2011-12 Outlook for Every NBA Team
We're nearly a week away from the start of the regular season, which of course means that we'll have to begin coming out with our previews.
With the majority of the league's free agents settling down with their new teams, we can finally begin to diagnose just how well these teams are going to fare, as well as how they will compare to their record from last season.
This offseason didn't leave much to the imagination, but with key signings and one enormous deal being made, a few teams should expect to see a significant change in their record for better and for worse.
Not much is set to change amongst the majority of the league's teams due to the lack of talent in the free agency class this off season, but there have been enough moves made for a number of teams to show significant improvement or regression from the year before.
Since the offseason is settling down and training camps are now in full force, we can begin to take a look at how each team is going to compare to last years as we see just which teams improve or regress in the 2011-12 season.
2010-11 record: 44-38 (.537)
With former Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford appearing to head either to the Portland Trail Blazers or Sacramento Kings, the Atlanta Hawks are sure to suffer a huge blow in terms of their perimeter shooting and their production off of the bench.
No Crawford means that Tracy McGrady, Vladimir Radmanovic or Kirk Hinrich are going to step up in his place. The chances are strong that all three of those players combined will not be able to match the output or attract the same influence that Crawford provided on a regular basis as one of the NBA's top sixth men.
The Hawks will also be going in a different direction at the point, as Jeff Teague will be expected to start. He's only been in the league for two seasons, but impressed the team last postseason when he filled in for Hinrich and had a number of stellar games against the Chicago Bulls.
A player who only started seven games in the regular season had managed to drop 21 points on three occasions against one of the NBA's top defenses.
Atlanta will most likely feature the same lineup as last season with Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford being the team's top trio alongside Jason Collins at center.
Don't expect much to change, but the team will see a slight decline due to the loss of Jamal.
2011-12 prediction: 35-31 (.530)
2010-11 record: 56-26 (.683)
Could this be the year that we see the decline of the Boston Celtics?
I certainly wouldn't bet against it, especially with some improved competition in their division with the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets all set to make a push.
The Celtics had been fortunate enough to be granted one of the weakest divisions in the NBA with only one other team finishing above .500 in the division, with that team being the Knicks who finished at 42-40.
Nobody on this team is getting any younger, either. Sharp shooter Ray Allen will be 36 and in his 15th season, Paul Pierce will be 34 and in his 13th season, and Kevin Garnett will be 35 and in his 16th season. These three players have the capabilities to continue remaining a threat in the NBA, but they don't have the stamina or endurance to beat the athletic teams that they will have to face down the road.
For those that want to say they'll benefit off of a 66-game season, each member of the big three will disagree.
They'll still sport one of the league's top facilitators and one-on-one defenders in Rajon Rondo, but the rest of the cast is looking weak, especially with the team trading Glen Davis for Brandon Bass. Not to mention that they still haven't found a quality center to replace Kendrick Perkins, with Chris Wilcox and Greg Stiemsma representing the team's only hope down low.
Boston will still be a threat, but they'll begin losing that competitive edge this season.
2011-'12 prediction: 40-26 (.606)
2010-11 record: 34-48 (.415)
It's okay, Kemba Walker. I'd cry too if I was just drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats.
Aside from drafting one of the most talented players at the college level last season in UCONN's Kemba Walker, the Bobcats made sure to regress in every way possible with the signings and trades that they managed to complete.
The first mistake they made was trading away their lone offensive threat in Stephen Jackson to the Milwaukee Bucks in order to secure Corey Maggette, who the team announced would be at the focal point of the offense.
If a 32-year-old Maggette is going to end up leading your team at the offensive end of the floor, it's going to be easy to predict that this isn't going to end up well.
Aside from Walker, there just aren't many bright spots in the starting lineup and off the bench. The 'Cats other draft pick in Bismack Biyombo provides strong defense, but he won't help on the offensive end of the floor, which is an aspect of the game that the Bobcats are seriously missing out on.
Among the others who could possibly contribute are the always-solid Boris Diaw, the athletic Tyrus Thomas and projected back-up point guard D.J. Augustin. These three players may end up being the supporting cast to the dynamic duo of Walker and Maggette.
It's getting ugly in Charlotte.
2011-12 prediction: 17-49 (.257)
2010-11 record: 62-20 (.756)
Never before would I have thought that the acquisition of a 33-year-old who just shot 40 percent in the field last season would be so anticipated.
To each his own. The possible signing of former Detroit Piston Richard Hamilton may be a little hyped, but it is a terrific signing for a Chicago Bulls team that could use some players to help stretch the floor, add some consistency, and help shoulder the load of the offense.
The postseason last year proved that a player of Hamilton's expertise was needed, as MVP Derrick Rose was forced to pick up most of the pieces as his teammates couldn't get it done in the crucial moments.
Not to mention that Hamilton will be addressing a key need in the starting lineup at shooting guard, as he will be replacing Keith Bogans.
The Bulls will sport an even more dangerous Rose as he will be looking towards making up for an otherwise poor ending to the 2010-'11 season.
Chicago had championship dreams all year long and even finished with the league's top record before falling in the Conference Finals. The loss brought about a lot of questions and many of them were answered as the team is now set to bring in Hamilton.
Chicago also happens to sport some of the league's top young players. Aside from the 23-year-old Rose, a 25-year-old Omer Asik, 26-year-old Taj Gibson, and 26-year-old Joakim Noah will all be returning and will only be improving as the years progress.
This team is motivated more than ever and they'll be looking to make a huge push towards the Finals.
2011-12 prediction: 47-19 (.712)
2010-11 record: 19-63 (.232)
As infuriating as Dan Gilbert has been this off season, the Cleveland Cavaliers have actually made great strides over the offseason in order to move back to mediocrity.
There's no LeBron James, but they do have the potential to become a solid team in the next few seasons if they manage to develop their young stars. Those young stars include the No. 1 and 4 draft picks in Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, who are both set to start with Irving at the point and Thompson at the four.
Thompson is a solid forward who is coming off a stellar season at the University of Texas, but Irving is a bit of a wild card, as he was only featured in 11 games in his time at Duke University. However, scouts are claiming that he is NBA-ready and is capable of immediately leading an NBA offense, even one as inept as the Cavaliers.
The Cavs don't have that one superstar who stands out (yet), but they have a supporting cast that is capable of winning games in the future with sharp shooter Omri Casspi and guards Manny Harris, Christian Eyenga, and Alonzo Gee set to make up a decent-looking supporting cast.
Don't expect significant improvement next season, but the Cavaliers will make it back to mediocrity within the next five seasons.
2011-12 prediction: 23-43 (.348)
2010-11 record: 57-25 (.695)
Fresh off their championship victory, the Dallas Mavericks may have lost some key pieces, but they also managed to secure several threats that could make up for those.
Picking up the multi-dimensional Lamar Odom and the always-dangerous Vince Carter may have been the best moves of the offseason as the Mavericks had to give up little in return for each player, with Odom only requiring a few draft picks and $3 million over the next three seasons for Carter.
However, the Mavericks might have just lost out on the most integral part of their team in Tyson Chandler, who joined the revamped New York Knicks.
It's no coincidence that the Mavericks won their first title in the lone year Chandler was there, as he provided the team with a huge advantage on account of his defense in the post. The defensive philosophy he instilled played an enormous part in the team's success as well.
The Mavericks continue to possess one of the league's deepest teams even though they just traded away Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer.
Those two were traded away in order to clear up roster space as their were honestly too many role players that could have been utilized at those positions, including Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Delonte West and Carter.
Dallas won't have many years left to contend for a title with the entire projected starting lineup to be over the age of 30, so expect this team to begin making a strong push for a second title before the chance is gone.
2011-12 prediction: 46-20 (.697)
2010-11 record: 50-32 (.610)
It won't be as bad now that the Denver Nuggets were able to retain Nene Hilario, but this team certainly won't have a winning percentage of 61 percent by the end of the 2011-'12 season.
Don't expect a postseason appearance, either.
With J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin all stuck overseas and the Nuggets not possessing too many proven quality players on the roster to replace those three, Denver's going to be in a great deal of trouble until they return, which is projected to be in March.
The Nuggets lose out on one of the league's top sharp shooters and perimeter defenders as the team will be searching for answers to replace them.
The Nuggets do have quality starters in Ty Lawson at the point, Arron Afflalo at the two, Danilo Gallinari at three, rookie Kenneth Faried at PF, and Nene at center but lack off the bench where Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, Al Harrington and Corey Brewer support the team off the pine.
Denver will also continue to lack that superstar player with none of these players set to fill in the shoes of the departed Carmelo Anthony. Unless Afflalo, Lawson or Faried pan out to be these unbelievable steals, the Nuggets will continue to play without a pure No. 1 threat.
2011-12 prediction: 31-35 (.469)
2010-11 record: 30-52 (.366)
The Detroit Pistons won't suddenly become the Pistons of the early-2000's, but the 2011-'12 season surely won't feature the train wreck of a squad that we saw last season that managed to feature an actual mutiny and boycott by the players against their former coach.
With players like Richard Hamilton and Tracy McGrady no longer with the team, the Pistons can begin looking towards the future as they now possess one of the league's top rosters in terms of potential.
With rookie point guard Brandon Knight set to take over as floor general and overall leader of this team, it's obvious to see that the Pistons are attempting to right the ship and bring about memories of the glory days of the team.
Knight will be joining several other young stars, including center Greg Monroe, forwards Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko and point guard Will Bynum. All four players have tremendous potential to cause some serious damage and could easily be solid role players as soon as next season.
With Rodney Stuckey expected to return and start at SG, the Pistons will be projected to feature a lineup where its oldest player will be 31 years old.
Also, there is always the chance that Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva wake up and decide to start playing quality basketball again.
Don't expect a tremendous improvement out of this developing team, but do expect a solid team to begin arising out of the ashes.
2011-12 prediction: 26-40 (.394)
Golden State Warriors
2010-'11 record: 36-46 (.439)
With a new coach and philosophy being instilled in this run-and-gun Golden State Warriors squad, the time for relevance is now.
Okay, maybe not now, but relevance will return to the Warriors in a big way if they preach defense and assist in the production of their numerous young stars, including Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh, and Dorell Wright just to name a few.
I could go on the entire slide speaking of the potential that this team possesses, but I'll put it in one sentence by saying that this team is projected to have a starting lineup where the oldest player is David Lee at 28 years old.
In fact, with Charlie Bell now off the team, the Warriors have a grand total of zero players on their roster over the age of 30. Louis Almundson and Kwame Brown are the two veterans at 29 years old with the team possessing an unbelievable nine players at 25 years or younger.
While experience is going to hamper this team, especially with a rookie head coach, it could help the growing up process as each player can relate to each other since they're all young talents who have been in this league only for a short while.
One of many teams in the Pacific Division to make a strong push towards the postseason this year, the Warriors will be expected to improve.
2011-'12 prediction: 33-33 (.500)
2010-11 record: 43-39 (.524)
With a 43-39 record, the Houston Rockets would have secured a sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
It's just an incredible disappointment that they're in the Western Conference and actually have to contend with good teams outside of the top five teams.
The Rockets were an easy lock for the postseason in the East, but managed to finish three games out of that eight seed thanks in part to a strong surge at the end of the season by the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Rockets will now begin to make their postseason push once again and that includes playing without Yao Ming, who recently retired due to a nagging foot injury. However, not all hope is lost for Houston as they possess several key players, including sharp shooter Kevin Martin, point guard Kyle Lowry, and the always-crafty Luis Scola.
The team will also feature a number of potential stars in the making with Lowry being one of them, power forward Patrick Patterson, point guard Goran Dragic, and rookie forward Donatas Motiejunas being just a few names on one of the NBA's deepest benches.
However, the team will be missing Yao as they still have no post threat that could replace. With Chuck Hayes now with Sacramento, the team will have to stick with either Hasheem Thabeet, Jordan Hill, Marcus Cousins or Omar Samhan as their next starting center.
This team better go after Samuel Dalembert and fast.
2011-12 prediction: 35-31 (.530)
2010-11 record: 37-45 (.451)
It actually got to that point in the weak Eastern Conference where a team that was eight games below .500 ended up making the postseason, rather than a Houston Rockets team in the West who was four games over .500 and failed to make the playoffs.
I wouldn't expect the Indiana Pacers to be finishing under .500 any more, however, as they now have a formidable lineup that now features former New Orleans Hornets power forward David West at power forward.
It's a huge upgrade for the Pacers, as they formerly featured Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts at the position.
With West on the team, the Pacers can stretch the floor with one of the league's top mid-range threats and take some of the defensive pressure off sharpshooter and perimeter specialist Danny Granger.
The Pacers have a lot to look forward to this season as they will look to take advantage of a particularly weak division that features Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee as their biggest threats outside of the Chicago Bulls.
Aside from the lack of talent from their rivals, the Pacers will be featuring one of the league's most well-rounded rosters with center Roy Hibbert helping to lead the way.
At 7'2" and equipped with a budding offensive game, Hibbert may be one of the best players you have yet to hear about, as he will be making a strong push toward the All-Star game.
Indiana will have one of the largest improvements of any team in the NBA this year, and it'll result in a much higher seed than eighth.
2011-12 prediction: 37-29 (.560)
Los Angeles Clippers
2010-11 record: 32-50 (.390)
Of course, I didn't say that the Indiana Pacers will have the league's largest win improvement as that distinction will be held for the Los Angeles Clippers, who just pulled off the biggest deal of the offseason by acquiring former New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul.
Paul has been at the center of trade rumors all off season and finally got his wish of leaving New Orleans and will now be a member of the Clippers for the next two seasons.
It's terribly unfortunate that the team had to part ways with a number of young stars in Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu, as well as Chris Kaman and a first-round pick, but having Paul on the team will be a tremendous improvement.
Losing Gordon is especially tough as he recently had a breakout season where he averaged 22 points per game and proved that he had the potential to be an All-Star as well as one of the league's top scorers.
He'll be missed, but not for long as the entertainment value of Paul hooking up with the likes of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will help to ease the pain.
Paul replaces Mo Williams at point guard and will help to replace Gordon's offensive capabilities by being a terrific scorer, inside and out, as well as being one of the league's top facilitators.
CP3 has worked wonders with limited rosters before and even led a team where David West and Peja Stojakovic were the teams top contributors to 56 wins.
With Griffin only set to improve on his mid-range game and defense, the Clippers just got a whole lot scarier.
2011-12 prediction: 39-27 (.591)
Los Angeles Lakers
2010-11 record: 57-25 (.695)
Could it be possible that the Lakers actually become the other team in Los Angeles?
I wouldn't be so hasty to make such assumptions to the strong Lakers fan base, but I will say that it's extremely possible to happen in the near future if the team doesn't begin to build up a bench and a roster that's capable of replacing the team's two core players in Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
While both players represent one of the league's strongest duos, they're both nearing the decline of their careers and with no one on the team to replace them now or in the near future, the Lakers could be in trouble not too long from now.
Aside from Matt Barnes and Steve Blake, the Lakers have no one to rely on off the bench and can thank the NBA for that, as Lamar Odom demanded a trade following the nullified deal that would have brought in Chris Paul.
Odom was distraught with the teams' decision to trade him and demanded a trade shortly after, as he would join the same team that had swept the Lakers only a few months before in Dallas.
I'm not one to doubt Bryant's capabilities of being able to put a team on his back, but he's going to need some serious help and that means Pau Gasol stepping up and Andrew Bynum actually having to stay healthy and beginning to prove he's worth something.
Bynum may be the key to future Lakers' success as the organization continues to hope that he'll become this 20-10 player.
The initial decline will begin this year unless this team finds suitable bench players outside of Barnes and Blake.
2011-12 prediction: 43-23 (.652)
2010-11 record: 46-36 (.561)
Wait a minute, I thought the NBA was specifically designed to keep small markets down. What on earth is a team like the Memphis Grizzlies doing in the postseason?
Well, they're actually good and they're winning games because they're good. That small-market conspiracy theory has been dispelled after an unbelievable postseason by the Grizzlies, where they not only made it to Game 7 of the second round, but managed to win their first postseason series as well as their first-ever game.
Prior to last year's playoffs, the Grizzlies were 0-12 in the playoffs with three sweeps in three appearances to show for it.
The Grizzlies are the real deal and they're here to stay. Small forward and superstar in the making Rudy Gay is set to make his return after having to sit out the playoffs and will help to form one of the most volatile front courts with himself, a stronger and leaner Zach Randolph, and center Marc Gasol set to devastate the NBA's top teams.
In a league where quality big men are difficult to come by, Gasol and Randolph give the Grizzlies an unbelievable advantage and are sure to cause match-up problems against teams that lack production at the four and five, as well as teams that thrive on driving.
The Grizzlies will also continue to showcase one of the league's top perimeter defenders in Tony Allen as well as young stars in O.J. Mayo, Josh Selby and Sam Young.
2011-'12 prediction: 42-24 (.636)
2010-11 record: 58-24 (.707)
There won't be an average start to the regular season, nor will there be a five-game losing streak this time around, the 2011-12 Miami Heat will end this season with the league's top record.
Even though center continues to remain an issue, especially now that Eddy Curry is already hurt, the Miami Heat still have the league's most dominant trio in Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh, as well as a solid bench that now sports Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Mike Miller, who will be slated to return by the end of the January after recovering from hernia surgery.
The sheer fact that the Heat were able to achieve 58 wins last year is extraordinary to say the least. They played without Udonis Haslem the majority of the year, had a number of players swapped out at starting center and point guard, and had James Jones as their top contributor from the perimeter and still managed to land a No. 2 seed.
To think that they'll now have Haslem back, may have a momentary answer in Curry, and Shane Battier coming off the bench will only help this team improve greatly, which is why they'll have the league's best record and, therefore, home court advantage throughout the post season.
They'll have to deal with an energized Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks teams, but they'll still have advantages over them thanks in part to the definitive advantages they have at three positions.
With Wade, James and Bosh back once again, the Heat will be attempting to make another run at a championship after coming up short last season.
2011-12 prediction: 52-14 (.788)
2010-11 record: 35-47 (.427)
It's disappointing that a Milwaukee Bucks team that had so much momentum from the 'Fear the Deer' phase they went through late in the prior season had to come to such a crashing halt because of a plethora of injuries.
Among those injury problems include Brandon Jennings missing 19 games, Andrew Bogut missing 17, Corey Maggette missing 15, Carlos Delfino only playing in 49 games, Drew Gooden playing in only 35, Ersan Ilyasova missing 22 games, Chris Douglas-Roberts playing in only 44 games, and Michael Redd, once again, missing out on nearly the entire season.
The Bucks only had two players who played in over 70 games, and they were John Salmons who managed to play in 72 and Keyon Dooling who missed two. Both of those players are now gone and the Bucks will now rely on their oft-injured core to make another postseason run.
Without injuries, this Bucks team is one of the top defensive squads in the league as the feature a top defensive center in Bogut and one of the league's top defensive minds in coach Scott Skiles.
Milwaukee finished last in points per game, but will now get a tremendous boost thanks in part to the acquisition of Stephen Jackson, who has been one of the league's top scorers from inside and out.
Jackson will help relieve some of the pressure off of Brandon Jennings, who has shot less than 40% from the field in his past two seasons.
It's tough to judge this team since they're always injured, but they should see some improvement if they can stay healthy.
2011-12 prediction: 32-34 (.485)
2010-11 season: 17-65 (.207)
Look who's actually stacked for once; the Minnesota Timberwolves are now more than prosperous when it comes to finding suitable members to start in the front court as they now face a dilemma on what to do at small forward.
They could either continue to develop Michael Beasley, averaged a solid 19 points per game last season, or they could go into a different direction and help integrate No. 2 pick Derrick Williams into the lineup as the starting small forward.
Chances are likely that the team will use this next year to see who can eventually be the starter for good as Beasley and Williams have both shown off the potential to become formidable starters.
Williams was a highly lauded college prospect and was the most athletic player to come out of the draft after a stellar tenure at the University of Arizona.
The Timberwolves will also be welcoming a newcomer in Ricky Rubio, who will be making his NBA debut after spending the past two years overseas since he was drafted fifth by the Wolves in 2009.
At 21 years old, the Spaniard has shown flashes of brilliance in the Euro League and with the Spain national team, and while he might not show off a solid scoring game, he's certainly got the creativity to make a name for himself.
The Wolves are a developing team and will show signs of improvement, but with the rebounding champion Kevin Love leading the way, the team should begin to show those signs as soon as this upcoming season.
2011-12 prediction: 21-45 (.318)
New Jersey Nets
2010-11 season: 24-58 (.293)
Long gone are the days of the 12-70 season that the New Jersey Nets experienced only two seasons ago.
Rather than wallowing in obscurity some more, the Nets should feature one of the league's top disparities in wins between this upcoming season and last year.
The team only won 24 games last year, a tremendous improvement from the year before, and should continue to show improvement in their winning percentage now that they'll have Deron Williams for the entire season.
Williams was acquired near the end of the season as the team sent out Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, and a few others in return for the services of arguably the league's top point guard.
Deron had a 20-assist game and averaged 13 assists in his short time with the Nets, which is saying a lot when his top teammates were Brook Lopez and Anthony Morrow.
The Nets still feature a sub-par supporting cast outside of Williams and Lopez, but they should show a little improvement with a possible draft steal in MarShon Brooks joining the fray.
Aside from him, however, there isn't too much upside to this Nets team who failed to make too large of an impact this off season as they turned out to be too focused on potentially making a deal for All-Star center Dwight Howard.
New Jersey should be looking at the present and not the future, since the present is still looking bleak and that's even with Williams running the show.
2011-12 prediction: 27-39 (.409)
New Orleans Hornets
2010-'11 season: 46-36 (.561)
It turns out that the New Orleans Hornets won't be as awful as we projected them to be last season, as they made off like bandits after their trade with the Los Angeles Clippers.
In a deal that sent franchise player Chris Paul to the Clippers, the Hornets, in return, received high-octane scorer Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman, and a first-round pick from Minnesota that's sure to be near the top of the draft.
The Hornets may have actually come out as winners in the trade, as Gordon is coming off a stellar season where he averaged 22 points per, while Aminu still has a long way to go to prove himself after only one year in the league.
Kaman will be a wild card, as he will become a free agent next year. He's a solid offensive threat who's averaged 19 points per game, but he's dealt with injuries over the past few seasons and has played in 32 games or less in two of the past three years.
The trade of Chris Paul was the best thing to possibly happen to the Hornets as they were about to come out with one of the worst lineups in the NBA. Before the trade, the depth chart read that David Andersen would have been the starting power forward and the top contributors off the bench would have been Jarrett Jack and Jason Smith.
Who would have guessed that trading away a franchise player would feel so good? The Hornets can now begin to build around Gordon and Aminu, while holding the hopes that Kaman will remain consistently healthy so that they may re-sign him.
2011-'12 prediction: 30-36 (.456)
New York Knicks
2010-11 season: 42-40 (.512)
Take a look at which team figured out how to make the right moves for once.
Instead of putting all their eggs in one basket in the Chris Paul sweepstakes, the New York Knicks took an uncharacteristic route by making several smart moves, which included the huge acquisition of center Tyson Chandler as well as signing veteran point guard Mike Bibby to a small deal.
The team had to lose Chauncey Billups in order to acquire Chandler, but it was a smart move by the Knicks to do so.
Chandler is coming off a championship with the Mavericks, and Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki holds Tyson in high regards in their victory as he claims that he helped to instill a defensive philosophy that the team never had in their playoff runs before.
Having a player that can hold down the fort on defense is just what a team like the Knicks could use since they feature a style of play that's mainly focused on running and gunning on offense.
Chandler could possibly bring about a defensive-minded system that the Knicks could get used to and hopefully influence the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire to begin creating a larger emphasis on that side of the ball.
Anthony and Stoudemire will be in their first full season together and we witness two of the league's top scorers attempt to co-exist as teammates.
The Knicks will still feature a number of issues including the lack of consistent scoring in the back court, but the fact that they'll be heavily supported on both sides of the ball with a strong front court should be enough to make this team a contender.
2011-12 prediction: 41-25 (.621)
Oklahoma City Thunder
2010-11 season: 55-27 (.671)
Fresh off of a postseason run that came to a thud in the Conference Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder are now ready to begin making another championship run as they now sport a leaner Kendrick Perkins at center and a stronger Kevin Durant at small forward.
The Thunder didn't make many moves this offseason, aside from re-signing Daequan Cook, mostly because they didn't have to.
This team is one of the deepest in the league as they feature a starting lineup that has defensive stoppers, pure scorers, and three-point threats and a bench that has its fair share of scorers and elite defenders as well.
It didn't take long for the Thunder to get scary. They will be relying on a 23-year-old Durant and a 23-year-old Russell Westbrook to help lead the way once again and will, hopefully, allow Durant to showcase why he is the number one scoring option.
There were too many times last postseason when it was Westbrook taking the final shot when that should never have been the case since Durant is the true leader of this team.
Durant is coming off a second consecutive scoring crown after averaging 28 points per game.
Joining the two superstars will be defensive stoppers in Perkins and Serge Ibaka at the four and five as well as a superb three-point threat in James Harden, who is most likely to get the start over the defensive-minded Thabo Sefolosha after an impressive postseason.
They'll be supported by a bench that includes Nick Collison, Eric Maynor and Cook.
2011-12 prediction: 48-18 (.727)
2010-'11 season: 52-30 (.634)
All hope has yet to be lost for the Orlando Magic (put an emphasis on yet), as they managed to keep Dwight Howard around for another postseason despite trade rumors milling around that he could possibly end up with the Los Angeles Lakers or New Jersey Nets.
Howard's giving the Magic organization a chance to redeem themselves by asking that they begin to build a championship caliber roster. The only problem is that is doubtful since the organization couldn't do in the seven years that Dwight has been with the team since being drafted as the No. 1 pick in 2004.
Orlando has a Finals appearance to show for it in 2009, but have regressed since and are actually coming off a first-round exit suffered at the hands of the division rival Atlanta Hawks, which helped to prompt Howard's questioning where this team is headed.
The Magic haven't exactly done that much this offseason, either, as they have only managed to re-sign Jason Richardson, sign Larry Hughes, and make one slight improvement in trading for Glen Davis while giving up Brandon Bass. Davis has spent his entire career with the Boston Celtics and will help bring a solid mid-range game to the Magic.
Aside from those moves, the Magic are still not doing enough to convince Howard that he should stay. They failed to make a strong push for Nene Hilario or Jamal Crawford and unless they can make a deal this season, they're going to end up seeing Howard in a different location come next season.
2011-'12 prediction: 38-28 (.576)
2010-'11 season: 41-41 (.500)
Addressing a key issue at center by drafting Nikola Vucevic to replace Spencer Hawes, the Philadelphia 76ers are now only one position away from having a well-rounded team that can contend for a deep postseason run.
That position happens to be shooting guard, which is currently occupied by the sharp-shooting Jodie Meeks. The rookie took advantage of his starting role by becoming one of the league's top perimeter threats, but he's far from being a starter and should be utilized as a spark off the bench.
If the Sixers are looking towards making a statement, they'll have to start Evan Turner at the two and attempt to integrate him into the offense.
The number two pick didn't have much of a chance to prove himself last season as he spent the majority of his time coming off the bench behind Thaddeus Young and Louis Williams.
In the short time that he did play, Turner managed to show off a great offensive skill set that included being able to hit from inside and out, as well as possessing the athleticism and defense to keep up with opposing shooting guards.
The Sixers were also happy to see the progression of Jrue Holiday at the point and the improvement of Elton Brand, who finally managed to come to life after two previous seasons of injury-laden play.
The team was quickly regretting that lucrative contract they gave him, but now might be able to see the Brand of old after a solid season where he averaged 15 points and eight boards per game.
Philadelphia will be in a tougher division now that New York and New Jersey are set to improve, but they should also be able to show a little improvement if they can get the best out of Turner.
2011-12 prediction: 34-32 (.515)
2010-'11 season: 40-42 (.488)
It still bewilders me as to why a 39-year-old Grant Hill, who is nearing retirement, would want to end his final years in the NBA playing for a future cellar dweller in the Phoenix Suns.
He had plenty of interest from contenders like New York and Miami and yet chose to re-sign with Phoenix and will most likely end his career without a championship.
Maybe 17 years in the league caused Hill to go a bit unstable, as this is one of the more questionable signings of the offseason.
While the Suns will still possess one of the league's best point guards and offensive facilitators in Steve Nash, there is not much else to look forward to. The team has yet to find a replacement for Amare Stoudemire and there's not much to look forward to on a team that is set to start Shannon Brown at shooting guard and Channing Frye at power forward.
Marcin Gortat was a bright spot last year after averaging 13 points and nine boards per in his short time playing alongside Nash, and while he did manage to show off a terrific understanding of how to run the pick and roll, Gortat is not going to be the answer that the Suns are seeking.
Phoenix needs a player who can score over 20 points per game and can be a game changer, and they just don't have that.
With Brown, Sebastian Telfair, and Ronnie Price being the largest moves of the off season for the Suns, it's obvious to see that the squad could face one of the largest drop-offs in the league.
Since they're in a division with up-and-coming teams like the L.A. Clippers, Golden State and Sacramento, the Suns could be left in the dust and face a last-place finish in their division.
2011-'12 prediction: 24-42 (.364)
Portland Trail Blazers
2010-'11 season: 48-34 (.585)
It's been one depressing off season for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Not only do they have to deal with the untimely retirement of Brandon Roy and another setback to Greg Oden's progress, but word is that Raymond Felton also got fat. While the Felton situation could be resolved, there are still so many questions left unanswered that Roy and Oden could have answered.
While there's no clear resolution to the Oden situation since we don't even know what to expect when he actually does return, there are at least answers to the Roy situation with Wesley Matthews filling in rather nicely and Jamal Crawford possibly set to join the team, as he narrows his options down to Portland or the Sacramento Kings.
With the Blazers offering a starting job, Crawford may help this team become an immediate contender.
Even without Crawford, the Blazers would still be in the driver's seat as they still possess LaMarcus Aldridge, who took over leadership duties, the athletic and multi-dimensional Gerald Wallace, and an always tough defender in 37-year-old Marcus Camby.
Losing out on Roy and waiting on Oden will hurt the Blazers, but they at least have a solid starting lineup and bench and could make a deep postseason run.
Wasn't drafting Sam Bowie enough?
2011-'12 prediction: 39-27 (.590)
2010-11 season: 24-58 (.293)
If the Sacramento Kings want to remain in their current location and not in possibly Anaheim or Kansas City, success will need to be on the horizon. The fans are tired of losing and they've been given a second chance to keep the team around, which means huge turnouts are in order.
It's up to the team to bring them out, and that can now be done with Tyreke Evans set to return from an injury-hampered season and rookie Jimmer Fredette set to generate a great deal of national attention, after a stellar year at BYU where his three-point shooting became the talk of the college basketball world.
Fredette is now the likely starter at point guard, which means that the team will have to experiment by placing Evans at shooting guard. The Kings starting Fredette and generating some attention towards Sacramento is a stellar idea, but it still should be Evans handling the ball as he holds a height advantage over any point guard that he faces.
At 6'5", Evans has the height and athleticism of a shooting guard coupled with the handles, speed, and court vision of a point guard.
Losing him for nearly half the season last year was tough, especially after a stellar rookie season where he become only the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists in his first season.
The Kings also possess a few other key young players with DeMarcus Cousins, Marcus Thornton, J.J. Hickson and Donte Greene all set to make this team relevant for the first time since the Chris Webber days.
The team is also in hot pursuit of Jamal Crawford. With Crawford coming off the bench, the Kings suddenly skyrocket past mediocrity and may just become playoff contenders.
2011-'12 prediction: 28-38 (.424)
San Antonio Spurs
2010-11 season: 61-21 (.744)
Thanks to an unbelievable start last season where they won 35 of their first 38 games, the San Antonio Spurs were basically able to secure a first seed midway through the season.
I fear that it won't be the case this season as the Spurs are now one year older and are now set to possible face the eventual retirement of their star power forward in Tim Duncan, as well as the decline of their shooting guard in Manu Ginobili.
With Duncan at 35 and showing signs of slowing down and Ginobili at 34 and just coming off an injury, the Spurs are an old team playing in a young man's league.
They're coming off an embarrassing way to end the year last season as they actually made it into the NBA history books by becoming only the fourth No. 1 seed in history to lose to an eighth seed when they lost to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Granted that the Grizzlies were probably the best eighth seed we've seen in a while, it was still an unfitting end to a team that had dominated the majority of the regular season.
With Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph pushing around a future Hall of Famer in Duncan, it was a clear sign that this team is on its way towards the decline and we could see it as soon as next year.
Luckily for the Spurs, they have a plethora of young talent ready to come off the bench to potentially replace Duncan and Ginobili in the near future.
Potential stars in the making in Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair, James Anderson, Gary Neal and Danny Green can give some hope to the Spurs franchise that there is a future even after the eventual departure of their two future Hall of Famers.
2011-12 prediction: 42-24 (.636)
2010-'11 season: 22-60 (.268)
We only have one Canadian team in the NBA and they're going to naturally end up as the league's worst team record wise.
It's always a depressing feeling to be the league's worst team, but it doesn't seem as if there will be a team worse than the Toronto Raptors this season.
Even though they possess solid pieces in center Andrea Bargnani, who averaged a career-high 21 points per game last season, and the athletic DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors are just completely limited in every department as they lack the pieces to become anything more than a cellar dweller.
It will only be temporarily, however, as draft pick Jonas Valanciunas will make his debut with the team next season, while DeRozan will only continue to improve on his jump shot and his overall playing ability.
For now, the team doesn't have many players to rely on, as they are sure to sport one of the worst defenses in the league, as well as one of the most limited offenses with Bargnani and DeRozan set to be the only players to average at least 10 points per game.
That's a sad stat, but it seems to be true if you look at the roster. The only players with the capability to average more would have to be point guard Jose Calderon, possibly Ed Davis if he can improve, and Leandro Barbosa if they give him a significant enough role to do so.
Basketball in Toronto is going to have to be put on hold, but at least the Maple Leafs are finally good.
2011-'12 prediction: 15-51 (.227)
2010-'11 season: 39-43 (.476)
If only the Utah Jazz had some balance on their roster, because the team is absolutely stacked with quality front-court players, while still being extremely limited in the back court.
The projected starters in the front court will be Devin Harris and C.J. Miles, and it's no argument as Raja Bell and rookie Alec Burks are the only two players that could provide some competition. Compare that to the front court where they could take the three starters from last year, replace them, and still have one of the league's top front courts.
With Gordon Hayward expected to start at small forward, it should mean that Andrei Kirilenko is on the move.
The team still faces several dilemmas, however, as they look to start Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson at the four and five, but still have to find minutes for two players with unbelievable potential in Derrick Favors and the No. 3 pick in the draft in Enes Kanter, as well as sharp shooter Mehmet Okur.
Neither player has proven much, with the most we know being that Favors is extremely athletic and Kanter is tall. However, it just wouldn't feel right to leave these players on the bench as they have more potential than the majority of the league's young stars.
The fact that both players are young and have potential gives them an advantage, but with little being known about them, the Jazz could give it a year before they think to give them the start.
It wouldn't be fair to Millsap or Jefferson either, as both players are coming off of solid seasons with Utah where they both started for the first time. Even with the dilemma in the front court, we should expect the Jazz to move on following the departures of Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan.
2011-'12 prediction: 33-33 (.500)
2010-11 season: 23-59 (.280)
Another team with the potential to have one of the league's biggest turnarounds, the John Wall-led Washington Wizards are set to rival the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers as the league's most exciting team.
There are a countless number of stellar athletes on this team with Wall leading the way. Playing at the point, Wall displayed an incredible ability at facilitating an offense after averaging eight assists in his rookie season out of the University of Kentucky.
Wall's speed and hops were quite the spectacle to watch as he managed to make it from one side of the court in seconds when given the open lane.
Wall is joined by other stellar athletes in recent draft pick Jan Vesely, JaVale McGee, possibly Nick Young and Jordan Crawford. All four of those players have the potential to become All-Stars as they each feature a specific quality to them that sets them apart from their peers.
With McGee and Vesely showcasing defense and offense by utilizing their athleticism and Young and Crawford able to score from inside and out, the Wizards are going to be sporting one of the most dangerous teams in the league next season.
They will also continued to be supported by a solid scorer in Andray Blatche, sharp shooters in Rashard Lewis and Roger Mason, and another first round draft pick in Chris Singleton.
I wouldn't expect the Wizards to begin making any deep postseason runs anytime soon, but you should expect to see great improvement out of a team looking to recover from the Gilbert Arenas debacle.
2011-12 season: 31-35 (.470)