This offseason in the NBA was quite a loud one, with a ton of player movement and the formation of a super team reminiscent of the Justice League. The regular season tips off in just eight days and a new NBA season will begin. Unfortunately for the fans of some teams, they might want to stay away from this year and just look to the future. Others have serious championship aspirations for 2016-2017.
- Brooklyn Nets-
Brooklyn is still healing from the wounds of the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade in 2013, which has put this franchise in the dumps. Instead of having the #3 pick and the chance at a top talent in last year’s draft, the Celtics got that pick and Brooklyn was forced to trade back into the first round and get Caris LeVert out of Michigan.
LeVert was a highly productive player and leader while healthy. He can play three positions; the only problem is that he is never healthy. Brook Lopez is clearly the centerpiece of this team. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, LeVert, Chris McCollough and Bojan Bogdanović could be useful in the future as well.
Unfortunately for the Nets, even in a stacked draft class their pick still goes to Boston if the Celtics choose to swap picks.
- Philadelphia 76ers-
The injury to Ben Simmons epitomizes what the last five years have been like in Philly. Fortunately for the Philly faithful, Joel Embiid will make his NBA debut two full years and multiple injuries after he was drafted. Also, international import Dario Šarić will also make his much-anticipated NBA debut. The frontcourt logjam will now be more prevalent than ever, with Embiid and Šarić finally joining the club with Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel already being solid pieces at the center and forward positions.
Robert Covington is an elite NBA shooter from three-point range, but other than him and Simmons (who can’t shoot a lick), there isn’t much outside of Jerami Grant in terms of talent on the wings. The backcourt is still ugly, with Nik Stauskas and Jerryd Bayless likely being the starting backcourt duo. Just remember, trust the process, even though Sam Hinkie is (finally) gone.
- Los Angeles Lakers-
For the first time in 20 years, Kobe Bryant will not be on the Los Angeles Lakers. The youth movement is in full swing for LA, led by D’Angelo Russell and #2 pick Brandon Ingram. Both have high potential on the offensive end, but need work on the defensive part of the game. Signing Timofey Mozgov for four years and 64 million dollars was laughably bad, especially with MozGod being the first free agent to sign this summer.
The Lakers also brought in Luol Deng, who is certainly past his prime at this point, but can provide invaluable leadership, much like Andre Miller and Kevin Garnett provided for the Timberwolves last year.
The most interesting player on this roster might be Julius Randle. He averaged a double-double last year and is an extremely versatile piece. It will be interesting to see how long Nick “Swaggy P” Young stays in gold and purple following his rift with D’Angelo Russell last season.
- Sacramento Kings-
At some point, the failures by the Sacramento Kings stop being funny. I feel so bad for DeMarcus Cousins, who is far and away the best center in the NBA and one of the best offensive players in the entire NBA.
The Kings just keep adding centers. First it was Willie Cauley-Stein last season, they Skal Labissiere and Georgios Papagiannis in the 2016 draft. The latter was only brought over in a trade during the draft after the Kings drafted Marquese Chriss, only to trade him to Phoenix.
Darren Collison just got out of jail following a domestic battery misdemeanor and is suspended for the first eight games. Rudy Gay wants to be traded, and if he’s not he won’t resign in the offseason. Seriously, what did Boogie Cousins do to deserve this?
- Phoenix Suns-
The Suns have their own budding star in Devin Booker, who will form a pretty solid backcourt duo with Eric Bledsoe, if Bledsoe can ever stay on the court. Tyler Ulis, Archie Goodwin and Brandon Knight come off the bench as backup guards, and all are from Kentucky (so is Booker). Adding Dragan Bender was the right pick at #4 as Phoenix is going through a big rebuild. Getting Marquese Chriss in a trade was quite a savvy move, as he seems to be a matchup nightmare down the line.
Tyson Chandler likely won’t be on this team come next year, as he’s just blocking Alex Len from taking over in the paint. Adding Jared Dudley as another shooter will have its benefits, but T.J. Warren and P.J. Tucker should get the majority of the minutes on the wing.
- Minnesota Timberwolves-
Minnesota was one of the harder teams to project. They didn’t even win 30 games last year, but have so many young pieces that can take big steps forward and lead them to the playoffs. But that doesn’t seem likely this year. Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns are two of the young stars in the league, and both are pillars for this team to build on.
Zach LaVine is an average athlete at best (kidding, please teach me how to jump like you) and is still learning his game. It will be interesting to see how the point guard battle between Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn shakes out. I think Rubio starts for the first couple of months because he’s a proven veteran and has solid chemistry with this bunch. Losing KG hurts in terms of leadership, but Karl Anthony-Towns is a great leader for this team.
- Denver Nuggets-
Adding Jamal Murray at #7 overall in the 2016 was a good move, because unlike most people, I think him and Emmanuel Mudiay can play together in the backcourt. Murray is a knockdown shooter while Mudiay uses his speed and explosiveness to get to the bucket. Kenneth Faried still hasn’t been traded, much to everyone’s surprise and Danilo Gallinari might not be too far behind him on his way out the door. Jusuf Nurkić and Nikola Jokić are two young big men (emphasis on big) that this team can also build around. It may take another year or two, but Denver is a team on the rise.
23. Orlando Magic-
The complete opposite of Denver, the Orlando Magic don’t seem to have a direction. They have a lot of names and pieces, but nothing that really meshes together to produce an effective product. Trading Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka was certainly a head scratcher, and now the Magic have a buildup of young talent in the frontcourt.
They also signed Bismack Biyombo as another body in front that will only stunt the progress of Aaron Gordon. Biyombo made his payday (four years 72 million) after having a great postseason, but he still can’t score. He doesn’t fit with Nikola Vučević, and is just an awkward fit.
The backcourt trio of Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier and Mario Hezonja looks promising, but the pieces are still waiting to be glued together for this Magic roster.
- New Orleans Pelicans-
Adding Lance Stephenson and Terrance Jones for cheap late in free agency are the perfect low-risk high reward gamble that the Pelicans should have taken. They have a franchise cornerstone in Anthony Davis and drafted sharpshooter Buddy Hield to give Davis more room to operate.
Jrue Holiday is one of the most talented guards in the league; the problem is that he is always hurt. He’d be a borderline All-Star if he could just avoid injuries. I expect a strong year from him and Tyreke Evans, as both are free agents and money is a huge motivating factor as to how well an athlete plays.
21. Milwaukee Bucks-
Drafting Thon Maker at 10th overall made me laugh out loud. He comes in with more questions, including his age, than he does answers. So was adding Matthew Dellavedova (4 years 36 million) and Mirza Teletovic (3 years 30 million). However, Giannis Antetokounmpo seems be ready to take the league by storm with his center-like size, point guard speed and wing game. Jabari Parker played excellent after the calendar flipped from January to February.
Last year’s signing of Greg Monroe looks worse and worse by the day. The Bucks held on to Khris Middleton this offseason despite massive speculation that he would be moved. Ranking Milwaukee at 21 may seem high, but the core of the “Greek Freak”, Parker and Middleton should be enough to keep this team out of the cellar of an improved Eastern Conference.
- Dallas Mavericks-
Dirk Nowitzki is an ageless wonder. He just refuses to let his age affect his play and carries a below average Mavericks to the playoffs every year. Dallas took a gamble on highly skilled but underperforming Harrison Barnes to replace Chandler Parsons. Also added from Golden State was Andrew Bogut, and with him and Dirk, the Mavericks now have the most awkward (read as “ugly”) frontcourt in NBA history.
Deron Williams is a shadow of his former self, and Wesley Matthews will never be the same again after he tore his Achilles two seasons ago. But Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches in the entire world (yeah, seriously) and will somehow ride Dirk to the playoffs once again.
- Washington Wizards-
It’s been two disappointing seasons for Washington after getting to the second round in 2014. John Wall and Bradley Beal are excellent when they’re on the court together, but that’s the pain problem. Beal is an injury prone as it gets. Wall is a special NBA talent with skills that cant be taught and off-the-charts athleticism. Unfortunately, the pieces have never really been around him.
Marcin Gortat is on his last legs while Kelly Oubre Jr. still has a ways to go before he reaches his potential. Otto Porter Jr. hasn’t lived up to the billing of being a third overall pick.
Trey Burke, Markieff Morris and Ian Mahinmi round out the main rotation of a roster where what you see is what you get.
- New York Knicks-
The Knicks made a lot of splashy moves by bringing in players that are more known for their name rather than their game. If the Knicks brought in Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Brandon Jennings to join Carmelo Anthony in 2011, this team would be number one on this list. However, Rose has his major off the court concerns to go on with the injury risk on it, while Noah took a few steps back last season.
Brandon Jennings is a 2K God (Kevin knows) but this is real life. Kristaps Porzingis shook off the draft night haters and played pretty well. He’s primed to take another big step forward in his second year in the NBA. Carmelo just continues to be Carmelo. He’s one of the best scorers in the game and the only thing that can stop him from getting 20 points a night is an off shooting night. But Melo’s prime years are coming to an end, and he still doesn’t have a ring, something he wants to get, and Phil Jackson will likely do anything to achieve that.
- Chicago Bulls-
This is the toughest team to project this year. A lot of new pieces, but every new piece has plenty of experience. Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez are the new additions, and how well they jell with Jimmy Butler will be the deciding factor if they make the playoffs.
Floor spacing will definitely be an issue, as Rondo, Wade and Butler all can’t shoot. It would surprise me if Nikola Mirotic doesn’t start, just to provide some type of threat from deep. The bench pieces for the Bulls are intriguing, with Taj Gibson being joined by youngsters Tony Snell, Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis and 14th overall pick Denzel Valentine.
- Miami Heat-
What happened to the Miami Heat? LeBron left two summers ago, Dwyane Wade is now in Chicago, and Chris Bosh might never play in the NBA again. Now, the Heat will rely on Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson (who will be relied on to replace Wade), Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson.
Whiteside might be the best rim protector in the game, and while Johnson was impressive last year, it was in limited minutes. Winslow projects as a lockdown perimeter defender, and his offensive game should come around as he progresses. I think there is just enough talent on this team to sneak into the playoffs.
15. Charlotte Hornets-
A team that surprised a lot of people last year, there will be no sneaking up on opponents this year. Kemba Walker is climbing the point guard rankings after a breakout year last year. Despite losing Al Jefferson to free agency, Charlotte gets Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back following a shoulder injury that forced him to miss all of seven games in 2015.
Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky and Roy Hibbert will rotate at center to try and replace Jefferson by committee. On the wings, Nicolas Batum and Marco Belinelli provide good playmaking and shooting. Marvin Williams broke out last season, having his best season since 2009.
There may not be a star on the roster and it may not have the best depth, but what Steve Clifford does with what he has is impressive.
- Memphis Grizzlies-
Michael Conley is the highest paid player in the NBA. Let that sink in. He got his big payday with a five-year contract worth 131 million dollars despite not being an elite point guard in the NBA. The addition of Chandler Parsons gives this club a wing option that they’ve lacked over the years and also helps in the shooting department.
This team, as always, will run through Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. They still want to play slow and pound the rock inside and play old school basketball. I loved the Wade Baldwin pickup and the draft day trade for Deyonta Davis. Both have high potential’s and while it could take Davis a while to find some minutes, he can learn under two proven veterans.
- Utah Jazz-
I’m all in on the Jazz this year. This year, all that young talent that they have drafted and groomed will pay off with a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Gordon Hayward is a strong wing player, while Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are a promising big man combination. Rodney Hood is a sharpshooter on the wing and Alec Burks and Joe Johnson provide solid bench options.
Dante Exum returns after missing all of last year with an injured knee. Trey Lyles is a promising combo forward with a good stroke from three-point range. With all that young talent, it has to break through at some point. Look for Utah to win 40-45 games this season and grab a lower seed in the playoffs. If they do get to the postseason, it’s a roster that no one will want to play.
- Detroit Pistons-
Reggie Jackson being out for the first few weeks really puts a damper on a team with a lot of promise. Much like the Celtics team two years ago, this roster made the playoffs in a year where they weren’t really expected to compete. Andre Drummond is an animal down low, and if he could ever figure out how to shoot a free throw, he would score 25 points per game. The pick and roll game with Drummond and Jackson is the bread and butter of this offense, but Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope round out the likely starting five.
Stanley Johnson is a super star in the making and could force himself into the starting lineup at some point in the season. Drafting Henry Ellenson at 18 could turn out to be a steal if he pans out, but shooting and rebounding (two of his best skills) tend to translate to the NBA. Stan Van Gundy has done a great job of turning around a historically great franchise, and they look to be on the rise again.
- Houston Rockets-
The Dwight Howard Experiment is finally over for the Rockets, which now means this is entirely James Harden’s team. Harden is moving to point guard this year, where he defense will likely be exposed even more. However, if he can put up 30 points a game, not many people should be complaining.
Houston brought in two cast offs from the New Orleans Pelicans in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. Both are injury prone and not strong on defense, but can light it up from three. Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverly will take most of the defensive responsibilities There are a lot of young pieces on this roster, including Donatas Montiejūnas, Clint Capela, Sam Dekker, K.J. McDaniels and Montrezl Harrell, all of whom will log big minutes for the Rockets this year.
- Indiana Pacers-
One of the clear winners in the offseason, Larry Bird is going all out to try and bring a championship to the Pacers. He has a bonafide superstar in Paul George and a promising young center in Myles Turner. Bringing in Jeff Teague was one of the more savvy moves of the offseason and he’s a big upgrade over George Hill. Monta Ellis had a tough year last season, but I would count on him having a bounce back year. Also brought in were Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson, who provide solid depth up front. Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles add valuable depth to the backcourt.
But this team will live and die by Paul George. A top 10 player in the league, George is a possible MVP candidate this year and has improved every year he’s been healthy for. He’s a dominant two-way player who can take over a game. Indiana has the potential to grab a top three seed in the East. One of the only questions this roster has is how the new pieces will jell with the old ones. s
- Atlanta Hawks-
Losing Al Horford knocks the Hawks down a peg or two in the Eastern Conference race. Dwight Howard is a shadow of his former self, but he could see a jump in numbers coming back home to Atlanta. He and Paul Millsap will form a formidable defensive duo inside for the Hawks. Dennis Schröder will now take over the lead point guard duties following the Jeff Teague trade. A gifted defender and passer, Schröder might very well be an upgrade over Teague. Kyle Korver is still a top three shooter in the NBA, and I loved the picks of Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry as defensive stoppers. Kent Bazemore blossomed into a productive player last season, and should take another step forward.
Tiago Splitter, Kris Humphries and Mike Scott provide an abundance of depth at power forward and center, Kirk Hinrich and Tim Hardaway Jr. aren’t the best options off the bench, but are certainly serviceable.
Mike Budenholtzer is one of the best in the game, and should have his Hawks in the playoffs again.
- Portland Trailblazers-
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are the second best backcourt duo in the association and led a Trailblazers team that nobody thought would make the playoffs to a five seed and Semi-Finals appearance.
The additions of Festus Ezili and Evan Turner make this team so much better. And while Turner may be slightly overpaid, he’s a great playmaker and solid defender. Allen Crabbe, Al-Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless stepped up big time in the playoffs for Portland, and if they continue their strong play into this season, the Blazers could push for a top three seed in the conference.
Meyers Leonard and Mason Plumlee are good options off the bench, assuming Ezili earns the starting spot due to his defensive abilities. This will be a high-octane offense that no team in the association will be able to stop. Look for Portland to win over 50 games this year.
- Oklahoma City Thunder-
While the Thunder lost a top five talent in free agency, they still have one on the roster. I’m more than excited to see what type of edge Russell Westbrook plays with this year. He’s a fierce competitor and now has a chance to prove that he can be the go-to guy and carry a team to the playoffs.
However, Russ isn’t alone. Victor Oladipo was brought in from Orlando in a swap for Serge Ibaka. Russ and ‘Dipo are a dynamic defensive backcourt duo that will be tasked with trying to guard Klay Thompson and Steph Curry come playoff time.
Steven Adams is a man among men in the paint and Enes Kanter is a good counter for him off the bench. Andre Roberson will likely slide into the small forward spot to replace Durant this season. I have serious doubts about this team’s depth moving forward. Outside of Kanter, Joffrey Lauvergne and Cameron Payne, there aren’t many reliable or proven options off the bench. But with the work that Billy Donovan did last year, this team should be fine, they just can’t afford an injury to a player in the starting rotation, or else the ship may begin to sink.
- Toronto Raptors-
This team will live and die by the backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Those two were All-Stars last year and led the Raptors to the number two seed in the Eastern Conference. Along with them in the starting five are DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas in the middle. Toronto may have lost Bismack Biyombo, but they get a better all around replacement in the draft with Jakob Poeltl.
Toronto has incredible backcourt depth, with Norman Powell, Terrence Ross, Delon Wright and Corey Joseph all being good options off the pine. Adding Jared Sullinger to beef up the middle of the defense was a good low-risk, low-reward move because Sullinger sucks. Maybe Bruno Caboclo will see some playing time this year at small forward, because now he is only two years away from being NBA ready. Either way, head coach Dwane Casey has a ton of talent to work with in Toronto.
- San Antonio Spurs-
Huge RIP to the career of Tim Duncan. It was impossible to hate the Big Fundamental, and now the Spurs just seem weird without him. I have questions about putting the Spurs in the top five because Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli are really up there in age now and their effectiveness has wavered the last few seasons. That being said, Kawhi Leonard will carry this team with the help of LaMarcus Aldridge.
Pau Gasol was brought in to try and replace Duncan after having a really good season in Chicago despite the lack of the team’s success. Patty Mills, Kevin Martin and David Lee are the wily old vets off the bench that will teach the young players like Kyle Anderson, Jonathon Simmons and first round draft pick DeJounte Murray how to play the game “the Spurs way”.
Greg Popovich might be the greatest coach of all time, and despite losing the greatest power forward to ever play, the Spurs will be back in the playoffs.
- Boston Celtics-
Could this be a little high? Sure, but the fight for the third best team in the NBA is wide open. What Brad Stevens has done with this roster in such a short amount of time is remarkable. Also, the addition of Al Horford gives this team a center that can do a little bit of everything on the court and is a perfect scheme fit. Jaylen Brown has impressed in summer league and preseason play and should get major minutes as a defender and slasher.
Boston has the chance to be the NBA’s best defense, with defensive aces such as Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and Brown. Isaiah Thomas is the best pound-for-pound player in the game and is the key to this entire roster. Look for the C’s to crack the 50 win plateau and nab the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
3. Los Angeles Clippers-
Am I overrating the Clippers here? Probably. But this team has to break through at some point right? Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are still a great trio. JJ Redick is still an absolute sniper from three. Jamal Crawford is still breaking ankles and hitting and-one threes at the age of 36. And while Paul Pierce is definitely not good anymore, I still have to mention him because of his retirement after this season.
I love the Brice Johnson pick because he’ll actually be able to contribute off the bench, something the Clippers have lacked in recent years out of their backup bigs. Marreese Speights, Austin Rivers, Brandon Bass and Raymond Felton are really not the best names to be coming off the bench, but you can’t play the starters all 48 minutes. This could be the last run for CP3, Blake and DeAndre Jordan, so I’ll expect a full time push for a championship by Steve Ballmer and Doc Rivers.
- Cleveland Cavaliers-
LeBron James is the best basketball player in the universe, hands down. It’s not even close. He’s been at the top for so long and stayed healthy throughout his career I don’t know how he does it. He’s carried every team he’s been on, and finally brought a championship to the city of Cleveland last summer. Him and Kyrie Irving are a deadly one-two punch. Irving has the nastiest handles in the game today and is a prolific scorer when the ball is in his hands.
People love to hate on Kevin Love, but he’s still a quality player with Tristan Thompson as the starting frontcourt. The Cavs finally got the legendary JR Smith to re-sign for four years after a long contract dispute.
Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye were huge off the bench during the championship run and both vets will be back for at least one more season. Iman Shumpert is an elite defender off the bench, but he still can’t score. However, the player who I am most forward to seeing on this roster is Kay Felder. The 5’9” point guard is a freak of nature athletically and if he were 6’1” he would have been a lottery pick. Instead, he went 54th overall and has shined in preseason play. Tyronn Lue looks to be a great head coach with more time, and his Cavaliers team shouldn’t have any trouble going back to the Finals.
- Golden State Warriors-
There’s not much I can say about Golden State that hasn’t been said already. They signed Kevin Durant, who subsequently ruined basketball with it and are now the overwhelming favorites to win it all. The foursome of Durant, two-time reigning MVP Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are the four most hated players in basketball. Especially Draymond.
I could mention the losses of Marreese Speights, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Fesus Ezili, but none of that really matters when you bring in Durant. Drafting Damian Jones at 30th overall was a good move, especially if you can motivate him and keep his energy high. Andre Iguodala has the potential to win Sixth Man of the Year, and David West signed to go ring chasing. Shaun Livingston still does his thing too, which is cool I guess.
I think Steve Kerr is such an overrated head coach, and he has the easiest job in the world at this very moment. This team claims to not care about breaking their 73 win total from last year, but they could probably get it without trying. Thanks, Golden State.
Cover Photo via WKYC.com
Other Photos via NBAZone, BleacherReport, The Source, The Source (again), ClutchPoints and a previously used photo