1. Miami Heat
Last season: 46-20, won NBA Finals. Coach: Erik Spoelstra.
Starting five: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier, LeBron James, Chris Bosh
Outlook: The Heat brought the same crew back for another run, along with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to strengthen the inconsistent bench. Hard to fathom the Heat not at least reaching the conference finals if they avoid injury. The question, as usual, is a lack of a legitimate center and whether the club will be motivated to repeat after finally winning the title last year.
2. Atlanta Hawks
Last season: 40-26, lost in first round. Coach: Larry Drew.
Starting lineups: Jeff Teague, Anthony Morrow, Kyle Korver, Josh Smith, Al Horford
Outlook: The retooled Hawks still lack a superstar but they also ridded themselves off ball-consuming Joe Johnson and this may allow Smith to develop into an All-Star. The problem is new GM Danny Ferry will need time and cap space to attract a championship-caliber supporting cast, so the Hawks will work with their makeshift lineup with Horford as the anchor.
3. Washington Wizards
Last season: 20-46, missed playoffs. Coach: Randy Wittman
Starting five: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene, Emeka Okafor.
There was actually hope in Washington this season before Wall went down with a knee injury and now is expected to miss the first six weeks. Former UConn player A.J. Price will run the point with rookie Beal as his sidekick in the backcourt. The Wizards actually have veteran stability in Nene and Okafor and the team should be improved.
4. Orlando Magic
Last season: 37-29, lost in first round. Coach: Jacque Vaughn
Starting five: Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Gustavo Ayon.
Outlook: Dwight Howard to Gustavo Ayon, huh? Well it’s rebuilding time in Orlando with new coach Jacque Vaughn and a handful of new players acquired in the Howard trade or through the draft. Nelson is now the leader and Turkoglu the go-to guy, so it will be a struggle for the Magic to keep up with the more polished teams down the stretch. The Magic will just hope for improvement each night. Sounds exciting?
5. Charlotte Bobcats
Last season: 7-59, missed playoffs. Coach: Mike Dunlap
Starting five: Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood.
Outlook: Respectability is a long road and the Bobcats basically just booted up the GPS for the ride. They are better because they actually have good rookies in Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeffrey Taylor. It’s time for Kemba Walker to emerge as a starter while Gordon has to prove he has something left after a miserable stint in Detroit. The Bobcats will be more competitive but that’s about it.
1. Indiana Pacers
Last season: 42-24, lost in conference semifinals. Coach: Frank Vogel
Starting five: George Hill, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert.
Outlook: This is the year for the Pacers to take that next major step and become an NBA Finals contender. They got good experience last season with the playoff loss to Miami. With Hibbert signed to a new contract and George a developing star, there is no reason for Indiana to expect less that the No. 2 seed in the East. It may be the Pacers’ time.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Last season: 31-35, missed playoffs. Coach: Scott Skiles
Starting five: Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Tobias Harris, Ersan Ilyasova, Samuel Dalembert.
Outlook: This may be Skiles’s last chance with the Bucks after two non-playoff seasons, but he has a quality crew of players after the team parted ways with Andrew Bogut. The backcourt of Jennings and Ellis is the fastest in the league, while Ilyasova should have won most improved last year. With the Bulls likely struggling out of the gate, Milwaukee has a chance to be sneaky good.
3. Chicago Bulls
Last season: 50-16, lost in first round. Coach: Tom Thibodeau
Starting five: Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah.
Outlook: With Derrick Rose expected to miss most of the season because of ACL surgery, the Bulls will rely on players who haven’t been consistent in delivering. Hinrich returns from Atlanta to run the show in Rose’s absence, and Thibodeau’s defensive prowess will help the Bulls survive until Rose returns.
4. Detroit Pistons
Last season: 25-41, missed playoffs. Coach: Lawrence Frank
Starting five: Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, Greg Monroe.
Outlook: Things are looking up for the Pistons as they finally move on from the remnants of their 2004 title team and build with younger players. Monroe is a splendid post player who gave the Celtics major issues last season and he’s a solid cornerstone. For the Pistons to make a run at the eighth playoff spot, Knight needs to make more of an impact and Stuckey has to be consistent.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last season: 21-45, missed playoffs. Coach: Byron Scott
Starting five: Kyrie Irving, C.J. Miles, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao.
Outlook: The Cavaliers are a year or two away from contending but it will be fun to watch Irving develop into one of the league’s top guards. Thompson had a solid rookie season while Gee became a surprise contributor. The Cavaliers are taking baby steps to respectability and this year they will be better, but not playoff caliber.
1. Boston Celtics
Last season: 39-27, lost in conference finals. Coach: Doc Rivers
Starting five: Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Jared Sullinger, Kevin Garnett.
Outlook: The run was supposed to end last year but GM Danny Ainge ensured another shot through some shrewd moves, including the acquisition of Lee and re-signing of Green. With Ray Allen gone, Jason Terry will serve as the primary scorer off the bench. Unlike past years, the Celtics have legitimate depth and it could lead to a return trip to the NBA Finals.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
Last season: 35-31, lost in conference semifinals. Coach: Doug Collins
Starting five: Jrue Holiday, Jason Richardson, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Andrew Bynum.
Outlook: While the 76ers’ run to the conference semifinals was spirited, they made several changes, including acquiring the space-eating Bynum, who is big and productive when healthy. They got rid of Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams, meaning more is expected from Turner and Holiday. The 76ers will be a tough opponent every night, but still a step away from elite.
3. New York Knicks
Last season: 36-30, lost in first round. Coach: Mike Woodson
Starting five: Raymond Felton, Ronnie Brewer, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler.
Outlook: The Knicks definitely got older, if not better. Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, and Rasheed Wallace join the club to help out but it will all come down to whether Anthony and Stoudemire can flourish under Woodson. Woodson was hired as full-time coach at the end of last season, but he has yet to prove he’s a frontline coach. This is his chance.
4. Brooklyn Nets
Last season: 22-44, missed playoffs. Coach: Avery Johnson
Starting five: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez.
Outlook: The only reason the Nets are picked fourth here is because someone had to finish there. Brooklyn has unquestioned talent but the question is whether Avery Johnson can gather all these pieces quickly. The key player here may be Joe Johnson, who could never lead the Hawks to the next level. He needs to be more productive.
5. Toronto Raptors
Last season: 23-43, missed playoffs. Coach: Dwane Casey
Starting five: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani.
Outlook: The Raptors are in rebuilding mode yet again but they are an interesting bunch with players such as DeRozan and Bargnani trying to prove they aren’t busts. Rookie center Jonas Valanciunas may bid for playing time as Toronto waited a year for him to develop in Lithuania. Lowry is a more explosive option than steady Jose Calderon.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
Last season: 47-19, lost in NBA Finals. Coach: Scott Brooks.
Starting five: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins.
Without the recently traded James Harden, the Thunder may take a few steps back until they build chemistry with Kevin Martin, who will come off the bench and score, which is his forte. If Kendrick Perkins is healthy from a series of injuries and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook continue to flourish, there’s no reason the Thunder can’t return to the Finals.
2. Denver Nuggets
Last season: 38-28, lost in first round. Coach: George Karl.
Starting five: Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee.
Outlook: The Nuggets have put together an athletic roster that can score. Now the question is whether a team that’s essentially starless can overcome the Thunder and Lakers. Iguodala is a perfect fit here because he won’t be depended on as the savior, while Lawson is an effective guard. If McGee can stay focused and become a defensive stopper, the Nuggets will be a formidable opponent.
3. Utah Jazz
Last season: 36-30, lost in first round. Coach: Tyrone Corbin
Starting five: Mo Williams, Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson.
Outlook: It’s taken time but the Jazz are geared for a serious playoff run. They have experience, talent, and youth, and the underrated Corbin can take Utah to new heights. The bench is strong with Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Randy Foye along with long-strider Jeremy Evans. Utah lacks a superstar but has plenty of contributors.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
Last season: 26-40, missed playoffs. Coach: Rick Adelman
Starting five: Luke Ridnour, Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic.
Outlook: Playoff talk would have filled the chilly streets of Minneapolis, but Love broke his hand during training and will miss two months. Minnesota still has enough talent to grab that eighth seed but will need Roy and Kirilenko, both of whom did not play in the NBA last season, to return to vintage form.
5. Portland Trail Blazers
Last season: 28-38, missed playoffs. Coach: Terry Stotts.
Starting five: Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, J.J. Hickson.
Outlook: The Trail Blazers will take time to build chemistry but there is talent here, just not overwhelming talent. Lillard is a Rookie of the Year candidate with speed and star potential while Aldridge has become the franchise cornerstone. Stotts, in his third stint as a head coach after failures in Atlanta and Milwaukee, was an interesting choice.
1. San Antonio Spurs
Last season: 50-16, lost in conference finals.
Coach: Gregg Popovich.
Starting five: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw.
Outlook: There is no reason to think the Spurs can’t do this one more time. They are ushering their younger pieces, such as Green and Leonard, into bigger roles to reduce the pressure off Duncan and sixth man Manu Ginobili. But the Spurs were exposed by the Thunder in the playoffs and it’s hard to figure that they will someone figure out younger teams.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
Last season: 41-25, lost in first round. Coach: Lionel Hollins.
Starting five: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol.
Outlook: The Grizzlies essentially stayed the same besides adding Jerryd Bayless and letting O.J. Mayo go, which will keep them right where they were, not quite good enough to run with the Thunder and Lakers. For them to avoid such fate, Gay and Conley will have to turn in career years and Randolph will have to show his knees are completely healthy .
3. Dallas Mavericks
Last season: 36-30, lost in first round. Coach: Rick Carlisle.
Starting five: Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman.
Outlook: The Mavericks, desperately fighting age and insignificance, have one final run toward the playoffs. Nowitzki will miss a chunk of the season after knee surgery, so the question is who is going to score? Marion? Mayo? Vince Carter? For the Mavericks not to shrink into oblivion, someone has to help Nowitzki.
4. Houston Rockets
Last season: 34-32, missed playoffs. Coach: Kevin McHale.
Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Omer Asik.
This team is considerably different now than a few days ago with the acquisition of James Harden, who will be the team’s immediate go-to player and franchise cornerstone. The questions is whether he can adapt to such a prominent role and blend with Jeremy Lin, who will begin his first season as a starting NBA point guard.
5. New Orleans Hornets
Last season: 21-45, missed playoffs. Coach: Monty Williams.
Starting five: Greivis Vasquez, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis.
The Hornets are going to struggle for a while, that’s the way it is when you integrate two lottery picks. Austin Rivers will take time to assume point guard duties, so Vasquez is the man for now. Gordon, who campaigned to leave in the offseason, will need to get his head back into playing for New Orleans. He will be relied upon to score a lot.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Last season: 41-25, lost in conference semifinals.
Coach: Mike Brown.
Starting five: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard.
Outlook: Well the Lakers weren’t going to stay a second-tier contender for long. They ramped up for another title run by acquiring Nash, 38, and Howard, who is in the final year of his contract. The Lakers have a Hall of Fame-caliber starting lineup, but the bench is the question. What happens when Nash and Howard get tired? Kobe doesn’t get tired.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
Last season: 40-26, lost in conference semifinals.
Coach: Vinny Del Negro.
Starting five: Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan.
Outlook: Bizarre to say that a second-round elimination was a disappointment for the Clippers, but it was. With Paul healthy after a full training camp, Los Angeles should compete for the second or third seed
. Griffin has to develop more of a face-up game and Jordan has to stay out of foul trouble. But this team is deep.
3. Golden State Warriors
Last season: 23-43, missed playoffs. Coach: Mark Jackson
Starting five: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee, Andrew Bogut.
Outlook: No more excuses for the Warriors. If they are healthy, they have a shot at the fifth or sixth seed. Thompson could be a future star while, and while Barnes may not have been the sexiest pick, he was the right one. It all depends on whether Curry and Bogut (ankles) hold up for an entire season. The Warriors should be a factor.
4. Phoenix Suns
Last season: 33-33, missed playoffs. Coach: Alvin Gentry.
Starting five: Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat.
Outlook: Not sure what direction the Suns are headed. They acquired the aging Scola and the mercurial Beasley to begin the post-Nash era. There are so many new players and question marks, you wonder what type of expectations management has. Gentry is a solid coach and an up-tempo style should win some games, but playoffs are far away.
5. Sacramento Kings
Last season: 22-44, missed playoffs. Coach: Keith Smart.
Starting five: Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins.
Outlook: It’s likely back to the lottery for the Kings, who are playing in the league’s worst arena and are unsure how long they will remain in Sacramento. But the intriguing part is the young talent: Cousins is a potential All-Star and rookie Thomas Robinson a rugged addition. Evans has to produce this season after two disappointing ones.