NBA Predictions 2015-16: Win-Loss Projections for Every Team
Do you hear that? The bouncing of balls? The squeaking of sneakers? The chirping of platitudes and cliches into microphones and audio recorders?
That must mean the new NBA season is fast approaching. Oh, and the leaves are changing colors, so there's your visual cue right there.
There's no telling what, exactly, the 2015-16 campaign will bring, though it's not all that difficult to make some general predictions.
Points will be scored. Milestones will be reached and records broken. The West will be a bloodbath. The East will be chasing LeBron James. Stephen Curry will hit some ridiculous shots. At least one Morris twin will be on the referees' "Most Wanted" list.
As for the specifics, those are more difficult to nail down. That doesn't mean everyone is going to happily smash his or her crystal ball and give up on reading palms.
On the contrary, the prediction portion of the preseason must go on. Here, we'll do our part by projecting win-loss records for all 30 teams, based on performance in the recent past and what present personnel can accomplish in the immediate future.
Replacing DeMarre Carroll will be no easy task for the Atlanta Hawks, assuming it's one they can complete at all. The Missouri product was the linchpin of Atlanta's defense and proved to be the team's best player during its historic run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Fortunately for the Hawks, they're not out of options on the wing. Atlanta announced during its media day that Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha and Shelvin Mack are all fit for camp. Tim Hardaway Jr., whom the Hawks acquired on draft day, has the talent and pedigree to become much more than the maladroit youngster he was in New York; remember, Carroll was no world-beater before he fell into the lap of Mike Budenholzer's capable staff.
And if the Hawks want to go against the small-ball grain, they can slide Paul Millsap, who credibly guarded LeBron James in the playoffs, over to small forward, with Al Horford and Tiago Splitter taking over at the 4 and 5, respectively.
Atlanta won't be able to wield the element of surprise in its favor, but if the Hawks stick to their game plan as well as they did last season, they should find themselves flying high by the end of the 2015-16 campaign.
Win-Loss Prediction: 50-32
The Boston Celtics snuck into the playoffs last season on the strength of head coach Brad Stevens' system-oriented style and the weakness of the Eastern Conference. This time around, the East looks to be just as feeble, but Boston could come together as an outfit worthy of more than mere inclusion.
David Lee, acquired from the Golden State Warriors, should give the Celtics another capable offensive weapon—along with Isaiah Thomas—off the bench. Amir Johnson can be a two-way terror when healthy. Jae Crowder showed flashes of similar all-court ability after coming over from Dallas in December.
But if Boston's squad is going to be more than just a nice story, the C's will have to find something approximating a star among its current constituents.
Their best bet? Marcus Smart. The 21-year-old Oklahoma State product had a rough rookie season (7.8 points on 36.7 percent shooting, 3.1 assists to 1.3 turnovers) but has already made significant progress toward putting his impressive tools to better use in year two.
"Defensively—on and off the ball—he’s outstanding, and he’s continuing to get better on the offensive end," Stevens said, per NESN's Darren Hartwell. "Because he’s very capable; it’s just about picking the right spots."
Win-Loss Prediction: 43-39
Slowly but surely, the Brooklyn Nets are turning over a new leaf.
Over the summer, they parted ways with one-half of their expensive backcourt (Deron Williams) with a buyout. That decision left the other half (Joe Johnson), whose contract will expire at the end of this season, somewhat stupefied.
"I didn't see that coming, him getting bought out," Johnson said, per Newsday's Rod Boone. "I don't think it was that bad. It's not that bad here, so to be wanting to get bought out, I couldn't really put my fingers around that one."
With Williams gone, the Nets will now look to Brook Lopez, owner of a new $63 million deal, to take the lead.
"At the end of the season when I met with Brook, I said, ‘We definitely want you back, but part of that is we want you to be more of a leader,'" Nets general manager Billy King recalled, per the New York Post's Tim Bontemps. "'We want you to be more vocal. You don’t have to be rah-rah and jumping around waving towels, but I need you to push this group and help guide it where you want it to go.'"
That could be a tall order for an even taller man. But if Lopez, the last remaining Net from New Jersey, can take up that mantle—and stay healthy while playing at an All-Star level—he could help to keep Brooklyn's ballclub from careening completely into the Hudson River.
Win-Loss Prediction: 29-53
The Charlotte Hornets' hopes of climbing back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture could have as much to do with Al Jefferson's health as they do with Nicolas Batum's potential star turn.
That's a lot to ask of a guy who's never averaged more than 11.4 shots per game in a given season. Then again, if ever there were a time for Batum, 26, to show what he can do as a scorer, it's right now, on the cusp of his prime years and with unrestricted free agency awaiting him in 2016.
In truth, there's a lot more Batum can do for Charlotte than put the ball in the basket. He's long been lauded for his skills as a passer and on-ball creator, and he hopes to use them to loosen up the Hornets' stodgy offense (28th in efficiency in 2014-15, per NBA.com).
“I like when the ball is moving. I hate when it gets stuck with one guy," Batum said, per the Observer. "It’s a beautiful game. I’m going to try to be the guy who shows them how that game can be played. That’s the way we’re going to win games."
Win-Loss Prediction: 30-52
The Chicago Bulls and their fans can all breathe a sigh of relief. Derrick Rose's latest injury involves not his legs, but his face. According to Bleacher Report's Sean Highkin, Rose should be good to go for opening night, assuming he returns from his orbital bone fracture before then.
The team Rose rejoins could be more lethal than ever, even with Mike Dunleavy Jr. sidelined by a back injury. As Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding wrote, at least one player in Chicago is excited about playing in new head coach Fred Hoiberg's free-flowing, read-and-react offense.
"Before Jimmy Butler knew the degree to which Rose was hurt on the first day of camp, Butler was all smiles about the spacing and pace and how there is 'freedom on offense a lot more,'" Ding wrote.
Such a switch in scheme and philosophy, away from Tom Thibodeau's strict actions, should serve the Bulls well. For all their defensive acumen, they're stacked with potent playmakers, from superb passers (Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah) to heady slashers (Rose, Butler) to knockdown shooters (Dunleavy, Nikola Mirotic).
Don't be surprised, then, if Chicago once again provides the strongest challenge to King James' throne atop the East.
Win-Loss Prediction: 51-31
Some of the same injury woes that left the Cleveland Cavaliers shorthanded in last season's playoffs could drag them down at the start of 2015-16.
The team doesn't know when, exactly, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving will be ready to play after recovering from their respective shoulder and knee injuries. Iman Shumpert, who took over as Cleveland's starting shooting guard in the playoffs, could be out until 2016 on account of a wrist injury.
Those absences may make it tough for LeBron James and company to sniff 60 wins, even in the weak East. But once everyone heals up, look for the Cavs to rip off their fair share of long winning streaks, especially if Love lives up to his MVP running mate's lofty expectations.
"I just think he's more comfortable in the situation that he's in," James said, per ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin. "He's got a year under his belt; he knows what he expects out of himself and what his teammates expect out of him. I expect big things from him this year with a year up under his belt."
Win-Loss Prediction: 54-28
The Dallas Mavericks will need much more than a new "ball-handling coach" to dribble their way through the West and into the playoffs.
Dirk Nowitzki, 37, isn't getting any younger. Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews are both shy of medical clearance to participate in training camp on account of knee and Achilles surgeries, respectively. Deron Williams, the team's supposed solution at point guard, is battling a bad calf.
Meanwhile, the situation at center remains dire. Once DeAndre Jordan decided to return to L.A., the Mavs scrambled for stopgaps and came up with...Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee and Samuel Dalembert.
Not exactly a Murderers' Row of middle men.
At this point, Dallas might be better off punting away the 2015-16 season and planning for the future. If the Mavs don't wind up among the top seven in next year's draft lottery, their 2016 first-round pick will convey to Boston as recompense for Rajon Rondo.
To be sure, the Mavs have never been ones to tank. But if Dallas wants a smooth transition into its post-Dirk future, it may be better-served sacrificing this season to the basketball gods and hoping for a future star in return.
Win-Loss Prediction: 32-50
The 2015-16 season could be a tough one for the Denver Nuggets.
Gone from last year's opening-night roster are Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo and Timofey Mozgov. They've since been replaced by a rookie (Emmanuel Mudiay) and two sophomores (Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic), respectively.
Youth movements aren't always (or even usually) smooth in the NBA. The Nuggets, though, will have some solid veterans around to guide the youngsters, from a healthy Danilo Gallinari to an extended Wilson Chandler to a rejuvenated Kenneth Faried, who already thinks highly of new head coach Michael Malone.
Per Faried, that's a far cry from how George Karl and Brian Shaw, Malone's predecessors in Denver, went about their business. If Malone can connect with the rest of his roster as well as he has with Faried, the Nuggets could be on their way back to respectability much sooner than the recency of their teardown would suggest.
Win-Loss Prediction: 24-58
It could be a while before Stan Van Gundy gets to see what his Detroit Pistons are truly capable of. According to the Detroit Free Press' Vince Ellis, Brandon Jennings, who tore his Achilles last season, might not be cleared for five-on-five work—much less actual game action—until November.
In the meantime, Reggie Jackson is doing his best to lock down the team's starting point guard spot. Per MLive.com's David Mayo, Marcus Morris said Jackson, owner of a freshly inked $80 million deal, has promised to pay whatever fines he accrues for technical fouls.
Jackson publicly denied the existence of such an arrangement...sort of.
"We aren't going to go on public record saying that, necessarily, but we've got to be a team," Jackson said, according to MLive.com. "I wouldn't tell y'all if I do that but I've got to take care of my team. I wouldn't tell y'all. It may happen, may not happen. But when guys take care of you, sometimes you've got to take care of guys."
The one who really has to take care of business in Detroit this season? Andre Drummond. The 22-year-old titan has yet to sign an extension with the Pistons and has a lot to prove if he's to secure a max contract as a restricted free agent next summer.
"His defense has got to improve and be more consistent," said Van Gundy, per Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. "If he does that, if he brings great energy and intensity on a nightly basis, he’s one of the rare guys in this league that can dominate the game regardless of what happens on the offensive end of the floor. He can make an impact on virtually every play in the game if he brings that kind of energy and intensity."
If Drummond does that much, the Pistons could soon see an end to their six-year postseason drought.
Win-Loss Prediction: 37-45
Golden State Warriors
It's entirely possible that the Golden State Warriors, who went 67-15 last season en route to their first title since 1975, will win fewer games in 2015-16 but ultimately turn out to be a better team.
The Dubs won't be sneaking up on anyone this season. The whole team will have a target across its collective back. None will be bigger or brighter than the one adorning Stephen Curry, the NBA's reigning MVP.
Fortunately for Golden State, there's plenty of room for internal improvement. Curry, 27, is just entering his prime. Klay Thompson (25), Draymond Green (25) and Harrison Barnes (23) are all still shy of theirs.
And remember, last year was the first for the Warriors under head coach Steve Kerr. They vaulted toward the top of the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency, despite battling some of the same problems with ball security that plagued them when Mark Jackson was in charge.
"The second year is when you really take off," Curry said of Kerr's system, per LetsGoWarriors on Twitter.
That launch may be stifled somewhat by Kerr's recovery from offseason back surgery. But if assistant coach Ron Adams is right about what he told Sirius XM radio on Friday (via Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group), Kerr should be on the sideline when the Warriors open their title defense against New Orleans.
Win-Loss Prediction: 60-22
If there was any one problem that plagued the Houston Rockets last season, it was turnovers. According to NBA.com, the Rockets racked up the league's third-highest turnover ratio (16.7 per 100 possessions) and the fourth-lowest assist-to-turnover ratio (1.33 assists for every turnover).
Houston's issues with ball security came to a head in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets averaged 15.2 giveaways per game against the Golden State Warriors. That included 23 total turnovers from the MVP runner-up James Harden, with 12 coming in the closeout game alone.
It's no wonder, then, that head coach Kevin McHale is looking to spice up his squad's offense with more ball movement. As the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen wrote:
The Rockets' offensive rating slipped to 12th last season, with turnovers their biggest issue. Though 60 percent of the Rockets' field goals were assisted, 10th most in the NBA, only the 76ers, Kings and Jazz had a worse assist/turnover ratio.
The Rockets hope to improve that by making multiple simple passes to good shots, rather than so often having to break down the defense with high-risk one-on-one play.
Enter Ty Lawson, who ranked fourth among his peers in assist percentage and second in assist-to-turnover ratio last season. The Rockets are counting on the former Denver Nuggets point guard to not only spread the wealth himself, but also get his new teammates to do it, too.
McHale said, per the Houston Chronicle:
Ty's going to make plays for others. It can't come just from Ty. If you look back on that [Western Conference Finals] series and you looked at the Finals, how many times did [Warriors forward] Draymond Green get in the paint and make a pass out? All of our guys have to make plays for each other. I think Ty instinctively does a good job of that. That doesn't mean everyone doesn't have to.
If they do, Houston could be a handful out West in 2015-16.
Win-Loss Prediction: 56-26
Despite an offseason of jarring departures from the Indiana Pacers and a devastating leg injury that kept him out of the vast majority of the 2014-15 season, Paul George comes into the current campaign brimming with confidence.
George told USA Today's Sam Amick:
Honestly, I feel like I’m better than the Paul George I was [before]. "I do understand that I’m coming back as a fresh new player, with a new team, but I’m not limiting myself. I still have the aspiration of being the MVP, still have the aspiration of being one of the best defenders, one of the best scorers in the league.
All of that is still there. But now I just feel like I’m much … wiser. I’m a better ball-handler, a better playmaker. I just feel like everything is just enhanced having a year out from the game.
The Pacers will need George to be all that and more if they're to make any real noise in the Eastern Conference this season. With Roy Hibbert and David West gone, Indiana could be perilously thin up front, even if George warms up to the idea of playing power forward.
He may well do that in time. Beyond what a shift in positions could do to unleash the likes of George Hill and Monta Ellis in Indy, a smaller, more uptempo attack could be a boon to PG-13's game. As Grantland's Andrew Sharp wrote:
With no Hibbert or West down low, he’ll have more space than ever to attack the rim. It makes his biggest weakness — creating in the half court — less likely to slow him down. It makes his strengths — size that 3s can’t handle, speed that 4s can’t handle, shooting, finishing at the rim — more dangerous than ever. It’s not that he’ll be playing out of position to suit his teammates; he’ll be playing the position that best suits his skills.
Win-Loss Prediction: 39-43
Los Angeles Clippers
The excitement around the Los Angeles Clippers these days is palpable, thanks in no small part to Doc Rivers—the man who bought the proverbial groceries and now must cook up an 82-game meal with them.
"This is clearly the most talent that we’ve had since I’ve been here," Rivers said at Clippers media day. "I don’t even think it’s close."
He's probably right about that. In addition to the battle-tested core of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford, the Clippers now tout a future Hall of Famer (Paul Pierce), a versatile bench asset (Josh Smith) and a former New York City phenom (Lance Stephenson) who was a key cog on back-to-back Eastern Conference finalists.
If Rivers is able to fit all of these pieces together snugly into the same puzzle, he should have on his hands a squad that's not only the best Clippers franchise ever, but also one capable of outlasting the onslaught of potential contenders in the Western Conference.
Win-Loss Prediction: 57-25
Los Angeles Lakers
There's a lot of uncertainty swirling around the Los Angeles Lakers these days. Nobody is quite sure what to expect from an aging (and oft-inured) Kobe Bryant, a relocated Roy Hibbert or the talented trio of Julius Randle, D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson.
"I think the guys have all worked hard this summer; I’ve worked hard this summer," Bryant said at Lakers media day (via the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina). "But it’s a big question mark. We have a lot of young guys. It’s a good mix—we have some veterans as well. But guys have never played together before, so it remains to be seen."
What fans of the Purple and Gold can be more sure of is that Bryant won't be caught in another team's colors if he decides to play beyond this, his 20th season in the NBA.
"A lot of players want to go to different teams or contend to win championships," he told Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears. "I'm a Laker, man. I'm a Laker for better or worse."
In the case of the 2015-16 season, that could be for worse.
Win-Loss Prediction: 25-57
The Memphis Grizzlies will need every edge they can muster to keep up in the crowded Western Conference. On paper, they improved on the margins this summer, with Matt Barnes bringing his tough, confrontational style to bear.
In reality, this team could be facing an uphill climb if the early results from training camp are any indication. The Grizzlies are holding court at the Peak Performance Project (P3) in Santa Barbara, where they got some less-than-encouraging news about the physical state of their squad.
"We're doing this P3 thing [for conditioning], and some of the reports back are that our guys are not in tremendous shape," head coach Dave Joerger revealed, via the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Peter Edmiston.
That's not a good sign for a club that may try to push the pace a bit more than usual this season. Then again, the 82-game campaign is long enough to allow time for guys to work themselves into shape.
And given the Grizzlies' grit-and-grind identity, a few extra pounds around the waists of their players might not be so bad.
Win-Loss Prediction: 52-30
So far, training camp has been a mixed bag for the Miami Heat.
On one hand, Hassan Whiteside, arguably the biggest surprise of the 2014-15 NBA season, has been sidelined by a calf injury. On the other, Chris Bosh said he's surprised at how well he's held up, conditioning-wise, through Miami's grueling practices, per Michael Wallace of ESPN.com.
The Heat were already going to need plenty of time to jell coming into this season. In the grand scheme of things, Bosh's progress and Whiteside's waylay won't change that.
For now, Miami can be pleased with the more positive tone of this year's proceedings compared to last year's dirge-like opening to the campaign.
They've added a lot, between a returning Goran Dragic, Amar'e Stoudemire, a healthy Josh McRoberts and rookie Justise Winslow—perhaps enough to make some serious noise in the East.
Win-Loss Prediction: 46-36
No team made a bigger (or more surprising) year-over-year improvement last season than the Milwaukee Bucks. In Jason Kidd's first go-round, the Bucks bumped up from a league-low 15 wins in 2013-14 to a sturdy 41 in 2014-15.
The team that takes the floor at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on opening night will look far different from that outfit. Brandon Knight is gone, replaced by Michael Carter-Williams at the February trade deadline. Larry Sanders and Zaza Pachulia are both gone and have since been replaced by free-agent signee Greg Monroe.
Even the returnees aren't quite the same. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a year older, wiser and more physically mature. Khris Middleton is about $70 million richer. Jabari Parker, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft, is coming off a torn ACL.
Those changes could all combine to make the Bucks a better basketball team over the long haul. In the meantime, it's once again on Kidd to work his magic and turn these pieces into a potent playoff team in the East.
Win-Loss Prediction: 42-40
Folks in Minnesota are used to long winters. Their beloved Timberwolves' 11-year absence from postseason basketball is another story, one that looks likely to stretch to an even dozen come 2016.
Nearly half the team's roster will start the season at age 25 or younger, including Ricky Rubio, 2015 Slam Dunk Contest champion Zach LaVine, reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins and 2015 No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns.
Unfortunately, Flip Saunders likely won't be around to show these youngsters the ropes in 2015-16. In the opinion of the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda, Saunders is "unlikely" to return to the sidelines, let alone the front office, as he is receiving treatment for what has recently been determined to be "life-threatening cancer."
However long it takes Saunders to overcome his illness, Minnesota won't be short on tutors for its Timberpups. Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince are all expected to show the youngsters the NBA's proverbial ropes.
Garnett, in particular, will do his part to keep Saunders around the team in spirit.
"I will say I'm a voice of the locker room," Garnett said, per Sporting News' Tim Faklis. "I think [Saunders] wants me to transcend some of the work ethic, and the things he knows of me, and try to spread it throughout the locker room."
Those efforts should help to bring Minnesota's youth along. In time, these T-Wolves could be a terror in the Western Conference.
Until then, there won't be any skipping steps, or the growing pains that come with them, for Minny.
Win-Loss Prediction: 22-60
New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis' brilliance is clearly the foundation upon which the New Orleans Pelicans hope to contend for postseason success. But even with the Brow's rapid growth into one of the game's preeminent players, the Pelicans can't bank on much more than a quick playoff appearance unless their ball-handlers are able to make a bigger, more positive impact on the court.
That could still be tough for New Orleans this season. Jrue Holiday, the team's best option at the point, will be playing on a short leash until 2016, starting with a 15-minute-per-game limit, per Brett Dawson of the Advocate. Eric Gordon is a great shooter (44.8 percent from three in 2014-15), but not one all who's well equipped to get the ball to Davis in his sweet spots—let alone run an NBA offense full time.
For better or worse, the fate of Davis and the Pelicans may rest in the hands of Tyreke Evans. As Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry explained, Evans' struggles to shoot from the perimeter and finish at the rim are just one side of New Orleans' valuable coin.
"Evans converts only a subpar 51 percent of his close-range shots (the NBA average is 55 percent in this zone), but that’s only half the story," Goldsberry wrote. "Almost three-quarters of his close-range attempts resulted in either a bucket or a fresh 24 via an offensive board."
And, well, he's pretty good at getting Davis the looks he likes, too.
"The most important person Evans passes to is obviously Davis, and he does it well." Goldsberry wrote. "Twenty-five percent of Davis’ 2014-15 field-goal attempts came within two seconds of catching an Evans pass, and the Brow converted 58 percent of those chances."
Win-Loss Prediction: 46-36
New York Knicks
At least one prominent member of the New York Knicks thinks this team, fresh off a franchise-worst 17-win campaign, will be in the mix for the NBA's top prize in 2016.
"S--t, we're competing. People might not believe that, but we're definitely competing for that," said Carmelo Anthony (via ESPN.com's Ian Begley). "That's always going to be the goal. Whether we get there or not depends on us and what we're doing. That's always our big-picture goal."
That's all well and good, but the Knicks figure to have a tough time so much as sniffing their goal this season.
Anthony is expected to spend significant time taxing his body at the 4, despite undergoing season-ending knee surgery less than eight months ago. Phil Jackson did well to fill up on role players in free agency (i.e. Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Kyle O'Quinn, Kevin Seraphin, Derrick Williams, Sasha Vujacic), though not one looks like a potential game-changer.
For one of those, the Knicks will have to wait either for their rookies (Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant) to develop or for a superstar (Kevin Durant?) to bring his talents to the Big Apple next summer.
That doesn't mean this year's Knicks won't be markedly better than last year's edition. If Melo recaptures his high-scoring form and the other veteran pieces prove comfortable fits around him, New York could make headway toward a much brighter future within a relatively short time span.
"We think that our group, as we figure some things out, will be more competitive than maybe what people think," said head coach Derek Fisher (via ESPN.com). "Rebuilding doesn't necessarily mean we're not trying to win right now."
Win-Loss Prediction: 28-54
Oklahoma City Thunder
When Kevin Durant is healthy, the Oklahoma City Thunder are an absolute terror. The 2011-12 lockout-shortened campaign aside, OKC has averaged 56 wins across the last four seasons in which Durant has stayed out of harm's way.
That might not be so easy for the former MVP in 2015-16, given his renewed focus on defense.
"I think that’s an underrated part of my game," Durant said, per the Oklahoman's Erik Horne. "I feel like I can guard 1 through 4. I can switch with bigs and point guards, and I can use my length a lot."
Durant may not need to spend much time checking giants. The Thunder are loaded with capable bigs up front, from savvy veterans like Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison to wily youngsters like Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Mitch McGary.
If Durant and Russell Westbrook can dodge the injury bug this time around, they should put OKC in position to challenge for the top spot in the West and the best regular-season record in the NBA—even with a new head coach (Billy Donovan) taking over and KD's free agency looming over everything.
Win-Loss Prediction: 59-23
Is this the year the Orlando Magic finally start to dig themselves out of the hole that Dwight Howard's departure left them in?
For SB Nation's Tom Ziller, it could be, if new head coach Scott Skiles is able to mold the hearts, minds and games of Orlando's young core of Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic and rookie Mario Hezonja:
Skiles won't have it any other way. So much depends on individual growth among the more promising youngsters (particularly Gordon), but there is the basis for a strong defense here. I fear this core may always struggle to score efficiently, and Skiles doesn't have a stellar reputation in installing beautiful systems. Spacing is a real concern.
So, too, is the lack of winning experience among the Magic's current constituents. Aside from Channing Frye, C.J. Watson, Jason Smith and Evan Fournier, no player ticketed for significant minutes in Orlando has enjoyed anything approaching team success at this level.
As former Magic coach (and current Clippers guru) Doc Rivers is wont to say, winning in the NBA is hard. Orlando's young talent will figure out how to win eventually, and the Magic have the right coach to teach the youngsters. But getting to that point won't be easy.
Win-Loss Prediction: 27-55
As a certain poet from Dartford once wrote, "You can't always get what you want." Jahlil Okafor and his Philadelphia 76ers teammates would do well to heed those wise words.
Sure, all the players want to make the postseason. But after a summer during which the Sixers spent around $3 million on free agents—and with a roster built around a promising rookie (Okafor) and two second-year players (Nerlens Noel, Nik Stauskas)—those in the locker room will be hard-pressed to get anything close to what they want.
In the long run, though, another season of futility may be what Philly needs to complete its grand experiment. Between their own first-round pick, the Lakers' top-three protected selection, the expected arrival of Dario Saric and the (hopeful) recovery of Joel Embiid, the Sixers could head into the 2016-17 season with a roster chock-full of young talent.
None of which will make 2015-16 that much easier to stomach.
Win-Loss Prediction: 20-62
It's amazing how quickly an offseason of controversy can be wiped away once the business of bball gets going again. Just ask the NFL...or Markieff Morris and the Phoenix Suns.
In August, Morris, distraught over the team's decision to trade his twin brother Marcus to Detroit, made multiple trade demands in public, for which the NBA subsequently fined him.
You wouldn't know Morris was so opposed to playing in Phoenix if you asked him about it now.
"Happy to be back. Happy to be with my team," he said, per AZCentral.com's Paul Coro. "I haven’t seen them all summer. We haven’t worked together all summer. I’m excited for the year and I’m excited to get started."
As far as the whole squad is concerned, Morris is probably fourth or fifth on the totem pole of importance, though he'll be plenty pivotal to their efforts this season nonetheless. Ahead of him in the pecking order is the budding backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, with the injury-prone frontcourt of Tyson Chandler and Alex Len next.
All told, the Suns roster looks like a bit of a mishmosh right now. They'll essentially be starting two combo guards and may wind up stunting Len's growth with all the money they threw at Chandler in a last-ditch attempt to lure LaMarcus Aldridge to Phoenix.
Still, a return to the postseason for the Suns isn't out of the question if head coach Jeff Hornacek can figure out how best to deploy a talented, if strangely constructed, collection of players.
Win-Loss Prediction: 37-45
Portland Trail Blazers
No team can lose 80 percent of its starting lineup and keep cranking out 50-win seasons. That's not an official NBA rule of thumb, but for the Portland Trail Blazers, it might as well be.
This summer, the Blazers traded Nicolas Batum to Charlotte before watching LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews sign for mega millions elsewhere. With that, Portland bade farewell to a starting five that ranked among the league's best and most heavily used lineups over the last two seasons.
General manager Neil Olshey, though, didn't spend the rest of the offseason twiddling his thumbs. Instead, he lavished Damian Lillard, the lone returnee from Terry Stott's "Fave Five," with a lucrative extension and restocked the roster with relatively cheap, low-risk/high-reward types, from Mason Plumlee and Noah Vonleh to Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless and Ed Davis.
If the Blazers can mine even one potential star from the peripheral prospects they brought in, they'll be looking at an accelerated rebuilding timeline. And if not, they can prepare for the 2016 draft and adhere to a long-term plan that appears to have team owner Paul Allen's blessing.
As Allen told the Oregonian's Joe Freeman:
I probably, more than a lot of owners, enjoy seeing young players develop. Always have. Always will. And that's also been a hallmark of other teams like the Seahawks that I've been involved with — seeing young players develop — and I think if you watch some of the players that Neil has brought in here, we've been very lucky to be able to bring those in and be able to pivot from being a playoff team to being a team that's going through a transition to hopefully being back in the playoffs before too long. So we'll see.
Win-Loss Prediction: 25-57
Vlade Divac, the Sacramento Kings' vice president of basketball operations and general manager, kept his responses short and not-so-sweet during his brief chat with CSNBayArea.com's James Ham.
On his early impressions of the team he's assembled: "I'm excited; I think we have a lot of talent here. Every day, they are improving playing together, so, I'm happy."
On what, if anything, the Kings still need to add to their roster: "No, we have enough. Every position we have a couple guys, so it's a good competition."
On whether he was surprised he and his front office were able to accomplish so much in one offseason: "Well, I'm not surprised because I knew what I was doing. But definitely, it was a lot of work. There's a lot of new faces. I'm glad that we were able to do that."
Divac's replies, while far from revelatory, seem to reflect the reality of the situation in Sacramento in their own way. Plenty has already been said and written about the Kings' offseason, from the tepid relationship between head coach George Karl and All-Star DeMarcus Cousins to the cash splashed at Rajon Rondo, Kosta Koufos, Marco Belinelli and Caron Butler—and the sums of money turned down by Monta Ellis, Patrick Beverley, Wesley Matthews and Corey Brewer—to the draft picks and prospects sacrificed to make for those signings.
Now, the onus is on the players and the coaching staff to put all the pieces together—and on Divac to explain the situation if things fall apart.
Win-Loss Prediction: 35-47
San Antonio Spurs
You might as well mark the San Antonio Spurs down for another 50 wins this season. They've hit or topped that mark 20 times in the last 22 years, with David Robinson's injury-riddled 1996-97 season and the lockout-shortened 1999 campaign as the lone exceptions.
The Spurs certainly have the talent on hand to continue that impressive run of success. The arrival of LaMarcus Aldridge and David West should do more than prop up a squad that, with both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili declining (and, at some point, probably Tim Duncan) and the depletion of its former depth, otherwise might be in store for a step back in the standings.
Turning this latest bunch into a true title-contending team will be a test for everyone involved, most notably the new arrivals. Aldridge must merge his individual scoring talents into San Antonio's pass-happy offense. West will have to adapt to a reserve role for the first time in over a decade.
But, as West sees it, San Antonio is the perfect place for just such an education.
"For me, being a basketball junkie, a guy who studies the game, there's no better environment in the world to learn basketball," he told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. "When you've won five championships and have such history, it's the reason such a calmness that exists here [sic]. There's structure. Things are precise. There's work. But it's not suffocating."
Good thing, too, since the competition out West could be suffocating enough on its own.
Win-Loss Prediction: 55-27
The Toronto Raptors came into the summer of 2015 with three clear needs: sturdier defense, more sharing on offense and more maple-blooded Canadians on both ends.
OK, so maybe only two of those three were actual needs, but general manager Masai Ujiri addressed all three anyway, with Toronto natives Cory Joseph and Anthony Bennett playing parts across the board. As the National Post's Eric Koreen recounted:
Lou Williams, perhaps the biggest offender of the team’s isolation-heavy offence, was allowed to leave to Los Angeles without so much as a low-ball offer. Greivis Vasquez, the worst perimeter defender on a team full of them, was shipped to Milwaukee. With the exception of Luis Scola and Anthony Bennett, a pair of low-risk signings, Ujiri’s whole summer focus was on passing and defending. He spent US$90-million total on DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph, who came from Atlanta and San Antonio, respectively. They will now be asked by the Raptors to amplify the smaller roles they played for those model franchises.
Those moves could all prove to be window dressing at the end of the day. The core of this club (i.e. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas) is the same that was one-and-done in each of the last two postseasons—embarrassingly so in 2015.
But even those three may bring more to the table this season. Lowry came to camp in impeccable shape, DeRozan will be playing for a new contract (assuming he opts out of his current one next summer), and Valanciunas, a 23-year-old entering his fourth season, will have more experience and a shiny, new extension to underwrite his burgeoning confidence.
Win-Loss Prediction: 48-34
No team turned its fortunes around after the All-Star Game as swiftly or as dramatically last season as did the Utah Jazz.
Before the break, the Jazz were a middling offensive outfit with a bottom-five defense in efficiency, per NBA.com The offense didn't improve much after the break, but the defense transformed into the NBA's best, thereby propelling Utah to a 19-10 finish.
What changed? In short, Enes Kanter was shipped to Oklahoma City, clearing the way for the construction of the "Stifle Tower," better known as Rudy Gobert. The 7'2" French giant averaged a double-double (11.1 points, 13.4 rebounds), with 2.6 blocks as a starter during the Jazz's second-half spurt.
As Grantland's Andrew Sharp noted, Gobert is comparable to a former Defensive Player of the Year who also helped to spark a surprising run once upon a time:
Mostly, though, we need to talk about Marcus Camby because Rudy Gobert could be as good and valuable as Camby was. He still needs to add the jumper with a horrifying release, but Gobert does most of the same things well, and the per-36 numbers are awfully similar. Gobert changed the Jazz at the end of last year the same way Camby changed the Knicks in the ’99 playoffs.
The loss of Dante Exum to a torn ACL could set Utah back a bit this season, just as the return of Alec Burks might more than make up for his absence. But with Gobert—and fellow 7'2" European giant Tibor Pleiss—manning the middle, it won't matter who runs the wings in Salt Lake City, so long as there's always someone around to stuff the opposition.
Win-Loss Prediction: 44-38
Where can the Washington Wizards turn for the oomph they need to take that all-important next step now that Paul Pierce is in L.A.?
Where else? Their backcourt.
John Wall, for one, understands that back-to-back trips to the All-Star Game and the second round of the playoffs mark the beginning, not the end, of his ascent. As he told Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy:
I have a lot of room left to grow. I’m nowhere near reaching my full potential. I think I’m still just scratching the surface of how great I can be. I want to keep getting better. I think the only way you can be a superstar in this league and [become] a Hall of Fame player is by improving every season and getting better at something. That’s something I’m willing to put in the work to do, and I think I have a great opportunity to do that this year.
Bradley Beal is on a similar trajectory. After three injury-riddled campaigns, the 22-year-old St. Louis native comes into 2015-16 with a clean bill of health and plenty of lofty goals.
"Whatever it takes in order for us to be good and successful, in order for me to be an All-Star, I have to be able to play on both ends of the floor," he told Bleacher Report. "So as much as I can, I’m just improving all around and just trying to be one of the best 2s in the game."
If Wall and Beal continue to improve—and Washington finds a solid wing or two from among Jared Dudley, Otto Porter Jr. and rookie Kelly Oubre Jr.—the Wizards should find themselves within striking distance of the Eastern Conference Finals once again.
Win-Loss Prediction: 47-35
Stats are courtesy of NBA.com.
Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.