Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Every NBA Team Heading into 2012-13 Season
As the weeks roll on and fewer and fewer college football teams boast a goose egg in the "L" column, the start of the NBA season draws nearer and nearer. It's less than a month before teams report to training camp, and from that point it's less than a month until the season starts.
This being a full year, there are a lot more intricate points to look at, now that teams aren't going to have to deal with running their players ragged on a long stretch of games or playing in different cities on back-to-back nights more often than ever before.
Instead, we've got to take into account teams who had major improvements last season possibly doing even better with a full training camp under their belts and teams who started to fall out of the picture possibly popping back in with more stability to the league.
With the NHL entering yet another lockout, it's time to rejoice that the NBA is plowing on strong and getting ready to start what should be one of the most successful seasons in league history. In anticipation, it seems like a good time to look at the best- and worst-case scenario for each team out there.
Best: Ewing Theory Pulls Through
The Atlanta Hawks made quite a few moves this offseason, so it's going to be hard for anybody to really put a finger on them until they play some games, but it's entirely possible that the Ewing Theory is in play here.
Joe Johnson may have been replaced by the bulk of a team that ended up going 22-44 last season, but that's not to say there's nothing salvageable in terms of personnel from that trade.
DeShawn Stevenson is an impressive defender even after a season of not seeming to care very much, Anthony Morrow can hit a three when he's rolling and Johan Petro is a big body.
That, combined with the possibility of an interesting Devin Harris season, could mean the team rallies behind Josh Smith and Al Horford to have a nice season, making a playoff run and probably getting ousted in the second round.
Worst: Smith Has a Fit; Pieces Don't Fit
There's a flip side to that possibility as well. In this scenario, Johnson was somewhat of a glue that held the team together, and the Nets' pupu platter doesn't end up being worth much to them past shedding salary.
Devin Harris turns out to be Devin Harris, Lou Williams is shot-happy (as usual) and the team struggles for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, all while it is unable to find a willing and realistic trading partner for Smith, leading to it getting another pupu platter in a sign-and-trade after the season ends.
Final Record Prediction: 41-41
Best: Youth Merges with Experience
Boston is going to be an interesting team to watch this season, mostly because its team makes no sense at this point. The old dudes seem to be ready to play, while injury concerns swirl about the young dudes to no end.
In a perfect season, Jared Sullinger comes in and learns to toughen up a bit from Kevin Garnett, ending up becoming the best possible version of Big Baby, while Avery Bradley recovers from his shoulder surgery swimmingly and Fab Melo comes in and plays a few good rough-and-tumble minutes a game.
Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo then lead the team past the Miami Heat in the playoffs and end up forging a way into the NBA Finals, where they meet and beat the new and improved Los Angeles Lakers.
Worst: Age and Injuries Run the Show
A flip side to that coin also exists out there. In this case, Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry all start to realize their age, production comes down a bit and the Celtics start to rely on their younger players a little too much.
Bradley realizes that surgery on both shoulders during an offseason is not a great equation to equal a productive season, while Sullinger's back ails him and Melo plays like the loaf we know him to be. The Celtics grab a mediocre playoff spot and find themselves packing their bags in the first round.
Final Record Prediction: 49-33
Best: Upstage the Knicks with a Higher Playoff Spot
With the move to Brooklyn the biggest thing on the minds of people with any kind of interest in what the Nets do this season, it really doesn't matter all that much how well they play.
However, a perfect season would see all their new pieces fitting together nicely and Deron Williams going back to old form and dropping 11 dimes a game, while Joe Johnson drops the rain from the corner and the team sets Brooklyn on fire.
Eventually the Nets end up upstaging their new crosstown rivals with a higher playoff spot, meet them in the first round and take them down, but potentially make it no further than the second round.
Worst: Fighting for an Eighth Seed
Of course, Brooklyn has a lot to do in terms of putting a brand-new team together with a lot of moving pieces to consider.
Williams has to fit well with Joe Johnson, their meager bench needs some life and some luck, and Brook Lopez needs to avoid getting hurt again. If everything ends up hampering the Nets and they break out with a slow start, it would probably be considered a large failure if they miss the playoffs.
Final Record Prediction: 40-42
Best: Young'uns Improve; MKG Looks Like the Real Deal
Charlotte isn't going to be asking for much this season, just some signs that the future is going to be a bit brighter than it was before the draft brought Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to its doorstep.
The absolute best the Bobcats could hope for is another terrible season in which they can hope for another high lottery pick, but instead of doing so in historically bad fashion, they see improvement from Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo while MKG looks like the stud we all think he can be.
Worst: MKG Looks Shaky
On the flip side, if Kidd-Gilchrist starts to look shaky with the Bobcats early on, shots don't fall and his athleticism only takes him so far, then you could have a very nervous front office there in Charlotte.
Another bad year of basketball is coming, so there's no reason to think that a high lottery pick is in doubt, but if MKG struggles to impress, the rest of the team shows little improvement and B.J. Mullens is forced to play big minutes again, then we could have some troubles brewing in Charlotte.
Final Record Prediction: 19-63
Best: Derrick Rose Returns Early; Team Competes for Title
If I were a gambling man, I'd put my money on Derrick Rose coming back well before the season ends. Perhaps doctors tell him it's too soon, but it seems like so few things can keep him from playing basketball that he's going to be back on the court when he's ready.
With an early return from Rose, the Bulls have plenty of time to reincorporate him into their offense, get some games on his wheels and make sure he's healthy for the playoffs. Once his feet are under him, Rose then leads this team on a playoff run the city hasn't seen since 1997, bringing a title home to Chicago.
A championship season isn't out of the question in Chicago, although it does seem really far-fetched.
Worst: Rose Returns Late; Struggle for Playoff Prowess
It's entirely possible, however, that the Bulls are overly cautious with Rose and he ends up coming back just a few games before the playoffs start as the team is fighting for positioning down at the bottom of the bracket.
With just a few games to get ready, Rose struggles to get back into the flow of the game quick enough, the Bulls end up going home early yet again after a first-round loss and an angry Rose storms off the court after the final buzzer blows.
Final Record Prediction: 44-38
Best: Kyrie Expands His Game; Rookies Look Promising
Cleveland could very well make a playoff run if everything falls into place, but that might not be the best-case scenario in the long run for the team. Instead, it might be best for another less-than-stellar season in which improvement abounds, but a moderate lottery pick still finds its way to the Cavs' doorstep.
In all, the best season possible for the Cavs would be one in which Kyrie Irving's passing ability expands, his defense toughens and he continues to be a clutch scorer, while guys like Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller look like promising NBA players.
Worst: Sophomore Slump and Flat Rookies
A nightmare for Cleveland would be for Kyrie to come out with expectations as lofty as a three-story-tall barn but does nothing to ever really fill those expectations. He comes out of the gate sputtering and has a season kind of like John Wall did in 2011-12 in which he pretty much mirrored his rookie year.
On top of that, if Waiters and Zeller end up looking like swings-and-misses rather than at least a bloop single or two, things could get dicey really quickly in the Cavaliers front office, and heads could start to roll.
Final Record Prediction: 26-56
Best: The Expendables
Dallas has a band of players coming together who once were promising and exciting but are now cast off into the obscurity of one-year contracts and hopes for a better future.
The best the Mavericks can hope for is an entertaining season in which Chris Kaman and Dirk Nowitzki team their German roots up to dominate the post while guys like O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison experience a resurgence.
They can play some exciting ball with this team, but it doesn't seem likely that there's a Western Conference final run brewing in the loins of this amalgamation of players. At best they look like a second-round surprise, only to go home in a deep, thrilling second-round series.
Worst: Another Lost Season
While the first scenario kind of seems like a lost season in its own way, even worse would be another year of regression from the team as a whole in what could only be described as a lost season for a team that just had one of those a year ago.
We're talking about a year in which Dirk seems content with not playing as well as he has before and the rest of the team worrying more about their next paycheck rather than the game at hand from a teamwork standpoint.
It's not inconceivable that this Dallas team misses the playoffs by a few games.
Final Record Prediction: 44-38
Best: New Guys Contribute; Western Conference Finals Run
There's a lot of hope up in Denver—you can see it flowing out of the sky if you live slightly east of the city as the elevation starts to drop, and there's good reason for it all.
Denver is looking like the deepest team in the NBA, and it probably is both on paper and on the floor. A perfect season for the Nuggets would see improvement from their young players and contributions in huge numbers from the likes of Andre Iguodala, Evan Fournier and even Anthony Randolph.
What could ensue is a playoff run that gets people on their feet and brings back the glory days of the Nuggets. A trip to the Western Conference finals is not out of the question for this team, although an NBA Finals trip may be too much to ask.
Worst: Styles Clash; First-Round Exit
The worst thing they could hope for would be for Andre Iguodala to come into town and just not fit in well with the team, which doesn't really seem possible on the surface, but in terms of mentality and style, this is one that Iggy hasn't played since Allen Iverson was in Philadelphia.
If he can't get back up to the pace and misses the days with the 76ers when he could dig his trench and the team would wage 89-85 warfare with other teams, he might not be worth what they gave up.
It seems unlikely that this team misses the playoffs in the West, but it's entirely possible for another first-round exit to be in the cards.
Final Record Prediction: 51-31
Best: Andre Drummond Looks Special
Detroit shouldn't be looking for much out of this season. Instead it should hope for signs for the future and a terrible record come the end of the year. If there is one thing this team is not, it's a playoff team.
What would make most people in Detroit happy would be improvement from the young players, some good moves by the front office and Andre Drummond doing things that his body looks like he should be able to do.
A promising rookie year from Drummond is probably the best this team could ask for, and for the fans, a little hope for the future can go a long way.
Worst: Flat Improvement; Dismal Front-Office Moves
Of course, there's a tails side to every coin. It's entirely possible that Drummond is what we saw him be in college: an athletic freak of nature with poor basketball instincts, a complete lack of aggression and terrible free-throw shooting.
If he can't produce much this season, the team continues to flatline and somehow the front office is able to screw up its salary-slicing in half from this year to next, then fans in Detroit could get really restless really quick.
Final Record Prediction: 30-52
Golden State Warriors
Best: Health and the Playoffs
The hype train is on the rails in Oakland, but it could go out of control once training camp starts. In case you guys haven't heard the whistle, Golden State has a definite shot at the playoffs this year.
Not much would come out of the Warriors playing well together, but the fans are sick of losing games and failing to make the playoffs for another year to get a mediocre lottery spot. This team is in dire need of some playoff basketball.
Improvement from Klay Thompson, a promising rookie season from Harrison Barnes and healthy years from Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry could very well lead to a low playoff seed for this Warriors squad.
Worst: Injuries, Injuries, Injuries
Of course, for a team that looks like the second incarnation of the Portland Trail Blazers from the end of the last decade, injuries could be the unguardable foe that constantly lurks in the shadows.
Should one of Curry's glass ankles turn to shards again or another freak injury befall Bogut, this train could be running off the rails and into San Francisco Bay.
Final Record Prediction: 41-41
Best: Jeremy Lamb Takes Off; Rookies Look Good
There is a ton of confusion surrounding the Rockets lineup these days, but there are some promising young players on that squad. Among the newcomers, a few guys look like they could be very good basketball players, but Jeremy Lamb looks like he's got full-on All-Star potential.
A perfect season in Houston would be one where the three rookies from their first round end up gelling well together and Lamb competes with an outside shot at the Rookie of the Year Award.
The playoffs aren't out of the question for this squad (mostly because I don't even know who to ask the question to) but seem unlikely. So an entertaining season with some promising rookies and another lottery pick on the horizon should be a good grab from this season.
Worst: Lineup Coagulation; Rookies Fall Flat
Of course, with the number of guys getting paid to fill their backcourt, there's always the possibility of an enormous logjam happening in the middle of that Rockets lineup. Guys won't get enough minutes, they won't be able to maximize their rookies and it will just look like a bunch of ugly basketball.
With all that going on, it hardly seems possible for a group of young players to band around anything positive to have a good season and look like there's some promise in them.
At least another lottery pick would be coming up for them to add yet another forward to the frontcourt quagmire.
Final Record Prediction: 34-48
Best: A Leader Emerges; Eastern Conference Finals Run
Indiana was on the cusp of a terrific upset in the playoffs in 2012, but it lacked that one player to lock them all down, keep the eyes facing forward and take the big shots when necessary.
Danny Granger is that guy by default, but he's not the best incarnation of a player who should be that guy. Instead, if Paul George or Roy Hibbert were to step up and take a shot at being the physical and emotional leader of this team, great things could happen.
By great things I mean taking down some big foes in the postseason and making a run to the Eastern Conference finals. While that's not out of the question, it still seems like the team is too young to make it to the NBA Finals.
Worst: A Stagnant Season
What would be the absolute worst situation for this team would be for nothing to happen from last year to this year. By that, of course, I mean the team becoming stagnant and seeing the exact same result this coming season that it did last season.
A trip to the second round only to get beat by the Heat again would be the worst, but really making it to the playoffs and not showing some form of improvement over last season could be absolutely devastating for a young team like this.
Final Record Prediction: 53-29
Los Angeles Clippers
Best: Rejuvenated Newcomers; Western Conference Finals Run
There are a lot of strange combinations of players possible in this Clippers lineup this season, but in love and basketball, sometimes strange bedfellows make the best music together.
Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom could prove to be amazing pickups for the Clippers this year, good enough for the team to run back to the playoffs, take down some foe in the first round, run past another team in the second round and suddenly find itself in the Western Conference finals.
This doesn't seem like a team good enough or experienced enough together to make the NBA Finals, but conference finals aren't out of the question.
Worst: Jamal and Lamar Flop; Chris Paul Leaves
Of course, with two players as devastatingly unpredictable as Crawford and Odom at this point in their careers, they could see tails come up on both of their coins. Lamar could just be out of gas, rather than sad about getting traded to Dallas last season, and Crawford might not be the scorer he once was any more.
The two of them coming in and not working out could then lead to a first-round playoff exit by the Showtime Blakers, and that might lead to some muttering and sputtering around Chris Paul's future with the team.
Suddenly he finds a better situation elsewhere and decides he's ready to take on another challenge with another team. It seems more likely that Paul stays in L.A. as of right now, but that doesn't mean it'll seem the same way in April.
Final Record Prediction: 51-31
Los Angeles Lakers
Best: Showtime Cometh; NBA Title
The rumblings and grumblings of the past month or so have quickly turned into a dull roar coming from Los Angeles, and in case you haven't heard, a lot of people out there seem to think that the Lakers can end up bringing home a title at the end of this season. That's totally in the realm of possibility.
Should Los Angeles see Steve Nash and Dwight Howard run well together, Kobe Bryant get along with everyone and Pau Gasol stand on the baseline and knock down shots when he's told to, a title is a very real possibility for this team.
Worst: Dwight's Back Stays Tight; Second-Round Playoff Exit; Dwight Flees
Of course, the Lakers are hinging their hopes on a guy who just had back surgery a few months ago and has no real timetable for a return. Perhaps Howard ends up struggling to make it back on the court before the turn of the calendar and the team has problems coming together in a cohesive unit before the playoffs start.
It seems like this team is destined to make it to the second round of the playoffs. It wouldn't be the NBA without the Lakers there, right? However, after two straight semifinal exits, another one could be in the books if things fail to fill out right.
Final Record Prediction: 57-25
Best: Stable Season; Stable Team; Western Conference Finals Run
The worst part about last season was the short season, not in the fact that it wore the team down and it was never able to work out a proper lineup, but in that it lost Zach Randolph early on and was never able to figure out the quandary between him and Rudy Gay.
Now the Grizzlies have a full training camp and a full season together to figure out how to make things work between the two of them alongside Marc Gasol. Figure that out and a run to the Western Conference finals is totally possible.
Worst: Styles Keep Clashing; Another First-Round Exit
However, it's possible that even a full season from the two of them ends up with unhappy results for everyone involved and they just can't make it work out.
In a last-ditch effort to get the most out of these two very different players, they put Randolph on the bench for the time being and hope he's okay with being the sixth man for the best of the team. From there things blow up, and the team leaves in the first round of the playoffs yet again.
Final Record Prediction: 50-32
There's not really a big question about it: The best Miami can do this season is win another title.
What we're looking at is a better basketball team than the one the fielded last season, and while the Heat aren't going to win 72 games, they'll probably dominate the regular season, come into the playoffs with lofty expectations and potentially win another ring.
Worst: A Foe Doesn't Slip Up
What helped the Heat a bit last season was that they saw adversity evaporate in three different series (although they could have been the heat lamp to aid the drying of each spill). Indiana was up two games to one on them, while Boston could have taken them down in a Game 7, and Oklahoma City's youth betrayed them.
It's possible that these teams learned from their mistakes last season, or even that another foe steps up and doesn't blink when they come running at them with a full head of steam, taking them down, whether it be in the second round, the conference finals or in the NBA Finals.
Final Record Prediction: 65-17
Best: Rookie Jackpot; Playoff Berth
The Milwaukee Bucks find themselves right smack dab in the middle of a rock sandwich. This team probably isn't good enough to make the playoffs this season without a little luck, but it's not bad enough to bottom out and hope for a top-three pick.
What the Bucks are going to have to hope for is that they hit the jackpot with the likes of John Henson, who could very well end up being a terrific big man should everything shake out well for him. If that happens, one of the playoff spots at the bottom of the barren Eastern Conference bracket could be theirs.
Worst: Offense Fizzles; Barely Miss Playoffs
The worst possible thing for Milwaukee, however, would have to be the team going stagnant and ending up with a pick outside of the top 10 while missing the playoffs altogether and seeing little greatness in Henson.
On top of that, should their two-man show in Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis fizzle, we could see Ellis take his $11 million player option, shove it back at Milwaukee and hit the road from there.
Final Record Prediction: 31-51
Best: Gambles Pay Out; Playoff Return
Minnesota took a lot of calculated risks this offseason, and while most of them look like they could pay off in the end, they are gambles no matter which way you look at them.
If Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy end up transforming the Timberwolves from a team with no production from the wing into a team with pieces galore to throw on the floor, then you should see them with a playoff spot and potentially a ticket into the second round. Beyond would be pushing it.
Worst: Injuries; No Return to Old Form; Barely Miss Playoffs
Of course, there's always the possibility that one of the most injury-prone players of our time not named Greg Oden goes down again (sorry Roy), Ricky Rubio sees some nagging injuries pop up and Kevin Love has to take the team over for himself yet again.
From there you would see a return to old form with Love forced to score 25 points a game if the team wants to win, but nobody else stepping up to help the big man out as the team barely misses the playoffs to get a terrible lottery pick.
Final Record Prediction: 45-37
New Orleans Hornets
Best: Davis Looks Divine, Rivers Good, but Another Lottery Pick
There's no mystery here when it comes to what New Orleans wants to see from its team this season. All that really needs to happen for everybody to be happy is for Anthony Davis to look great and Austin Rivers to look OK.
From there, some chemistry would be nice. Some impressive play from Eric Gordon and the rest of the team looking like a legitimate basketball team would make for some fun basketball. The playoffs aren't out of the question, but it seems unlikely from where we stand right now.
Worst: Davis Looks Less Than Slam-Dunkish; Barely Miss Playoffs
Of course, the worst that could happen would be for Anthony Davis to look, well, pedestrian in his first season in the bigs and for Austin Rivers to follow along with a mediocre rookie foray.
On top of that, should Davis look bad and the team perform moderately well, leading to a record that would put them around 12th in the draft next season, that would be kind of depressing, as it wouldn't do much for the team unless the pick was perfect.
Final Record Prediction: 28-54
New York Knicks
Best: No Circus; Playoff Run
New York needs a calm start to the season more than any other team in the NBA. No stories about how Jeremy Lin could have been the Knicks' savior, about someone putting his fist through something or about someone not getting along with someone else.
Give them a nice, calm start to the season, and a good record should come behind it. A good record to start should lead to a nice playoff spot, which could lead to the team finally getting out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
Worst: Linsanity Is Missed; First-Round Exit to Brooklyn
Of course, it's the Knicks, so we've grown accustomed to expect nothing short of a media circus and endless slams from the back page of the New York Post. Throw in some stories about Jeremy Lin playing well with the Rockets, and you've got a good start to a terrible season for New York.
The worst possible outcome would be a low playoff seed for the Knicks, leading to a first-round matchup with the upstart Brooklyn Nets and the equivalent of Cirque du Soleil writing stories on the series, only to see the Knicks swept out of the first round.
Final Record Prediction: 45-37
Oklahoma City Thunder
There's no question about it: Oklahoma City has all the trappings of a team ready to step up and win itself an NBA title. The Thunder went from being an exciting upstart to a young and promising team to a team in the conference finals and finally an NBA Finals-caliber team a season ago. There's only one more step they can take.
The Thunder seem poised to learn from their mistakes and get back on the wagon to lead their meager little city to a title. If that happens, I expect an announcement of the Kings moving to Seattle the very next day.
Worst: Lakers Take 'Em Out Earlier Than Expected
Real life doesn't always follow story lines, however, and things don't always progress in the way it seems they should.
What would make for the most depressing season for Thunder fans this year, and the team for that matter, would be meeting the Lakers in the first or second round as the Lakers take them down in a short series. Finally, after the season ends, James Harden packs his bag for a big contract.
Final Record Prediction: 62-20
Best: Lottery Winners
Orlando has nothing going for it right now. Between their best players—Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis and Stuff the Magic Dragon—nobody is a part of the future of this team.
What the Magic need more than anything else is a miserable season from the lot of them, fans deciding it's okay since they've got a shot at a lottery pick and renewing season tickets in hopes of Nerlens Noel being the next big thing and the team then winning the lottery.
Worst: Miserable Season; No Top-Three Pick
Of course, there's always the possibility that the team has a miserable season regardless of the situation, fans start to run away from the stadium in droves and the team finishes with a horrendous record.
From there the Magic go into the draft lottery totally expecting to get the treatment that Cleveland and New Orleans got in the past two seasons, only to find out that this is the year David Stern decided to go clean with the lottery, watching their pick fall outside of the top three.
Final Record Prediction: 16-66
Best: Pieces Fit; Playoff Run
There has to be a big concern in Philadelphia that the pieces for the new team don't fit together and it's going to need to hammer them into shape. However, they might be able to come together rather nicely—who knows?
In that case, should the team come together and play well, it should see a return to the playoffs, possibly a higher seed than the eighth spot and another trip out of the first round. From there, it should be able to give another good run at the conference finals, but a trip doesn't seem in the cards.
Worst: Defensive Edge Lost; First-Round Exit
Philadelphia gave up the two key cogs of its defense, and what it brought back isn't going to be able to build the same ship.
With its edge gone on defense but a potentially more potent offense, Philadelphia should make the playoffs yet again, but that edge is what got it into the second round, and without it the 76ers could see a first-round exit.
Final Record Prediction: 45-37
Best: Huge Clash of Playing Styles Surprisingly Works
Phoenix has a weird team. It just doesn't make sense as to how the pieces going to play well together. That being said, the Suns are probably going to shock everyone and manage it.
Should they put together a team that somehow works out, they could find themselves competing for a playoff spot at the bottom of the West and potentially squeezing their way in.
Worst: Huge Clash of Playing Styles; Barely Miss Playoffs
This Phoenix team could be terrible. In fact, the Suns will probably be one of the four worst teams in the Western Conference. However, that's not the worst thing that could happen to the team.
With this strange team coming together, they could have a bit of luck and win a few more games than everyone expected early on. From there they'll compete for a playoff spot but barely miss out, leading to a terrible chance in the lottery and a mediocre draft pick.
Final Record Prediction: 33-49
Portland Trail Blazers
Best: Money Well Spent; Back in Postseason
With a wide range of possibilities after the huge team overhaul in the offseason, Portland could find itself back in the playoffs.
It has a set of rookies with some promise in them, along with a returning core of three players and a young J.J. Hickson, who looked like he fit in well with Portland in his short time there in 2012. Putting together another run into the playoffs seems like a distinct possibility, even if it doesn't seem like it'd get far once there.
Worst: Salary Cap Killed; Still Miss Playoffs
With the contract that they gave to Nicolas Batum, the Trail Blazers annihilated their cap space and said adios to any flexibility in their roster. That's great if they make the playoffs, but that's far from a guarantee.
Portland could struggle with so much emphasis on young players and guys who have never really proven themselves to be leaders of a team (besides LaMarcus Aldridge), leading to a rough season and another playoffs sitting at home.
Final Record Prediction: 36-46
Best: Player Improvement; Flirting with Playoffs
Sacramento is turning into the ultimate "on paper" team. At the price that the Kings pay most of their players, they would be welcomed with open arms to most playoff teams, but put them all together and they're a disaster.
Perhaps Thomas Robinson is the missing piece. He's not going to put up huge numbers, but he could be a terrific "lead by example" guy and be just what this team needs. This could be a playoff team, or at least one that's in the mix at the end of the season.
Worst: Styles Clash; Another Postseason at Home; Team Plans to Move Come Through
Few teams have had as bad luck as Sacramento since its terrific first half of the 2000s, and who's to say that ends now?
Robinson might clash hard with DeMarcus Cousins, leading to a locker-room rift and another miserable season for the Kings. What's worse, after another postseason on the wrong side of the television, the Maloofs could finally end up moving the team or selling it to someone only buying in to move it away.
Final Record Prediction: 28-54
San Antonio Spurs
Best: Run to the Finals
It's impossible to cash out on this team. It's a craps table that just keeps paying out that's impossible to walk away from. Sure, it's got to fall back to Earth at some point, but isn't it a safer bet now that it's going to keep orbiting?
There's a lot of age at the top of this lineup and a lot that needs to fall into the right place, but the San Antonio Spurs still have a finals run left in them in their current incarnation.
Worst: Age Dishes a Fatal Blow
Basketball is a young man's game, however, and age has to take over at some point. Even last season, when the team was visibly older, it ended up playing like a younger, more offensively potent basketball team.
Even if age did take a big bite out of this team, whether it be injuries or just a decrease in production, it would still make the playoffs and run at least to the second round, possibly beyond.
Final Record Prediction: 53-29
Best: Jonas Transforms the Team; Playoff Push
Hope is potent in Toronto these days, but there are a lot of questions surrounding that hope. Jonas Valanciunas is coming to town, and if he's as good a player as everyone says he is, then we could see a transformation on the horizon.
With Valanciunas at center, suddenly Andrea Bargnani can bump down to power forward and play a more natural position, leading to the entire team being more comfortable in their role. Combine that with Kyle Lowry coming to town, and you've got a team that could make the playoffs with the Eastern Conference only going six teams deep.
Worst: Toronto Flops; Another Miss on High Lottery Pick
Toronto is Toronto, however, and good things rarely seem to happen north of the border in the NBA.
In all likelihood, Valanciunas is going to come in and show some promise, but he'll have trouble adjusting to the NBA game. The team won't click right away, and the Raptors are going to have some growing pains to deal with.
From there, it's better if they just have another bad season, but if they should somehow come together and end up in ninth or 10th in the East, that's the worst possible case for the Raptors, particularly since the Rockets get their first-rounder unless it's in the top three or Toronto makes the postseason.
Final Record Prediction: 37-45
Best: Progression; Decisiveness; Playoff Spot
The future in Utah is uncertain at best. The Jazz have a good team, but Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, the foundation of that good team, are both in contract years. What they need is a decision early on as to whether they'll be bringing them both back or trying to get younger and trading one or both of them away. Either way is a good decision for the time being.
Should the Jazz decide to keep them, the only natural assumption from there would be a run to the playoffs, but probably another first-round exit.
Worst: Stagnation; Uncertain Future; Miss Playoffs
What would kill the team and its momentum would be a lack of increased production from the young guys, followed by an indecisive front office in the case of Millsap and Jefferson.
With uncertainty running rampant and guys not knowing that the future's got in store, the only thing that could come of that would be the team barely missing out on a playoff spot, going down with a bad lottery spot.
Final Record Prediction: 42-40
Best: Beal is a Slam Dunk; Threaten to Make Playoffs
Washington has a bunch of players that would look good as middling options on really good playoff teams. It just needs a few guys to rally around in order to become that playoff team.
If Bradley Beal turns out to have the high-potency offense in the NBA that he was known to have in college, then the Wizards could have a trio in John Wall, Nene and Beal that they're hoping to build the team around. From there, a playoff run would have to be in the realm of possibility.
Worst: Beal Is No Ray; Team Fizzles Again
As with anything, however, new things are hard to puzzle out until you see them in action, and Beal has a lot of action to put forth before he can be called the next big thing in Washington.
Should he end up struggling early on, as shooters tend to, then you could see the Wizards take another year to figure things out as the team fizzles and falls from the playoff race as the city looks on.
Final Record Prediction: 34-48
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