Forget about the NBA draft, free agency and summer league. Almost one year from now is where it's at.
The start of the 2013-14 regular season is still months away, but many of the power struggles that will take place have already started to be waged.
Teams have spent the majority of the offseason sifting through the available player pool, pining for the opportunity to strike it rich in the draft and free agency. The Association's summer exhibitions have given us a chance to see some of the younger, unknown talent in action.
None of those events matter as much as the purpose behind them does.
Certain franchises approached the offseason hoping to improve. Others embarked on the "All Andrew Wiggins Everything" tank project. And some teams have yet to figure out what it is they're actually doing.
What exactly will everything that has transpired since last season's conclusion amount to?
A whole lot of change.
*Note: Teams were ordered according to the division that they play in.
2012-13 Record: 43-39
Key Additions: Trey Burke, John Lucas III and Richard Jefferson
Key Losses: Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap
Projected 2013-14 Record: 23-59
Projected Northwest Division Finish: Fifth
Rebuilding is currently the prevailing theme within the Utah Jazz locker room, and it's important fans remember that, because they're headed for a difficult season.
Sans Jefferson and Millsap, the Jazz still have two talented towers in Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, and Gordon Hayward's continued development will be something to watch, as will Burke's evolution at the NBA level.
Looking at the roster, though, the Jazz have assembled a contingent that will struggle to win 20 games in a talent-laden Western Conference. And not by chance either.
Utah knew what it was doing when it waved goodbye to Jefferson and Millsap and facilitated the Golden State Warriors' salary-dumping extravaganza. The Jazz were actively getting worse with the hope that they could get better later on.
One year separates the Jazz from the 2014 draft and free-agency class, where Utah's bright future may or may not await. Just be sure to stock up on your dramamine until then, since what you see between now and next summer isn't going to feel especially pleasant.
2012-13 Record: 33-49
Key Additions: Robin Lopez, C.J. McCollum, Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright
Key Losses: J.J. Hickson
Projected 2013-14 Record: 41-41
Projected Northwest Division Finish: Fourth
Pretty much anything the Portland Trail Blazers do or don't do is predicated on whether LaMarcus Aldridge is or isn't traded.
Despite Aldridge's repeated attempts to quell the rumors that have surfaced thus far, the amount of chatter is too great to ignore and completely discredit. My guess is he doesn't finish the season in Portland.
Even with Aldridge, however, the Blazers aren't a bona fide playoff team. Robinson, McCollum and Wright make them a bit deeper than they were last year, but they replaced a double-double machine in Hickson with the perpetually hot-and-cold Robin Lopez.
Reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard and the versatile Nicolas Batum certainly keep the Blazers in the playoff conversation, and Aldridge remains an All-Star. Can't forget about that.
But too much hinges on the Blazers figuring out how to push forward with a still-rawboned bench and a superstar in Aldridge who may or may not want to be there.
Portland undoubtedly secured some additional wins this summer (if Aldridge stays)—just not enough to thrust itself into postseason contention.
2012-13 Record: 31-51
Key Additions: Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin and Shabazz Muhammad
Key Losses: Andrei Kirilenko and Luke Ridnour
Projected 2013-14 Record: 45-37
Projected Northwest Division Finish: Third
If the Minnesota Timberwolves stay healthy, look out. Seriously.
Losing Kirilenko stings, but the Timberwolves found just about as good a replacement as there was in Brewer. He can do much of the same things AK47 did, especially on the defensive end.
Acquiring Martin was a no-brainer as well and bolstered Minny's dismal three-point shooting attack quite a bit. Did the T-Wolves overpay him? Absolutely, but his offensive skill set was one they needed. Should Muhammad receive ample playing time, he's another who stands to increase the team's deep-ball efficiency.
By predicting that the Timberwolves finish at least eight games over .500, we're also 1) betting on Nikola Pekovic returning (he will) and 2) praying that Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio can weather a season's worth of storms together for a change (they sure are due).
Yet again we find ourselves teeming with optimism after Minnesota's offseason seemingly put the team in the thick of the playoff fray. Bodily limits permitting, we won't be wrong this time around.
2012-13 Record: 57-25
Key Additions: Randy Foye, J.J. Hickson and Nate Robinson
Key Losses: Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala
Projected 2013-14 Record: 49-33
Projected Northwest Division Finish: Second
The Denver Nuggets are going to surprise some people, just like they did last season. And the year before that. And the one even before that.
Bidding farewell to Iggy and Brewer wasn't ideal, and the only way to describe Masai Ujiri's departure is by pairing the words "this" and "sucks" together. Moving forward without Danilo Gallinari (ACL) isn't going to instill confidence in the masses either.
Still, the Nuggets have something here.
Picking up J.J. Hickson gave Denver yet another rebounding machine to add to a rotation already comprising Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee. Replacing George Karl with Brian Shaw—who Paul George credits with taking him to the next level—was an act of savvy after making what was a relatively unpopular decision to begin with. Try not to get me started on Robinson either. Denver got the steal of all steals there.
Three-point shooting is still going to be an issue, and Ty Lawson's burden to bear has become that much heavier now that Iguodala has shuffled off to Oakland, but these are still the Nuggets. They're still built to run, score and rebound, and therefore, they're equipped to notch close to 50 victories next season.
2012-13 Record: 60-22
Key Additions: Steven Adams
Key Losses: Kevin Martin
Projected 2013-14 Record: 57-25
Projected Northwest Division Finish: First
No Martin could be a problem for the Oklahoma City Thunder. We also said the same thing after they traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets before they went on to tally 60 wins and lay claim to the best record in the Western Conference.
Next season is admittedly a more fragile venture. There's no top-tier scorer coming in to replace Martin, the way he did Harden, and if there's one thing we learned during the playoffs, it's that Kevin Durant can't do it all alone.
Speaking of which, Russell Westbrook's health is of some concern, though not much. At 24, there's no reason to believe the physically fit and historically durable point guard will have any problems returning from a torn meniscus.
I'd urge you not to write off Serge Ibaka either. He completes the Thunder's Big Three. His postseason display was difficult to stomach, but it was less a harbinger of doom and more the product of being thrust into the offensive spotlight following Westbrook's removal.
Jeremy Lamb will be asked to do more, as will Reggie Jackson, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Thunder have always been able to advance the ceilings of their young talent, and these two may be no different.
So long as Oklahoma City plays home to Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder can (and will) make it work, likely to the tune of nearly 60 wins once again.
2012-13 Record: 25-57
Key Additions: Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler and Alex Len
Key Losses: Jared Dudley and Luis Scola
Projected 2013-14 Record: 19-63
Projected Pacific Division Finish: Fifth
To be honest, I'm not really sure what the Phoenix Suns are trying to build. Whatever it is, let's hope its a long way from completion, because what they have right now doesn't look good.
Trading for Bledsoe didn't instantly give the Suns a direction. All it really did was create a positional logjam for the time being. With the payday Bledsoe is projected to command, there's no way he and Goran Dragic call the same team their own for much longer.
Things don't become any less convoluted when you move down the roster. Marcin Gortat's future with the team is up in the air, Len is a project that doesn't guarantee any immediate return and Michael Beasley is still Michael Beasley.
If there's one thing to actually look forward to in Phoenix next season, it's the return of Channing Frye. That alone isn't enough to provide an adequate escape from reality, though.
The reality is the Suns' offseason hasn't answered any questions, only posed more.
2012-13 Record: 28-54
Key Additions: Carl Landry, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ben McLemore and Greivis Vasquez
Key Losses: Tyreke Evans
Projected 2013-14 Record: 34-48
Projected Pacific Division Finish: Fourth
Contrary to what the surplus of players at every position implies, the Sacramento Kings are nowhere near as bad as they were last year.
For one, the Maloofs are history. Considering their propensity for running the franchise into the ground, that's huge. Mike Malone's presence on the sidelines will also inject potent structure into what has been a lawless offensive mess.
From there, it would be wise to never underestimate the potential of an appreciated DeMarcus Cousins. Free from the self-destructive clutches of the previous owners, Cousins no longer stands to be the victim of a poorly run franchise.
Questionable decisions still abound in Sactown, though. Overpaying Carl Landry wasn't the most shrewd of offseason moves, and adding Vasquez to a backcourt rotation that also includes Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette and McLemore reeks of confusion.
Currently constructed, the Kings are a mess of talent with an uncertain ceiling. Either they turn a bunch of heads while playing over their own, or they implode and are forced to be dismantled.
Figure on their record reflecting something between chaotic and intriguing—better than last year, but still puzzling enough to know you're watching the Kings.
2012-13 Record: 45-37
Key Additions: Wesley Johnson, Chris Kaman and Nick Young
Key Losses: Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace
Projected 2013-14 Record: 44-38
Projected Pacific Division Finish: Third
Superman's departure hurts, as does World Peace's. But their absences are not the end of the world for the Los Angeles Lakers.
This isn't 2006, Steve Nash isn't Smush Parker and Pau Gasol isn't Kwame Brown. They're better. Times 100.
Although I can't sit here in good conscience and promise you the Lakers will make the playoffs, they can post a record similar to the one they closed out with last year. Provided Kobe Bryant returns from injury like only the Black Mamba can, Los Angeles is going to make a play for one of those last three playoff spots.
Johnson, Kaman and Swaggy P are all great fillers when you factor in the Lakers paid next to nothing for all of them. Together, they don't form the type of supporting cast championships are made of, but they're valuable in their own ways.
Defense is going to be the Achilles heel of Hollywood's finest, as this version of the Lakers is barely built to rebound the shots that carom off the rim, let alone prevent them from finding the bottom of the net in the first place. Mike D'Antoni-coached aggregates are notorious for their defensive ineptitude, though, so that's nothing new.
Make no mistake: Los Angeles' aspirations—whatever they may be—rest upon the aging and aching shoulders of Kobe. How far the Lakers go depends on how healthy he is.
A close to full-strength Mamba should be enough for the Lakers to muster up around 45 victories, no worse than they did with Howard in tow. Taking into account how devastating a loss the behemoth's exit was supposed to be, there's little to nothing wrong with that.
2012-13 Record: 47-35
Key Additions: Andre Iguodala and Marreese Speights
Key Losses: Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry
Projected 2013-14 Record: 51-31
Projected Pacific Division Finish: Second
Golden State is one player away from sitting atop the Pacific Division. I'm beyond serious.
Some are wary of how the Warriors' new faces are going to pan out. To those peeps, I offer up a blank stare, exaggerated sigh and deepest of sympathies. You don't yet know what you're missing out on, but you will.
They basically substituted Landry for Landry 2.0 in Speights. Like Landry, Speights has some offensive range, and like Landry, the Warriors will have to cover up for him defensively.
They also essentially replaced Jack with Iggy, who is just as talented a playmaker and scorer, and even better defensively.
The David Lee-Andrew Bogut dynamic is something to keep your eyes on. Golden State seemed to be more effective in the playoffs when running with a stretch forward, so as the season wears on, it could make some changes.
Those changes may or may not consist of using that fat $11 million trade exception the Warriors created in the Andris Biedrins-Richard Jefferson salary dump. Expect Golden State to try to land another game-changer with that intangible piece of financial flexibility (tax code willing) at some point.
Like always, Stephen Curry's ankle is worth monitoring, yet after the season he just had, he's earned our votes of confidence. So have the rest of the Warriors.
Fifty-plus victories it is then.
2012-13 Record: 56-26
Key Additions: Darren Collison, Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick
Key Losses: Chauncey Billups, Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler
Projected 2013-14 Record: 53-29
Projected Pacific Division Finish: First
There is no title to be won in Los Angeles this season, whether you're making reference to the Lakers or the Clippers.
To be sure, any team that is run by Chris Paul and Doc Rivers is going to contend. The Clippers might even make it out of the first round this year. Laying claim to the Western Conference crown and then the Larry O'Brien Trophy? Not so much.
Nowhere near enough strides were made on the defensive end—specifically down low—for us to believe in what the Clippers are building without thinking twice. Blake Griffin is still a defensive liability, and while DeAndre Jordan can send shots back, he can't put them in, potentially mitigating both his playing time and overall impact.
After them, the next line of defense down low is Ryan Hollins. See where I'm going with this?
Outside shooting needed to be addressed, and the Clippers did just that by procuring the likes of Dudley and Redick. Essentially replacing Bledsoe with Collison was a stellar move as well.
That's just the thing, though. While all of these additions were "stellar," none of them appear to push the Clippers over the top.
In a continuously stacked Western Conference and tighter-than-it-seems division, there's no guarantee Los Angeles even increases its win total. Place as much stock in the flashy new coach (Doc Rivers) and justifiable offseason transactions as you must—just understand the Clippers still aren't the Thunder. Or San Antonio Spurs. Or Miami Heat.
2012-13 Record: 41-41
Key Additions: DeJuan Blair, Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Monta Ellis and Devin Harris
Key Losses: Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo
Projected 2013-14 Record: 38-44
Projected Southwest Division Finish: Fifth
Turns out things could actually get worse for the Dallas Mavericks.
Leveraging everything they had in free agency failed the Mavericks yet again. Such has been the story since 2011, when they decimated a championship roster.
Like Deron Williams before him, Howard spurned the Mavericks in favor of a team with a superstar (James Harden) in his prime. That's where Dallas has gone wrong—thinking that the now 35-year-old Dirk Nowitzki would be enough.
Nothing against Dirk, but unless opposing All-Stars are traded to Dallas, they're always going to flock toward greener/younger pastures when given the option.
Faced with filling out the roster yet again, the Mavs threw multi-year deals at Ellis and Calderon. Don't ask me why, because I don't know.
Both have their strengths (efficiency isn't Ellis'), and will serve a specific purpose in the lineup, but this isn't the core Mark Cuban wants to move forward with. Between now and next summer, something is going to change.
Depending on how far the Mavericks fall, that something may just be Dirk's now abused loyalty.
2012-13 Record: 27-55
Key Additions: Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday
Key Losses: Robin Lopez and Greivis Vasquez
Projected 2013-14 Record: 39-43
Projected Southwest Division Finish: Fourth
Too bad the New Orleans Pelicans don't play in the Eastern Conference. They'd have a much better chance at making the playoffs if they did.
Taking on Evans and Holiday pushed New Orleans' immediate ceiling considerably. Still, the Pelicans are not to be confused with a definitive playoff team.
Concerns still exist up front, where Anthony Davis' primary help consists of Greg Stiemsma and Jason Smith. How the Pelicans plan on using Evans and Eric Gordon in the same rotation is also a mystery.
Delving deeper, New Orleans' bench isn't anything to get excited about just yet. Ryan Anderson is a pro, and Evans will bring proven production if he comes off the pine, but the Pelicans will still be relying on wild cards like Austin Rivers to do their bidding.
Injuries are among the red flags surrounding this team as well. Neither Gordon nor Rivers was able to remain exceptionally healthy last season. A repeat of such physical barriers could all but douse the rising expectations the Pelicans have set for themselves.
Personnel queries aside, there is something to get excited about in New Orleans. Though the Pelicans aren't the perfect team now, or even guaranteed to play .500-caliber basketball, they have a core in place worthy of building around.
That's more than we can say for some other teams.
2012-13 Record: 45-37
Key Additions: Dwight Howard
Key Losses: Carlos Delfino
Projected 2013-14 Record: 50-32
Projected Southwest Division Finish: Third
Dwight meets ball-dominating shooting guard; said guard and Superman's play styles don't mesh; combative styles result in a failure to meet expectations.
Stop me if you've heard that one before.
Howard's presence alone doesn't promise anything other than a top-six finish in the Western Conference for the Rockets. Write that down.
This team still needs time to jell and, if we're honest, an Omer Asik exit strategy. Dwight struggled to coexist alongside Pau Gasol. Succeeding next to Asik will be even harder, if not impossible.
Pretending Jeremy Lin is a championship-directing point guard won't help things either. He and Harden clash in the same way Asik and Howard do. They both take up the same space, play the same game.
Shooters like Chandler Parsons and Francisco Garcia will look good next to the drive-and-kick stylings of Harden and oft double-teamed Howard. What's left of the roster isn't as surefire a fit.
Houston is going to need time to figure out where everybody stands, and additional tweaks will ultimately have to be made. Winning 50 games isn't an outrageous prediction, but penciling the Rockets in for anything more is a disservice to what we know about integrations like the one they are trying to make.
2012-13 Record: 56-26
Key Additions: Kosta Koufos and Mike Miller
Key Losses: Darrell Arthur
Projected 2013-14 Record: 52-30
Projected Southwest Division Finish: Second
The Memphis Grizzlies didn't do much this summer, but they still top the Rockets. So, there's that.
Following Zach Randolph's regrettable Western Conference Finals performance, and knowing how financially cognizant the Grizzlies are, I'm taking a gamble by saying they won't move him next year. All bets are off if they do.
San Antonio ripped through Memphis in four games to reach the finals, exposing a number of flaws, mostly offensive, the Grizzlies needed to correct in the process. Swapping out Arthur for Koufos and retaining Tony Allen merely kept the status quo; it changed nothing. If anything, the Grizzlies are actually worse on the offensive end.
Abusing the scoreboard isn't Memphis' style, though. The Grizzlies grit, and they grind. Every game of every season, they labor their way to victory. That hasn't changed either. Perhaps they'll rely more heavily on Mike Conley and Marc Gasol next year, but their general principles remain intact.
For regular-season purposes, that's quite all right. Memphis will still eclipse 50 wins (barring a financially-inspired tank job) and finish in the top half of the Western Conference.
2012-13 Record: 58-24
Key Additions: Marco Belinelli
Key Losses: Gary Neal
Projected 2013-14 Record: 55-27
Projected Southwest Division Finish: First
Never, ever put the Spurs down. Never. Ever.
Not many changes were made in San Antonio—I'm still lamenting over the Kirilenko signing that wasn't—but the Spurs are still the Spurs. Tim Duncan is still an ageless God, Tony Parker is still a top-three point guard in the league and Manu Ginobili still has some miles left on those legs of his.
Stepping outside of the Big Three, the Spurs have what is their version of a budding star in Kawhi Leonard. He's improved by leaps and bounds since his rookie season, a trend we can't predict will tail off now.
Some will scoff at the Spurs roster just like they do every year. This is nearly the exact same team that faced the Heat, and lost. Not enough changes were made.
While it's unequivocally true that this is pretty much the same team that lost to Miami, that's hardly a tragedy. San Antonio came within seconds of its fourth title of the Big Three era. Seconds.
If Chris Bosh doesn't grab that offensive rebound and Ray Allen doesn't hit that corner three, the Spurs are, once again, your reigning NBA champions.
Just because things didn't quite work out that way doesn't mean it's time to panic or blow up a roster that continues to prove their doubters wrong. It's a time for touch-ups (Belinelli) and the evolution of the younger part of the core (Leonard and Danny Green).
Panic? The Spurs? Puh-lease.
2012-13 Record: 20-62
Key Additions: Victor Oladipo
Key Losses: None
Projected 2013-14 Record: 22-60
Projected Southeast Division Finish: Fifth
Figure on the Orlando Magic being exciting to watch next season, or about as thrilling to follow as any team that will struggle to capture 20 to 25 victories will be.
Oladipo was a great selection, and his and Jameer Nelson's ability to play on or off the ball makes for a versatile backcourt should Orlando ever opt to explore that route. And tattoo Tobias Harris' name on your forearm now, because he's going to be good for at least 15 points per game.
Other positives include Nikola Vucevic, Mo Harkless and Andrew Nicholson, all of whom had their moments last season (especially Vucevic).
The Magic are still so young, though, and play in a much stronger Eastern Conference. Even the Charlotte Bobcats got better. Maintaining their footing against more seasoned opponents with established on-court food chains won't allow them to surpass last year's win total by much, or even at all.
Promise isn't something the post-Howard Magic currently lack. Proven pieces that spark a substantial jump in the standings leading into 2013-14 are.
2012-13 Record: 21-61
Key Additions: Al Jefferson
Key Losses: None
Projected 2013-14 Record: 27-55
Projected Southeast Division Finish: Fourth
Full disclosure: Charlotte's capacity to rattle off close to 30 wins is dependent on the team retaining Gerald Henderson (which it will).
Inserting Jefferson into the starting lineup makes the Bobcats better; there's nothing to refute there. With Kemba Walker, Henderson and Jefferson in tow, the 'Cats have three players who can torch opposing defenses on any given night.
Not even Jefferson's addition will inspire the Bobcats to tangle with a .500 record or playoff berth, though. Charlotte is still a mess defensively—Jefferson is now part of the problem—and its newest big man has yet to prove he can carry a team on his own, or even with a touted sidekick (ask the Jazz).
Compounded by the fact the Bobcats inhabit a division that includes the Heat, a rising Washington Wizards assembly and a still playoff-worthy Atlanta Hawks stable, there isn't room for too much improvement.
Superseding last season's victory total by 10 or so contests is the absolute best-case scenario the Bobcats can hope for.
2012-13 Record: 29-53
Key Additions: Otto Porter
Key Losses: None
Projected 2013-14 Record: 39-43
Projected Southeast Division Finish: Third
Any team that voluntarily pays Martell Webster over $5 million shouldn't dance around the .500 mark. Fortunately for the Wizards, they play in a still-wide open, albeit stronger, Eastern Conference.
On the condition they both remain healthy, John Wall and Bradley Beal will be one of the most entertaining backcourts to watch. Putting Porter right beside them makes for an eyes-worthy 1-2-3 punch as well.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, let's acknowledge that the Wizards still have a ways to go.
A frontcourt tandem of Emeka Okafor and Nene is both potentially productive and possibly destructive. Neither is known for his durability (Nene especially), and Washington will have a tough time guarding against stretch forwards (and centers) when they're both on the floor.
Going 24-25 after Wall's return to the lineup rightfully spurred visions of a playoff berth. Believing a similar performance will carry them beyond a seventh or eighth seed is far too ambitious for a team with so many questions left to answer (health, bench, etc.).
Expecting anything more than a top-seven or top-eight finish only sets you up for disappointment.
2012-13 Record: 44-38
Key Additions: Elton Brand, Paul Millsap and Dennis Schroeder
Key Losses: Josh Smith
Projected 2013-14 Record: 45-37
Projected Southeast Division Finish: Second
Raise your hand if you think the Hawks will be better off without Josh Smith.
Really? So few takers? No matter, the arm-holstered pessimists will be the ones who are ultimately missing out.
Parting ways with a talented forward like J-Smoove is never optimal, but the Hawks have filled the gaps that his departure created rather admirably.
Millsap provides the scoring and rebounding punch Atlanta is used to receiving from Smith, along with a more accurate touch from beyond the arc. Brand adds even more boards and some post scoring as well.
Truth be told, the Hawks' current setup affords them more options than they had last year. They could stick with Al Horford at center and run Millsap at the 4, then bring Brand off the pine. Or they could start all three without sacrificing too much space.
Sleeping on the Jeff Teague-Schroeder coupling would also be a mistake. Those two will make for quite the point guard rotation. Schroeder may even be an instant upgrade over what the Hawks got from Devin Harris last season.
Remember that Lou Williams should be healthy this year too. That's plenty of scoring Atlanta didn't have last season. The thought of him, Kyle Korver and John Jenkins raining down threes like the police on J.R. Smith's parade is enough to sell me on a playoff appearance.
Mediocrity, like the peach, lives on in Georgia.
2012-13 Record: 66-16
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: Mike Miller
Projected 2013-14 Record: 61-21
Projected Southeast Division Finish: First
Miami's Heatles will be lucky to win 40 games without Miller.
Relax, I'm just Chris-Boshing ya.
Far be it from me to assume the Heat won't win 66 games again, but that's less an indictment of their offseason and more indicative of a grittier East and the need to rest Dwyane Wade more than usual.
Bear in mind a repeat of the 27-game win streak that catapulted the Heat into the record books is also more unlikely than a three-peat itself.
Miller's absence does hinder their three-point attack, but he was more of a postseason asset than anything else. Bosh's run of incompetence isn't going to continue either. Playoff follies are more his thing, when opposing defenses become extra stringent and he's subjected to an environment he doesn't exist to succeed in. He should perform up to snuff during the regular season.
More attention must be paid to Wade's knee(s). Although he routinely follows up postseason beatings with transcendent regular-season stat lines, you can't help but believe the Heat are going to furbish him in an industrial-sized roll of caution tape until May and June.
No matter—LeBron James can't seek a new stomping ground until next summer anyway. And as long as The Chosen One reps South Beach, the Heat will be just fine.
2012-13 Record: 38-44
Key Additions: Carlos Delfino, Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Zaza Pachulia and Luke Ridnour
Key Losses: Samuel Dalembert, Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings and J.J. Redick
Projected 2013-14 Record: 20-62
Projected Central Division Finish: Fifth
Life's about to get real painful for the Milwaukee Bucks real fast.
Lamenting the shots Jennings and Ellis clanged off the rim last season was torture. What happens next year is bound to be worse. Or maybe not.
With Jennings and Ellis out of the picture, the Bucks have a realistic shot at landing Wiggins or another projected top-five pick. So there's that.
Mayo was a nice addition, if only because he is a cross between Ellis and Redick, both of whom are long gone. Filling out the rest of the rotation with Delfino and Pachulia was fine as well, but that doesn't mean this team is headed anywhere.
No one in Milwaukee has the credentials necessary to lead the way. Watching Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova continue to come into their own should keep fans from gouging their eyes out, but in a now more diverse conference, the Bucks haven't done enough to win 30 games.
Currently vacillating somewhere between less-than-mediocre and God-awful, the Bucks might be better off tanking even further (aka buh-bye Ilyasova). At least then they'll have a better chance of landing the first pick in next summer's draft.
2012-13 Record: 29-53
Key Additions: Chauncey Billups, Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith
Key Losses: Jose Calderon
Projected 2013-14 Record: 42-40
Projected Central Division Finish: Fourth
Smith and Jennings changed some things for the Detroit Pistons, not everything.
More teams would have been banging on Smith's door, begging him to accept $56 million over the next four years, if he were the kind of player you could count on to slingshot your team to the next level. He'd also have an All-Star appearance to go with that reputation.
There are no certainties when it comes to Smith, especially when he'll be logging a bulk of his minutes at small forward. He may make the Pistons marginally better, or next season could be much of the same.
Helping matters is the addition of Jennings. Just as mercurial as Smith, he's a definitive upgrade over what they planned to run with previously.
Adequate point guard in hand, playoff tickets can't necessarily be punched right away. Depending on how well the pieces in Detroit fit, the Pistons could still have some ample reshuffling to do.
Chemistry is going to be a mess in Detroit either way. Players are in place who maybe, quite possibly, can help build toward a better future, but that isn't going to help the Pistons too much in the interim.
2012-13 Record: 24-58
Key Additions: Anthony Bennett, Andrew Bynum, Earl Clark and Jarrett Jack
Key Losses: Marreese Speights
Projected 2013-14 Record: 44-38
Projected Central Division Finish: Third
When pulsing the Cleveland Cavaliers, it's important to remember Andrew Bynum isn't going to fall into a jersey and become an All-Star again.
Over time, if he remains healthy, the 25-year-old will regain his conditioning, touch around the basket and general feel for the pace of play. If and when he does, the Cavaliers are going to be scary. Really, really scary.
Kyrie Irving is actually an All-Star, and the addition of Jack finally gave the Cavs the backup point guard they needed. Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Bennett, Clark and the return of Anderson Varejao also give them a sturdy core to fiddle around with.
Experiencing the urge to classify Cleveland as something it's not—a championship contender—is then completely natural. Hyped up by Bynum's arrival, optimism abounds in C-Town, and for good reason.
Soaring morale is no reason to set a standard the Cavs are incapable of matching, though. Bynum first needs to play and then return to form. We can't jump right to the trophy-hoisting.
Once the injury-prone big is more acclimated to his surroundings and playing basketball in general, the Cavs should be able to carve out a playoff appearance for the first time in three years.
2012-13 Record: 49-32
Key Additions: Chris Copeland, Luis Scola and C.J. Watson
Key Losses: Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin
Projected 2013-14 Record: 51-31
Projected Central Division Finish: Second
One win. That's all that separated the Indiana Pacers from an NBA Finals berth.
Without former leading scorer Danny Granger, Indiana pushed the Heat to the brink. Led by rising youngsters Paul George and Roy Hibbert and the spunky David West, the Pacers sent a message to the rest of the Eastern Conference: We're not going anywhere.
And they haven't.
Re-integrating Granger into the lineup could prove damaging, but looking at how anemic the Pacers offense was last year (23rd in points per game), his return has the potential to help. So do the additions of Copeland, Scola and Watson, three offensively inclined backups, who deepen what was a shallow supporting cast.
Time will only tell if the Pacers are prepared to follow up their 2012-13 crusade with an even more convincing one in 2013-14. Chances are, they will be.
So much so that they're able to win at least 50 games.
2012-13 Record: 45-37
Key Additions: Mike Dunleavy
Key Losses: Richard Hamilton and Nate Robinson
Projected 2013-14 Record: 54-28
Projected Central Division Finish: First
Come next fall, Derrick Rose will be trading in his suit and tie (and crutches) for that No. 1 jersey he once wore so proudly.
It will have been well over year since Rose last played by the time he takes the court, and though patience must be preached with regards to him regaining his feel for the game, dunks like these lead us to believe he'll be all right.
Now about those Chicago Bulls...
Chi-Town battled its way toward 45 wins without Rose last season, and they did so with a battered Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. Imagine what this contingent can do at full strength, with a Jimmy Butler who is one year wiser.
Opposing teams won't want to.
Rose immediately jump-starts what was a consistently stagnant offense, and Dunleavy introduces the Bulls to an aspect of the game they're not too familiar with—three-point shooting.
Uniting an already binding defensive attack with some offensive fortitude is going propel the Bulls right back to where they belong—the top of the Eastern Conference.
2012-13 Record: 34-48
Key Additions: Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams
Key Losses: Jrue Holiday, Dorell Wright and Nick Young
Projected 2013-14 Record: 15-67
Projected Atlantic Division Finish: Fifth
And the tanking begins now.
After shipping out Holiday and electing not to bring back the headache that became Bynum, the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves immersed in an extensive reclamation project.
Noel and Carter-Williams are two intriguing prospects (and former AAU teammates), but they also play two of the most important positions in the game (center and point guard). Investing in their futures means throwing them to the wolves now (when Noel is healthy), and that's not going to be pretty from the get-go.
Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young will be asked to shoulder a heavier load, the expectation being at least one of them will rise to the occasion. After them, there's not much keeping Philly from finishing with the worst record in the NBA, which is fine.
Losing now gives the Sixers a better shot at Wiggins or one of the other prodigies available in next year's draft (Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle, etc.). And oh, are the Sixers going to lose. A lot.
You know you're in for a long season when your general manager refers to Royce White as "wildly talented," and does so with a straight face.
2012-13 Record: 41-40
Key Additions: Kris Humphries, Kelly Olynyk and Gerald Wallace
Projected 2013-14 Record: 26-56
Projected Atlantic Division Finish: Fourth
Breaking up the band was hard for the Boston Celtics to do, but it was necessary.
Danny Ainge has hoarded nine first-round picks (and counting) over the next five years, and he finally began a rebuilding project that the Celtics spent more than two years actively dodging.
A healthy Rajon Rondo will still net Boston some wins, assuming he isn't traded, of course. Which he could be.
That's why it's so tough to pen an effective forecast for these Celtics. What we see now may not be what we get come opening day—or even close to it. Rondo could be on a different team, in the starting lineup or on the sidelines. We just don't know.
As it stands, the Celtics aren't your typical tanker. Rondo (if healthy) is an All-Star, and both Jeff Green and Avery Bradley will help keep Boston competitive. Undesirable though his contract may be, Wallace was an All-Star once upon a time too.
Rookie head coach Brad Stevens will presumably favor the young guns before vets like Humphries and Wallace—most notably summer league sensation Olynyk—for the sake of the future. Even so, it's difficult to imagine the Celtics completely falling off the face of earth.
Thirty victories would be a stretch, but a shade over 25 seems just right when taking into account Rondo's injury and the trade rumors that will accompany his return.
2012-13 Record: 34-48
Key Additions: D.J. Augustin, Steve Novak and Tyler Hansbrough
Key Losses: Andrea Bargnani
Projected 2013-14 Record: 35-47
Projected Atlantic Division Finish: Third
Contrary to what Hansbrough's two-year deal implies, general manager Masai Ujiri is going to blow this roster up. Because he's Masai Ujiri. Starting from scratch in order to build a contender is what he does.
When exactly that will happen, and who will be shipped out, remains to be seen. It could be Rudy Gay. It could be DeMar DeRozan. No one—save for Jonas Valanciunas—is especially safe.
Part of me believes if Ujiri had his way, this roster would have already been dismembered. The other part of me points to the Carmelo Anthony trade back in 2011 and realizes Ujiri doesn't just dump players who can produce, even if one of them is named Rudy Gay.
That doesn't mean his wheeling and dealing for the year ended with Bargs. No, no, no. He's only just begun.
Sometime soon, the cosmetic makeup of this team is going to look vastly different, but not before the Toronto Raptors rake in some wins with a largely mediocre core, pacing themselves toward a similar finish to that of last year.
Perhaps even exactly like last year.
2012-13 Record: 49-33
Key Additions: Kevin Garnett, Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry
Key Losses: MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace
Projected 2013-14 Record: 49-33
Projected Atlantic Division Finish: Second
Excuse me while I duck for cover.
All the money Mikhail Prokhorov handed out this summer was green well spent. Garnett, Pierce, Kirilenko and even Terry make the Brooklyn Nets better and deeper.
The effects of the blockbuster trade with the Celtics aren't going to be felt immediately, though. Not the ones fans and Brooklyn's front office are aching to see anyway.
Establishing chemistry is going to take time. Serious time. Aging superstars, like Pierce, are going from being the No. 1 offensive option to a self-defined glorified role player. Instant gratification is unrealistic.
Merely asserting that all the pieces are going to fit for the long haul is equally as ignorant. There's no telling if Joe Johnson will fit into Jason Kidd's offense, or if he and Pierce can successfully coexist in the same lineup.
Deron Williams is now also tasked with running an offense overflowing with talented scorers and the egos they come with. Pierce can say he's fine with taking a step back, but there's no way of telling if he can thrive in a more constrictive role until the season begins.
Come playoff time, if the Nets are well rested, healthy and jelling as a unit, they're a squad to watch out for. The regular season, however, will be a learning process, for Kidd, Pierce, Garnett—everyone.
Don't be surprised, then, if the Nets fail to close out the year with a better record than they did last season. Rosters can be assembled overnight; amassing fifty-plus victories cannot.
2012-13 Record: 54-28
Key Additions: Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace
Key Losses: Chris Copeland and Steve Novak
Projected 2013-14 Record: 50-32
Projected Atlantic Division Finish: First
Those already writing off the New York Knicks must take a step back and realize all hope is not lost in the Big Apple.
To be clear, there is no championship to be won in New York this year. Not for the Knicks or the Nets. Yet the former isn't on the cusp of imploding either. They are still the team to beat in the Atlantic Division.
Health is always going to be an issue for the Knicks. From Amar'e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith's knees to Carmelo Anthony's shoulder, there are going to be concerns.
That doesn't change the fact they navigated a labyrinth of injuries last season to win 54 games. Nor does it change the fact that Bargs and Metta actually make them better.
This is a team still built to go on three-point tears, the kind that allowed it to win three of four regular-season contests against the Heat last year. The Knicks are still a team capable of winning 50 or more games, even in an Eastern Conference where the Bulls are once again being led by Rose, the Pacers aren't going anywhere and the Nets are investing continent-sized fortunes in their roster.
This is a team that can, and will, win its division, showing us all why the NBA still plays the games, no matter what happens over the summer.