2013-14 Record: 36-46
The Denver Nuggets went largely unnoticed throughout the 2013-14 season, as injuries wreaked havoc on their chances of competing in the cutthroat Western Conference. Sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari failed to return from a torn ACL, while center JaVale McGee only made it through five games before a stress fracture in his left tibia sidelined him for the remainder of the year.
With Gallinari, McGee and microwave scorer Nate Robinson back in the fold, the Nuggets should be far more competitive in 2014-15. The additions of Bosnian center Jusuf Nurkic and Michigan State shooting guard Gary Harris, the Nos. 16 and 19 picks in the 2014 draft, respectively, will only add to Denver's impressive depth.
The real key to the Nuggets' turnaround, however, will be shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who they acquired from Orlando for 2-guard Evan Fournier and the No. 56 pick in this June's draft.
After averaging a career-high 18.2 points per game last season, Afflalo should slide into Denver's starting lineup and provide the scoring punch the Nuggets desperately need alongside Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried.
Predicted 2014-15 Record: 42-40 (+6)
2013-14 Record: 15-67
Frankly, the Milwaukee Bucks can't be worse in 2014-15 than they were this past season. They won only 15 games with two of their five projected starters—center Larry Sanders and shooting guard O.J. Mayo—mired in a mess of injuries and off-court distractions for much of the year.
The one bright spot was rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has quickly emerged as one of the league's most unique players. According to Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy, the Greek Freak is now 6'11" with a 7'4" wingspan, which should allow him to guard a range of positions a la LeBron James.
Adding Jabari Parker, the No. 2 overall pick in June's draft, will only help expedite Milwaukee's rebuild, as he's an NBA-ready scorer who enters the year as one of the Rookie of the Year favorites. Though the Bucks likely won't take a major step toward the playoffs this season, a marginal improvement should get them out of the Eastern Conference's basement, replaced by the proudly tanking Philadelphia 76ers.
Predicted 2014-15 Record: 22-60 (+7)
New York Knicks
2013-14 Record: 37-45
Though his college coach, Jim Boeheim, believed Chicago to be a better fit, per Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com, All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony opted to re-sign with the New York Knicks this summer. (In the words of Jerry Maguire: "Show me the money!")
With Anthony signed long-term and the stench of a 37-win season still permeating, the Knicks will be under far less pressure heading into this year compared to 2012-13. No one knows just what to expect from rookie head coach Derek Fisher, while New York traded away its best defender, center Tyson Chandler, in the deal that netted point guard Jose Calderon and center Samuel Dalembert.
The Knicks' 54-win season in 2012-13 might have been an aberration, but last year was just about the floor for this roster. If J.R. Smith keeps his head on straight and young guards Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert continue to develop, Melo's prediction about the Knicks being playoff-bound might not be so crazy after all.
Predicted 2014-15 Record: 44-38 (+7)