth Curry, Duje Dukan, Rudy Gay, Kosta Koufos, Ben McLemore, Eric Moreland, Rajon Rondo. Coach George Karl.

The Kings have a talented roster. DeMarcus Cousins is an elite center, Rajon Rondo is still a great playmaker even if he has declined, Rudy Gay is a very good scorer, Willie Cauley-Stein should be a defensive terror, and the Kings added solid role players in Kosta Koufos and Marco Belinelli during free agency. Ben McLemore started to make good on his draft-day upside last season, and Quincy Acy has, if nothing else, one of the highest motors in the league. This team could very well push 40 or 45 wins and finally become relevant once again in the West under renowned coach George Karl. But the implosion factor is high. Very, very high. Rondo and Cousins are mercurial to say the least, and if they clash with Karl (and/or each other), things should get ugly (and funny) in Sacramento. Playoff Odds: 40%

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#11 Utah Jazz, 38-44 (Last year: 38-44, 11th in West)

Roster: Trevor Booker, Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Dante Exum (Out for season), Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles, Chris Johnson, Trey Lyles, Elijah Millsap, Raul Neto, Tibor Pleiss, Jeff Withey. Coach Quin Snyder.

Notable injuries: Exum out for season.

The Jazz are all about young upside, which is why it’s a shame that Dante Exum tore his ACL this summer. But Trey Lyles, Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, and Rudy Gobert will make this a very fun team to watch, regardless of how they do in the standings. And they should fare pretty well, even if they won’t be contenders in the vicious west. The floor is probably around 30 wins, but they could crack 40 if some of the young guys make major strides. Playoff Odds: 20%

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#12 Los Angeles Lakers, 33-49 (Last year: 21-61, 14th in West)

Roster: Brandon Bass, Tarik Black, Anthony Brown, Kobe Bryant, Jordan Clarkson, Roy Hibbert, Marcelo Huertas, Ryan Kelly, Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, Robert Sacre, Lou Williams, Metta World Peace, Nick Young. Coach Byron Scott.

How many years do the Lakers have to keep struggling before it stops feeling weird to see them all the way down here? Kobe Bryant is on his last legs, the Lakers mostly struck out in free agency, the Clippers are running the city, and the fans are getting tired of hearing about all the superstars allegedly banging down the door to don the purple and gold. If Kobe is healthy, he gives the Lakers a palatable floor— it’s hard to imagine them being as bad as last season. Lou Williams is a dynamic player, although one who should not start, and Roy Hibbert can, if nothing else, anchor a defense. Nick Young is the wild card to end all wild cards, but he can put the ball in the hoop, and the Lakers should get solid contributions in year one from Julius Randle (who broke his leg nine minutes into the 2014-15 season) and D’Angelo Russell. This won’t be a good team, but they won’t be a laughingstock, and Kobe will still have his nights. Oh, and Metta World Peace made the roster, so check out this interview I did with him last year. Playoff Odds: 30%

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#13 Minnesota Timberwolves, 28-54 (Last year: 16-66, 15th in West)

Roster: Nemanja Bjelica, Gorgui Dieng, Kevin Garnett, Tyus Jones, Zach LaVine, Kevin Martin, Andre Miller, Shabazz Muhammad, Adreian Payne, Nikola Pekovic, Tayshaun Prince, Ricky Rubio, Damjan Rudez, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins. Coach Sam Mitchell.

Notable injuries: Pekovic out until at least early December.

The Wolves cut Anthony Bennett and still have enough high draft picks to populate a small nation, including the last two #1 overall picks in Karl-Anthony Towns and reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins. Ricky Rubio is a magician with the ball, and Zach LaVine is a wizard in the air. Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng are also incredibly fun to watch, and veteran Kevin Martin will pack a solid scoring punch to compliment the youngsters. Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller, and Tayshaun Prince bring their infinite wisdom to the table, and Nikola Pekovic should arrive mid-season to give Minnesota a bruiser down low. The Wolves may have been the worst team in the NBA this season, but should claw their way back to relative respectability this time around, and it won’t be long before they’re one of the scariest teams in the NBA.

Sam Mitchell could prove to be an able coach, but the entire NBA family would rather he had never been pressed into duty— The Timberwolves will play this season with heavy hearts after head coach Flip Saunders lost his battle with cancer in October. Playoff Odds: 25%

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#14 Denver Nuggets, 27-55 (Last year: 30-52, 12th in West)

Roster: Darrell Arthur, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Randy Foye, Danilo Gallinari, Erick Green, Gary Harris, JJ Hickson, Nikola Jokic, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mike Miller, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jameer Nelson, Jusuf Nurkic. Coach Michael Malone.

Notable injuries: Nurkic out until at least mid-November. Chandler (Hamstring) Day-to-Day.

The Nuggets were forced to unload their best player this summer, as Ty Lawson simply couldn’t get his act together in Denver. Emmanuel Mudiay will step in as the franchise point guard, but it might be rough sailing for Denver for a year or two. Kenneth Faried possesses unbelievable energy and a very solid skill-set to boot, and Danilo Gallinari could be a star if only he could stay on the court— if nothing else, he’ll be a strong supporting player if the Nuggets can find their main guy. Jusuf Nurkic should return fairly early from his knee injury, giving the Nuggets one of the most promising, interesting centers in the NBA. Wilson Chandler can score effectively in a complimentary role, and there must be some reason LeBron James always wanted Mike Miller around. This Nuggets team might have some big nights. But the stability isn’t there and the medical question marks are too many to count. It’s hard to see the 2015-16 Nuggets being more than a footnote in the West. Playoff Odds: 20%

#15 Portland Trail Blazers, 25-57 (Last year: 51-31, 4th in West)

Roster: Cliff Alexander, Al-Farouq Aminu, Pat Connaughton, Allen Crabbe, Ed Davis, Tim Frazier, Maurice Harkless, Gerald Henderson, Chris Kaman, Meyers Leonard, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Luis Montero, Mason Plumlee, Noah Vonleh. Coach Terry Stotts.

Notable injuries: Henderson out until at least mid-November. Aminu Day-to-Day.

The Trail Blazers got absolutely ransacked this summer. Pillaged. Plundered. LaMarcus Aldridge is gone. Robin Lopez is gone. Arron Afflalo is gone. Wes Matthews is gone. Nicholas Batum is gone (traded for Gerald Henderson, who promptly finds himself on the injury report). Damian Lillard is a stud, and he’ll do enough to keep the team from being an absolute embarrassment, but there isn’t anything remotely resembling a supporting cast around him. Mason Plumlee was a great get from Brooklyn, but he can’t be a team’s second-best player unless their leading guy is LeBron’s Older Brother from Outer Space. Al-Farouq Aminu is decent, but he’ll mostly be remembered for signing a $30 Million deal that signaled the era of the New Salary Cap, in which the governing philosophy is to “Pay guys because we can.” Portland was, without a doubt, the biggest loser this summer, and it’s going to be a long, long six months in Rip City. Playoff Odds: 15%

PLAYOFFS

Eastern Conference Quarter Finals

#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs #8 New York Knicks

The Knicks usually play well against LeBron’s teams. That might matter in a one-game playoff, but the Knicks aren’t ready to beat an elite team in a best-of-seven series. Cavaliers in 5

#2 Miami Heat vs #7 Washington Wizards

The Wizards have a star, but no depths. The Heat have stars, and depth. And home-field advantage. And more veterans who have been there before. And are better on both sides of the ball. Yeah. Heat in 5

#3 Chicago Bulls vs #6 Milwaukee Bucks

This rivalry is getting good. It’s going to be getting better. And the Bucks will be better by the end of the year than at the start, whereas the Bulls might be wearing down. Not just yet, though. Bulls in 7

#4 Atlanta Hawks vs #5 Toronto Raptors

The 4/5 matchup is usually something of a push. This should be no exception. The Hawks have more playoff experience and are less reliant on any given player or pair of players. That gives them the edge in a short series, but it’ll be close. Hawks in 7.

Western Conference Quarterfinals

#1 Golden State Warriors vs #8 Dallas Mavericks.

Hard to see the Mavericks posing much of a threat, if they can even take a game against the machine that is Golden State. It’s hard to sweep a series, though. Warriors in 5

#2 Houston Rockets vs #7 New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis will be the best player on the floor. But he’s not a dangerous enough scorer to do it all by himself, and Harden has a much better supporting cast. An upset is unlikely here. Rockets in 5

#3 San Antonio Spurs vs #6 Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are no pushover, but they’re a much easier matchup than the Spurs had to face in the first round last year. Expect another tough series between the two teams, but with the Spurs’ new young core, I’m not as worried about their potentially being worn down. Spurs in 6

#4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs #5 Los Angeles Clippers

This will be the best series of the first round. If the Thunder are healthy, their big 2 puts LA’s to shame. The Clippers are deeper, but not by too much. Expect a ton of points in this series from both sides, but give OKC the edge, especially with Home-Field Advantage and one of the best crowds in the NBA. Thunder in 7

Eastern Conference Semifinals

#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs #4 Atlanta Hawks

Unless the Cavaliers are severely shorthanded for the second year in a row, it’s hard to see the Hawks taking them down, especially when the Hawks didn’t stand in their way during Atlanta’s 60-win campaign. Cavaliers in 5.

#2 Miami Heat vs #3 Chicago Bulls

This one should be good. But I think it takes a team with more (healthy) star power than Chicago to take down Miami’s depth. The Heat won’t run into a team like that, at least not for one more round. Heat in 7.

Western Conference Semifinals

#1 Golden State Warriors vs #4 Oklahoma City Thunder

I’m really high on the Thunder. But the Warriors have better defense, a better bench, and a better system that won’t see their stars needing to chuck up shots down the stretch. Not many teams can beat OKC. This is one of them. Warriors in 6

#2 Houston Rockets vs #3 San Antonio Spurs

If any team has the perimeter defenders to slow down James Harden, it’s the Spurs. Defensively, San Antonio will expose Harden and pile on the points, pulling off what is only an upset in terms of seeding. Spurs in 6

Eastern Conference Finals

#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs #2 Miami Heat

LeBron vs Miami with a trip to the Finals on the line. Can you imagine? Expect LeBron, Wade and Bosh to all bring their best. But if that happens, it’s advantage, LeBron, especially if he’s flanked by Irving and Love. The forecast calls for yet another trip to the Finals for the best player alive. Cavaliers in 6 

Western Conference Finals

#1 Golden State Warriors vs #3 San Antonio Spurs

The two most recent champions will face off here with a spot in the Finals hanging in the balance. The Splash Brothers will leave their mark, but if the Spurs can guard the perimeter, Golden State won’t have the inside scoring to keep up with the Old Big Three and the new combo of Leonard, Aldridge and Green. Tim Duncan will earn himself a shot at one last ring. Spurs in 7

NBA Finals

#1E Cleveland Cavaliers vs #3W San Antonio Spurs

Cleveland got to the Finals in the first year of the LeBron-Irving-Love era, but the latter two were absent for the big show. Not this time. The King won’t have to do it all himself here, but he’ll do an awful lot of it en route to his third ring and the first championship in Cavaliers history. Cavaliers in 6

NBA Champions: Cleveland Cavaliers

AWARDS & ACCOLADES

LEADERS:

Scoring: Carmelo Anthony, NYK— Homer pick, but show me a better combination of scoring ability and market share in his team’s offense. You can’t. Melo might be putting up 25+ shots a night, unless the Knicks really embrace the Triangle. Durant or Westbrook could end up here, but each likely holds the other back a bit in terms of per-game totals.

Assists: Chris Paul, LAC— Don’t really need to justify this one too much. The game’s best pure point guard has to be the favorite here.

Rebounds: Andre Drummond, DET— Not much of a reach to start, and with Greg Monroe gone, Andre, alone at the table, should eat on the glass.

Steals: Russell Westbrook, OKC— always a bit of a hard start to predict, but Westbrook showed his chops last season and can focus more on defense with Durant back to shoulder the scoring load. CP3 could end up here as well.

Threes Made: Stephen Curry, GSW— Well, because, yeah.

Three Point Percentage: Kyle Korver, ATL— If he was going to start missing, he would have done it years ago.

AWARDS

Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, CLE— the best player in the world (Still, Mr. Davis) has to be the favorite here, especially given a chance to shoulder more of the load in the absences of Irving.

Rookie of the Year: Emmanuel Mudiay, DEN— He’ll be given the keys to the offense right off the bat, and he has professional experience after a year in China. If he stays on the court, he has a great shot to win it, although his team won’t win many games.

Sixth Man of the Year: Corey Brewer, HOU— Remember when the Knicks got this guy in the Melo trade but then cut him right away? Not their best move. The Rockets have a stacked starting lineup, but Brewer’s elite 3-and-D skill-set will lead their efforts when the subs come in.

Coach of the Year: Alvin Gentry, NOLA— This is the worst award in sports. The best coach doesn’t really change from year to year. And look at how many COTYs get fired soon afterwards. But Gentry has a solid reputation as a coach, and the Pelicans COULD take a leap this year, so, as I always say with this award… why the heck not?

Most Improved Plyaer: Jonas Valanciunas, TOR— Another “why not” award, but Valanciunas was supposed to take three or four years to really arrive, and it’s his fourth year, and he’s already been pretty darn good. He could make “the leap” this season, which would be huge for Toronto.

Defensive Player of the Year: Jimmy Butler, CHI— Perimeter players have been getting some love in Defensive Worship Circles, and it’s Butler’s turn, as he establishes himself as an elite defender and player, and the true star of the Chicago Bulls (sorry, Derrick).

All-NBA First Team:

  1. Stephen Curry: Hard to leave the reigning MVP off the list.
  2. Chris Paul: He’s not slowing down, and the guys around him are just getting better.
  3. LeBron James: Best. Player. Alive.
  4. Anthony Davis: Best. Player. Alive. (In my 2018-19 preview)
  5. Marc Gasol: Not getting a shot at guy was a tragedy for the Knicks. He’ll show why now that he’s been paid. The versatile anchor of a tough Memphis team on both ends.

All-NBA Second Team:

  1. Russell Westbrook: Having Durant back should hurt his per-game totals, but will help him be more effective. Has emerged as a true superstar.
  2. Jimmy Butler: Makes the leap this year to true superstardom. Could make the 1st team over Paul.
  3. Kevin Durant: Again, he and Westbrook limit each other statistically, but having both makes the Thunder an elite team. If he stays on the floor, no reason he won’t turn in another spectacular campaign.
  4. Carmelo Anthony: Like Durant, all he needs is health to be one of the elite players in the league. And unlike Durant, his team will completely rely on him (but for that reason, the defenses can key in).
  5. DeMarcus Cousins: No reason he can’t be here based on ability. He’ll make an All-NBA team unless his brain gets in the way.

All-NBA Third Team:

  1. Damian Lillard: Will put up gaudier stats now that he’s 99% of the Portland offense.
  2. James Harden: Overrated in my book, but will put up very high scoring totals and a misleadingly high number of steals.
  3. Chris Bosh: Back from a major health scare, he’ll now get to be “the guy” in his first full year post-LeBron. This team is deep, but Bosh should still stand out.
  4. LaMarcus Aldridge: He’s good enough to be here or better, so he’ll get this honor if the Spurs’ maniacally team-oriented style of play doesn’t limit his stats too much.
  5. Dwight Howard: When he’s happy and healthy, he’s elite.

All-Defensive First Team:

  1. Chris Paul: A fixture on the Defensive team.
  2. Jimmy Butler: DPOY pick has no reason not to be here as well.
  3. Draymond Green: Versatile defender got his money, now he’ll try to stop opposing scorers from getting theirs.
  4. Kawhi Leonard: Reigning DPOY only getting better.
  5. DeAndre Jordan: The paint is the other house DAJ puts on lockdown.

All-Defensive Second Team:

  1. John Wall: Elite speed and improving instincts could be enough to earn him a spot on the list for the second straight year. If not, I’ll take Westbrook.
  2. Tony Allen: The most skilled perimeter defender alive.
  3. LeBron James: Can guard all 8 positions. 3 of which he practically invented.
  4. Anthony Davis: Freak of nature is disruptive all over the court.
  5. Marc Gasol: Not uber-athletic like Jordan, but has the skills to hold down the interior.

All-Rookie First Team:

  1. Emmanuel Mudiay: Not leaving the ROY off the first team.
  2. DeAngelo Russell: Kobe will take a lot of the shots, but Russell will still get a huge opportunity right off the bat. Defense needs work, but should be an immediate impact player offensively.
  3. Justise Winslow: Top-notch defender and athlete (albeit a bit undersized) who will emerge as a star if he can establish a consistent jumper.
  4. Kristaps Porzingis: The Knicks will thrust him into the fire, if for no other reason than trying to validate last year’s disastrous campaign. Porzingis is incredibly unique and has all the makings of a future star. He won’t get there this year, but he should be one of the top two in a draft class that is weak at forward.
  5. Jahlil Okafor: He will be the go-to guy on offense from the start in Philly.

All-Rookie Second Team:

  1. Mario Hezonja: Beautiful shot, exciting style of play will make him a quick riser in this league. Might have to fight for major minutes, though.
  2. Jerian Grant: The Knicks have a knack for getting guys on these teams, if nothing else. Elite court awareness and great athleticism should win him the starting job before long.
  3. Stanley Johnson: Johnson can do nearly everything, so don’t expect him to fly completely under the radar in Year One, even if he left the NCAA a year or two early.
  4. Myles Turner: Had a late growth spurt, much like Anthony Davis. Has a bit of each of the five positions in his game, and could unseat Porzingis or Winslow on the first team.
  5. Karl-Anthony Towns: Might finish in the top three in ROY voting. Especially if he gets a chance to show off his pretty solid jumper.

Well, that’s it for this year’s NBA preview! Let the games begin! -Tommy Rothman

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NBA SEASON PREVIEW & PREDICTIONS: 2014-2015

By Tommy Rothman

The 2014-2015 NBA season is upon us, so it’s time for my annual New York Knicks Memes season preview! Read and enjoy! Feedback is appreciated, of course.

Section 1: Regular season. Section 2: Playoffs. Section 3: Awards & Accolades

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NBA SEASON PREVIEW & PREDICTIONS: 2013-2014

By Tommy Rothman

melo james

Awards / Accolades

MVP: LeBron James

DPOY: LeBron James

ROY: Victor Oladipo

6MOTY: Tyreke Evans

COTY: Tom Thibodeau

MIP: Iman Shumpert

All-NBA First Team: Derrick Rose, James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard

All-NBA Second Team: Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol

All-NBA Third Team: Stephen Curry, Dwyane Wade, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tyson Chandler

All-Defensive First Team: Chris Paul, Tony Allen, Paul George, LeBron James, Dwight Howard

All-Defensive Second Team: Mike Conley, Iman Shumpert, Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka, Tyson Chandler

All-Rookie First Team: Michael Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore, Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk

All-Rookie Second Team: Trey Burke, CJ McCollum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Bennett, Gorgui Dieng

Per-Game-Leaders:

Scoring Leader: Kevin Durant

Assists Leader: Chris Paul

Rebounds Leader: Kevin Love

Steals Leader: Chris Paul

Blocks Leader: Serge Ibaka

3 Pointers Made Leader: Stephen Curry

Field Goal % Leader: Tyson Chandler

Free Throw % Leader: Kevin Durant

TEAM-BY-TEAM PROJECTIONS

Key: # seed team name (Record) —- [seed last year]

Note: The 3 division winners in each conference are guaranteed a top 4 seed. If 2 teams have identical records, and one team is a division winner, that team gets the higher seed. If both teams win their division or if neither team wins its division, the team which wins the head-to-head matchup during the season gets the higher seed. If the head-to-head matchup was tied as well, whichever team has a better record against its divisional opponents gets the higher seed.

Eastern Conference

#1 Miami Heat (60-22) — [1 in 2012-2013]

MIA

Roster: Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Michael Beasley, Rashard Lewis, Chris Andersen, Mario Chalmers, Greg Oden, Roger Mason Jr., James Jones, Norris Cole, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony, Erik Spoelstra (Coach)

The Heat looked suspiciously beatable at times last season against the Pacers and Spurs and struggled at times during the regular season to assert their dominance over teams like the Knicks. Of course, along with these “struggles” came a 27-game winning streak and a second straight championship (even if they needed a total collapse from the Spurs in the Finals), so there’s not much that anybody can complain about. LeBron James is by far the best player alive and is forcing his way into the greatest-of-all-time conversation (like it or not). Dwyane Wade may be a bit past his prime but is still a star, and he should be better than he was down the stretch last season after getting some treatment on and rest for his ailing knees. Chris Bosh is an all-star in his own right despite frequently being overshadowed by his two super-teammates, and the Heat have a decent supporting cast, one that is certainly good enough given how amazing their top three players are. The Heat may slip a bit this season, but are still the early favorite to win the East.

#2 Chicago Bulls (55-27) — [5 in 2012-2013]

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Roster: Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Mike James, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Joakim Noah, Tony Snell, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Marquis Teague, Erik Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Nazr Mohammed, Tom Thibodeau (Coach).

I cheated a bit… I waited until the preseason was over to write my NBA preview. What I saw from Derrick Rose during the preseason was enough to convince me that former MVP Derrick Rose is back… and it’s about damn time. Rose looked as electric as ever in his return to the court, and if he can stay healthy, what was already a formidable squad without him returns to being an elite team in the NBA. The Bulls could make a serious run for the top seed in the East if Rose’s body holds up.

#3 New York Knicks (52-30) — [2 in 2012-2013]

mtc

Roster: Chris Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Kenyon Martin, Tim Hardaway Jr., Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Pablo Prigioni, Beno Udrih, Iman Shumpert, Toure Murry, Cole Aldrich, Metta World Peace, Andrea Bargnani, Mike Woodson (Coach).

There’s a lot that can go wrong here, that is undeniable. What I don’t understand is the seemingly global assumption that everything will go wrong. The Knicks were the second-best team in the Eastern Conference last year, won the season series against Miami convincingly, finally won a playoff series, and may have gone farther had four of their top five players not battled injury during the second round against Indiana. Nearly all of last year’s team is back, and with the Knicks finally taking steps to avoid overworking Amar’e Stoudemire, this could be the year they finally keep him on the court for the lion’s share of the season. An injury to Anthony would probably sink the ship altogether, but with a bit of luck— hopefully more than they’ve had recently— there is no reason to think the Knicks can’t still be a top team in the East.

Note: An extensive Knicks Season Preview will be published later on New York Knicks Memes.

#4 Indiana Pacers (50-32) — [3 in 2012-2013]

IND

Roster: Lance Stephenson, George Hill, Luis Scola, Rasaul Butler, Solomon Hill, Orlando Johnson, Donald Sloan, David West, Chris Copeland, Paul George, Ian Mahinmi, C.J. Watson, Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, Frank Vogel (Coach).

So apparently, I’m lower on the Pacers than anybody else is. The Pacers are a very good team, and might have made the Finals last season if they had bothered to stop the best player alive from getting an easy layup at the buzzer. But they were at their best during those three weeks against the Knicks and Heat, and because they were so good the last time we saw them, a lot of people are throwing out a much larger sample size: the regular season, during which Roy Hibbert, Paul George, and the Indiana Pacers were good… very good… but not elite. George and Hibbert are still developing, but I think both players are being slightly overrated as things stand right now. And after all that hype about Danny Granger’s return, the team announced that Granger will miss at least the first three weeks of the season. The Pacers were the 3 seed last year, and even though things really clicked for them in May and June, I’m not sold on them as a championship team just yet.

#5 Brooklyn Nets (49-33) — [4 in 2012-2013]

BKN

Roster: Andray Blatche, Mason Plumlee, Kevin Garnett, Alan Anderson, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Tyshawn Taylor, Brook Lopez, Shaun Livingston, Tornike Shengelia, Reggie Evans, Jason Terry, Mirza Teletovic, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, Jason Kidd (Coach).

The Nets managed to trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett this summer, which would be a lot more exciting if this were 2008. Still, while the two ex-Celtics are well past their primes, this team is dangerous, with a star-studded starting five of Williams, Johnson, Pierce, Garnett, and Lopez. But the team is not too deep, although Kirilenko was a fantastic signing, Evans is a terrific rebounder (if nothing else), and Terry might still have a bit left in the tank). And even the starting lineup gives me some concern… Johnson, Pierce, and Lopez are seldom willing to pass the ball, and Pierce, KG, and (to a lesser extent) Johnson are declining. Can their rookie coach make it work? This is a very good team, but I’m not sure I’m buying into the championship hype, and there are a lot of things that can go wrong here. And as far as their regular season record goes, Coach Kidd will likely give Garnett and Pierce a lot of rest in an effort to keep them fresh for the playoffs, and this could cost them a few wins in the regular season.

#6 Detroit Pistons (41-41) — [11 in 2012-2013]

DET

Roster: (Andre Drummond, Chauncey Billups, Rodney Stuckey, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Tony Mitchell, Greg Monroe, Will Bynum, Gigi Datome, Kyle Singler, Charlie Villanueva, Jonas Jerebko, Peyton Siva, Josh Harrellson, Maurice Cheeks (Coach).

Just when I was getting excited about the Pistons, the team announced that new addition Brandon Jennings will miss several weeks with a tooth injury. Still, this team is much improved and should be solid this season. The starting lineup of Jennings, Billups, Smith, Monroe, and Drummond (if Coach Cheeks chooses to run with those five) is one of the best in the league, and Caldwell-Pope is one of my favorite rookies. The Pistons probably aren’t good enough to crack the East’s top five just yet, but they have a very, very good shot to finally get back to the playoffs.

#7 Cleveland Cavaliers (40-42) — [13 in 2012-2013]

2012 BBVA Rising Stars Challenge

Roster: C.J. Miles, Jarret Jack, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Earl Clark, Matthew Dellavedova, Sergey Karasev, Tristan Thompson, Henry Sims, Anthony Bennett, Anderson Varejao, Andrew Bynum, Carrick Felix, Alonzo Gee, Tyler Zeller, Mike Brown (Coach).

Kyrie Irving is already one of the game’s best point guards and he is still improving. The Cavs have one eye on next year’s LeBron sweepstakes, but the team they have right now should be good enough to flirt with the 500 mark and make the playoffs. Irving is a stud, Waiters has great potential, Varejao is a top big man when healthy, and Bynum will be an elite player if he can stay on the floor. If Thompson can develop a bit more on offense, and Bennett can prove that he was the right choice for the top pick in this year’s draft, the Cavs could make some noise.

#8 Atlanta Hawks (39-43) — [6 in 2012-2013]

ATL

Roster: Jeff Teague, Louis Williams, Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll, Pero Antic, Jared Cunningham, Shelvin Mack, John Jenkins, Gustavo Ayon, Al Horford, Dennis Schroeder, Cartier Martin, Kyle Korver, Mike Scott, Elton Brand, Mike Budenholzer (Coach).

Paul Millsap was a nice signing, but the loss of Josh Smith will hurt the Hawks on both offense and defense. Teague is one of the more underrated point guards in the league and Horford is one of the game’s best centers, but the Hawks really don’t have much after those two and Millsap. Fortunately, in a top-heavy East, they might not need much more than that to make the playoffs.

#9 Washington Wizards (37-45) — [12 in 2012-2013]

WIZ

Roster: Trevor Ariza, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, Eric Maynor, Al Harrington, Martell Webster, Kendall Marshall, Kevin Seraphin, Glen Rice, Garrett Temple, Otto Porter, Jan Vesely, Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee, Chris Singleton, Trevor Booker, Nenê, Randy Wittman (Coach).

The Wizards have a talented team but a lot of injury risk. Their recent trade for Gortat gives another solid frontcourt player to put alongside Nenê, and the backcourt of Wall and Beal will be exciting to watch. But until the key guys on this team show that they can be healthy and productive for a full season, I don’t trust them.

#10 Toronto Raptors (34-48) — [10 in 2012-2013]

TOR

Roster: Landry Fields, Quincy Acy, Austin Daye, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Dwight Buyck, D.J. Augustin, Amir Johnson, Steve Novak, Jonas Valanciunas, Rudy Gay, Terrence Ross, Aaron Gray, Tyler Hansbrough, Julyan Stone, Dwane Casey (Coach).

Last year’s trade for Rudy Gay gave the Raptors a go-to scorer and gives this year’s team a chance to compete for one of the final playoff spots in the east. Lowry is a pretty solid point guard, DeRozan is one of the most athletic players in the league and Valanciunas has terrific upside, but after those 4 guys, Toronto has almost nothing, and I don’t think that Gay, Lowry, DeRozan, and Valanciunas alone will lead this team to the playoffs… but they certainly have a chance.

#11 Boston Celtics (29-53) — [7 in 2012-2013]

BOS

Roster: Avery Bradley, Keith Bogans, Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, MarShon Brooks, Phil Pressey, Jordan Crawford, Brandon Bass, Victor Faverani, Kelly Olynyk, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Brad Stevens (Coach)

O, how the mighty have shipped their core to the Nets for nearly nothing in return! When Rajon Rondo comes back from his ACL tear (and nobody knows exactly when that will be), the Celtics might be decent, but until then, their best player is Jeff Green. This won’t go well.

#12 Milwaukee Bucks (26-56) — [8 in 2012-2013]

MIL

Roster: O.J. Mayo, Caron Butler, Ekpe Udoh, Nate Wolters, Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders, Miroslav Raduljica, Carlos Delfino, Brandon Knight, Gary Neal, Luke Ridnour, Khris Muddleton, Zaza Pachulia, John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Larry Drew (Coach).

Milwaukee lost their two best scorers this summer when Monta Ellis left for Dallas and Brandon Jennings was traded to Detroit. Mayo can put the ball in the basket, and the defense, anchored by Sanders, might be decent this season… but the team has almost no depth and lacks star power, meaning they probably won’t be going anywhere.

#13 Charlotte Bobcats (22-60) — [14 in 2012-2013]

CHA

Roster: Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Adrien, Jannero Pargo, Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon, Gerald Henderson, Josh McRoberts, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson, Brendan Haywood, Cody Zeller, Anthony Tolliver, Jeffrey Taylor, James Southerland, Steve Clifford (Coach).

Michael Jordan may have been the best player on the team last year, which is probably a bad sign given that the greatest player of all time is the 50-year-old owner, not the starting shooting guard. But the Bobcats should actually take a step forward this season, after signing star big man Al Jefferson and drafting one of the nation’s top bigs in Cody Zeller. Kemba Walker is electric, and Gerald Henderson is much better than most fans give him credit for. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t a star, but he is a pretty solid role player. Overall, the Bobcats could have a competent team this season. Of course, their standards for competence are lower than most.

#14 Orlando Magic (19-63) — [15 in 2012-2013]

ORL

Roster: Doron Lamb, Kyle O’Quinn, Aaron Afflalo, Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Ronnie Price, Glen Davis, Tobias Harris, Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Maurice Harkless, Solomon Jones, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Maxiell, E’Twaun Moore, Jacque Vaughn (Coach).

Nikola Vucevic showed that he might have what it takes to become an all-star big man in Orlando before his inevitable defection to Los Angeles. Victor Oladipo is the early favorite for the Rookie of the Year award, and Big Baby Davis is a lot better than his nickname implies. Afflalo and Nelson are solid as well. But this team is still a work-in-progress. It has some potential, and their salary cap situation is very good, but they will need a couple more years of drafting and developing before they are relevant again in the East.

#15 Philadelphia 76ers (14-68) — [9 in 2012-2013]

PHI

Roster: Spencer Hawes, Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Arnett Moultrie, Darius Morris, Tony Wroten, James Anderson, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Hollis Thompson, Daniel Orton, Lavoy Allen, Kwame Brown, Brandon Davies, Brett Brown (Coach).

The Sixers are really going for it this season. And by “it”, I mean the top pick in the draft. For the second summer in a row, Philly traded their best player for a big man with serious knee concerns. Not-So-Bold Prediction: It won’t work out this time, either.

Western Conference

#1 Oklahoma City Thunder (58-24) — [1 in 2012-2013]

durantwestbrook

Roster: Russell Westbrook, Perry Jones III, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Derek Fisher, Ryan Gomes, Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams, Reggie Jackson, Andre Roberson, Thabo Sefolosha, Hasheem Thabeet, Kevin Durant, Scott Brooks (Coach).

Seriously, can you imagine if this team still had James Harden? Even without The Beard, this team is still very dangerous, with the league’s second best player leading the way. Durant will have to handle almost all of the offensive load until Russell Westbrook gets back, but a solid, deep supporting cast and a fantastic defense should keep this team very competitive before Westbrook’s return makes them truly elite.

#2 Los Angeles Clippers (57-25) — [4 in 2012-2013]

LAC

Roster: Byron Mullens, Darren Collison, Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Maalik Wayns, DeAndre Jordan, Jared Dudley, Jamal Crawford, Ryan Hollins, Matt Barnes, Reggie Bullock, Blake Griffin, Antawn Jamison, Willie Green, Doc Rivers (Coach).

Blake Griffin is pretty overrated, in my opinion… but as far as second-fiddles go, he’s one of the best in the league. Chris Paul is the star of this team and the Clippers managed to retain him this summer, meaning that they will once again be one of the league’s top teams. Eric Bledsoe is gone, but Jamal Crawford returns and new additions Jared Dudley, J.J. Redick, and veteran Antawn Jamison make this a very solid bench. This team is deep, has a pair of stars (including a top-five player), and is coached by one of the game’s best. They should challenge the Thunder and the Rockets for the West’s top seed.

#3 Houston Rockets (56-26) — [8 in 2012-2013]

rockets

Roster: Aaron Brooks, Isaiah Canaan, Patrick Beverley, Omer Asik, Greg Smith, Terrence Jones, Jeremy Lin, Ronnie Brewer, Dwight Howard, James Harden, Omri Casspi, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Francisco Garcia, Robert Covington, Kevin McHale (Coach).

After years of failing to acquire a superstar, the Rockets had one fall into their lap last season when they fleeced the Thunder to acquire James Harden right before the season started. When one superstar is in place, others often follow, and indeed, the Rockets managed to win the Dwight Howard sweepstakes this summer, giving them the league’s best center to pair with its best shooting guard (players must have two functional Achilles tendons to qualify for this title). The supporting cast isn’t great, but its solid, with knockdown shooter Chandler Parsons, hustle-maniac Omer Asik, and Linsanity himself surrounding the two superstars. If Harden and Howard are healthy and motivated, this team will be extremely dangerous. If they have injuries, or Howard once again becomes unhappy and/or disinterested, there could be a problem.

#4 San Antonio Spurs (51-31) — [2 in 2012-2013]

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs

Roster: Kawhi Leonard, Marco Belinelli, Danny Green, Cory Joseph, Patrick Mills, Tony Parker, Jeff Ayres, Matt Bonner, Aron Baynes, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Nando de Colo, Boris Diaw, Gregg Popovich (Coach).

Every year, we assume that this is the year the aging Spurs collapse, get proved wrong, and are forced to start the next season’s preview with this apologetic sentence. The Spurs should have won the NBA championship last season, but a complete meltdown in the final seconds of game six caused them to miss out on what may have been Tim Duncan’s final chance to get another ring. Each year, the collapse of the Spurs becomes more and more likely. I don’t think Tim Duncan will turn to dust this year, but with Ginobili seemingly on his way there, Duncan can’t be too far behind. Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard are younger and give this team some insurance, but to remain a top team, the Spurs need their 2 elder statesmen to hang on for another year. Fortunately for them, I think they have it in them… but the championship window has probably closed.

#5 Golden State Warriors (50-32) — [6 in 2012-2013]

GSW

Roster: Toney Douglas, Ognjen Kuzmic, Marreese Speights, Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut, Kent Bazemore, Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, Festus Ezeli, Harrison Barnes, Mark Jackson (Coach).

Stephen Curry had a very solid regular season and a fantastic postseason, but most people are choosing to use the much smaller and slightly more recent sample size, which is why I believe Curry is slightly overrated. However, the Warriors are not a one-man team. David Lee is a very solid power forward, Klay Thompson is a fantastic shooter, new addition Andre Iguodala is one of the most versatile players in the league, Andrew Bogut is a very solid center when healthy, and Harrison Barnes has the potential to become a top scorer. This team is good. Very good, in fact. But I’m not so sure that they’re good enough to crack the top four in this extremely competitive Western Conference.

#6 Memphis Grizzlies (48-34) — [5 in 2012—2013]

New York Knicks v Memphis Grizzlies

Roster: Jerryd Bayless, Tony Allen, Mike Conley, Nick Calathes, Mike Miller, Quincy Pondexter, Tayshaun Prince, Jamaal Franklin, Jon Leuer, Ed Davis, Marc Gasol, Kosta Koufos, Zach Randolph, David Joerger (Coach).

This team is good, but not great. Marc Gasol established himself as a top center in the league on his way to winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award, and Zach Randolph can be very dangerous when his head, heart, and body are all in the game. But the guard play is a bit week, and last year’s midseason trade of top scorer Rudy Gay leaves a big hole in the offense which the Grizzlies failed to address this summer. The Grizzlies lucked out when Russell Westbrook went down with a knee injury, clearing a path for Memphis to advance to the Western Conference Finals (where they were swept aside by the Spurs). The Grizzlies made very few moves this offseason, and they should once again be a middle-of-the-pack team in the West’s top 8 during the regular season, after which they need to hope for another playoff run.

#7 Denver Nuggets (44-38) — [3 in 2012-2013]

DEN

Roster: Darrell Arthur, Jordan Hamilton, Ty Lawson, Randy Foye, J.J. Hickson, Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, Anthony Randolph, Wilson Chandler, Andre Miller, Timofey Mozgov, Quincy Miller, JaVale Mcgee, Kenneth Faried, Evan Fournier, Brian Shaw (Coach).

The Nuggets had the Coach of the Year and the Executive of the Year last season… and they got rid of both. Color me slightly confused. In addition, Faried, a key part of last year’s team, appears to be a strong candidate to lose his starting spot to Anthony Randolph, despite the fact that Faried has been very solid since being drafted and Randolph has produced almost nothing. Add in the fact that Danilo Gallinari will miss a chunk of the season (at least) with a torn ACL, and the Nuggets are poised for a big drop-off in the improved Western Conference.

#8 Dallas Mavericks (41-41) — [10 in 2012-2013]

dirk

Roster: Shawn Marion, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Bernard James, Ricky Ledo, Jose Calderon, Jae Crowder, Monta Ellis, Devin Harris, Wayne Ellinton, Vince Carter, Gal Mekel, Brandan Wright, Dirk Nowitzki, DeJuan Blair, Rick Carlisle (Coach).

The Mavericks did everything possible to land Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, or even two of those three, and struck out entirely. Where do they go from here? Well, they started by taking big gambles on the next tier of free agents, handing out juicy contracts to Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon in an effort to give the aging, deteriorating Dirk Nowitzki one more chance at a title. The Mavericks should actually have a very solid offense, but the defense looks like it is going to be horrible, meaning that the Mavericks still have a few more moves to make.

#9 New Orleans Pelicans (36-46) — [14 in 2012-2013]

PEL

Roster: Al-Farouq Aminu, Tyreke Evans, Darius Miller, Anthony Morrow, Jeff Withey, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Jason Smith, Arinze Onuaku, Brian Roberts, Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers, Ryan Anderson, Greg Stiemsma, Lance Thomas, Monty Williams (Coach).

If they can stay healthy (I’m looking at you, Eric Gordon), the Pelicans should be able to make a run at the playoffs. Holiday and Davis are very good players, and Evans, Gordon, and Anderson are very solid people to put around those two. The Pelicans have almost no depth, which keeps them from being a top team, but the core is very promising.

#10 Minnesota Timberwolves (35-47) — [12 in 2012-2013]

MIN

Roster: Alexy Shved, Gorgui Dieng, Robbie Hummel, Derrick Williams, Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, J.J. Barea, Corey Brewer, Nikola Pekovic, Shabazz Muhammad, A.J. Price, Kevin Martin, Ronny Turiaf, Dante Cunningham, Kevin Love, Rick Adelman (Coach).

Kevin Love is one of the best players in the NBA, but has had some problems staying on the court. If the Wolves can get a full season from Love and electric young point guard Ricky Rubio, they could be a dangerous team. The addition of Martin gives them a solid second scorer, and Nikola Pekovic is one of the most underrated players in the league. Muhammad and Dieng have upside but cannot be relied on. I have the Timberwolves pretty high considering their lack of depth, but Love is a true superstar, and when healthy, teams with superstars rarely have records much worse than this.

#11 Portland Trail Blazers  (32-50) — [11 in 2012-2013]

LIL

Roster: Damian Lillard, Dorell Wright, Wesley Matthews, C.J. McCollum, Will Barton, Meyers Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Earl Watson, Victor Claver, Joel Freeland, Allen Crabbe, Maurice Williams, Thomas Robinson, Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum, Terry Stotts (Coach).

It would have taken a complete genius to predict that Damian Lillard would win Rookie of the Year last season over Anthony Davis. On an unrelated note, I predicted that Damian Lillard would win Rookie of the Year last season over Anthony Davis. The second-year point guard is exciting and should be a star before too long, and he is paired with one of the best big men in the game in LaMarcus Aldridge. Wesley Matthews is a solid role player, Nicolas Batum is a decent scorer, and Thomas Robinson is only one year removed from being a top-five pick in the NBA draft. The Blazers added two solid rookies in June; both McCollum and Crabbe have the potential to be special. This team has the potential to make a run at the 8-seed in the West, and would certainly make the playoffs if they played in the East. In the end, however, I think they will fall just a bit short unless they can pick up another star in a midseason trade.

#12 Los Angeles Lakers (29-53) — [7 in 2012-2013]

kobe

Roster: Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Elias Harris, Shawne Williams, Ryan Kelly, Steve Blake, Xavier Henry, Chris Kaman, Steve Nash, Wesley Johnson, Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks, Kobe Bryant, Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre, Mike D’Antoni (Coach).

Choosing to employ an absolutely terrible coach instead of one of the best coaches of all time was certainly a gutsy move by the Lakers, but it didn’t pay off last season as Kobe and his five rings struggled to get into the playoffs. Kobe blew out his Achilles at the end of the season, Dwight Howard bolted for Houston in the summer, and Steve Nash is breaking down before our eyes. The Lakers are a long shot to make the playoffs, and depending on how long Kobe is out (it is clear that his hopes of playing on Opening Night were delusional), this could get ugly.

#13 Utah Jazz (27-55) — [9 in 2012-2013]

JAZ

Roster: Enes Kanter, Marvin Williams, Trey Burke, John Lucas, Andris Biedrins, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Ian Clark, Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush, Rudy Gobert, Mike Harris, Jeremy Evans, Jamaal Tinsley, Tyrone Corbin (Coach).

Gordon Hayward has proven to be a very solid NBA player, and the Jazz have 2 big men with star potential in Favors and Kanter. The loss of Millsap hurts, as does Trey Burke’s injury which will keep the rookie guard out for the beginning of the season. The Jazz were decent last year but will almost certainly take a step back in 2013-2014. The future, however, is not all that bleak, with cap space and draft picks on the horizon.

#14 Sacramento Kings (24-58) — [13 in 2012-2013]

cuz

Roster: Ray McCallum, John Salmons, Jimmer Fredette, Patrick Patteson, Greivis Vasquez, DeMarcus Cousins, Ben McLemore, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Carl Landry, Travis Outlaw, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Jason Thompson, Chuck Hayes, Hamady N’Diaye, Mike Malone (Coach).

The Kings actually have a somewhat acceptable amount of talent on the team, even after losing Tyreke Evans in free agency. DeMarcus Cousins is a headcase, but he is one of the best centers in the NBA. Still, there’s really not enough on this team for a playoff run to be remotely conceivable.

#15 Phoenix Suns (12-70) — [15 in 2012-2013]

phx

Roster: Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Ish Smith, Channing Frye, Markieff Morris, Gerald Green, Marcus Morris, P.J. Tucker, Archie Goodwin, Alex Len, Miles Plumlee, Dointe Christmas, Emeka Okafor, Sasha Kravtsov, Jeff Hornacek (Coach).

With the first pick in the 2013-2014, the Phoenix Suns select… Andrew Wiggins, Freshman, from the University of Kansas. Just kidding… the team with the worst record never wins the lottery. But seriously, this team is dreadful. They made a nice trade to get Eric Bledsoe, but traded away Gortat, and Dragic will probably be next. The Suns probably won’t break the record for worst winning percentage in a season, but they might make it close.

PLAYOFFS:

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals:

#1 Miami vs. #8 Atlanta

This one shouldn’t really be close…. LeBron isn’t going home in the first round.

Heat in 4

#2 Chicago vs. #7 Cleveland

Uncle Drew could very well match Rose point-for-point, but the Bulls are much deeper once you look past the star point guards.

Bulls in 5

#3 New York vs. # 6 Detroit

Both teams have fantastic frontcourts, but the Pistons are far less experienced and a bit weaker across the board.

Knicks in 5.

#4 Indiana vs. #5 Brooklyn

Easily the most intriguing series of the first round. Will the aging and injury-prone Nets still be healthy at this point? I’m not so sure, so I’ll give the edge to the home team.

Pacers in 7

Western Conference Quarterfinals

#1 Thunder vs. #8 Mavericks

Both teams have solid offenses, but the Mavericks can’t possibly hope to match up on defense.

Thunder in 5

#2 Clippers vs. #7 Nuggets

With Gallo back, the Nuggets should be better than your average 7th seed, but still not good enough to beat the Clippers.

Clippers in 5

#3 Rockets vs. #6 Grizzlies

Superstars win in the playoffs. The Rockets have two of them.

Rockets in 5

#4 Spurs vs. #5 Warriors.

I don’t think the aging Spurs will be able to keep up with the Warriors. But picking against the Spurs still makes me nervous.

Warriors in 7

Eastern Conference Semifinals:

#1 Heat vs. #4 Pacers

The Pacers should give the Heat another tough series, but Miami can’t possibly be foolish enough to take them lightly again this time around.

Heat in 6

#2 Bulls vs. #3 Knicks.

The Knicks struggle with guarding point guards, which gives the Bulls an edge in this physical matchup.

Bulls in 6

Western Conference Semifinals:

#1 Thunder vs. #5 Warriors

Once again, the Thunder’s defense will give them an edge against the more one-dimensional Warriors. This will probably be the most fun series to watch in the West.

Thunder in 6

#2 Clippers vs. #3 Rockets

Howard will be Blake Griffin’s worst nightmare if he hasn’t demanded a trade at this point. The inexperienced Rockets could fall apart, but I like them on paper if their shooters are knocking down the open looks once Howard draws the double-teams.

Rockets in 7.

Eastern Conference Finals:

#1 Heat vs. #2 Bulls

These two teams are pretty evenly matched, but the Heat have more star power, and as good as Rose is, it’s hard to pick against the King.

Heat in 6.

Western Conference Finals:

#1 Thunder vs. #3 Rockets

Between the two superstar duos, Harden and Howard probably fit together better than Durant and Westbrook. But the Thunder will have a superior supporting cast, and the best player on the floor when the game comes down to the wire.

Thunder in 7, but it was still a dumb trade.

NBA Finals:

#1 Heat vs. #1 Thunder (Heat have home-court advantage).

best

With the Thunder’s core having developed farther, and with Wade having slipped a bit, this matchup should be much closer than it was two years ago… but I’m going with the same outcome in the end.

Heat in 7 

Finals MVP: LeBron James

There are so many elite teams this season, and so many young superstars. This should be one of the best NBA seasons yet, so enjoy the ride, whether your team is chasing an NBA Championship or Andrew Wiggins.