NBA Pecking Order for 2015-16 Becoming Clear After Another Busy Offseason

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterJuly 24, 2015

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Expectations create the context.

With that, we know whether to be elated, satisfied or ready-to-fire-the-coach angry at the end of the season.

So with the NBA summer season winding down and playing rotations becoming viable, it's a perfect time to put perspective on those revamped rosters.

With realistic projections in hand, Portland fans will know not to lose faith in Damian Lillard if the Trail Blazers suffer miserably without LaMarcus Aldridge, Utah fans will know that it's fair to expect Gordon Hayward to bring the Jazz back to the playoffs already, and Miami fans will know that Pat Riley has done it again and has already built one of the top squads in the East so early in the post-LeBron James era.

Working under the assumption that not a single player will get hurt all season now that Tom Thibodeau is out of Chicago and no old-school coaches are left to push their players to their limits, we hereby submit rankings of all 30 NBA teams for the 2015-16 season.

From worst to first, we're talking about how each team shapes up to progress or regress through the entirety of next season, including the playoffs.

30. Philadelphia 76ers: If Jahlil Okafor can get these guys to win more games than last season (18), someone might well give him an MVP vote.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 14:  Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers boxes out against Alex Kirk #53 of the New York Knicks during the 2015 NBA Las Vegas Summer League game on July 14, 2015 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: U
David Dow/Getty Images

29. Denver Nuggets: This is another weird situation for us to judge Mike Malone's worthiness as an NBA head coach. Emmanuel Mudiay, 19, needs to develop, but ideally he'll be the best player on the team right now over incomplete options Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler.

28. Boston Celtics: At some point, all the shrewd angling and savvy saving is going to cease to feel good without results—and that point is the coming season. It will take all of Marcus Smart's intensity and bravado and Brad Stevens' touch to avoid a lethargic winter in Boston.

27. Portland Trail Blazers: LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wes Matthews, Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo are all gone. The feeble five-game effort against Memphis in the playoffs signaled the time had come to retool, but the new prospects don't offer high-end upside.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves: It won't be bad forever in the Twin Cities, but it's definitely asking too much of Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns to be good already.

25. Orlando Magic: Victor Oladipo figured out a lot of stuff late last season, and having a dynamic guard who can control games would at least give this team some much-needed identity.

John Raoux/Associated Press

24. Brooklyn Nets: Jarrett Jack and Wayne Ellington are respected pros in this league, and the Nets expect to have better chemistry. But how often can you realistically plan on Jack and Ellington winning their guard matchups? Once per month?

23. Charlotte Hornets: Batum is still only 26, and with better health he certainly can be a key glue guy again for these Hornets, who are trying to stress defense and teamwork. But Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson are who they are—good at some things but definitely not others.   

22. New York Knicks: You can see how importing solid guys such as Lopez and Afflalo—and having Jose Calderon over his Achilles issue—will encourage everyone, including Carmelo Anthony, to make the right read and play the way Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher promote. Some progress is coming.

21. Sacramento Kings: George Karl wants to pad that all-time victories total as soon as possible, and Vlade Divac's strangely aggressive offseason at least brought Karl some talent. It's combustible, no doubt, so there's no way this crew achieves any sort of stability, and Rajon Rondo's diminished game is a fundamental problem.

20. Los Angeles Lakers: Roy Hibbert's acquisition actually makes total sense. He instantly gives the team defensive stability, which means youngsters D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle can learn properly instead of flailing away with no structure at all.

19. Dallas Mavericks: Mark Cuban just can't help himself and is trying to compete the best he can without DeAndre Jordan, but he'll realize soon enough that Deron Williams' ball dominance, diminished athleticism and moodiness aren't going to inject some vibrant spirit into the Mavs.

18. New Orleans Pelicans: It's natural to geek out over what more the amazing Anthony Davis will do. But who else on this roster is even above-average compared to his opposing counterpart?

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 20: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans goes in for a layup over Draymond Green #23 and Andrew Bogut #12 of the Golden State Warriors in the third second half during the first round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on
Pool/Getty Images

17. Indiana Pacers: People are assuming the Pacers will easily morph into an uptempo team just because Larry Bird says it's time to. That will be challenging, though, especially with the inconsistent Jordan Hill and the raw Myles Turner in the middle of the defense.

16. Detroit Pistons: The individual parts don't look so great here, but the Pistons will be one of the few teams in the league to know how they really want to play every night: Andre Drummond owning the middle, with shooters everywhere else.

15. Toronto Raptors: What's more confusing? DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll together in Toronto or Jeremy Lin and Jeremy Lamb there in Charlotte? Be prepared for DeRozan to start hitting threes and advance his career yet again, making a name for himself in the States too.

14. Phoenix Suns: Jeff Hornacek's multi-point guard theories have gained traction in the league. What has yet to be proved is whether Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight have the all-around polish to make magic of Hornacek's idea of initiating pick-and-roll offense from either side of the floor.

13. Washington Wizards: It's more of the same in Washington, D.C. A flammable backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal makes for a dangerous team to face—but Kevin Durant coming home via free agency is the only way this team ascends.

12. Milwaukee Bucks: In the same way LaMarcus Aldridge picked a setting where his flaws could be pretty well masked, Greg Monroe joined a Milwaukee crew that can really cover for him. There's plenty of active defense already, and if Jabari Parker comes back capable of dominating on offense, things will get really interesting. But bear in mind how young this roster is, so let's not get too carried away.

ST. FRANCIS, WI - JULY 9: Recently signed free agents Greg Monroe and Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks are joined by general manager John Hammond and head coach Jason Kidd during a press conference at the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin Training C
Gary Dineen/Getty Images

11. Utah Jazz: If a healthy, experienced Alec Burks is as good a shooting guard as the Jazz believe, this will be the league's surprise team. The frontcourt has everything you'd want, and expect Quin Snyder to get even more defense out of Dante Exum in his second season.

10. Memphis Grizzlies: So many good players, so much rough-and-tumble tenacity, but what's going to change for the Grizzlies to surge forward? Marc Gasol, 30 and now signed as the man who stayed in Memphis, becoming the very clear No. 1 is the only way.

9. Miami Heat: Miami has a stout starting five of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside—with intriguing X-factors in Josh McRoberts, Justise Winslow and Gerald Green. This is exactly why Dragic wanted to go to and stay in Miami.

8. Atlanta Hawks: If you're going to pick one player whom most fans don't know at all now but will a year from now, Dennis Schroder is a good choice. We saw him play small ball alongside Jeff Teague at times in the playoffs, so it makes sense that Mike Budenholzer will seize every opportunity to show Schroder's potency with Carroll gone. The 21-year-old might well become NBA Sixth Man of the Year.

7. Chicago Bulls: This is a unique team that could swing either up or down and not shock anyone by its direction. There's that much uncertainty about just how healthy and good Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah are going to be in 2015-16. Right now, alas, it's not clear if any one of them will be great.

6. Houston Rockets: Gambling on Ty Lawson is completely logical when you remember how ridiculously tired James Harden got by the end of his playoff run—to the point he said he would ask for some ball-handling help.

5. San Antonio Spurs: As dreamy as the summer was, one harsh reality is that Tony Parker has declined year after year after year (and Manu Ginobili can't be counted on for anything anymore). There are plenty of other options now, but if Parker isn't excellent, Kawhi Leonard will have to be extraordinary.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 30: Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers drives around Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs during Game Six of the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at the AT&T Center on April 30, 2015 in San Anto
Chris Covatta/Getty Images

4. Los Angeles Clippers: Lance Stephenson, driving to the basket athletically and wreaking defensive havoc, is potentially the missing link for the Clips. Paul Pierce, 37, can't be counted on despite his strong postseason in Washington, but his leadership could be invaluable for Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan.

3. Golden State Warriors: Stuff happens, especially when teams go from laser focus in pursuit of one title and encounter distractions and egos in feeling good about that title. The Warriors might overcome it, especially if Harrison Barnes improves, but even if he does, it can create complications with the championship status quo.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder: Although NBA folks are mostly skeptical of outsiders, few would be surprised if Billy Donovan minimizes his adjustment to the pros and brings out some new best in OKC's three stars. Durant's foot is an epic concern, and no one trusts Dion Waiters or Enes Kanter yet, but Durant and Russell Westbrook don't need too much help.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Growth from Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert can be reasonably expected. LeBron James will make sure he gets his regular-season rest for yet another NBA Finals run. And Kyrie Irving has yet to show the world just how great he is.

Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KevinDing.

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