Whenever the NBA playoffs roll around, there are a handful of teams that fans can always expect to be at the party.
The Los Angeles Lakers are usually a lock to make an appearance, as are the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder as of late. However, the new CBA finally allows for some sort of competitive balance in the league, which means that all of the superstars can no longer flock to one contending team as easily.
More importantly, partly thanks to some offseason occurrences, this also means that once-regular playoff teams could be denied entry into the club this year.
Just why some of last season's postseason squads will miss the playoffs this season depends on multiple factors. It could be that they overachieved last year, or maybe they had a roster overhaul or coaching change. In some cases, the team might just not be good enough to even make the postseason in the first place.
Regardless of the reason, it's not going to change how disappointed some people, both players and fans, will be once April rolls around.
Nothing against the Jazz, but the team just barely made the playoffs last year, as they did not clinch a berth until the second-to-last day of the season.
Once the playoffs started, they were matched up against the No. 1 San Antonio Spurs and subsequently swept. Though they finished the season on a five-game winning streak, Utah's youth and inexperience ultimately caught up with them.
Such will be the case again this year, as the Jazz are still a young team without a true identity for the post-Jerry Sloan era.
Shooting guard Gordon Hayward is talented, but he has yet to establish himself as someone who can take control of a game and consistently make shots in crunch time.
Adding insult to injury is that former team GM Kevin O'Connor traded away reliable point man (albeit after an offseason) Devin Harris to the Atlanta Hawks for disappointing forward Marvin Williams. Later, Utah acquired the overrated Mo Williams to run the point.
Yet the biggest team issue in Utah is the feud that exists between shooting guard Raja Bell and coach Tyrone Corbin, which has gotten to the point where team management and Bell's agent have agreed that he should not attend training camp.
Should this become a distraction for the team as a whole, it will just be the the last straw on top of every other reason that Utah will miss out on the playoffs.
For the past few years, the Hawks were the team that certainly had the talent to go far in the playoffs but always came up short.
Still, a lineup featuring reliable scorer Joe Johnson, the explosive Josh Smith and center Al Horford gave fans hope that one day, the team would get over the hump. Unfortunately, those hopes will be sadly dashed this season.
Not only has GM Danny Ferry created a point guard controversy in acquiring the score-first Devin Harris to compete for the job with talented all-around point man Jeff Teague, but he also traded Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets for a bunch of reserve players, most notably shooter Anthony Morrow.
In the blink of an eye, the Hawks lost at least 18-20 points per game and replaced them with someone who can score, but relies too much on three-pointers. There's nothing wrong with that, but fellow three-point threat Kyle Korver is expected to start after spending the majority of his career coming off the bench.
Throw in that Smith wants to be traded, and the odds of the Hawks' collective wings being clipped continue to grow.
I hate to say it, folks, but the Pacers overachieved last season. Were it not for Dwight Howard going down with a back injury and the Orlando Magic going 5-11 over the last month of the regular season, chances are that Indiana would not have clinched a playoff spot as a No. 3 seed.
Given some of the moves that team management made over the summer, it's a safe bet that it won't even sniff the postseason this year.
First, GM Kevin Pritchard traded away becoming-reliable point guard Darren Collison and forward Dahntay Jones to the Dallas Mavericks for underwhelming backup center Ian Mahinmi, and he replaced Collison with the disappointing and inconsistent D.J. Augustin.
Then, in what was probably one of the most boneheaded moves of the free-agent season, Pritchard signed glorified shooter George Hill to a five-year, $40 million deal. That's a lot of cash for someone who barely plays defense and almost never passes the ball.
As a result, the Pacers are still a one-trick pony; Danny Granger is the most reliable scorer, and center Roy Hibbert still has a little bit to learn about becoming a dominant NBA center. Opposing teams will surely pick up on this, and as a result, Indiana will be on the outside looking in once the dust settles.
At one point last season, it looked as though the Sixers would win the Atlantic Division. Then they collapsed and made the postseason as a lowly No. 8 seed, though a knee injury to Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls helped them advance to the conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics.
However, team management made a significant change to the roster over the summer.
In becoming part of the blockbuster trade that would send center Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia lost star player Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets and 2012 first-round pick Moe Harkless to Orlando, and it acquired center Andrew Bynum from Los Angeles along with guard Jason Richardson from Orlando.
While the Sixers still have talented players in point guard Jrue Holiday and forward Evan Turner, there really isn't anyone on the roster who can believably step up and prove that they can carry the team when necessary. Richardson is little more than a shooter now, and while Bynum is coming off of a career season, his attitude issues make it hard to embrace him as a go-to guy.
Thus, unless Holiday and/or Turner improve their game enough to the point where they can be established as star players, it's going to be one lonely and boring playoff-less season in the City of Brotherly Love.
After Dwight Howard underwent back surgery last March, the fact that the Magic went on to even make the playoffs is nothing short of miraculous.
After losing to the Indiana Pacers in the first round in five games, head coach Stan Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith were both fired, and it appeared as though some new blood would be brought in to clean up the mess quickly. Instead, Howard repeated his demand to be traded, and what ensued would turn the Orlando Magic into the Orlando Mess.
The All-Star center was ultimately sent to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team deal that netted Orlando the following: draft picks, guard Arron Afflalo, rookie Moe Harkless, center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al Harrington.
New GM Rob Hennigan couldn't even convince any of the teams to take on the toxic contract of forward Hedo Turkoglu or convince the Lakers to give up Pau Gasol. On top of that, he didn't even try to hang onto forward Ryan Anderson, who was the 2012 NBA Most Improved Player.
Instead, he was allowed to go to the New Orleans Hornets in a sign-and-trade that netted Orlando an underwhelming center in Gustavo Ayon.
Oh, and let's not forget that the highly overrated Jameer Nelson was re-signed to a three-year, $25 million deal.
Yes, it is understandable that Orlando would be worse and in a rebuilding phase following the trade of Howard, but the roster as it is right now is just plain awful. The only way that the Magic will make the postseason in 2013 is if the other teams in the NBA Southeast throw the regular season, and the odds of that happening are probably pretty low.