Here's a brief summary of the 2013-14 season based on many predictions from ESPN, NBA.com and Bleacher Report:
- The Top 5 Teams from each conference are the Heat, Bulls, Pacers, Nets and Knicks, and the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Rockets and Warriors—usually in that order
- Some younger teams will push for the sixth to eighth seeds out East, like the new look Pistons and Hawks, the improved Wizards and Cavaliers, and possibly the Raptors as well
- The Nuggets and Grizzlies took a big step back this season and will likely pick up the sixth and seventh seeds in the West
- The Lakers, Timberwolves, Mavericks, Pelicans and Trailblazers will fight it out for the eighth seed in the West
- The Bobcats, Bucks, Celtics, Magic, 76ers, Jazz, Kings and Suns are officially in the "Andrew Wiggins Sweepstakes"
However, as we all know, expectations never turn out to be reality. While injuries play a major factor in these predictions, and you can't predict injuries, here are some predictions that don't fit into this general theme. These are the five teams that will exceed these expectations.
I agree with Danny Ainge. The Celtics are not tanking next year.
The Celtics lost some huge pieces to their puzzle. There's no way to compensate for the loss of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers. However, last season, the Celtics' 41-40 record was not indicative of how the team played over the full 82 games.
KG, Pierce and Rondo missed a combined 68 games last season. To make that a little simpler, that's an average of 21 games without all three of them. Throw in a big injury to Jared Sullinger and you're looking at a team that probably would've pushed for a 50-win season at full strength.
Now the team is lead by a group of youngsters who have no experience playing together, no chemistry and no direction.
The Celtics core group has remained pretty stable over the past few seasons. Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo have great chemistry together and make for an incredibly sound backcourt duo. Jeff Green already proved he could put up 15 points last season and will look for a breakout year with more responsibility. Kelly Olynyk looks like a rookie of the year candidate in the summer league. And now the Celtics have their best bench in years with Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Courtney Lee, MarShon Brooks and Keith Bogans.
While no one expects this to be a playoff team, I wouldn't be surprised to see them in the mix. I'm not predicting it, but I'm pegging them as the 10th seed this year. Expect a big splash from them next offseason, and a quick rebuild from a couple of good trades and signings.
Similarly to the Timberwolves, this is a team that made major strides in the off season, but people forget what they can do when they're at full strength. Last season, with Wall and Nene both playing, the Wizards sported a 22-16 record. That would come out to a 47 win season with a full 82 games, good enough for a fifth seed last season.
That isn't exactly a small window to measure success either.
The Wizards finished last season on an incredibly strong note after an abysmal 5-28 start. And now after drafting Otto Porter and signing Eric Maynor, the Wizards look even stronger for the start of 2013. While many experts have them pegged for a return to the postseason, I think that this will be another case like last year's Golden State Warriors. Expect a push for the sixth seed just below the Pacers, Bulls and New York teams.
The Minnesota Timberwolves spent the off season making major upgrades to their roster to ensure that the 10-year playoff drought would finally end. The thing that most people don't remember about the Wolves is that they've been gunning for an eighth seed or higher for two full years now had it not been for injuries.
The Timberwolves were 21-19 when Ricky Rubio went down back in the 2011-12 season, and were thinking playoffs on a roster that still boasted Michael Beasley and Wes Johnson as starters.
Now with the seasoned Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer at the starting 2 and 3 spots and a bench filled with promising youngsters—such as Gorgei Dieng, Derrick Williams, Shabazz Muhammad and Alexey Shved—the Wolves look poised to grab a playoff spot for the first time in a long time. They may also be looking grab home court advantage away from teams like the Denver Nuggets or Memphis Grizzlies—teams that took a couple steps backwards this off season with aging cores and brand new coaches.
So don't just expect Minnesota in the playoffs, but I'm pegging them as a 4-6 seeded team.
The Los Angeles Clippers are a team that everyone has been saying made some of the most improvements of any team in the league. However, they're still not being pegged as the major competitor for the Western Conference crown.
Doc Rivers is an incredible upgrade to Vinny Del Negro, and a great coach can truly change the entire outlook of a franchise. Throw in incredible role players like Darren Collison, Jared Dudley and J.J. Reddick, and you're looking at a team that will be pushing for the final trophy this year.
In a year where the Houston Rockets are a huge question mark with Dwight Howard, and the Thunder took two huge steps back after loosing Harden and now Kevin Martin, the Western Conference doesn't look as certain as it has in the past. I think that the Western Conference Finals will come down to the Clippers and the Spurs. And I have to hand this one to the Clippers.
In my mind, they're second behind the Heat for the best odds at the title.
The Charlotte Bobcats took two big steps forward this offseason.
Sure, they might not have landed the biggest fish in the free agency pool, or could've drafted better at the No. 4 pick, but Cody Zeller and Al Jefferson are two players not to be sneezed at.
The starting lineup of Jefferson, Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker is not one that will be making the playoffs this year, but it will be pushing to have a 30-win season for the first time in a while for a struggling Bobcats franchise. Throw in an extra year of experience for Kidd-Gilchrist and Walker and you're looking at a team with some borderline All-Star players—and a group of guys who could really gel together.
In a year with some teams really bottoming out (Magic, 76ers, Jazz), I think that the Bobcats will be somewhere around the 10-12th seed in the weak Eastern Conference, and will be in the mid to late lottery in the 2014 draft. And while this does seem like the year to be pushing for the No. 1 pick, you can never guess what will happen with those ping pong balls. This could be a good year for the Bobcats.