Way-Too-Early 2014 NBA Title Odds

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistAugust 4, 2013

Way-Too-Early 2014 NBA Title Odds

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    There's still time until the 2013-14 NBA season tips off, but since free agency has largely calmed down, we're ready to preview who has the best and worst chances of capturing a title next year. 

    Having won back-to-back titles, it should come as no surprise that the Miami Heat are considered the favorites to win yet another championship, but there are several worthy contenders in both conferences hot on their tails. 

    As you read this slideshow, keep in mind that the odds used are listed in percentages, and as such, the 30 odds listed combine to total 100 percent. These are not standard betting odds.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Title Odds: 0.5 percent

    The Atlanta Hawks are no strangers to perpetual mediocrity, and it appears that's what lies ahead during Mike Budenholzer's first season as head coach.

    Out is headache Josh Smith and in is the steady Paul Millsap, but nothing about this Hawks team screams immense promise.

    A title is out of the question, so Atlanta's best-case scenario sees it capture one of the bottom three playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference.

    The most exciting players to watch in the season ahead will be rookies Dennis Schroeder and Lucas Nogueira, each of whom possess serious potential. 

Boston Celtics

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    Title Odds: 0.1 percent

    After six consecutive years of playoff qualification, the Boston Celtics figure to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the 2014 postseason. 

    A year after going 41-40 and snagging the Eastern Conference's No. 7 seed, the Celtics find themselves without Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and will miss Rajon Rondo until he returns from a torn ACL. 

    The Celtics roster is being held together by tape, evident by the fact that Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries are set to play big roles this season. 

    If the Celtics are truly intent on rebuilding, then perhaps they'll consider trading Rondo at the deadline. But at this time, it's hard to imagine Boston getting equal return value for its star point guard. 

Brooklyn Nets

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    Title Odds: 7 percent

    Stars in their prime? Check. Veteran leaders? Check. A stacked bench? Bingo. 

    The Brooklyn Nets have assembled one of the best teams money can buy, going two, if not three, quality players deep at every position. 

    Check this fact: Should the Nets start Paul Pierce at the 3 over Andrei Kirilenko, Brooklyn will roll out a starting unit in which each player has made at least one All-Star team. 

    The big question facing the Nets is this: Even with loads of talent across the board, will the Nets mesh quickly enough under the guidance of head coach Jason Kidd to emerge as a true threat to the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers?

    Considering it's still the offseason, my gut tells me the Nets will win the Atlantic Division, but they won't be able to capture a conference title. 

    With so many new pieces and shuffling parts, the Nets may be a year away from a run at their first Conference title since 2002-03 (in New Jersey). 

Charlotte Bobcats

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    Title Odds: 0.1 percent 

    Believe it or not, the Charlotte Bobcats didn't finish with the NBA's worst record last season. That dubious honor belonged to the Orlando Magic. 

    The Bobcats narrowly missed out on the league's worst record by one whole game, and you should expect them to experience a similar fate next season. 

    Kemba Walker and the newly acquired Al Jefferson will be an interesting inside-outside combination to watch, but the real storyline to follow in Charlotte will be the development of young guns Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller. 

    Kidd-Gilchrist flashed major defensive potential last season, but it's his offensive game that needs significant polish. 

    Zeller, on the other hand, is loaded with offensive brilliance and was among the most athletic bigs drafted in this year's class. They have virtually no chance of making the playoffs, but the Bobcats have a few pieces that will be worth watching. 

Chicago Bulls

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    Title Odds: 8 percent

    This time, The Return will be for real. 

    Derrick Rose is expected to be a full go when the Chicago Bulls open the regular season, but he could return as soon as the team's first preseason game against the Indiana Pacers, according to The Associated Press (via USA Today).

    With Rose back at 100 percent and a complete arsenal of complementary players beside him, the Chicago Bulls figure to be primary challengers to the Miami Heat's Eastern Conference supremacy. 

    In Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng, the Bulls possess one of the league's best defensive perimeter duos, and when you factor in Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah's presences in the post, the Bulls could be the league's best defense this season. 

    In the absence of Rose, the Bulls made their living on defense, limiting opponents to just 92.9 points per game (the third-best mark in the NBA), but scored the second-fewest at 93.2 a contest. 

    With Rose back and Mike Dunleavy now providing an offensive spark off the bench, the Bulls should be counted among the Association's most legitimate title contenders. 

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Title Odds: 1 percent 

    The Cleveland Cavaliers have a chance to be one of the NBA's most improved teams in 2013-14 thanks to several quality offseason additions. 

    After winning just 24 games last season on truncated performances from Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, the Cavs could conceivably approach the 40-win mark with Jarrett Jack, Andrew Bynum, Earl Clark and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett in tow. 

    The one caveat is that Bynum must remain healthy to make any sort of impact with Mike Brown's Cavaliers next season.

    According to the Akron Beacon Journal, Bynum will start if healthy, which would push Anderson Varejao into a role off the bench. 

    That sort of depth is cherished, but after Bynum's ordeal last season, it's hard to envision him playing anywhere close to 82 games. 

Dallas Mavericks

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    Title Odds: 1 percent

    The Dallas Mavericks won't be short on intrigue next season.

    Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon suiting up alongside Dirk Nowitzki will give the Mavs hefty doses of offense, but it remains to be seen how Rick Carlisle's eclectic blend of players holds up on defense.

    The Mavericks finished 27th in opponents' points per game (101.7) and 19th in defensive rating (106.5), per Basketball-Reference, and neither Ellis nor Calderon is heralded for his defensive aptitude.

    They'll undoubtedly be a fun watch but, based on the makeup of their roster, should be on the outside looking in come playoff time.

Denver Nuggets

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    Title Odds: 1.5 percent

    The Denver Nuggets have posted 50 wins in five of the last six seasons, with the one exception being the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign. 

    Unfortunately, the one constant for the Nuggets over the last eight tries was fired this offseason. George Karl is out of work, and rookie head coach Brian Shaw has taken his place.

    Given the talent Denver has assembled, it would be foolish to think that it won't finish somewhere in the 45-49 win range. Topping 50 victories during the first year playing in a new scheme will be tough, though. 

    With Danilo Gallinari sidelined for the foreseeable future and Andre Iguodala now residing in the Bay Area, look for the Nuggets to take a small step back as they adjust to life without Karl. 

Detroit Pistons

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    Title Odds: 0.5 percent

    President Joe Dumars and the Detroit Pistons turned heads by bringing Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings aboard this summer, but how much progress has this team really made? 

    On paper, the Pistons' starting lineup intrigues. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are a dynamic frontcourt duo with a major ceiling, while Smith and Jennings figure to add a much-needed scoring punch. 

    But will Smith and Jennings' frustrating tendencies be too much for the Pistons to overcome? Both players love their mid-range jumpers, but neither is particularly efficient from 16-23 feet. 

    Last season, Smith hit on 32.9 percent of his 301 attempts (his second-most from any one area) from that distance, while Jennings was slightly better at 38.2 percent, according to Basketball-Reference

    The Pistons have the personnel necessary to make a run at a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but qualification is as good as it will get for Detroit this season. Expect the Pistons to be ousted in the first round should they qualify for the postseason. 

Golden State Warriors

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    Title Odds: 7 percent 

    They may have missed out on Dwight Howard, but the Golden State Warriors are primed to compete for a Western Conference title after signing Andre Iguodala to a four-year, $48 million deal. 

    One through five, there are few teams who match up with the Warriors. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the league's most lethal three-point shooting backcourt, while David Lee and Andrew Bogut complement each other nicely as an offense-defense pairing. 

    The real key, though, is Iguodala, who's a perfect fit in head coach Mark Jackson's uptempo offense. Not only will Iguodala flourish running the break, but he's also the lockdown defender Golden State needed after allowing 100.3 points per game (19th in the NBA) last season. 

    With a complete starting lineup and a second unit possessing names like Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Kent Bazemore, the Warriors are in line to finish among the West's top five teams and have an outside shot to capture a conference title. 

Houston Rockets

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    Title Odds: 7 percent 

    From a championship perspective, the Houston Rockets are the new kids on the block. With Dwight Howard, James Harden and Chandler Parsons, Houston now has a Big Three of its own. 

    And while the Rockets are undeniably one of the four or five favorites to finish the season as Western Conference champions, questions remain for Kevin McHale's squad. 

    Namely, who will start at point guard? Jeremy Lin played in and started all 82 games last season, but Patrick Beverley is no slouch, evident by the 11.8 points he averaged against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. 

    Like the Los Angeles Lakers last season, the Rockets enter 2013-14 with sky-high expectations. There will be bumps in the road. With Howard in town, how could there not be?

    Finishing with a better record than the San Antonio Spurs is a daunting task, which makes me think the Rockets will wind up second in the Southwest Division and fourth in the conference. 

    A title is within reach, but new players must adapt to new surroundings in a hurry if achieving such lofty goals in year one of a new era. 

Indiana Pacers

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    Title Odds: 8 percent 

    Aside from the Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls are your co-favorites in the Eastern Conference to capture an NBA title next season. 

    A 49-32 season led to a Central Division title a year ago, and there's no reason to think the Pacers won't be able to eclipse the 50-win mark this season.

    Danny Granger's return will give Indiana a little extra offensive pop on the perimeter, while C.J. Watson and Luis Scola will both help solidify head coach Frank Vogel's second unit. 

    Arguably the biggest threat to the Heat after taking them seven games in last season's Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers won't be surprising anyone this season as they seek to knock Miami from its throne.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Title Odds: 8 percent 

    Oh, how times have changed in L.A. While the Los Angeles Lakers once ruled Tinseltown, the Los Angeles Clippers have pushed them to the periphery of the Western Conference playoff picture and completely out of title contention.

    The Clippers, led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, were mighty impressive last season, but playoff success has largely eluded them since Paul's arrival.

    With Doc Rivers at the helm and the signings of J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley and Darren Collison, there's simply no reason why the Clippers should finish anywhere but at the top of the Pacific Division. 

    However, the Clippers should have their sights set much higher than a second consecutive division title. With a roster and a head coach capable of competing for a title, don't be surprised if the Clippers finally break though the wall and make it to the Western Conference Finals.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Title Odds: 1 percent

    All of the fanfare surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers at this time last year feels like a distant memory. 

    Dwight Howard now resides in Houston, Kobe Bryant is rehabbing a ruptured Achilles and reality is setting in that the Lakers are starting down another underwhelming season. 

    The Western Conference is loaded with six powerhouses, which figures to leave the Lakers grasping at straws as they attempt to wiggle their way into the playoffs.

    It's not impossible, but you can bet it's improbable. Perhaps Howard's departure will alleviate some of the stresses on the Lakers, but even if they do make the playoffs, there's no conceivable scenario in which the Lakers can win the title this season.  

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Title Odds: 4 percent

    The Memphis Grizzlies finished just two games back of the San Antonio Spurs in the Southwest Division last season with a record of 56-26. 

    After bouncing the Los Angeles Clippers in six games and the Oklahoma City Thunder in five, they fell back to earth against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. 

    So will the Grizzlies be able to enjoy similar success this season? 

    Based simply on the makeup of the team's roster, it's easy to say yes. The Grizzlies go 10 men deep and are solid up front with Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and a future stud in Ed Davis.

    Unfortunately, the Grizzlies may have a hard time getting back to the conference finals given the big strides that teams like the Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets made this summer. 

    Memphis has earned respect with their "grit-n-grind" attitude, but the emergence of big-market powers may hinder their quest for a title this season. 

Miami Heat

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    Title Odds: 15 percent 

    The Miami Heat are back-to-back champs, which means they've earned the right to be considered title favorites entering the 2013-14 season. 

    However, it would be foolish to anoint the Heat runaway favorites at this stage, particularly after a shaky postseason. 

    While the Larry O'Brien Trophy continues to reside in Miami, the Heat were pushed to the brink on two occasions during the 2013 playoffs. Not only did the Indiana Pacers force the Heat to a seventh game, but Miami was also one Ray Allen miracle away from losing the finals to the San Antonio Spurs.  

    With the exception of Mike Miller, the Heat are returning all players from last year's title squad, and the addition of Greg Oden combined with the presence of Chris Andersen should improve the Heat's front line. 

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Title Odds: 0.5 percent 

    Talk about an offseason transformation. The Milwaukee Bucks roster underwent significant changes this summer, but many of the moves general manager John Hammond made were questionable. 

    In a top-heavy Eastern Conference, the Bucks will have a shot at a back-end playoff spot, but that's about all they can hang their hat on this season. 

    No more Brandon Jennings and the departure of Monta Ellis mean the Bucks will rely on O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight to lead a reconstructed Milwaukee offense under head coach Larry Drew. 

    Larry Sanders is far and away the Bucks' most exciting young prospect, but he won't be able to anchor a defense that ranked 20th in opponents' points per game last season all by himself. 

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Title Odds: 1.5 percent

    Much like the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East, the Minnesota Timberwolves are expected to make a sizable leap up the standings next season. 

    Not only will the T'Wolves finally have Kevin Love back at full strength, but they also made a few strong additions this offseason in Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer. 

    While Martin came off the bench last season for the Oklahoma City Thunder, he now has a chance to return to a starting role, one which he's familiar with. Martin has started 387 of a possible 552 games over the course of his career, including 120 of a possible 120 in 2010-11 and 2011-12. 

    With a deft touch from deep, Martin will aid a Timberwolves squad that sorely needs better floor-spacing and three-point shooting. 

    Minnesota is a dark horse out west and, with Love and Ricky Rubio leading the way, should feel confident about its chances of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04.

New Orleans Pelicans

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    Title Odds: 1.5 percent 

    The New Orleans Pelicans didn't mess around this summer. General manager Dell Demps was serious about improving, and boy did he do so quickly. 

    After finishing with a record of 27-55 last season, the Pelicans went out and obtained several quality pieces that will improve the team's odds of qualifying for the playoffs. 

    The notable names are Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, but fans shouldn't overlook the return of Eric Gordon to the Pelicans' starting lineup. 

    With Holiday, Gordon and Evans all potentially starting, the Pelicans have three quality ball-handlers and scorers capable of averaging 20 points a night. 

    The challenge for Monty Williams and Co. will be finding ways to satisfy the scoring appetites of the three young guns, each of whom is still just 24 years old or less. 

    Along with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers, the Pelicans will be one of the most improved teams in the Western Conference this season. 

New York Knicks

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    Title Odds: 3.5 percent

    A year removed from their most successful regular season since 1999-00, the New York Knicks haven't done much this summer to boost their title hopes. 

    Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani are aboard, but it's tough to view those as moves that propelled the Knicks into the league's championship title conversation. 

    New York was unable to get past the Indiana Pacers in the 2013 postseason, and with the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls looking mighty tough, the Knicks could find themselves as low as the Eastern Conference's No. 5 seed come playoff time. 

    The Knicks are undeniably a playoff team; that much is certain. But the current makeup of their roster doesn't instill confidence that they will be able to hang with the Pacers, Nets, Bulls or Miami Heat when it's all on the line. 

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Title Odds: 10 percent 

    The Oklahoma City Thunder's title hopes crashed and burned last season after losing Russell Westbrook to knee surgery during the first round of the playoffs. 

    But with a healthy Westbrook back alongside a hungry Kevin Durant, the Thunder should be counted among the favorites to win a Western Conference title this season and make a run at the Larry O'Brien Trophy. 

    The biggest question mark facing the Thunder is how they will replace sixth man Kevin Martin. That may sound relatively easy on the surface, but doing so in the form of the unproven Jeremy Lamb could be a tall task. 

    Martin hit on 42.6 percent of his threes last season, and the Thunder are going to count on Lamb to step up and can big shots in his expanded role. 

    Last season in the D-League, Lamb averaged 21 points per game on 49 percent shooting from the floor and 35.2 percent from three. 

Orlando Magic

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    Title Odds: 0.1 percent

    There will be plenty of losses to come for the Orlando Magic next season. Fortunately, general manager Rob Hennigan has constructed a young, talented team that will soon be a playoff contender. 

    For now, the Magic figure to find themselves in the cellar of the Eastern Conference alongside the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Bobcats. 

    Winning may not be in the Magic's lexicon this year, but Orlando will be a fun League Pass watch thanks to the presences of Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson and Moe Harkless. 

    Watching a core like that develop will be fascinating, and those looking for the league's next breakout team should keep an eye on the Magic as this season progresses. 

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Title Odds: 0.1 percent

    It would be more appropriate to list the Philadelphia 76ers' title odds as 0 percent, but that's simply not an option. 

    The 2013-14 season will be an exercise in patience for the Sixers and their fans, but ultimately it will be for the best. 

    With a chance to be the league's worst team and obtain the coveted 25 percent odds of obtaining the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft, the next season could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Philly. 

    The big task facing the Sixers at this juncture is finding a head coach who's all in on the Sixers' rebuilding plan that will take another three of four years to take shape. 

Phoenix Suns

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    Title Odds: 0.1 percent

    The Phoenix Suns will finish with one of the league's worst records next season, but don't be fooled by what will presumably be a lackluster 2013-14 campaign. 

    For once, the Suns have direction, and they can thank new general manager Ryan McDonough for that. 

    Snagging Eric Bledsoe was a brilliant move as the Suns build with an eye to the future. Bledsoe and incumbent point guard Goran Dragic could work brilliantly as a one-two combo in the backcourt, but it will be dependent on one becoming more comfortable working off the ball. 

    Should rookie center Alex Len recover from ankle surgery and develop a more crisp offensive game in year one, the Suns will have a solid foundation to build upon heading into next summer. 

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Title Odds: 1.7 percent

    The Portland Trail Blazers won just a shade over 40 percent of their games last season but are primed for significant improvement over the next eight months. 

    After a lousy 33-49 campaign in which a depleted bench put extra pressure on the team's starters, the Blazers enter the 2013-14 season with a revamped second unit.

    Rebounding machine J.J. Hickson may be gone, but taking his place is Robin Lopez, who's no slouch on the defensive end. And should center Meyers Leonard make the leap in year two, Portland will have a steady offense-defense tandem at the 5. 

    Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and rookie C.J. McCollum round out the Blazers' bolstered second unit. 

    They won't compete for a title this year, but the Blazers have a shot at getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010-11. 

Sacramento Kings

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    Title Odds: 0.1 percent

    Don't expect the Sacramento Kings to improve on their record of 28-54 from a year ago.

    New head coach Mike Malone will enjoy stability at point guard in the form of Greivis Vasquez but won't be pleased with his team's lack of mature, perimeter playmakers. 

    Ben McLemore will take time to evolve into a complete NBA shooting guard, and a platoon of John Salmons and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute at small forward is adequate at best. 

    Carl Landry brings veteran leadership and some pop to the Kings frontcourt, but the real determinant of the Kings' success will be the maturation of DeMarcus Cousins

    It's scary to think that Cousins will soon be just 23 years old and, despite the negative qualities he may possess, is a candidate for a max contract extension.

San Antonio Spurs

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    Title Odds: 10 percent 

    Along with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs are co-favorites in the Western Conference to win next season's NBA title. 

    As we discovered last season, dismissing the Spurs based on their age and lack of flashy playmakers is a huge mistake. 

    San Antonio returns all of its key players from last year's team (unless you believe Gary Neal was crucial to its title hopes) and figure to run out a starting five that consists of Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and the re-signed Tiago Splitter. 

    And while the Spurs did lose Neal, they added Marco Belinelli to give the them menacing depth at shooting guard behind Green and Manu Ginobili.

Toronto Raptors

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    Title Odds: 0.1 percent

    What to make of this Toronto Raptors team? It finished four games out of the playoffs last season and, playing in an Eastern Conference that lacks depth, could very well sneak into the postseason as an eighth seed this season. 

    But even if the Raptors do qualify, they'll earn the right to be bounced from the playoffs in four games by the No. 1 seed. 

    Kyle Lowry's production is rather volatile (he shot 40.1 percent from the field last season), and it remains to be seen how well DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay mesh on the wing. 

    Gay could be in line for a big season after having surgery to correct his vision, but the Raptors lack game-changers. Other fringe Eastern Conference contenders like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards are more appealing picks for the postseason at this point because of their dynamic point guards. 

Utah Jazz

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    Title Odds: 0.1 percent

    When talking about teams in flux, the Utah Jazz should be at the forefront of the conversation.

    Utah let offensive cornerstones Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk in free agency, opening the door for Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to establish names for themselves as starters.

    However, the frontcourt isn't the only place on Utah's roster where question marks are prevalent. Alec Burks will be tasked with shouldering starter's minutes at shooting guard (he's never started a game in two seasons), while Trey Burke enters the NBA with high expectations as the team's point guard of the future.

Washington Wizards

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    Title Odds: 1 percent

    With an $80 million contract comes an awful lot of responsibility. 

    Now officially the Washington Wizards' franchise cornerstone, Wall is expected to take the Wizards to the playoffs in his fourth NBA season. 

    And if the second half of last season was any indication, Wall is in for a monster season. 

    According to Basketball-Reference, Wall's scoring average increased by six points after the All-Star break, while his field-goal percentage increased from 42.8 percent to 44.7. 

    Wall also finished third in the league in assist percentage, per Basketball-Reference, dishing out dimes on 43.9 percent of his teammates' field goals. 

    The Wizards project as a seventh or eighth seed in a weak Eastern Conference, but it wouldn't be a major surprise to see them sneak up as high as the sixth seed after finishing last season eighth in opponents' points per game (95.8).