With so many new playoff hopefuls in the revamped Eastern Conference, here are some quick hits for each team that should find itself in the playoff hunt.
Trading for Marcin Gortat was a great move by the Wiz. Instead of an offensively limited center who is shelved due to injury (Emeka Okafor), Washington now has an athletic big who can thrive in the pick-and-roll with John Wall.
Washington’s floor general, though, is the biggest storyline. The Wizards, quite frankly, are helpless without him.
Wall posted a 47-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound effort in a win against the Memphis Grizzlies last season. Now that he’s healthy, with a healthy wingman in Bradley Beal, this Wizards team may be a lock for the playoffs in 2014.
Team chemistry is everything with this team, but you can’t deny the upgrade in talent.
Josh Smith is one of the best two-way forwards in the game. He can make a difference offensively by slashing to the basket and defensively by swatting shots and swiping steals.
Brandon Jennings is a talented point guard who has shown erratic shot selection in his career, but he may look to set up teammates more now with a new supporting cast.
Andre Drummond is a candidate for Most Improved Player as he moves into a starting role, and Chauncey Billups can act as a coach on the floor for this team.
The Pistons' playoff hopes all come down to whether or not J-Smoove can click in the frontcourt.
Betting on Andrew Bynum’s health is something that even gambling addicts would scoff at.
If he gets healthy, though, the Cavs will be serious playoff contenders.
Kyrie Irving will run the show at point guard surrounded by plenty of depth. Look for Jarrett Jack to make a huge impact as one of the key offseason acquisitions.
I’m not convinced that Rudy Gay’s offseason eye surgery will suddenly morph him into the NBA’s version of Deadshot from DC Comics, but this Toronto Raptors team does have the talent to compete.
DeMar DeRozan is arguably the most underrated shooting guard in the league. He’s still just 24 years old and averaged 18.1 points per game a season ago.
Jonas Valanciunas had a great summer league (despite committing fouls like he was in a pickup game against his worst enemies). If he can stay out of foul trouble, he has the potential to have a monstrous sophomore year.
Barring any blockbuster trades to blow up the roster, Toronto will be in the running for one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots.
Again, as I did for the Eastern Conference, here are some quick hits for the new playoff contenders in the Western Conference.
A lot of people are sleeping on the Dallas Mavericks this year. I’m not one of them.
I predicted in August that the Mavs would make the playoffs in 2014, so I’m not going to hop off that bandwagon now.
Dallas finished with a 41-41 record last season despite the fact that Dirk Nowitzki—the team’s best player by far—missed 29 games due to injury.
In the 53 games played upon his return, the Mavericks finished with a 28-25 record. The former MVP led Dallas to a winning record despite having Mike James and Elton Brand’s corpse play key roles.
Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair and rookie Shane Larkin (when he’s healthy) should be enough to propel this team back to the playoffs, even though they'll be mediocre defensively.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers bench finished dead last in minutes (13.3) and points (18.5) per game last season, according to Hoops Stats. The lack of a second unit put a ton of pressure on guard Damian Lillard and forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
Those two stars did an admirable job but ran out of gas. Portland finished the season with a 13-game losing streak as a result.
With offseason acquisitions of Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson and rookies C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe, it’s perfectly reasonable to believe this Portland squad can earn a playoff spot in 2014.
Can the Minnesota Timberwolves stay healthy?
It’s been the question that has haunted this club since Kevin Love took the team’s reins.
K-Love hasn’t stayed healthy nor has teammate Ricky Rubio. Chase Budinger is already injured again, and there’s no guarantee that Nikola Pekovic won’t miss time.
As is the case with Cleveland in the Eastern Conference, the T-Wolves have to stay healthy if they hope to nab a playoff spot in the loaded West.
New Orleans Pelicans
As I noted earlier, Anthony Davis has looked like an absolute stud in preseason. Yes, it’s preseason, but he looks worthy of being a No. 1 overall pick.
Jrue Holiday, an All-Star last year, has been added to the fray along with Tyreke Evans, Greg Stiemsma and Anthony Morrow.
This team has a lot of talent with AD, Holiday, Evans and Ryan Anderson, but much like the Detroit Pistons in the East, the rotation needs to jell.
Los Angeles Lakers
Fans of the purple-and-gold championship machine continue to be hopeful entering the 2013-14 season, but there are a lot of questions facing this roster.
First off, Kobe Bryant isn’t healthy. He’s 35 years old and recovering from an Achilles tear he sustained in April. His replacements? Nick Young and Wesley Johnson...yeesh.
Young is a streaky shooter, but he functions as a sieve on defense. Johnson, meanwhile, is a shooting guard who can’t shoot. His shooting percentage of 40.7 percent last season for the Phoenix Suns was a career high.
Steve Nash will turn 40 in February, Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman are past their prime, and there’s no conceivable way that this team finishes at league average defensively.
I like the playoff odds of Dallas, Portland, Minnesota and New Orleans more than this Lakers team, even if Bryant returns to full strength.