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NBA Rankings: How Every Team Compared to Their Regular-Season Expectations

Lance SmithCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2016

NBA Rankings: How Every Team Compared to Their Regular-Season Expectations

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    ATLANTA, GA - MAY 12:  Derrick Rose #1 walks off the court as Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls reacts after calling a timeout against the Atlanta Hawks in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Phillips Arena on May 12
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    At the beginning of every season, thousands of well-respected NBA analysts all make predictions about what the standings will be like at the end of the regular season. Few of them are ever the exact same. I'd be surprised if any of them were ever exactly correct.

    It's almost impossible to come up with a general consensus about any one team's predictions, but I will try. For some teams, it's not that hard. But for some teams, the predictions can span as wide as 20 or more wins.

    Probably the most controversial one this season was the Miami Heat. Jeff Van Gundy predicted that they'd set a new record for wins. Others said they might not win 50 games. They ended up being somewhere in the middle. 

    Some predictions are blown away by injury. For example, some people, including me, expected the Houston Rockets to be an elite team. They were devastated by Yao Ming's season-ender, and several smaller ones before the All-Star break. By the time they got healthy, besides Yao Ming, it was almost too late to make a stand in the hotly contested Western Conference. So the fact that they finished above .500 is in my eyes a huge accomplishment. 

    Other teams fall apart because of people problems, such as the Utah Jazz. And some teams with a lot of talent fail for no apparent reason (see Milwaukee Bucks). Some teams do much better than expected, and people can't always explain why, like the Philadelphia 76ers.

    I'm going to list how each team did compared to the general expectations of sports voices, from best to worst, and include some reasons why things might've turned out how they did. The team making the playoffs or not will not make a difference in my rankings, which don't take into account injuries and situational trades. The list is based solely on numerical differences in the "wins" column.

    If two teams tie for the difference of wins to expected wins, tiebreakers will include injuries, playoff positions, and impact on the future. I'll start with the most successful teams, and end with the least. 

1. Chicago Bulls

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    CHICAGO, IL - MAY 26:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat drives for a shot attempt against Taj Gibson #22 and Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 26, 2011 at the United Cen
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Preseason Expectations: 50-32

    Record: 62-20

    Based on my numbers, the Chicago Bulls won 12 more games than they were expected to, which tied them with Philadelphia for having the most positive differential. The Bulls, however, landed themselves the best possible seat going into the playoffs, and they have an excellent future ahead of them based on this season. 

    Their overachievement can easily be accredited to multiple sources. For one, coach Tom Thibodeau won Coach of the Year for the job he did. Also, Derrick Rose was the easy pick for MVP. Both members of the team simply elevated their contributions more than they were expected to.

    Many people also consider the under-the-radar play of Luol Deng and Taj Gibson to be a major explanation for the team's success. 

    Also, this team found a somewhat unexpected chemistry. Not just on offense, but mainly on defense. Luol Deng is sort of known as a lockdown defender. Derrick Rose is very good.

    Joakim Noah is an above-average presence inside and was voted onto the NBA All-Defensive Second Team. Taj Gibson may soon follow in his footsteps, but Carlos Boozer is known as a terrible on-ball defender. In fact, in one game he was benched for the entire fourth quarter in a close loss to Charlotte.

    Ronnie Brewer is an excellent defensive player, but he receives limited playing time due to the team's "shooting guard by committee" program. The team's players are all good "team defenders"; they rotate well, there are few liabilities, there is size inside (off the bench, too) and all the players trust one another.

    So even though there are few players with a defensive reputation on the Bulls, they were one of the league's premier defensive teams.  

2. Philadelphia 76ers

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 24: Coach Doug Collins of the Philadelphia 76ers gestures to players Jrue Holiday #11 (L) and Jodie Meeks #20 during the second half in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Cent
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Presesason Expectations: 29-53

    Record: 41-41

    Until the very end of November, this season looked like the worst-case scenario for the Sixers. The young, raw talent on the team wasn't clicking with new coach Doug Collins, and their star player (Andre Iguodala, who was actually the NBA's most talked-about trade piece besides Carmelo) was having one of his worst ever years.

    Although the latter remained true, something then changed and they were one of the league's best teams throughout the remainder of the season. They went from on pace to not meeting their horrendous regular-season record to finishing at .500. They even managed to win a game against Miami in the first round and contend throughout the whole series.

    If they can use Iguodala as a valuable trading chip, they might become one of the deepest teams of our time, given a couple years, as they are loaded with an incredible bench and more young talent than anyone. If they can land a star, they might be a championship contender in as little as two years.

    It's hard to say why this change occurred, especially considering how little media time the team gets. In the opinions of many, including myself, Doug Collins should be the Coach of the Year, when you consider how little they had to work with.

    In a league dominated only by stars more than ever it seems, Philadelphia was only a game behind New York and were thought to be legitimate contenders against Miami. The closest thing they had to a star was a zero-time All-Star on an off year or a burnt out ex-star whose career had been dominated by injuries since 2006.

    Instead, the coach had them win games with teamwork. In fact, Philadelphia had two supreme candidates for Sixth Man of the Year with Louis Williams and Thaddeus Young. That's almost unheard of. They were a team built on a lack of weak links, more than anything. They were middle-of-the-road in both scoring and defense, and they did both in a variety of ways.

    Anyway, this was mainly a building year for them, although next year might actually be more of one, as Iguodala is a free agent and Elton Brand doesn't have much time left. But for a building year, they really made a lot of noise. 

3. San Antonio Spurs

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    SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 23: Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts with Tim Duncan #21 and Manu Ginobili #20 against the Dallas Mavericks in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 23, 20
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Preseason Expectations: 50-32

    Record: 61-21

    They won 11 more games than expected, and I personally didn't even think they'd reach 50 this year. In fact, I thought they'd be fighting just to make the playoffs. And it's not like anything major happened.

    Their young guys like DeJuan Blair developed, they added to their seemingly endless bench, Richard Jefferson sort of got with the program and most importantly, their Big Three got healthy again. They were able to limit Tim Duncan's minutes, but Tony Parker had a very productive year and Manu Ginobili had arguably his best ever year as a pro.

    Gregg Popovich was a candidate for Coach of the Year. Before they fell apart again at the end of the season, they were on pace to flirt with the 70-game mark. 

    I'm inclined to say that next year, things might not go as well for them. In fact, I don't know if they'll even make the playoffs. But that's what I said last year, so I'll probably be proven wrong. 

4. Indiana Pacers

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    CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 26: Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls battles for the ball with (L-R) Dahntay Jones #1, Danny Granger #33 and Josh McRoberts #32 of the Indiana Pacers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at t
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Preseason Expectations: 26-56

    Record: 37-45

    I just can't see how people thought the Pacers would actually do worse than they did in the 2009-2010 season. The only thing that really changed, besides acquiring Darren Collison, was time. Danny Granger did have an off year, but not as much as people think. He didn't have to score as much because he had a relatively deep roster helping him out.

    Still, I didn't predict them to have the runs they did. After an extremely difficult schedule early on, they came out with a winning record about a month into the season. Like the Utah Jazz, they went on a tear of knocking off half the NBA's elite teams on the road. And like the Jazz, they quickly just fell apart.

    All of a sudden, they were 17-27. Jim O'Brien, who actually seemed to be doing a pretty good job, was abruptly fired. Frank Vogel came in, and the Pacers went on another tear. They again came down to Earth, but with Vogel as a head coach, they went 20-18, and they made the playoffs. It's not like that says much in the East, but Milwaukee and Charlotte did make decent pushes.

    Really, in this year, they just developed. Their new acquisition Collison got the starting role, now that he wasn't playing behind Chris Paul. All their young bigs, like Josh McRoberts, Tyler Hansbrough and especially Roy Hibbert, started to become legitimate NBA players and not just roster-fillers.

    The team developed great chemistry; their play styles just really meshed. They have great size, and their big men can do what the situation calls for, be it finesse play or (their favorites) physicality. It really worked well with their athletic backcourt.

    Next year shouldn't be too much different. I expect them to rise up to the .500 mark and again win a battle for a low playoff spot. Still, they are certainly a piece away from really making some noise.   

5. Memphis Grizzlies

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    NEW ORLEANS - MARCH 03:  Zach Randolph #50, Mike Conley #11, Marc Gasol #33 congratulate Rudy Gay #22 of the Memphis Grizzlies after picking up a loose ball against the New Orleans Hornets at the New Orleans Arena on March 3, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisian
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Preseason Expectation: 37-45

    Record: 46-36

    This was another case of people's expectations of a team being too low. Halfway through the season, Memphis was below .500, their hot prospect O.J. Mayo had been taken out of the starting lineup, and I was starting to wonder if maybe I had overestimated them.

    All of a sudden, something got sparked. Next thing you know, the season is almost over and they're in place for a playoff position. But then Rudy Gay got injured, and the team went on a bit of a slide. Right when I thought that they were done, they started playing their best basketball of the year.

    Mayo picked up his attitude and embraced his sixth man role more than ever. The team chemistry increased, because like Mayo and Zach Randolph, Gay is an offensive black hole. Sure he can score the ball, but not well enough to account for the way he can kill offensive flow when he's on a team with guys like Randolph (who actually has become a much better teammate) and Marc Gasol.

    Anyway, the guys backing him up, namely Sam Young and Tony Allen, were able to contribute their defensive-first styles of play to the team and things started to click on every cylinder. They came into the playoffs as one of the most dangerous lower-seeds (along with Portland) that we've seen in a long time.

    I believe the main reason for their unexpected success was the fact that people underestimated them. In fact, I think that they were capable of winning even more games, which they proved. Randolph and Mike Conley had their best years as pros, and Gay seemed to have improved in multiple areas too, but Gasol didn't make the leap that people thought he could. Mayo actually took steps backwards, although it seems that sixth man role is actually perfect for him.

    I doubt that Randolph is going to get any better, but if they re-sign Gasol, which they should, expect them to look more like the team they were in the playoffs. They still need to work out some offensive chemistry issues, and personally, I think they should actually trade Gay, but all they need is time to become an elite team.    

6. Denver Nuggets

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    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 27: Wilson Chandler #21 of the Denver Nuggets drives to the basket against Nick Collison #4 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2011 at the Ford
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Preseason Expectation: 42-40

    Record: 50-32

    One of the main themes of this season was "'Melo-drama," and there was more of it than we could have expected. First of all, Carmelo Anthony was pretty weak while he was with Denver. He didn't really try because he didn't really care.

    Although the Nuggets role players hung tight throughout the season and kept them afloat, who could have expected Carmelo to stay on the Denver Nuggets until the trade deadline? At the beginning of the season, it looked like he could move to the Knicks at any given time. All of a sudden, a deal with New Jersey nearly passed. But then Mikhail Prokhorov said they wanted too much, and a huge deal was then completed with the Knicks.

    Ironically, the Nuggets immediately went on a tear and the Knicks went on an absolutely pathetic losing streak. The Knicks picked it up a little bit at the end, but Denver remained hot and proved that they might be better off without one designated star by instead having a large group of excellent players that just weren't household names.

    The reason people had lower-than-usual expectations of Denver was that they were expected to play most of the season without Carmelo. Too bad they didn't. Not too many teams stood up to their relentless force of above-average role players.   

7. Golden State

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    OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 25:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors congratulates his teammates during their game against the Toronto Raptors at Oracle Arena on March 25, 2011 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Preseason Expectation: 31-51

    Record: 36-46

    How people had such low expectations for the Warriors is beyond me. They only won 26 games last season, and that was with an injured team of record-setting proportions. And even when healthy, they weren't that dominant anyway.

    So how is that they would only win a few more this year, when they were less likely to lose almost every player to injury, when all their young guns had another year and when they added All-Star David Lee? I must admit, I expected them to win somewhere around 45 without significant injury, and I still think they were capable of it.

    Over the offseason, they added some pieces that turned out big. Sixth overall pick Ekpe Udoh had a great rookie year, when he was healthy. Dorell Wright nearly won Most Improved Player of the Year, and many would call him the biggest improvement the Warriors made. Free-agent signing David Lee would've likely held that title had he not been injured most of the year. Andris Biedrins came back. He only showed signs of what he could do, but at least he was back.

    The beginning of the season was dominated by injury, as usual. Stephen Curry's ankle was worthless, and half of their bench was gone for a big chunk of the season. Still, they started 6-2.

    And then they played the Knicks, Lee's old team. On a rebound, Lee accidentally elbowed Wilson Chandler in the mouth, and one of his teeth was lodged in his elbow for a couple days. Lee had to miss a couple weeks with a severe elbow infection, and it took him half the season to really recover. In fact, Lee was being talked about as one of the worst free-agent signings of the year until he was fully healthy and picked up his game for the last third of the season.

    Still, Curry did come back, and Lee was around halfway through the season. Udoh, among several other reserves, was healthy again around that time. Right before the All-Star break, they went on a streak in which they knocked off many of the league's elite teams. In a three-week stretch, Curry's defensive reputation went up a bunch as he consistently shut down players like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. They were finally healthy(ish) and playing the ball they were capable of.

    The injuries kept coming, and they fell out of the intense playoff competition, but still, they finished with an impressive record considering the circumstances. They should keep improving, although it may be a year or two before they can make the playoffs in the West. But this season, they proved that they can ball with anybody when the pieces fall into place. 

8. New Orleans Hornets

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    NEW ORLEANS - MARCH 22:  David West #30 and Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets celebrate near the end of the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the New Orleans Arena on March 22, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Hornets defeated the Mavericks
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Preseason Expectation: 41-41

    Record: 46-36

    Weird year for the Hornets. At the beginning of the season, they were expected to be in the thick of a sharp battle to make the playoffs in the West. Although this was an accurate prediction, it wasn't really significant. This season was all about showing Chris Paul that there was something for him in New Orleans. At times, they did their job easily.

    Coming off of a season-ending torn meniscus, Paul seemed almost as good as new early on. The team started off 9-0, knocking off many of the league's elite teams. Despite losing their winning streak, they remained a force for a while.

    At other times, he seemed destined to leave. Around December, the team actually sunk into the mediocre category. From then on, they went month by month. December was bad, but January included a 10-game winning streak. February was horrid, but March was great until David West tore his ACL on the 25th. The team could hardly win at all for the rest of the season.

    The Hornets did a little bit better than expected, mostly thanks to Paul's quick recovery, and they probably would've finished with more than 50 games if West had gotten healthy. Monty Williams also had an excellent first year as head coach.

    The most surprising thing about the season, however, was the team's inconsistencies; it simply seemed like the team didn't have enough pieces to play at the level they sometimes did. On the other hand, excellent defensive teams don't usually go on large losing streaks unless they are even weaker on the offensive end, like Milwaukee.

    Did the Hornets, in fact, accomplish the season goal of keeping Paul? Probably not. I doubt there's too much they could've really done. On the other hand, they proved to him that they could play at an elite level. But will that be enough? We'll have to see.   

9. Dallas Mavericks

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    DALLAS, TX - JUNE 09:  Jason Terry #31 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts after he made a 3-point shot late in the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat in Game Five of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 9, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Preseason Expectation: 54-28

    Record: 57-25

    I'm not going to lie. I really doubted the Mavericks at the beginning of the season. In fact, I singled them out, saying that their lack of star power and youth would prevent them from making too much noise this year. After their smoking start, I said that it wouldn't last, and that at most they were just a regular-season team.

    When Caron Butler went out, I said they were finished. But at that point, they might've actually gotten better. And I know this isn't about the regular season, but I did not believe in them for a second in the playoffs until they were up 40-28 in the second quarter of Game 6, and then I stopped until there were about five minutes left in the season.

    I'd say that the thing that gave them a few more wins than expected wasn't about what they did well, although Rick Carlisle should've received more credit for the job he did not just in the playoffs, but all season.

    It's the age decline that never really kicked in for most of their old players. They won 59 last year, and their roster this year wasn't too much different. But another year on the bodies of their older guys (almost the whole team) was enough for people to think that they were going to be noticeably worse than last year, despite the fact that they added Tyson Chandler.

    Although no single player had too sharp of a decrease, a lot of the Mavericks were just a little bit less productive than last year. But making up for that and then some was Tyson Chandler, who was a Most Improved Player and Defensive Player candidate, and rightfully so. The numerical and non-numerical impact that he made was huge. Huge enough to propel them very far.

    Although some people think that this roster will compete for a title again next year, I think that just too many of them are too old. But I was very wrong this year, so don't take my word for it. 

10. Portland Trail Blazers

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    PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 23:  LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the Portland Trail Blazers defends Jason Kidd #2 of the Dallas Mavericks in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 23, 2011 at the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Preseason Expectation: 47-35

    Record: 48-34

    Portland was my dark horse at the beginning of the year. I'm not sure exactly what they were the dark horse for, but they were my dark horse. I didn't think they'd compete for a title, but I guess they were my dark horse to grab second in the West. Most people, definitely including myself, considered the Lakers the very easy pick to get first in the Western Conference. The competition was really for second (boy were we all wrong).

    Most went with Oklahoma City, or I guess Dallas, but a few saw something in Portland. They actually ended up with a pretty similar record to the preseason consensus, but man did it look different.

    When people thought of Portland, they immediately thought of Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and all of those other guys. Oden missed the whole season (surprise surprise) due to his knee problems. Roy went down early, too, to miss most of the season. Early in the season, despite a strong start, Portland went down, simply because their best players were out until further notice.

    Well, we all knew LaMarcus Aldridge was loaded with potential, but nobody really expected what came next. He just took over, putting the team on his back, and he single-handedly kept them alive. Wesley Matthews also stepped up his game at an unbelievable level. Late in the season, Roy came back. He wasn't moving well, but he still had loads of talent. They also traded a few unused players and a draft pick for Gerald Wallace, as part of the Extreme Makeover Bobcats Edition project that actually seems to be getting nowhere.

    Throw it all together, along with a superb cast of role players, and you have one of the best defenses in the league with enough potential star power to make a possible title run. Again, they were my dark horse. Only this time, after everything, it was for the title. In fact, I wrote an article about it. And honestly, I stand by it. If they hadn't had to play Dallas in the first round, they could've made some noise.

    Portland might have just enough pieces to put together a championship team next year, with a few changes. But I'm sure that exact sentence has been said a few times, and look where it's gotten them. If they can stay healthy, they could potentially make a run next year. 

11. Boston Celtics

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    BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 19:  Ray Allen #20 of the Boston Celtics celebrates his game winning shot with teammate Paul Pierce #34 during the final seconds of the game against the Detroit Pistons on January 19, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Th
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Preseason Expectation: 55-27

    Record: 56-26

    For the first third or so of the season, the Celtics were extremely dominant. They rarely lost, even to the league's best teams, and they had a comfortable lead atop the NBA East. And this was without Kendrick Perkins or Delonte West. Shaq was a good starter, but he couldn't always play even half the game.

    Still, the team looked like nothing could slow them down.

    And then Rondo injured his ankle in the middle of December, and KG hurt his knee in a late-December game against Detroit. They got beaten up for the next three weeks without those guys. But they did come back, and they seemed pretty well recovered. Then they started cruising again, until Marquis Daniels suffered a terrifying neck injury on February 6. He ended up being fine, though (and he got traded).

    Still, the team survived, but then Danny Ainge pulled off a shocking trade at the deadline: Nate Robinson and Kendrick Perkins, who had just come back and was playing well, for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. To make matters even worse, it seemed, the brothers O'Neal were out, and he immediately traded away Semih Erden and Luke Harangody. They basically finished the season with no depth inside, not to mention that Rondo had a horrible end of the season, and they dropped to third in the Eastern Conference.

    In this season, the team showed that when everything was working, they were nearly unbeatable, and many people considered them to be heavy, heavy favorites to win the title. And right when it was all falling into place, Ainge decided to trade it all away. Some people, including me, hoped he had some wise insight and it would all work out, but no.

    So, what can we attribute to their overachievement when healthy? Well, Kevin Garnett's knee was healthy again, and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen had their best seasons in a couple years. Rondo was incredible for the majority of the season. It was just another year of the core group of guys becoming better together, and they might've won it all if they hadn't been messed with.

    Next year, a large chunk of the team is going, although the core group is staying together. Rondo, Pierce and Avery Bradley will be locked up for a while. Jermaine O'Neal is around for next year, and he does produce when he's healthy. Green is a restricted free agent, but he'll probably be re-signed and look for him to have a bigger role next year.

    Allen and Garnett only are signed for one more year. Although Allen has an early termination option this year, everybody knows he'll be a Celtic next year. And, other than that, this offseason will be an indirect start of rebuilding.  

12. Phoenix Suns

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    PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 14:  Hakim Warrick #21 of the Phoenix Suns celebrates with teammates Grant Hill #33 and Steve Nash #13 after scoring against the Portland Trail Blazers during the NBA game at US Airways Center on January 14, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Preseason Expectation: 39-43

    Record: 40-42

    No surprises here, although they did what they did with a slightly different roster. In the season's first blockbuster trade, Orlando sent the Suns Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus, along with their 2011 first-round pick and cash for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark. This helped balance out the Suns positionally, as Turkoglu and Grant Hill are both small forwards.

    At the deadline, they also sent Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to Houston for Aaron Brooks, just to have a better option once Steve Nash is gone. Grant Hill did have his best season in years, though, and it seemed that they got better through the trades, which leads us to believe that maybe we all overrated them. Anyway, that's about it for them.

13. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 23:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts with teammate Russell Westbrook #0 in the first quarter against the Dallas Mavericks in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Oklahoma C
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Preseason Expectation: 55-27

    Record: 55-27

    The Thunder did about as well as we all thought, although, it seems they could've done better without a few injuries to Kevin Durant. On the other hand, these injuries allowed Russell Westbrook to pick his game up, and that made a huge impact for the rest of the season. So it might have actually evened out.

    What didn't even out was their trade with Boston. For Jeff Green, who really wasn't in the right place, and Nenad Krstic, who certainly will not be missed, they received Nate Robinson and Kendrick Perkins. Unfortunately, there wasn't really any room on the depth chart for Nate the Great, but as soon as Perkins was healthy and starting, the Thunder became one of the best defensive teams in the league.

    The Thunder became an elite team this season, but not quite the dominant force some expected they would be. Of course, the West is at an all-time high right now, but the team didn't necessarily take off as expected.

    Durant really didn't get much better. Westbrook did, but he became even more of a ballhog, and the team chemistry suffered at times. James Harden was alright, but it seemed like the individuals, with the exception of Serge Ibaka, didn't really improve as players as much as many of them could've.

    Still, it's nothing to worry about. The roster isn't going to change much next year, and they will continue to improve for years to come. 

14. New York Knicks

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    MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Carmelo Anthony #7 and Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks talk during a game against the the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on February 27, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agr
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Preseason Expectation: 42-40

    Record: 42-40

    Their record couldn't have surprised anybody, when you consider how late in the season they got 'Melo. I'm a bit surprised that getting him actually made them arguably worse. Not only did they then drop two to Cleveland and nine of their next 11 overall, but they were then the victims of the only sweep in the whole playoffs.

    Pretty disappointing for one of the season's headlines, huh?

    Obviously, the Knicks are going to have a better future than they would've with just Amar'e Stoudemire, but this whole Big Three action is a joke. Chauncey Billups isn't half the player he was last year, and Amar'e and Carmelo Anthony simply will never make each other better. That said, they will score a whole lot of buckets.

    The Knicks might have a nice future ahead of them, if they play their cards right. Landry Fields, easily the best surprise of all the rookies this year, will provide defense and even rebounding at the shooting guard spot for years to come. If they can surround S.T.A.T. and 'Melo with defense and good passers, you might be looking at a championship team. 

15. Toronto Raptors

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    Preseason Expecation: 23-59

    Record: 22-60

    Every other team in the NBA that I haven't already talked about won less games than most expected to this year. The Raptors only lost one more, which actually rounds out the better half of teams. So, there aren't any surprises. 

    I guess you could say Andrea Bargnani was a bit of a letdown this year, as was Jose Calderon. But, Ed Davis was more than they could've asked for, so it pretty much evens out. This was a team that just didn't have the pieces to win games. A lot of people said they'd be the worst team in the league, and they were pretty close. It's just a bit sad that they basically did as expected.

    Looking ahead, I see a lot of exciting dunks. Otherwise, I'd rather not.

16. Detroit Pistons

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    Preseason Expectation: 31-51

    Record: 30-52

    I'm dead serious when I say that I think that this team had more than enough necessary talent to make it to the playoffs in the East. The team had enough combined potential to be a .500 team this year, no joke. But the attitude was horrible. Guys were walking back on defense, and nobody was putting in the time.

    In fact, half the team was benched for a February game for "forgetting" shootaround, and in a related instance, the bench laughed when coach John Kuester was ejected from a game. Charlie Villaneuva got into a media fight with KG over cancer, and besides rookie Greg Monroe, pretty much every player on the team had a disappointing season.

    It's surprising that they only lost one more game than expected, especially considering that Jonas Jerebko was out all year. It looks like Deee-Troooit Basket-ball just isn't what it used to be.

    This is, however, a team that has a future. Richard Hamilton isn't doing anything anything for the Pistons right now, but he has high trade value, and there are a lot of places he could end up. Tayshaun Prince's attitude isn't suffering like Rip's, but he could also use a change of scenery. They have a huge logjam at the guard position, so look for them to rebuild in the very near future, without actually losing too many games. 

17. Minnesota Timberwolves

18 of 31

    Preseason Expectation: 19-63

    Record: 17-65

    Through all the upset that Cleveland, Sacramento and Washington went through, it's the T-Wolves that end up with the worst record in the NBA, which is what was originally projected. Still, they played a lot better than their record showed.

    First of all, Kevin Love, easily their best player, missed nine of their last 11 games of the season due to a groin injury. If they had gotten "hot," Love could've led them to three wins in that span, which would've left Cleveland alone at the bottom. Instead, they won none. Just wanted to throw that out there.

    Also, the Timberwolves were in a lot of very, very close games, but they lost almost all of them. So it's not like every night was a blowout. In fact, they very nearly beat San Antonio three times during the season.

    Additionally, the Timberwolves made some huge strides. Overrated prospects led people to expect at least something out of the team, but along with injuries, those disappointments just left the team without pieces. It's as simple as that: The Timberwolves had one great player, a good player and some OK players, and in this league, that won't cut it—no matter how well together they do (especially if the great player is a rebounding specialist).

    But there was some improvement: Kevin Love became an All-Star; Michael Beasley at least showed that he can become an elite scorer, and he did average 19 per game; Darko Milicic actually became decent, which must be the biggest stunner of all of them.

    They shouldn't be winning a championship with this core group anytime soon, but the Wolves might actually become a playoff contender soon. More importantly, if somebody pulls another Carmelo, they'll have a deal waiting for them.

18. Miami Heat

19 of 31

    Preseason Expectation: 73-9, 47-35 and anywhere in between. Let's say 60-22. 

    Record: 58-24

    People's expectations of them are hard to generalize. What's also hard to generalize was whether or not this season was a success. But one thing is for sure—Jeff Van Gundy is not to be taken seriously.

    This season really was a roller coaster for the Heat. At times, I considered them the biggest possible waste of my time and stress. A month later, I'd consider them unbeatable. In fact, at one point, about a third of the way through the season, I thought that they simply would never lose again in the regular season while healthy. (Ironically, at the end of that stretch, they had gone 23-1, only losing to Dallas.)

    At times, people made websites about firing Eric Spoelstra, and at other times, he was a Coach of the Year candidate. It's the same story over and over again. The only thing that changed was their lineup.

    Obviously their Big Three weren't ever going anywhere, but everyone else did. Arguably their most important reserves, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, missed a huge chunk of the season due to injury. At first they couldn't decide whether to start Mario Chalmers or Carlos Arroyo. Chalmers won the job, and Arroyo was traded to Boston at the deadline. To make up for it, they signed Mike Bibby from Washington off waivers, and he split time with Chalmers for the rest of the season.

    James Jones was around all season, but throughout the year, eight different players played center at one point. Most of them were old tall guys who could be signed for cheap.

    But the theme of the whole NBA this year, besides Blake Griffin's dunks, was that the Heat were the bad guys. They had the targets on their backs. They had maybe the most scrutinized season since whenever. Chris Bosh had a lousy first half, and he was almost a public enemy!

    The Cavs literally doubled security at Quicken Loans Arena for LeBron's first game back "home." To no surprise, the Heat destroyed them, although my favorite part of their season was probably one of the last games of the year where the Cavs actually knocked them out in a tight game at home in front of a screaming crowd.

    It's no secret that if there's a season next year, the Heat are the favorites to win it all. As if I needed to explain it, one year together got them far, so a couple years together should take them all the way.

    But there is one thing that should be considered: The new collective bargaining agreement with a low hard cap is going to be horrible for them. In fact, they'll hardly be able to put a team together, considering that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh already take up over $45 million per year. But I think that it'll get to the point where they could team up with just about anybody and be a force. 

19. Atlanta Hawks

20 of 31

    Preseason Expectation: 46-36

    Record: 44-38

    Another disappointing season for the Hawks, especially by their standards. This was a team that could've really made some noise, but talent alone couldn't carry them far. They never played as a team.

    Joe Johnson was injured for awhile and had a horrible season. Also, they lacked size. Al Horford was an All-Star center, but he was really a power forward. Josh Smith seems to have All-Star potential, but that might be as a small forward, not a power forward. Regardless, he needs to hustle and stop throwing up threes. Still, if they can get a real center this offseason, watch out.

    Jamal Crawford's free agency might be a blessing in disguise. They have too many guards who score, and not enough facilitating and role-playing. That's really all that needs to be said.

    Kirk Hinrich is alright, but not a good fit for this team. That's also true of Smith, but if they can get a decent center, that might not matter at all.

20. Charlotte Bobcats

21 of 31

    Preseason Expectation: 36-46

    Record: 34-48

    This was a team that just didn't have what it takes to win, and some people had them winning 50. The coaching wasn't there: Larry Brown was fired after a 9-19 job; Paul Silas actually did pretty well after that, however.

    Anyway, Stephen Jackson is a great wing player, but he's no star. Gerald Wallace is one of those role players that's really too good to be a role player, but not the kind that leads a team to success (like Kevin Love). All their other players were overhyped potential guys.

    Still, there's just not much to say about this team's season other than that. I guess it's impressive how well they did after trading Crash. 

    In the Bobcats' immediate future, I predict: trades! And failure! Sorry, but that's all there is.

21. Orlando Magic

22 of 31

    Preseason Expectation: 54-28

    Record: 52-30

    Before the season started, I heard a quote from ESPN or NBATV that stuck with me. It was along the lines of: "Basically, there are only four real championship threats this year: the Lakers, the Celtics, the Heat, and the Magic."

    I just really never jumped on the Magic bandwagon. As usual, Dwight Howard was a beast this year. A few other guys had good year, like Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass, but others were letdowns, like Jameer Nelson.

    This is another team that I don't really have much to say about. They were the first team to be active on the trades. First, they sent Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus, along with cash and a pick to Phoenix for J-Rich, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark's contract. On paper, both teams should've gotten better. Phoenix did.

    Later that day, there was a swap of two burnt-out, ridiculously overpaid ex-superstars with attitudes when Orlando sent Rashard Lewis to the Wizards for Gilbert Arenas. Following that day, Orlando had a strong start, but it expired, and they fell out of championship contention.

    For some reason, Howard seems loyal to the Magic, but if he leaves, they will be absolutely horrible. This is a team that could've done something, but never really took off, and it seems like this year was the disappointing start to an end of an era. I wouldn't lose hope quite yet, but things aren't looking up for Stan Van Gundy's squad.   

22. Los Angeles Lakers

23 of 31

    Preseason Expectation: 59-23

    Record: 57-25

    With all the public arguments and media call-outs, this team appeared to care. They sure didn't play like it enough. They had the talent to win it all, but ironically, the guy that had his best-ever season was the one with a reality TV show.

    Pau Gasol had a wonderful start to the year, but he lost it. Kobe had some injuries early on. Ron Artest was off almost the whole year. Andrew Bynum was out the first half. Derek Fisher had really slowed down too.

    Still, they started off dominant. But once Gasol slowed down, they joined the middle of the pack in playoff seedings. In fact, in December, they suffered some painful losses, including "The Milwaukee Bucks ruining Christmas in LA." Bynum came back, but it was a while before that actually helped the team.

    Going into the All-Star break, the team was being carried by their normal pieces, but more than ever, their bench. Obviously Lamar Odom, who was an All-Star candidate, but remember the "Killer B's"? Brown, Barnes and Blake. Well, Brown slowed down, and Barnes got injured.

    But right after the break, the team got healthier, and they almost seemed unbeatable. All of a sudden, they were back near the top. But then they just lost focus, and came back to Earth. They had still landed themselves the second seed through a tiebreaker with the Mavericks. Still, they weren't consistently the team that they could've been.

    Although they will remain one of the most talented teams in the league next year, it's likely that at least some of this team's core will be broken up for chemistry reasons. Maybe they'll be able to challenge next year with new pieces, maybe not. They'll certainly be decent. We'll see.  

23. Los Angeles Clippers

24 of 31

    Preseason Expectation: 35-47

    Record: 32-50

    Before the season, the Clippers seemed capable of filling out the playoff tree. We quickly discarded these ideas, due to injuries and a lack of team chemistry. However, this team played .500 ball for the rest of the season after their 1-13 start, and more importantly (it seems), Blake Griffin's dunks single-handedly made them relevant again.

    Now if they could only get Donald Sterling out...

    Blake Griffin was the runaway Rookie of the Year, Deandre Jordan turned into a good shot-blocker (which makes Chris Kaman a trading chip) and their young guys all got better or at least produced, like Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu. In fact, Eric Gordon almost won Most Improved Player.

    They did make one horrible, unforeseeable mistake: They traded Baron Davis and his ridiculous contract plus this year's first-round pick to Cleveland for Mo Williams. Now, I'm keeping the draft out of this article, but imagine if they had gotten the first overall pick, instead of accidentally trading it away, with whom they'd have probably taken Kyrie Irving. Then they'd have a trading chip in Mo Williams, who they could probably couple together with Kaman for Iguodala and maybe a bench player or a pick.

    Even if it's just Iggy, imagine having Kyrie Irving, Eric Gordon, Andre Iguodala, Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan, plus some good bench players like Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu. Not only does that team immediately make it to the playoffs, but that's a team that could likely stay totally together. Imagine them in three years! Oh, what could've been.

    But still, the Clippers seem to have a bright future ahead of them.

24. New Jersey Nets

25 of 31

    Preseason Expectation: 27-55

    Record: 24-58

    Now this was a team that actually had the potential to win some games. Not too many, but enough to almost make the playoffs in the East. At the beginning of the year, a lot of people were hesitant to expect anything from these guys, following last year, but this was a team that actually had some pieces.

    First of all, they had Devin Harris, who was recently an All-Star. They also had their fair share of quality role players. They have Brook Lopez, a very good player who could anytime become a great player. If people realized that Kris Humphries was going to have a breakout year, they would've been expected to definitely be respectable, considering that they're in the East.

    But neither Harris nor Lopez took off. In fact, Lopez got worse from last year in almost every category, especially a whopping 2.6 rebounds per game decrease. Then the team was in significant trade talks with the Nuggets for Carmelo Anthony. For a long time, the Nets were set to trade for Anthony in a three-team trade also involving the Pistons. However, the trigger was never pulled.

    According to Mikhail Prokhorov, "There comes a time when the price is simply too expensive." He said that they were done in the trade talks, although nobody really believed him. But not too much later, Anthony finally got his wish of joining Amar'e Stoudemire on the Knicks.

    At the deadline, though, the Nets came up with a deal out of the blue which brought in Deron Williams, who was having a bit of a hard time this year in Utah, for Devin Harris, rookie prospect Derrick Favors and two draft picks. The team didn't adjust immediately, but Williams actually played very well in New Jersey, until a season-ending injury which certainly cost the team a few wins.

    Although coach Avery Johnson guarantees that they'll re-sign D-Will, the Nets would be pretty pathetic if he goes somewhere else. While he's in New Jersey, there's only so bad they can be, but there's only so good they'll be until they add or tune up another piece. 

25. Houston Rockets

26 of 31

    Preseason Expectation: 47-35

    Record: 43-39

    Story of the year. At the beginning of this year, Houston seemed poised to have one of their best seasons since the T-Mac days. I considered them a playoff lock and even a potential dark horse to challenge in the postseason.

    Their roster was pretty nice, if you think about it. Aaron Brooks (last year's Most Improved Player) and Kevin Martin would be one of the best offensive backcourts in the NBA. Although they wouldn't play much defense, Shane Battier would be starting at small forward to make up for it. Luis Scola, starting at power forward, had turned into one of the league's better power forwards, not to mention the lead scorer in the Summer's FIBA World Championship, and Yao Ming was a semi-healthy Yao Ming.

    Their bench was no loophole either, featuring nicely fitting role players like Chuck Hayes, Brad Miller, Chase Budinger and Kyle Lowry, among others.

    Not many other people saw them the way I did, but the consensus did display good expectations for Houston. In fact, they almost stunned Staples Center on opening night. After just five games, Yao Ming went out for the season. But they did have depth at the center position with Miller and Hayes. A very, very tough schedule filled with tight games saw them at 3-10 at one point.

    Aaron Brooks never really revived the player he was last year, and at one point in the season, he lost his job to Kyle Lowry (who, in all fairness, had turned into a quality starter). Shane Battier seemed to be slowing down, also.

    Regardless, they were still a talented team, and they did turn things around. But at the deadline, the Rockets were forced to cut talent by trading off their underachieving players; Shane Battier went to Memphis for Hasheem Thabeet (speaking of underachievement) and a first-round draft pick; Aaron Brooks went to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. But the slightly different group carried them into playoff contention, which should be considered quite an accomplishment, especially in today's Western Conference.

    I no longer see championship contention in their near future, but this is a team that can potentially make the playoffs in a year or two, especially with many of the West's elite teams on the decline. And if Yao Ming ever gets healthy... never mind.  

26. Sacramento Kings

27 of 31

    Preseason Expectation: 32-50

    Record: 24-58

    Unlike several of the last teams, this was a team with reasonable expectations and not too many injuries. They just failed. For a long time, the Kings were the worst team in the NBA. But when they were on, this was a team that could score.

    Tyreke Evans didn't really improve this year, but he's still a good player. Jason Thompson and Marcus Thornton can at times explode, and DeMarcus Cousins may one day be a superstar in this league. But they had no consistency, and not much besides a lot of points on the board. This team had the potential to be respectable, but not really the work ethic.

    This is a young team filled with potential that may one day be a playoff team in the West. But it doesn't seem like they really made any strides this year, and their record was disappointing as a result.

27. Washington Wizards

28 of 31

    Preseason Expectation: 33-49

    Record: 23-59

    I think we all overrated the Wizards at the beginning of the season, leading them to disappoint in the double digits. John Wall actually had an insane start to the season, flirting with a quadruple-double on multiple occasions. Gilbert Arenas appeared to have regained a little bit of sanity, and Nick Young was obviously one of the league's most improved players, right off the bat.

    But they could never quite do it. They actually did well at home all season, but everywhere else, they were absolutely appalling. Like the T-Wolves, this was a team that stuck around in a lot of games but rarely actually pulled them off. Wall's great start was quickly cut off by injuries, and a lot of their other pieces just never formed a puzzle.

    It's no doubt that this team had its talent, but they didn't have the chemistry, and not even potential compatibility. It quickly became clear that Arenas couldn't play along side Wall, and they traded him for a guy in a similar position in Rashard Lewis. Andray Blatche remained the stat-stuffer with a nice turnaround-jumper, and Javale McGee never really posed an offensive threat.

    Nick Young was impressive, but Yi Jianlian wasn't what he could've been and Kirk Hinrich was having trouble finding minutes. He eventually got traded for Mike Bibby, who was waived.

    Anyway, this year was not caused by a lack of talent, but by a lack of character, and this team should be able to contend for playoff spots once that gets dealt with.

28. Cleveland Cavaliers

29 of 31

    Preseason Expectation: 31-51

    Record: 19-63

    I'd be the first to admit that I thought this team could possibly play .500 ball. I don't exactly know what I was thinking, but I can say with certainty that I blame LeBron. Still, this was a team whose expectations were only slightly too high.

    Going into the year, I thought they had borderline All-Stars with Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison, and a possible borderline All-Star with J.J. Hickson. They had a nice selection of role players (or at least some people thought so), too. Why I thought they could be average, I don't know, but I blame LeBron. I don't like the man, but while he was there, he sure gave them quite a glow. 

    One thing I'll accredit their failure to is the absence of Anderson Varejao, who was having a career season before getting injured. I guess other than that, they just never really played like they should have. Considering this team's actual talent level, I think the mid-20s would've been a good estimate for wins, not accounting Varejao's injury, but I'm still kicking myself for calling them decent and a possible playoff team.

    I mean, I had them contending for the playoffs, and they set a record for the most-ever losses in a row, not to mention they endured the most brutal beat-down of our time to the Lakers.

    Now, to their credit, they had a new coach, some new players, injuries and their whole franchise was in a tizzy. In fact, nobody started 70 games. Most people didn't even play 60 games. Only two people started more than 60 games: Hickson and Anthony Parker, and if the latter is the anchor of your team, you're in trouble.

    Look, to their credit, the end of their season was excellent. They won a few games, and they even beat the Heat. In fact, because of Kevin Love's injury, they didn't even finish with the worst record in the league! Things should only get better in the future, but don't expect much from them.

    Most of the Cavs are being dumped through offseason or trades, and in five years, it's unlikely that more than two players from now will still be on their team. There's only so bad they can get, right?  

29. Milwaukee Bucks

30 of 31

    Preseason Expectation: 47-35

    Record: 35-47

    Last year, the Milwaukee Bucks easily made it to the playoffs and almost knocked off the Hawks in an epic seven-game series. And that was without Andrew Bogut from late March on. They seemed to have a promising, solid core of Coach of the Year candidate Scott Skiles, Brandon Jennings, Andrew Bogut and John Salmons, to name a few players, along with others.

    What changed? Not much. They made a few minor trades, which included the addition of Corey Maggette, who should've fit right in. So what went wrong here? Well, it's tough to say. 

    Let me start by saying that this team was plagued by injury all year. But even when healthy, this team was not impressive offensively. In fact, until a push at the end of the year, they were downright bad in general.

    Is it possible that the majority of their players got worse? Well, Brandon Jennings hardly improved. Ersan Ilyasova didn't do much more than we've seen. Carlos Delfino's year was less than stellar. A lot of the benchwarmers played well, but... so?

    Luc Richard Mbah A Moute had a pretty good year, but he never really scored anyway. Bogut, Maggette and Salmons (who happened to sign a huge contract over the summer) all had poor years compared to last year. You see, the Bucks couldn't score. At all. They easily scored the fewest points in the NBA.

    In fact, on March 13th, the Celtics held them to 56 points, the lowest in the shot-clock era. It gets worse: They only had 38 going into the fourth when Boston took out all their starters. 

    What was missing this year? Why couldn't they score? Maybe the injuries were worse than we thought. They never really seemed motivated, regardless, and the teamwork was lacking. Put it all together, and nobody feared the deer this year. 

30. Utah Jazz

31 of 31

    Preseason Expectation: 52-30

    Record: 39-43

    The Utah Jazz were this year's grand champion losers. According to my estimates, they lost 13 more games than expected. And let me tell you, I gave them the most generous estimate. And no, I'm not going to blame this all on Mehmet Okur's injuries. 

    I do have to note one thing. Last offseason, the Jazz basically let Carlos Boozer walk to get a bigger frontcourt. Leaving Paul Millsap as a replacement was actually a downgrade in size. Meanwhile, to replace Mehmet Okur, the team got Al Jefferson in the sign-and-trade. Jefferson is on the shorter end of the center spectrum—just saying. At least they got a talent upgrade, as Millsap had a breakthrough year. Anyway.

    The Jazz had the best comeback of the year within their first few games. On November 9th, Paul Millsap scored 46 in Miami to lead them to an insane overtime comeback win. After that, they basically toured the East Coast, knocking off many elite teams through yet more comebacks. Gordon Hayward wasn't impressing anybody, but the rest of the team was making up for it.

    And then, they cooled off. Deron Williams started arguing with the coaches, publicly calling out his teammates and committing acts of ballhoggery. The locker room became a nightmare for everyone. And just like that, Jerry Sloan quit.

    I repeat: Jerry Sloan quit, after he almost got into a fistfight with Williams in a game. The season started to rot. Their amazing start was all for nothing. With absolutely no warning, Williams was sent to the Nets for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and a few picks to make up for their not receiving Carmelo Anthony. The new-look Jazz took a while to adjust, and they fell out of the playoffs. And so an era ended.

    Who would've thunk?

    Luckily, the Jazz have an assortment of very good, developed players and young raw talent. Don't be surprised to see them make a few trades in the near future, but otherwise, this could be a playoff team as soon as this year—if there's a season.

    Will the team ever recover from Jerry Sloan's departure? Will I? We'll find out.

    Thank you for reading my article. Please leave thoughts and feedback as you'd like. 

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