The NBA season, which seemed like it just ended, (because it did) is ready to kick off again next week. On Tuesday, the season will begin with the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers receiving their championship rings in the opener against the new-look New York Knicks at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs-Knicks game will be followed by a Western Conference showdown between the Golden State Warriors (who blew a 3-1 lead in last years NBA Finals) and the seemingly forever-good San Antonio Spurs. The Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers also play on Tuesday, but I have a feeling not too many people outside of Gordon Hayward’s immediate family will be tuning in for that one.
With the season about to begin, I felt it was only right to join every other sports writer in the world and put out my NBA predictions. Predictions are fun to make because it’s always a blast to look back at them in six months and see how incredibly wrong you were. It’s also always fun to read Bleacher Report’s predictions and see how the win-loss records of all the teams combined are always way above .500, which is mathematically impossible. So, without further ado, I present to you my 2016 NBA Most-Definitely-Could-Possibly-Happen-But-Probably-Will-Not-Happen-Predictions.
Boston Celtics – 2015-2016 record: 48-34, lost in first round
The Celtics made a big off-season splash this summer by acquiring center Al Horford from the Atlanta Hawks via free agency. Horford put up 15 points and seven rebounds for a Hawks team that thrived on team work. A near seven-footer, Horford gives the Celtics a low post threat, as well as a big man who can stretch the floor, as Horford is a career 34% three point shooter. Horford will be a major upgrade for Boston over Jared Sullinger, who Boston lost to the Toronto Raptors in free agency.
Boston also used the number three overall pick on California forward Jaylen Brown to help fill the void left by former Ohio State star Evan Turner. Turner, a key player for the Celtics who could play multiple positions, signed with Portland this off-season.
All in all, Boston gained more than they lost this off-season, and has a team that is young and improving. I believe they will surpass the 50 win mark this year and win the Atlantic division. After back-to-back years of getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs, the Celtics will do everything in their power to avoid playing the Cavs before the conference finals, and that will lead them to put a little more focus on their regular season record.
2016-2017 projected record: 52-30
Toronto Raptors – 2015-2016 record: 56-26, lost in Eastern Conference Finals
As mentioned above, the Toronto Raptors were able to bring Jared Sullinger up North to Jurrasic Park. Sullinger is an upgrade over aging big-man Luis Scola, who signed with Brooklyn this summer. While the Sullinger addition is key for Toronto, they also lost center Bismack Biyombo, who had a coming out party in last season’s playoffs. Biyombo proved to be a force on the defensive end and on the glass, and his playoff performance earned him a 4-year/$72 million contract with the Orlando Magic.
Toronto’s biggest move this off-season was their retention of All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who inked a 5-year/$135 million contract to stay with Toronto. With the back court of DeRozan and point guard Kyle Lowry, along with Sullinger and center Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors should be able to overcome the loss of Anthony Bennett to Brooklyn and remain a top team in the Eastern Conference. However, with divisional rival Boston adding Horford, and the Raptors losing Biyombo, I think they will see their record slip a little this year and fall to second place.
2016-2017 projected record: 49-33
New York Knicks – 2015-2016 record: 32-50, missed playoffs
The New York Knicks, according to newly acquired point guard Derrick Rose, are now one of two super-teams in the NBA, along with the Golden State Warriors. To go along with Carmelo Anthony and second year big man Kristaps Porzingis, the Super-Knicks added former MVP Derrick Rose and his obnoxious accomplice Joakim Noah. The Knicks also added former lottery pick Brandon Jennings, and Courtney Lee, who helped destroy the Cavs in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, and then fell under the radar for the next seven years.
With all the new big names the Knicks have added, they are definitely the favorites to win the 2010 NBA championship. Unfortunately for New York, it’s 2016. The Knicks lost a handful of players this year who didn’t do much for the Knicks other than give them enough guys to put on the court. Aaron Afflolo, Derrick Williams, Langston Galloway, and Robin Lopez are all in new cities for this upcoming season. While all of those players are talented in their own special way, it was clear they were never a major part of the Knicks future.
With the Knicks in an apparent win-now mode in a conference that they stand zero chance of competing in because, well the Cavs, they probably set themselves back even further in the rebuilding process. Look for about three years of the Knicks hovering around .500 before they blow this thing up and mess up again. The NBA is a win-later league, and the Knicks haven’t quite received that memo.
The Knicks will be better than they were last year, but not good enough.
2016-2017 projected record: 41-41
Philadelphia 76ers – 2015-2016 record: 10-72, missed playoffs, historically bad
Being awful finally paid off for the Sixers. After three years of purposely being human garbage, the Sixers were finally rewarded with class-cutting Ben Simmons. After three seasons of taking big men (Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Jahill Okafor), Philadelphia finally selected someone who is capable of dominating the ball from the perimeter.
Simmons has drawn comparisons to LeBron James for his style of play. While Simmons will most likely not become the same type of dominating force that James is, he has a very bright NBA future ahead of him. With Joel Embiid finally being cleared to play for the first time in three seasons, the 76ers have something to look forward to and build upon. While the 76ers young core of Simmons, Noel, Okafor, and Embiid is not going to win a lot of games this year, they will be intriguing to watch and give fans something to look forward to in the near-future. With so many big man, it also would not be surprising to see the 76ers trade Noel.
Like I said above, they won’t be good, they’ll definitely suck, but they won’t be human garbage.
2016-2017 projected record: 19-63
Brooklyn Nets – 2015-2016 record: 21-61, missed playoffs
The Nets are so screwed. I feel terrible for Brooklyn fans. The Nets taking on Joe Johnson’s contract from the Hawks years back, and then selling their entire future for one last possible good year of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce completely destroyed their franchise. The Nets are stuck NBA pergatory. They are not talented enough to win, and there’s no point to being overwhelmingly bad because the Boston Celtics have all their draft picks. They took a step in the right direction by letting go of Joe Johnson towards the end of 2016, but there just isn’t much they can do.
Brooklyn signed Jeremy Lin to a 3-year/$36 million contract, in hopes that maybe Linsanity can break out in New York one more time. Brooklyn also brought in veterans Luis Scola, Greivis Vasquez, and Randy Foye on one-year deals, presumably to have enough guys to play.
The Nets also made a huge splash with the signing of former number one pick and Cavs superstar Anthony Bennett. Bennett, who was the number one pick in the 2014 NBA draft, will be playing with his fourth team in four years to start his NBA career.
The Nets are the epitome of a dumpster fire. They are going to be no where near good, but they have just enough talent to not go winless this year.
2016-2017 projected record: 15-67
Cleveland Cavaliers – 2015-2016 record: 57-25, won NBA Finals
The Cavaliers enter the 2016-2017 season as the first Cleveland team looking to defend a title since the 1965 NFL season. With an NBA championship already under their belt, and a roster that has zero competition in the Eastern Conference, the Cavs will glide through 82 pointless regular season games before a third consecutive match up with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, probably.
The Cavs stayed relatively quiet in the off-season, adding Mike Dunleavy and Chris Andersen, AKA Birdman. The Cavs also lost grit-monster Matthew Dellavedova to Milwaukee, as the Bucks gave Delly a 4-year/$38 million contract that the Cavs did not match. Center Timofey Mozgov took his talents to Los Angeles, as he looks to further develop his acting career from strictly Brew Garden commercials, to more of a James Bond Hollywood type thing. The Cavs were able to retain Richard Jefferson and his awesome Snapchat, who reportedly was going to retire this off-season, and of course re-signed LeBron James, who is good at basketball.
The Cavs are good enough to win close to 70 games, however, they do not really care about record chasing. The Cavs will win enough games to win the Easter Conference and make sure the road to the Finals goes through Cleveland, but they will also give James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love enough days off to make sure they don’t burn out in the post-season.
2016-2017 projected record: 59-23
Indiana Pacers – 2015-2016 record: 45-37, lost in first round
The Pacers had a busy summer. Their biggest splashes were made with the trade that sent away point guard George Hill to Utah, and brought in Jeff Teague from Atlanta, who is probably not looking forward to playing the Cavs an extra fourth game every year. The Pacers also signed center Al Jefferson and traded for forward Thaddeus Young. A core of Teague, Jefferson, Young, and Paul George is as slightly above average as a team can get.
Along with Hill, the Pacers also lost center Ian Mahinmi, forward Solomon Hill, and forward Jordan Hill, all of whom provided the Pacers with length and a presence inside. The Pacers original plan of signing everyone in the NBA whose last name was Hill did not work out, and they seem to be going in a different direction.
While Indiana, in my opinion, improved upon their roster from last year, I think last season they overachieved a little bit. Along with that, I think the Central is an all-around tough division, and that will play out negatively for Indiana. They won’t improve as much on the floor as they did on paper.
2016-2017 projected record: 47-35
Detroit Pistons – 2015-2016 record: 44-38, lost in first round
The pistons made a lot of “meh” moves this summer. They signed Jon Leuer to a 4-year/$41 million deal, and they also brought in Boban Marjanovic over from the Spurs. Detroit also brought in point guard Ish Smith, a serviceable back up to Reggie Jackson.
Detroit didn’t lose any key players in free agency, seeing Anthony Tolliver sign with Sacramento and trading Jodie Meeks to the Orlando Magic.
Detroit’s biggest concern this summer was re-signing Andre Drummond, who signed a 5-year/$127 deal to stay a Piston through 2022.
Detroit is still a young team with a talented young core built around Drummond, Jackson, Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Pistons are young and determined, but they know that now is not their time, which probably kept them from making too many big moves in free-agency this year. Detroit’s best days are ahead of them, and this year will just be another year of developing young talent and getting knocked from the playoffs early.
Playing in the tough Central division with the Cavs, improved Pacers, and now Dywane Wade led Chicago Bulls, the Pistons will find it hard to see a significant improvement in their record this year.
2016-2017 projected record: 45-37
Chicago Bulls – 2015-2016 record: 40-42, missed playoffs
The Chicago Bulls, much like the New York Knicks, are stuck in a win-now mode, with zero chance to win now. The Bulls had themselves a busy summer, as they went out and signed hometown hero Dywane Wade, and signed the most overrated point guard in the NBA, Rajon Rondo.
The Bulls also added Robin Lopez in the Derrick Rose trade, in hopes to provide the same kind of effort and contributions that Joakim Noah gave them for so long. The Bulls selected Denzel Valentine from Michigan State with the 14th pick, and will look for him to fight for shots with Wade, Butler, and Rondo.
Perhaps the biggest loss for Chicago was the departure of Pau Gasol to San Antonio. Gasol was a major part of the Bulls offense, and they failed to fill the hole that Gasol’s exit left.
Here is my bold statement for the 2016-2017 season, which really isn’t that bold at all: the Bulls will lead the league in mid-range jump shots attempted, and finish in the bottom five in effective field goal percentage.
In a league that is dominated by spreading the floor and shooting the three, the Bulls are log-jammed with mid-range jump shooters in Wade and Butler, and led at the point by Rondo, a bad three-point shooter.
The Bulls made a lot of noise this summer, but that’s it. They will probably win some games against some top-tier teams, but they won’t be consistent enough against the rest of the league to be a force.
Projected 2016-2017 record: 43-39
Milwaukee Bucks – 2015-2016 record: 33-49, missed playoffs
2015-2016 was a big let down for Bucks fans. After signing Greg Monroe, Milwaukee was hoping to take the next step forward and become a top tier team in the Eastern Conference. However, things just never came together, and Milwaukee finished a disappointing 16 games below .500.
The Bucks are in no rush to win now, and rightfully so. The team traded away point guard Michael Carter-Williams to the Chicago Bulls, and also let guards Jerryd Bayless and Greivis Vasquez walk in free agency. The Bucks definitely got a lot grittier with the signing of Matthew Dellavedova, but even the heart of Delly can’t carry this team to the top, or out of the cellar of the Central.
The Bucks drafted 7-footer Thon Maker with tenth pick in the draft. Maker has a unique skill set for such a big body. Maker is more of your Kristaps Porzingis 7-footer than your Shaq. With Maker and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will take on point guard duties for the Bucks, Milwaukee is a very unique team with a possibly bright future. If Maker pans out, the Bucks could be a tough team to beat in a few years with the length and skill set that he and the Greek Freak provide. Having two 7-footers on the perimeter would be a nightmare matchup for all 29 other NBA teams.
While the future is possibly bright in Milwaukee, 2016-2017 is going to be a rough year, more likely than not. With the focus more on development rather than winning, the Bucks probably won’t be on the good side of the score board too often.
2016-2017 projected record: 29-53
Charlotte Hornets – 2015-2016 record: 48-34, lost in first round
Despite playing without Michael Kidd-Gilchrest for 75 games last season, the Hornets still found themselves in a three-way tie for first with the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks. The Hornets suffered a major loss this off-season with the departure of Al Jefferson, and also losing key players off the bench in Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee.
Charlotte was able to replace Lin and Lee with Ramon Sessions and Marco Bellinelli, but the signing of Roy Hibbert will not do the loss of Jefferson any justice. Maybe Hibbert can have a bounce back year and return to his old All-Star self, but I wouldn’t count on it.
The return of MKG is the biggest addition for Charlotte this season. With Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams both signing long term deals with the Hornets this year, there is still promise for a solid season. The core of Kidd-Gilchrest, Kemba Walker, Batum, and Williams is pretty decent, but it’s nothing that would make you shake in your boots, like the Toronto Blue Jays do.
With the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks looking much worse than last year, the Hornets should be able to overcome the loss of Jefferson and win the Southeast division outright this season.
2016-2017 projected record: 45-37
Washington Wizards – 2015-2016 record: 41-41, missed playoffs
Washington had a very lackluster 2015-2016 season. What was supposed to be a season where Washington took a step forward, they took two steps back and missed the playoffs. The trio of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter apparently had a much lower ceiling than originally believed.
The Wizards did a lot this off-season, but not a lot to make them too much better. The Wizards signed Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith, and Tomas Satoransky, as well as trading for guard Trey Burke from Utah.
Washington hopes that the acquisitions of Mahinmi, Nicholson, and Burke will be able to replace the losses of Nene, Jared Dudley, and Ramon Sessions.
Along with their five new players, the Wizards also hired former Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
The Wizards have depth in the back court with Wall, Beal, and Burke, and hope to see significant improvements in Porter and second year forward Kelly Oubre.
While Washington won’t be good enough to be a legitimate contender in the East, they will be able to take advantage of a weak division and compete for a division title.
2016-2017 projected record: 44-38
Atlanta Hawks – 2015-2016 record: 48-34, lost Eastern Conference semifinals
The Hawks gained a lot and lost a lot this off season. The Hawks made arguably the second biggest move of the off-season by signing Dwight Howard to a 3-year/$70.5 million contract. The Hawks have recruited Howard in the past, but to no avail. After a rough season in Houston, Howard joined Atlanta as a replacement for Al Horford.
Along with Horford, the Hawks lost Jeff Teague in a trade with the Pacers. Letting teague go means the Hawks are set on Dennis Schroder and his hair being the go-to-guy going forward. Schroder and Howard will be looking to create some pick-and-roll magic much like Howard had with Jameer Nelson in his time in Orlando.
After playing second fiddle to James Harden in Houston, Howard looks to regain his once Superman form and dominate defenders again.
To me, Howard does not really fit the Hawks’ scheme of ball movement, movement without the ball, and three-point shooting, and I’m not sure how the Hawks plan to incorporate him. Howard is very talented, but needs to be the main option to thrive. With Paul Millsap playing along side him in the front court, it will be interesting to say how Howard adapts.
There was video footage going around of Howard working on his miserable jump shot, but I wouldn’t count on Howard being of the same value as Al Horford from the perimeter.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is a brilliant basketball mind, and I’m sure he will find a way to fit Howard into the Hawks plan. I do not know how Budenholzer will do that do, and I do not see the Hawks being as successful as in years past. The Hawks weren’t good enough to win the East with Horford and Teague, and they’re definitely not good enough to win it without them.
2016-2017 projected record: 43-39
Orlando Magic – 2015-2016 record: 35-47
The Orlando Magic are still trying to recover from the Dwight Howard era. Following a 35-47 season, the Magic looked to take a different approach for 2016-2017. The Magic began their unloading when they sent Tobias Harris to Detroit in a trade at the deadline last year. This off-season they also traded Victor Oladipo, who was arguably their best player. The Magic sent forward Ersan Ilyasova along with Oladipo to the Thunder for forward/center Serge Ibaka.
Orlando also parted ways with guards Brandon Jennings and Shabazz Napier. While unloading their back court, the Magic built up their front court with the signing of Bismack Biyombo to compliment Ibaka.
Ibaka and Biyombo look to lead the way with forward/center Nikola Vucevic, guard Elfrid Payton and guard Evan Fournier. Orlando signed Fournier, who had a breakout 2016 season, to a 5-year/$85 million deal this summer.
The Magic have a decent seven-man group of Vucevic, Ibaka, Biyombo, Payton, Fournier, Aaron Gordon, and Jeff Green, but lack depth after that. They are counting on improvements from second year forward Mario Hezonja, but regardless, Orlando lacks the overall talent to make a splash in the East.
It’s possible that Orlando could sneak their way into an eight seed in the weak Eastern Conference, but more likely than not, they’ll be watching the playoffs from home.
Projected 2016-2017 record: 37-45
Miami Heat – 2015-2016 record: 48-34, lost Eastern Conference semifinals
The Miami Heat are going to be bad. Their team name does not do justice for how hot of a pile of garbage they will be this year. The Big Three era of LeBron James, Dywane Wade, and Chris Bosh ended way earlier than expected, and now, more likely than not, none of them will ever play for the Heat again.
With Wade departing for his hometown Chicago Bulls, and Bosh suffering an unfortunate blood clot disorder, the Heat don’t have much left. They re-signed Hassan Whiteside, but lost Luol Deng and Joe Johnson along with Wade.
The Heat were old and getting bad, but they got really bad much earlier than expected. With a backcourt anchored by Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson, with Dion Waiters being the sixth man, offense is going to be hard to come by for the Heat. While Pat Riley is never one to say die, even he has to believe that this Heat season will be one to forget.
2016-2017 projected record: 26-56
Utah Jazz – 2015-2016 record: 40-42, missed playoffs
This is Utah’s year. Everything is finally coming together for the Jazz franchise. Not only do they benefit from the acquisitions of George Hill and Boris Diaw (and Joe Johnson if you’re into that “veteran presence” thing), they also have the luxury of Kevin Durant not being in their division anymore.
With one of the top defenses in the NBA, anchored by center Rudy Gobert, the Jazz look to pick things up on the offensive side with Hill, Gordon Hayward, and a healthy Dante Exum.
While the Jazz don’t have any superstars, they are deep. Hayward, Gobert, Hill, Exum, Diaw, Johnson, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, Rodney Hood, and Trey Lyles make the Jazz 10-deep, and will be able to give teams multiple looks.
Forbidding any injuries, the Jazz defense should be able to keep them on top of a division that isn’t as strong as it used to be when Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge were still around.
2016-2017 projected record: 50-32
Portland Trail Blazers – 2015-2016 record: 44-38, lost Western Conference semifinals
The Blazers surprised the NBA last year when they went 44-38 and beat the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. In an off-season that saw LaMarcus Aldridge leave for the Spurs, the Blazers were not supposed to contend. Behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, the Blazers used a potent offense to get themselves a match up with the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs, which they lost in five games.
The Blazers made two key additions with the versatile Evan Turner and center Festus Ezili, who had a break out year for the Golden State Warriors. While they lost Gerald Henderson, Portland was able to retain Allen Crabbe and Mo Harkless.
With such low projections last year, I have a hunch that 44 wins was an over-acheivement for Portland. I do think they improved with Turner and Ezili, but not enough to get them far in the West. Like Utah, they also benefit from a Thunder team that will be weaker, and I think they’ll stay around that 44-win mark.
2016-2017 projected record: 45-37
Oklahoma City Thunder – 2015-2016 record: 55-27, lost Western Conference finals
In the biggest free agent signing since LeBron James’ decision, Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Golden State Warriors. While the Thunder still have superstar Russell Westbrook to lean on, the loss of Durant will be significant.
Without Durant, Westbrook will have a chance to shine as bright as possible. It will be fun to watch Westbrook go for a near triple-double every night, but one man cannot carry an entire year all by himself. There’s some crazy Thunder fans in the world that actually think Durant being gone is good for the team, but there’s just no way.
The Thunder traded Ibaka to Orlando for Victor Oladipo to help take some of the scoring burden off of Westbrook, but Oladipo is nowhere near Durant in terms of talent.
For a team that struggled to find scoring outside of Durant and Westbrook, they will be searching even deeper now that Dion Waiters is also gone, along with Durant and Ibaka. If losing Waiters is a negative for your team, there can’t be too much positivity headed your way.
While some people think the Thunder will still be a force in the West, I think their overall lack of talent will shine through in the long NBA season.
Projected 2016-2017 record: 44-38
Minnesota Timberwolves – 2015-2016 record: 29-53, missed playoffs
The Timberwolves have not been good in a long time. They also won’t be that good this year. However, they are close! The Wolves didn’t make a lot of noise in free agency, bringing in Brandon Rush, Cole Aldrich, and Jordan Hill, but they did sign former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Thibodeau is a defensive minded coach who demands the most out of his players. With a young team led by Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns, the last two Rookie of the Year winners, and this years fifth overall pick Kris Dunn, the Wolves have offensive talent. With Thibodeau getting his hands on such raw talent at such young ages, there is hope in Minnesota.
The Wolves should see improvement this year. Not enough to get them into the playoffs, but enough to provide hope for a top tier team in the West in the near future.
2016-2017 projected record: 39-43
Denver Nuggets – 2015-2016 record: 33-49, missed playoffs
The Nuggets are another team that is stuck in NBA purgatory. They aren’t bad enough to get a top three pick in the draft, but they’re also nowhere near talented enough to compete for a playoff spot.
The Nuggets didn’t do much to get better this off-season. They signed no free agents and for some reason retained Mike Miller. I’m not sure what the plan is in Denver, but whatever it is, it doesn’t include winning right now. They have middle-of-the-road talent with Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Emmanual Mudiay, and Nikola Jokic, but not much talent with high ceilings. Hopefully seventh overall pick Jamal Murray provides some excitement for Nuggets fans.
I suspect another “meh” year of basketball for Denver fans.
Projected 2016-2017 record: 36-46
Golden State Warriors – 2015-2016 record: 73-9, blew 3-1 lead in NBA Finals
The best regular season team in NBA history managed to get even better this off-season. As the whole basketball world knows by now, Kevin Durant left the Thunder to join Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green out in the Bay Area.
There’s not much to say about the Warriors – they’re going to be really good. While Golden State did lose Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, and Festus Ezili while courting Durant, they still managed to add Zaza Pachulia and David West.
The Warriors have by far the most talent in the NBA, and on top of that, they are deep. While the Warriors probably won’t play at a historic win-pace again this season, they’re going to be very good and very fun to watch.
Projected 2016-2017 record: 63-19
Los Angeles Clippers – 2015-2016 record: 53-29, lost first round of playoffs
The Clippers seem to have the same problem every single year. They have an incredible core of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan, but outside of those three and Jamal Crawford and JJ Redick, the Clippers have nothing.
Every year it seems that the Clips go out and sign some recognizable names, but no one that actually makes a positive impact on their basketball team, a la Lance Stephenson.
The Clippers did more of the same this year. Lob City went out and signed Marreese Speights, Raymond Felton, and Brandon Bass. While these names are popular among that basketball world, I will still doubt the Clippers until they prove it works.
LA has a good enough starting line up that almost any other era they’d be able to play for a championship. Unfortunately for the Clippers, they exist at the same time as the Golden State Warriors, and play in the same division as well. Just getting through Golden State to get to the Finals seems impossible, and with a team as shallow as LA, it probably won’t happen.
Projected 2016-2017 record: 48-34
Sacramento Kings – 2015-2016 record: 33-49, missed playoffs
The Kings have been sorry for a long time now. They are far removed from the golden age of Mike Bibby, Doug Christie, Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic, and Chris Webber. They are now deep into the dark ages of the DeMarcus Cousins saga.
The Kings have individual talent within Cousins, Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, and Willie Cauley-Stein, but as a team, they just lack overall talent.
For fans that have been tortured by terrible owners, only Browns fans can even come close to relating to the amount of suffering they go through.
Rather than building towards the future, the Kings seem determined every year to compete for an eight seed so they can lose in the first round to the Warriors or Spurs. This year is no different as the Kings have brought in Matt Barnes, Aaron Afflolo, and Anthony Tolliver to help them suck. The Kings also lost Rajon Rondo, which really might not be a bad thing.
2016-2017 is going to be another rough one for Kings fans. Maybe DeMarcus Cousins finally gets traded?
2016-2017 projected record: 32-50
Phoenix Suns – 2015-2016 record: 23-59, missed playoffs
The Suns disappointed a lot of basketball folk last year. A slow start plus injuries made for a very forgettable year in Phoenix. The surprise of Devin Booker was one of the lone bright spots in the Suns season.
The Suns have a loaded back court with Booker, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Archie Goodwin, and now Tyler Ulis. They also added length in the draft with Marquess Chriss and inarguably the best name in sports, Dragan Bender. With a name like Dragan Bender, it’s going to be hard for the Suns to not go undefeated this year.
The Suns have enough talent in their back court, along with Tyson Chandler, Leandro Barbosa, Jared Dudley, TJ Warren, and PJ Tucker, that they won’t be insufferably bad. However, they aren’t going to scare anyone in the West.
I wouldn’t count on the Suns contending for a playoff spot, but it will be fun to watch Booker and Bledsoe continue to develop, as well as rookies Bender and Chriss.
2016-2017 projected record: 31-51
Los Angeles Lakers – 2015-2016 record: 17-65
Now that Kobe Bryant has stopped screwing over Laker Nation by retiring, the Lakers can finally move on and build towards a successful future.
The Lakers are full of young talent. Second year players D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle will be joined by #2 overall pick Brandon Ingram this year as the new trio of Lakers stars. While the Lakers won’t win a lot of games this year, they should improve immensely from last year, and Russell, Randle, and Ingram are three must-watch young players in the NBA.
Along with Russell, Randle, and Ingram, the Lakers also have young talent in Jordan Clarkson and even Larry Nance Jr. that should give all Lakers fans a reason to tune into games this season.
The Lakers brought Luol Deng, Metta World Peace and Jose Calderon to help lead a young team. The Lakers will be bad, but they’ll be watchable bad. Best case scenario for the Lakers this year is they lose a lot of close games in which their young stars shine, and they acquire another top three pick.
2016-2017 projected record: 24-58
San Antonio Spurs – 2015-2016 record: 67-15, lost Western Conference semifinals
After nearly keeping pace with the record setting Warriors in the 2015, the Spurs had a disappointing finish to the season, losing the Western Conference semifinals to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
San Antonio lost the face of their franchise with the retirement of Tim Duncan. While Duncan’s absence may feel uncomfortable for NBA fans, the Spurs managed to upgrade his roster spot with the signing of Pau Gasol. The Spurs also signed David Lee and drafted Dejounte Murray with the 29th pick.
The Spurs lost David West and Boban Marjanovic to free agency, and also traded Boris Diaw to Utah. After watching the Spurs be good for my entire life, though, I’m convinced that they could play with five minor league baseball players and Greg Poppovich would be able to make them work in his system. Maybe Tim Tebow should give Pops a call.
Just like every year, the Spurs will be good. They still have Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, and LaMarcus Aldridge – elite NBA talents. I do not know what kind of Kool-Aid they drink over there in San Antonio, but whatever it is, they’ll keep chugging, and they’ll keep winning.
2016-2017 projected record: 54-28
Houston Rockets – 2015-2016 record: 41-41
The Houston Rockets had a disastrous 2015 season. While many NBA pundits picked Houston to finish second or third in the West, they struggled all year long to play consistent team basketball, and they snatched the last playoff spot on the last day of the regular season. They fired head coach Kevin McHale in the beginning of the season, but he did not seem to be the problem.
With no Dwight Howard and Mike D’Antoni now the head coach in Houston, the Rockets can expect to score a lot of points. D’Antoni, the offensive mastermind behind the great Suns teams of the 2000’s, takes over a roster led by one of the best scorers in the NBA in James Harden.
The Rockets signed sharp-shooting Ryan Anderson, and guard Eric Gordon from New Orleans. With Anderson, Gordon, and Harden leading the way on offense for Houston, and D’Antoni being in charge, you can expect a lot of scoring from this Houston team.
The departure of Howard should open of the floor for Harden, and I would expect Houston to take even more three’s than they usually do. I’m not sure if Houston will return to 2014-2015 form, but they will definitely be better than last year.
2016-2017 projected record: 46-36
Memphis Grizzlies – 2015-2016 record: 42-40, lost first round of playoffs
The Grizzlies had worse luck than any other NBA team last year. Memphis played approximately 900 different players throughout the season, and even beat the Cavs one game when they only had, like, three actual NBA basketball players.
The 42-40 record Memphis posted does not serve as a good measuring stick for how talented they are. They played a significant portion of their season without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, their two best players.
With Conley and Gasol back, and hopefully 100% healthy, and a newly acquired Chandler Parsons, the Grizzlies should improve upon their 42 win, injury-riddled 2015.
With Zach Randolph and Tony Allen rounding out the starting five, Memphis should find itself competing for home-court in the West.
Because of Memphis’ injury past, I have to refrain from putting them over 50 wins, though.
Projected 2016-2017 record: 46-36
Dallas Mavericks – 2015-2016 record: 42-40, lost first round of playoffs
What Dallas lost in Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia, they gained back in Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut.
Dallas always seems to find away to put enough gas in the tank for one more playoff run, and this year is no different. With Dirk Nowitzki showing no signs of slowing down, the Mavericks hope that Wes Matthews can have a bounce back year and provide a third scorer to Dirk and Barnes.
The Mavericks also have a great coach in Rick Carlisle, and he should help keep Dallas competitive, as always, for one more year. Dallas will chase a low seed in the West, and then probably lose to the likes of Golden State, San Antonio, or Los Angeles.
2016-2017 projected record: 41-41
New Orleans Pelicans – 2015-2016 record 30-52, missed playoffs
After a 2014-2015 season where the Pelicans made the playoffs as an eight seed, 2015-2016 was supposed to be a huge step forward for Anthony Davis and company. A slow start, and a season-ending injury for Anthony Davis never allowed the Pelicans to reach their potential.
After a 30 win season, the Pelicans lost Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to free agency. They were able to sign Solomon Hill to a 4-year/$48 million deal, as well as select Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield with the sixth pick in the draft.
Davis is probably the best young talent in the NBA today, and should he stay healthy, will probably be the best player in the world within the next four years. However, there is just not enough help for Davis on this roster for the Pelicans to make any real noise.
Perhaps Davis can surpass expectations, and Hield can develop quicker than expected, and New Orleans can surprise some people, but the lack of depth is a major concern.
Most likely scenario for the Pels is that Davis tears it up, and the Pelicans hover around .500 for most of the season, which won’t get it done in the west.
2016-2017 projected record: 37-45
So, the regular season is over, and now it’s time for what every single NBA fan waits over six months for – the playoffs!
If my predictions were to come to life, this is how April, May and June, would shape up for NBA fans:
1. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 8. Atlanta Hawks (own tie breaker with Bulls in this situation, apparently)
2. Boston Celtics vs. 7. Washington Wizards
3.Toronto Raptors vs. 6. Detroit Pistons
4. Indiana Pacers vs. 5. Charlotte Hornets
1. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 4. Indiana Pacers
2. Boston Celtics vs. 3. Toronto Raptors
1. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 2. Boston Celtics
Eastern Conference Champ
1. Golden State Warriors vs. 8. Oklahoma City Thunder
2. San Antonio Spurs vs. 7. Portland Trail Blazers
3. Utah Jazz vs. 6. Memphis Grizzlies
4. LA Clippers vs. 5. Houston Rockets
1. Golden State Warriors vs. 5. Houston Rockets
2. San Antonio Spurs vs. 3. Utah Jazz
Western Conference Finals:
1. Golden State Warriors vs. 2. San Antonio Spurs
Western Conference Champ:
Golden State Warriors
1. Golden State Warriors vs. 1. Cleveland Cavaliers
I’m not even going to think about going there
In writing this, I realized even more so than before how predictable the NBA is. If my predictions were to come true, there would only be two teams in the playoffs this year that weren’t in them last year. And while the exact records and rankings won’t become 100% correct, I’m willing to bet that at least 12 of the 16 teams I picked for the playoffs will make it, because the NBA is that easy to predict. But that’s the sad truth of the NBA – there is just no parody in it.
In the last 37 seasons, only 11 teams have won championships, and that is thanks in part to the Cavs and the Warriors winning the last two, as before it was just nine teams in 35 years. The way the league is laid out right now, there’s just no way for underdog teams to prevail. Going into this season, there is only three teams, in my opinion, that have a legitimate shot to win the championship: the Cavs, the Warriors, and the Spurs. Who else can win? Could Boston or Toronto somehow sneak past the Cavs and get into the Finals? Possibly. But even if they did, what are the chances they’re going to compete with Golden State or San Antonio? Not very good.
Golden State is hoarding four of arguably the top 15 players in the NBA all on one team. Between the Cavs, Spurs, and Warriors, they own arguably nine of the league’s best 30 players. Sure, it’s fun if you root for one of those teams, and as a Cavs fan, I’ll be having a blast this season. But if you root for anyone else, the NBA season is six or seven months of just killing time until baseball or football season.
Sure, it’s fun for teams like Minnesota or Orlando to try and win around 40 games and sneak into the playoffs. But for what? Even if they did get in, there is zero chance they beat the Cavs or Warriors. The NBA isn’t baseball where any team can beat any team in any given series. The worst team in baseball this season, the Minnesota Twins, won 59 games. 59 baseball wins would be equivalent to an NBA team winning 29 or 30 games. The worst NBA team never comes near 30 wins. In fact, last season, six teams won 30 or less games in the NBA, including the Philadelphia 76ers who won 10. Could you imagine if an MLB team went 20-142? This years World Series is featuring two teams that haven’t won a World Series in a combined 176 years. Yes, I know, the NBA Finals two years ago featured a Cavs and Warriors team that hadn’t won in a combined 80-something years, but that’s not going to happen again anytime soon unless LeBron James for some reason gets traded to an organization that has never won a title. But this isn’t meant to be an argument for baseball over basketball, it’s meant to be a realization that the NBA, for lack of a better word, kind of sucks.
I love the NBA, but something needs to be done. Am I okay with watching the Cavs dominate for six months and then coast through the playoffs to the finals? Of course I am, I root for the Cavs. But how miserable must it be right now to be a Los Angeles Clippers fan or a Detroit Pistons fan? You’re going to be okay in the regular season, you’ll make the playoffs, and have some fun, but for nothing. And while it is still fun to be a fan and go to the playoff game, get your free shirt, and scream your displeasures at the opposing team, how long will it be fun for? This is going to be the sixth year of the Clippers being good, and they’re going to have nothing to show for it in the end. While the memories of attending games may be something to treasure, at some point you have to draw the line and say, “I can’t watch this anymore, I already know how this ends.”
To make matters worse, the playoffs, in which you already know is going to end in a Cavs-Warriors trilogy, take over two months to play out. Everyone is aware that the Cavs and Warriors are going to knock out their first round opponent in four or five games, but the NBA will be damned if they do it in under a week and a half. The NBA is already a league in which its players have spoken out numerous times for a shorter season, but the playoffs still manage to take up 25% of the NBA’s season. When the same teams go to the playoffs every year, and the same teams dominate every year, what is the fans incentive to watch the first round, or even first two rounds of the playoffs? How long are fans going to race home from work to watch the Cavs beat the Hawks by 25 in a first or second round playoff game? I can’t imagine it be much longer. The NBA season is like a movie you’ve seen the beginning of 100 times, but you’ve never seen the end. You desperately want to watch the last 20 minutes of it, but you can’t find the remote to fast forward, so you’re forced to watch from the beginning.
If you aren’t a top five team in the NBA, then your best bet is to be a bottom five team, and pray that within five or so years, you’ll be a top five team from hitting it big in the draft. The worst thing an NBA team can be is stuck in mediocrity for years at a time, such as the Bucks or Nuggets.
I don’t know what the NBA can do to fix its problem. It’s not like they are going to shrink the league like LeBron James once suggested back in 2010, there’s too much money to be made. Only adding to its problem is superstars like Kevin Durant leaving their team to join teams that are already championship contenders.
People will still watch Thursday night games on TNT this year, myself included. People will also still watch Sunday afternoon games on ABC this year once the NFL season comes to an end, myself included again. But how long can the NBA ride having 75% of its league being mediocre? We are seeing it now with NFL, where it seems that the same handful of teams are good every year, but the NFL still insists on shoving crappy prime-time games down our throat’s every Thursday night. The ratings are down considerably. How long will people continue to watch teams tank or be stuck in a decade long battle with mediocrity? Eventually, people are going to stop watching that Clippers vs. Warriors Thursday night game. Because while the Clippers may be able to beat the Warriors on a meaningless December night, there’s no way they will hang with them come May in a seven game series, so why bother watching?
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said this about the NFL a few years back, when he believed the NFL was getting greedy with its fans, and I think this is true for the NBA now, too: when pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. The NBA hasn’t reached its weight limit yet, but if they don’t take care of it now, the future holds problems.