The 2012-13 NBA season is beginning to take shape, as rosters are coming into form and the schedule is being analyzed. Training camps and preseason will begin in a matter of weeks, and the regular season isn't far behind.
The crazy NBA offseason has seen plenty of changes to the landscape, with teams expected to fall from the land of the playoffs and teams expected to shock the world and make the leap to the postseason.
With rosters starting to take their final shapes, it's about time to start predicting which teams will still be playing in the NBA playoffs.
Rankings feature the East first, followed by the West
Projected Record: 41-41
The Milwaukee Bucks struggled down the stretch and fell out of playoff contention. The team made a big decision to trade Andrew Bogut for Monta Ellis, and with Brandon Jennings' contract up at the end of the year, it seems like it was the right move.
The Bucks added centers Joel Przybilla and Samuel Dalembert this offseason to get bigger without Bogut. They re-signed Ersan Ilyasova to a long-term deal and drafted John Henson and Doron Lamb.
The Bucks should be right around where they were last season or, possibly, a little bit better. They will benefit from a weakened East and from Orlando likely falling out of the playoff picture.
Projected Record: 44-38
The Atlanta Hawks lost Joe Johnson this offseason but added Devin Harris, Lou Williams and Anthony Morrow to strengthen the squad. The new talent will certainly help, but Johnson's void will be hard to completely fill.
The Hawks only have three players under contract for the 2013-14 season: Anthony Morrow, Al Horford and John Jenkins. Jeff Teague is a restricted free agent. All this provides the Hawks with plenty of flexibility to operate around the trade deadline. If the team doesn't feel it can compete come February, changes could be on the way.
With the roster situation up in the air, the Hawks should still make the playoffs, but the new signings and any changes later will have an impact. It will take a while to adjust, and that will cost the Hawks a few games here and there.
Projected Record: 47-35
Getting Andrew Bynum by giving up Andre Iguodala was a great move by the 76ers front office. Bynum provides the 76ers with a true big man to work around. Doug Collins has done a great job with team, and we can expect that to carry into this season.
The team lost Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks to free agency, but the acquisitions of Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright and Nick Young more than make up for it. The 76ers may take a while to adjust to the new faces, but this team is much more versatile and talented.
If the 76ers can hit the ground running, the sky is the limit for this team. They aren't ready to compete with the top of the East yet, but they are on the right path to do so in the near future.
Projected Record: 48-34
The Chicago Bulls were quite unfortunate last season, as Derrick Rose's knee injury not only ended their season short of their goal, but will impact the first half of this season. With Rose not expected back until around the midway point of the season, the Bulls will have to rely on a not-so-talented group.
Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah form a decent core of players, but without their star, this Bulls team is in trouble. They need to weather the storm and hope that Rose is back sooner rather than later.
Whenever Rose comes back, this Bulls team gets much better. They are contenders with Rose in the lineup, but losses early in the season could make a deep playoff run very tough.
Projected Record: 50-32
The Knicks had a solid offseason, adding Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer and Marcus Camby to the mix. The team also lost Landry Fields and Jeremy Lin to free agency. While Lin had tons of potential, Kidd may be the best option for the Knicks this season.
This will be the first full season Carmelo Anthony plays in New York after last season was interrupted by the lockout. An offseason working with new head coach Mike Woodson should benefit the Knicks quite a bit. The additions of Kidd and Camby will also bring more veteran leadership to the mix.
The Knicks should be better than they were in last season's up-and-down stretches. Expect more ups than downs thanks to Mike Woodson and some new players. In this prediction, the Knicks would get a tough playoff matchup against the Chicago Bulls in the first round.
Projected Record: 54-28
The Indiana Pacers surprised a lot of people last season, as they beat the Orlando Magic in five games in the first round of the playoffs and played the Miami Heat tough in the second round. Despite their second-round exit, the Pacers should have gained plenty of confidence after taking a 2-1 series lead against the Heat.
The Pacers kept their core from last season mostly in tact but added D.J. Augustin and Gerald Green. Augustin was brought in to replace Darren Collison, who left via free agency. Green helps to strengthen the Pacers' bench.
A surprise to many last season, the Pacers finished second in the division, eight games behind Chicago. They have a great chance to not only compete for the division title, but to win it with Derrick Rose sidelined for much of the year.
Projected Record: 56-26
The Boston Celtics refuse to act their age, as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett keep plugging away. After getting so close to the finals, the Celtics reloaded this offseason despite losing Ray Allen. To ease the suffering of Allen signing with the rival Miami Heat, the Celtics signed Courtney Lee and Jason Terry.
Those additions, as well as draft picks Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, should make the Celtics a better team in 2012-13, especially with more depth in the regular season. The Celtics should get a good seed in the playoffs and set themselves up for a rematch with the Miami Heat.
The Celtics should see their win percentage increase. The Eastern Conference is fairly weak at the moment, which should really help the Celtics with regard to playoff seeding and winning their division.
Projected Record: 66-16
The defending champion Miami Heat are definitely the team to beat entering the 2012-13 season. While the Western Conference teams have gotten much better, the East is weak and Miami should have little trouble securing the first seed.
The Heat got much better by adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis this offseason. Both players will fill holes and do it in a way that provides extreme amounts of flexibility for Erik Spoelstra and his coaching staff.
With the new additions and the weaker East, the Heat should improve their win percentage from last season. It's hard to imagine the Heat contending for 72-10, but it isn't out of the realm of possibilities.
Projected Record: 44-38
The Warriors finally seem to be moving the right direction after years of mismanagement. After trading Monta Ellis to get Andrew Bogut, the Warriors have a much more complete team with solid players at most positions.
A huge piece of the puzzle is the continued development of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. If that pairing can play up to their potential, the Warriors are in great shape to make the playoffs this season and for many to come.
With such a young team, the Warriors have to stay composed under Mark Jackson. The Warriors aren't going to win any hardware this season, but sneaking into the playoffs and getting some experience will be great for the future.
Projected Record: 46-36
The Dallas Mavericks had a tough season after winning the NBA Finals in 2011. To make up for the disappointing season, the Mavs reloaded by signing a plethora of new talent, including Dahntay Jones, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo.
Time is running out on 34-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, so the quick rebuilding is necessary, but the rest of the West is so tough that it'll be hard for the Mavs to climb the ladder. They will need to keep Nowitzki healthy and integrate their new additions quickly.
The Mavs' new talent will take some time to adjust. This will likely hurt the Mavs in the win-loss column early in the season, but Dallas will be a tough opponent in the playoffs.
Projected Record: 47-35
Yes, not only will the Minnesota Timberwolves make the playoffs, but they will finish with the sixth seed. The team is moving in the right direction with a bunch of young talent. Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are at the center, but the additions of NBA returners Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy could pay off in a big way.
Kirilenko and Alexey Shved played great basketball for Russia during the Olympics, which is a great sign for the Timberwolves. Love also had a nice showing coming off the bench for Team USA.
The Timberwolves aren't there yet, but they have a roster to make the playoffs and get some experience. This team is a work in progress, but with some key additions in the next few seasons, they could be right up there fighting to contend in the West.
Projected Record: 51-31
In recent history, when a player tries to hold a franchise hostage to force their way to a certain destination, the team pays for it for years. Denver Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri made sure the opposite was the case following the Carmelo Anthony situation. Since then, Ujiri has completely flipped the roster, and only Ty Lawson remains from the Anthony days just a season-and-a-half ago.
The Nuggets have an exciting core of scoring ability and athleticism with Lawson, JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari, and Kenneth Faried. The biggest moment of the Nuggets' offseason was moving Al Harrington and Arron Afflalo in order to get Andre Iguodala from the 76ers.
It's been great to see the Nuggets move on so well after trading Carmelo Anthony. The Nuggets aren't up at the top of the Western Conference contenders, but they are certainly leading the second tier.
Projected Record: 53-29
The Los Angeles Clippers got scary news this offseason when Blake Griffin injured his knee, but all signs point to his being ready for the season opener. Expectations are high for the Clippers after their franchise-reversing successful season last year.
Just when it appeared that the Clippers were finally taking over as the team to beat in L.A., the Lakers landed Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to remain the best team in the city. While the Clippers are good, they are stuck behind the top teams in the Western Conference.
It will take a lot for the Clippers to overtake the Lakers, the Oklahoma City Thunder or the San Antonio Spurs, but it's possible. With the No. 4 seed, the Clippers would be looking at a tough series against the Denver Nuggets.
Projected Record: 56-26
The San Antonio Spurs surprised most last season when they refused to show their age and finished tied for the best record in the league at 50-16. It was the ageless core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker that led the Spurs, but the team also got contributions from Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Stephen Jackson.
While the Spurs finished first last season, they will have stiffer competition with a more grown-up team in Oklahoma City and the new and improved Los Angeles Lakers. All three teams will be expecting to finish the season with the first seed.
For the Spurs, it will come down to being able to last throughout the length of the full season and into the postseason. They will cause trouble for whoever they face in the playoffs.
Project Record: 59-23
The Los Angeles Lakers had one of the best offseasons since the Miami Heat signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh. With the two big additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to play alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Lakers are in do-or-die championship mode.
While the Lakers may be the team to beat in the West come playoff time, it will take a while for the Lakers—specifically, Kobe Bryant—to figure out how to play with Nash and Howard. That will hurt the win-loss column initially, but all that matters in L.A. is bringing home that championship.
The Lakers also brought in Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison to strengthen their bench. Those signings have been extremely underrated and will help the Lakers in a big way.
Projected Record: 63-19
The Oklahoma City Thunder can pretend all they wanted that the Dwight Howard signing doesn't matter to them, but it definitely does. The Thunder are still the team to beat until the Lakers can prove their "Big Three" can successfully play well together, but the new Lakers could take the top spot if they gel quickly.
The Thunder kept their core group of players together for another season and also re-signed head coach Scott Brooks. The team also added Hasheem Thabeet, who last played for the Portland Trailblazers. The 7'3" center adds another big body to the Thunder roster.
For the Thunder, the goal is to get back to the finals and make up for losing last season. The road will likely be tougher with teams reloading to catch them. While the Thunder should take the acquisitions as the highest form of compliment, they need to stay focused and continue to let Kevin Durant be the best player in the conference. While that's happening, they can beat anybody.