It’s never too early to predict next year’s NBA. That being said………
SPOILER ALERT!!!: By no means will the East even remotely compare to the West this upcoming season, but with Paul George back healthy and Monta Ellis shifting over to the East, Indiana’s playoff prospects are looking up. Demare’ Carroll’s exodus to the “Great North” also yields higher prospects for the Toronto Raptors, who are still looking to get out of the first round. A healthy start for Washington’s Bradley Beal also bodes well for our nation’s capital. Last but not least, Greg Monroe’s switch to the youthful and talented Bucks makes them an intriguing fit in the playoff puzzle. The East, subsequently, has just gotten a bit more competitive. So what can we expect when all is said and done? Here is my prediction of next year’s standings.
|Team||Last Year’s Record||Projected Wins 2015-2016|
|New York Knicks||33-49||28-33|
Some teams, like the Knicks and Bucks, will make major strides this year. Others, like the Nets, may take a nosedive into mediocrity. The Cavs, Hawks and Bulls will continue to be 1, 2, 3, only this time in a different order. But don’t just take this chart as evidence. Allow me to go more in depth.
- Toronto Raptors
Key Additions: SF Demare Carroll, PF Bismack Biyombo, PG Corey Joseph
Key Losses: G Louis Williams, PF Amir Johnson, G Greivis Vasquez
The Scoop: Even though they got worse, there’s no doubt who will command this spot in the Atlantic Division. Snagging SF Demarre Carroll (12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals per game) from the Atlanta Hawks was a big move for a team that ranked 21st defensively last season. However, the offense has worsened with the departures of PF Amir Johnson (Celtics) and reigning Sixth Man of the Year G Louis Williams (Lakers). If the Raptors want any hope of moving on past the first round they’re going to need a big year from young big man Jonas Valanciunas (11.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 0.9 blocks in 28.2 minutes). The fact that they’re also shopping All-Star shooting guard Demar DeRozan could spell trouble as well.
Final Grade: The Raptors are a wild card this season, but even so, will finish top 4 in this weak division. B+
- Boston Celtics
Key Additions: PF Amir Johnson, PF David Lee, F Perry Jones
Key Losses: PF Brandon Bass, SF Gerald Wallace
The Scoop: Things have been quiet this offseason for the Celtics this year, even with the luxury to pursue free agents (44 million dollars in cap space). Fresh off an NBA championship, PF David Lee brings playoff experience and leadership to this team full of youths. It’s a low-risk high-reward move. Dream talks of a Demarcus Cousins trade have fizzled at this point and pairing him with talented guard PG Isiah Thomas is becoming bleaker by the day, but a surprise playoff berth last season was great experience for the team as a whole. If workhorses G Marcus Smart and G Avery Bradley make strides this year, a plus .500 season is a lock, especially with Brad Stevens at the helm.
Final Grade: The Celtics are a well-structured team with a blend of youth and the potential to improve. Competition will be fierce, but they are in the front of the pack for that eighth and final playoff seed. B-
- Brooklyn Nets
Key Additions: PF Thomas Robinson, G Shane Larkin
Key Losses: PF Mason Plumlee, PG Deron Williams, G Allen Anderson
The Scoop: A few short years ago, hopes of a championship brought four talented players to play alongside C Brook Lopez. Now, only he and overpaid SG Joe Johnson remain. The latter is in serious jeopardy of being traded. The Nets also have very little money to pursue targets in free agency. It remains in question whether undersized F Thaddeus Young fits with the team’s slow style of play and if Brook Lopez, the franchise’s cornerstone, is capable of playing more than 50 games in a season. Lionel Hollins is a proven coach, but which direction will he take this team?
Final Grade: There are too many moving parts for this team to work. A playoff berth is possible, but highly unlikely for a team in desperate need of starting over. C
- New York Knicks
Key Additions: G/F Arron Afflalo, C Robin Lopez, PF Kyle O’Quinn, F Derrick Williams
Key Losses: PG Shane Larkin, PF Amar’e Stoudemire, PF Jason Smith
The Scoop: The Knicks can only go up after last season, and with a few nifty moves, they look primed to. Although they didn’t land Deandre Jordan, acquiring C Robin Lopez will shore up the league’s 19th best defensive team. G/F Arron Afflalo is as reliable as they come at the shooting guard position. What will be intriguing is who comes off the bench between Afflalo and young G Tim Hardaway Jr. Regardless these additions (with the potential of more) give superstar Carmelo Anthony a little more hope in reestablishing New York style basketball.
Final Grade: Even though the record won’t show it, the Knicks are in better shape than their crosstown rival Nets. Come next year, a playoff berth is a major possibility. C-
- Philadelphia 76ers
Key Additions: PF Jason Thompson, PF Carl Landry, C Jahlil Okafor, G Nik Stauskas
Key Losses: Nobody worth Noting
The Scoop: The 76ers set the record last year for playing the most people I’ve never even heard of in my entire life. The same will probably happen this year. Philadelphia is nothing more than a dumping ground for other teams trying to up themselves in the standings and until the young talent starts to play (ahem Joel Embiid), this team will continue to be the worst in the Eastern Conference. Third year PF Nerlens Noel and second year G/F Robert Covington are rare bright spots.
Final Grade: This was the easiest decision in this conference. Write them down for lottery bound. D
- Cleveland Cavaliers
Key Additions: PG Mo Williams, G Jamal Crawford (potentially)
Key Losses: G J.R Smith, PF/C Tristan Thompson
The Scoop: Nothing much needs to be done with this team. Just a few tweaks her and there. The team is in strong pursuit of acquiring G Jamal Crawford, but to do so need to expunge C Brendan Haywood’s bad contract. It also may involve trading fan-favorite Anderson Varejao. Re-signing Kevin Love is huge for this team, but can they retain talented defensive-minded forward Tristan Thompson? He was a big part of their playoff push a year back.
Final Grade: With last year’s team mostly intact, the Cavs show no sign of slowing down. It’s championship or bust for the Eastern Conference’s best team. A
- Chicago Bulls
Key Additions: Nobody
Key Losses: Tom Thibodeau
The Scoop: Life begins without Tom Thibodeau. But aside from that, this team hasn’t lost much. Reigning Most Improved Player G/F Jimmy Butler and G/F Mike Dunleavy are locked in with new deals. There only true need for this team is a backup point guard, as PG Kirk Hinrich doesn’t seem to be the player he once was. As to whom that person may be has yet to be decided. Ultimately though, the Bulls will be who they always be: a defensive-minded machine that grinds out tough wins. If PG Derrick Rose and C Joakim Noah battle back from tough shooting postseasons, this team could challenge Cleveland for the top spot. Look for Chicago to go deeper into their bench to avoid injury.
Final Grade: This team is good but also unstable. How far they go will entirely depend on health. A-
- Milwaukee Bucks
Key Additions: PF Greg Monroe, PG Greivis Vasquez
Key Losses: F Ersan Ilyasova, SF Jared Dudley, F Caron Butler
The Scoop: The Bucks can either be really good or simply blah this year. Acquiring free agent big man PF Greg Monroe (15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists in 31.0 minutes/game) gives a team that desperately lacked offensive consistency (25th in NBA) a scoring and rebounding option. His ability to pass to the open man is also undervalued. Re-signing rising F Khris Middleton is a huge plus for this team. Who knows how good the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo will be and how big of a leap PG Michael Carter-Williams can take under the guidance of future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd. F Jabari Parker’s eventual return could give them a huge lift down the stretch of the season as well. If mercurial guard OJ Mayo can hold down the bench, this team could be something truly special.
Final Grade: For years, the Bucks were ridiculed as one of the league’s worst. Now they could be one of the best. B+
- Indiana Pacers
Key Additions: G Monta Ellis, a Healthy Paul George, PF Jordan Hill
Key Losses: PF David West, C Roy Hibbert, PG C.J Watson
The Scoop: Superstar G/F Paul George may be back, but all of his familiar faces are gone. C Roy Hibbert was sent packing for LA and PF David West took a veteran’s minimum over the $12 million offered by Indiana (ouch!). The Pacers did make an intriguing signing in combo scoring G Monta Ellis. Does he have enough to offer for a blue collar city like Indianapolis? That is the real question. PF Luis Scola is on the fence about resigning but he’s better off signing with another team. Lack of depth will be this team’s downfall, if not already an extremely thin frontcourt. Signing PF Jordan Hill does help.
Final Grade: This team has serious holes, but a healthy Paul George is enough to get this team back into the playoffs. B-
- Detroit Pistons
Key Additions: C Aron Baynes, PF Marcus Morris, SF Danny Granger, F Ersan Ilyasova
Key Losses: PF Greg Monroe, G Kyle Singler
The Scoop: G Reggie Jackson played well, really well, after being traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Which begs the question, what in the world are they going to do with Brandon Jennings? A trade is possible, but many teams already have the point position manned down. Acquiring PF Marcus Morris and F Ersan Ilyasova from Phoenix and Milwaukee respectively gives the team solid flex options on the offensive end with their ability to shoot threes. The departure of PF/C Greg Monroe gives C Andre Drummond ample opportunity to be an absolute monster in the paint if he chooses to add a post-up game. It just depends on how many minutes are offered by Stan Van Gundy. Things may be looking somewhat up in Motor City.
Final Grade: Drummond could make his first All-Star team, but this team is still an enigma. They have the parts, now they just need to put it together. C-
- Atlanta Hawks
Key Additions: PF/C Tiago Splitter, G Justin Holiday
Key Losses: SF Demarre Carroll
The Scoop: Their heart and soul may be gone, but Atlanta is too talented to miss much of a beat. Reigning Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer is a fantastic coach and mentor for these Hawks. They know who they are and already have great chemistry. Carroll’s departure could open up even greater seasons for Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, all All-Stars last year. Forward Mike Scott could shock the league as the Most Improved Player. With more of an opportunity given to him, I wouldn’t be shocked.
Final Grade: The Hawks will be a solid team, but still remain a piece or two away from championship-worthy. A-
- Washington Wizards
Key Additions: G/F Gary Neal, F Jared Dudley
Key Losses: SF Paul Pierce
The Scoop: Paul Pierce’s departure hurts but also sets the stage for third year SF Otto Porter Jr. He’s been in and out of the lineup due to injury, so it will be intriguing to see how he responds to the spotlight. Just in case though, the team also brought along reliable veteran F Jared Dudley. G Gary Neal (10.2 points per game last year) will presumably anchor the bench, which isn’t a particularly strong one. Re-signing Nene is a risk, but is fairly productive when healthy. After some big moments in last year’s playoffs, G Bradley Beal needs to stay healthy if this team wants to make a deep run.
Final Grade: If Beal takes a leap, this team could be a dark horse come playoff time. A Conference Finals berth isn’t out of reach. B+
- Miami Heat
Key Additions: a Healthy PF/C Chris Bosh, G/F Justise Winslow, SG Gerald Green, PF Amar’e Stoudemire
Key Losses: Mario Chalmers (questionable)
The Scoop: The starting five looks really good. PG Goran Dragic and SG Dwyane Wade man the backcourt fresh off new deals. SF Luol Deng, PF/C Chris Bosh and the surprise of last season, C Hasaan Whiteside, man the frontcourt. It’s the bench that is sorely lacking for Spo’ and Pat Riley. PF Carlos Boozer and G/F Marcus Thornton are potential targets for the team as they try to shed a combination of PG Mario Chalmers, F Josh McRoberts and PF/C Chris Andersen’s bad contracts, as the team is well over the luxury tax threshold. To up their prospects for next year, the bench and defense must be shored up.
Final Grade: The Heat aren’t in bad shape and putting them in the seventh seed may be a bit low. If the Heat handle Wade properly, this team could go as high as the five seed. B
- Charlotte Hornets
Key Additions: G/F Nicolas Batum, C Spencer Hawes, PG Jeremy Lin
Key Losses: G Gerald Henderson, G Gary Neal, F Bismack Biyombo, PG Mo Williams
The Scoop: This synopsis really only requires one line. C Al Jefferson needs to be the All-NBA Big Al. Otherwise, this team stands close to no chance of making the playoffs. Signing G/F Lance Stephenson turned out to be a nightmare decision, but claiming Frenchman F Nicolas Batum will be no déjà vu. He’s a solid all around commodity. While already a solid player, time is running out for G Kemba Walker to make the leap into All-Star status. To the dismay of Charlotte fans, he may be tapped out. If so, Charlotte needs its young talent (F/C Noah Vonleh, F Frank Kaminsky, PF/C Cody Zeller, F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) to step it up fast. After losing both G Gary Neal, PG Mo Williams and G Gerald Henderson, Charlotte’s backcourt is paper thin. Signing free agent PG Jeremy Lin is an odd signing, but gives a team with otherwise forgettable faces relevance.
Final Grade: Although there are too many ‘if’s’ for this team to elevate much in the standings, expect a slight improvement. C+
- Orlando Magic
Key Additions: PG C.J Watson, PF Jason Smith
Key Losses: PF/C Kyle O’Quinn, SG Willie Green, SG Ben Gordon
The Scoop: What can I say about this eclectic group of guys? These Magic are young and exciting, but light years away from playoff contention. That’s just the bottom line. The frontcourt is way too jammed right now for athletic F Aaron Gordon to show what he’s got. The kicker is, he’s been dominating summer league (21.5 points, 1.5 steals per game) and may fit head coach Jacque Vaughn’s scheme better than recently re-signed F Tobias Harris. The Magic need to get him more playing time because frankly he’s deserved it. I expect Victor Oladipo (17.9 points per game) to take a leap this year. He had a terrific sophomore season as did double-double machine PF Nikola Vucevic. As a whole, the Magic have a core to build around and seem to be moving in the right direction. For them, progress has been slow and gradual.
Final Grade: Of all the teams in the cellar, the Magic have the greatest room for growth. They are a year away from being a year away from playoff contention. D+