As the NBA preseason wraps up, here are my predictions for the upcoming regular season. First up, the Eastern Conference:
15. Philadelphia 76ers (12-70)
This was a no brainer. After finishing 10-72 last season, the Sixers did add some pieces in free agency, and the draft, that might help them a bit. They signed Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson and Sergio Rodriguez during free agency, drafted the No.1 overall pick Ben Simmons and also Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and they also added Dario Saric from overseas.
There is certainly some talent there, but with injuries to Simmons, Bayless and now Nerlens Noel expected to miss time with injuries, they are going to struggle to win games again this season. Head coach Brett Brown will have the team playing hard every night, but unfortunately it’s going to be another long season for the Sixers.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel; maybe. They are building a talented young core and if they continue that trend they will certainly start to rise up the standings in a few years time.
14. Brooklyn Nets (14-68)
It was an interesting offseason for the Nets. It looked promising early on being linked to names such as Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson, then it turned out to be Jeremy Lin, Greivis Vasquez, Trevor Booker, Luis Scola, Randy Foye and even former first-overall pick Anthony Bennett.
Some of these guys are solid players, it was just an odd approach for a team in need of young players. If we dig a little deeper, what Sean Marks has done is quite smart. The majority of these guys were signed to one-year deals which means the Nets aren’t unnecessarily committing to these players for longer than they should. Next year they will be able to hit free agency again hoping to land those younger players they need.
This will be a rough season for the Nets, but they are heading in the right direction with Sean Marks at the helm.
13. Milwaukee Bucks (32-50)
The Khris Middleton injury was huge for the Bucks. He was arguably their best player and it will be very hard to replace his production. They added Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Telotovic, Malcom Brogdon, Thon Maker, Jason Terry and Michael Beasley among others this offseason. They recently traded former first-round pick Michael Carter-Williams to the Bulls for Tony Snell which was an odd trade to say the least.
Reports suggest they are still looking to add some players and continue to dangle Greg Monroe in trade talks. The Bucks have a lot of young talent but they are going to struggle this season without Middleton. Giannis will have a big season for the Bucks, but it won’t be enough to push them into the playoffs in what will be a competitive Eastern Conference.
12. Miami Heat (33-49)
Dwyane Wade is now a Chicago Bull and Chris Bosh has likely played his last game for the Miami Heat; it was a tough offseason for Miami. Dion Waiters, Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington, and Luke Babbitt all joined the Heat in the offseason.
Josh Richardson is out six-to-eight weeks with a partially torn MCL and Josh McRoberts may miss time at the start of the season with a foot injury, both dents in the Heat rotation. After finishing 3rd in the Eastern Conference last season with a record of 48-34, they are going to see a big drop off this season.
11. Orlando Magic (38-44)
While the decision to trade Oladipo was puzzling, the Magic still have a bunch of talent on the roster. They signed Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green and D.J Augustin during free agency. They acquired Serge Ibaka from the Thunder, and re-signed Evan Fournier. Oh yeah and they also hired Frank Vogel.
Vogel was a great a hire and he is going to get this team some more wins. It will be tough for them to crack the playoffs this season but they will be a team that competes, particularly on the defensive end.
They have the potential to finish higher but for now I have them at 11th.
10. Charlotte Hornets (40-42)
It was a solid 2015-16 season for the Hornets finishing up 48-34. They exceeded expectations. They picked up Roy Hibbert, Marco Belinelli and Ramon Sessions. While they haven’t moved the needle with their transactions during the offseason, I still think they drop off this season mainly because of the other teams rising up.
40-42 may be low balling them, and they could push even higher depending on what happens with other teams around them, but for now they are a fringe playoff team.
They are going to struggle in the depth department but who knows, maybe Michael Jordan’s team exceeds expectations once again.
9. Washington Wizards (42-40)
The highlight of the offseason for the Wizards was hiring Scott Brooks as their new head coach. While it wasn’t the best hire, it was still a solid get for Washington. They kept fairly under the radar during free agency adding Andrew Nicholson, Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith while acquiring Trey Burke via trade.
They did manage to re-sign Bradley Beal which was one of the positives. The players they added don’t provide anything more than depth but if Wall and Beal can stay healthy they can compete for a playoff spot.
However, I think they just miss out and finish just one win better than the previous season.
8. New York Knicks (43-39)
Yeah I said it, the Knicks will be back in the playoffs; if they can stay healthy. That’s a big if though. With Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee among those who joined the team in the offseason, their health with be paramount to their success during the regular season.
With new head coach Jeff Hornacek also on board, the Knicks will look to give the triangle another shot hoping that increased talent will bring the once formidable system back to life.
They could very easily drop down in the standings if key players get injured, but there is enough talent there to translate into some wins this season.
7. Atlanta Hawks (45-37)
Losing Al Horford was a big blow for the Hawks. He was arguably their second best player and it was odd to see the Hawks essentially let him walk. Jeff Teague also is no longer with the team after being traded to the Pacers, so it is somewhat a new look team this season. They signed Dwight Howard in an attempt to replace Horford’s production.
They also signed Jarrett Jack (who is injured), Kris Humphries and also a trio of nice young players in Bembry, Prince and Delaney. With Millsap, Korver and Schroder now running the show, the Hawks will be able to push into the playoffs again.
They won’t be as dominant as they were a season ago, but they still have enough talent to get into the playoffs and maybe cause some problems for the higher seeds.
6. Indiana Pacers (48-34)
The Pacers had a solid offseason. They added Jeff Teague, Thad Young, Al Jefferson, Aaron Brooks and Kevin Seraphin. Nate McMillan took over head coaching duties after Vogel was fired which wasn’t a bad move also.
Paul George is one of the best players in the league and after replacing George Hill with Teague, Jordan Hill with Al Jefferson and Solomon Hill with Thad Young, they have certainly made some upgrades, at least in my eyes.
They are going to be tough to beat at home and will be solid on both ends of the floor. I could certainly see them finishing higher but for now I think sixth is a realistic finish.
5. Chicago Bulls (48-34)
It was an interesting offseason to say the least for the Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah out, Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez in. They recently acquired former first round pick Michael Carter-Williams from the Bucks aswell.
Shooting will be an issue, that’s a given when you have Rondo, Wade and Michael Carter-Williams on the same roster; but they certainly have talent. They Bulls just missed out on the playoffs last season at 42-40 but this year they should be comfortably in. However, like the Knicks, it can all go downhill fast with a couple of key injuries.
While shooting will be a struggle, the roster is solid and they should finish comfortably in the top half of the conference.
4. Detroit Pistons (49-33)
After finishing 44-38 last season, the Pistons are primed to make a jump this time around. Stan Van Gundy has this team trending in the right direction and they should be a team that other Eastern Conference teams like to steer clear of.
The additions of Jon Leuer, Boban Marjanovic and Ish Smith were solid depth moves. If Reggie Jackson can get healthy quickly, the roster is solid across the board and they should be locked in on both ends.
While others may not be as high on the Pistons, I think this is the season they put it all together and start winning more games; Stan Van Gundy will make sure of it.
3. Boston Celtics (51-31)
The Celtics are coming off a great season finishing 48-34. This year I believe they can be even better. With the addition of Al Horford to solidify their front court, the Celtics will be a tough beat in the East. Brad Stevens is a top young coach and he can take this team far. Gerald Green was the only other notable addition in the offseason and he will provide a nice spark off the bench.
The depth and heart of this roster will enable them to compete with the Cavs and Toronto when it comes to the playoffs, look out for the Celtics this season.
2. Toronto Raptors (53-29)
It was a toss-up between the Raptors and Celtics but in the end I gave the edge to the Raptors. They did finish 56-26 a season ago but the Eastern Conference will be more competitive this season which will cause a slight drop off in wins.
Their only notable addition was Jared Sullinger but he is now expected to miss extended time due to foot surgery. The Raptors were tough to beat a season ago and the same can be expected this season with Lowry and DeRozan leading the way.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (55-27)
They too will experience a slight drop off in wins. The defending champs did lose Matthew Dellavedova to the Bucks in the offseason but their roster stands pretty much the same.
They will be looking to make another run at the title but it will be no easy task considering who the Warriors added in the offseason. Don’t count the Cavs out though as they are full of confidence after their last title run and coming back from a 3-1 deficit.
The Cavs should make it to the Conference Finals again this season but they should encounter more of a challenge en route to the finals with the improvement in the East.
So that concludes my Eastern Conference predictions for the 2016-17 NBA season. Next up: the Western Conference.