#1 Miami Heat- No shock here! The health of Dwayne Wade will play key for the Heat if they want to three-peat. LeBron James is going for his fifth NBA MVP and says he has gotten better during the off-season, which is scary for the rest of the league. With the additions of Michael Beasley and Greg Oden, Miami will have a depth they didn’t in their previous two championship runs. Beasley adds a powerful offensive punch off the bench and Oden (if healthy) will add rim protection for an already great defensive team.
#2 Indiana Pacers- This young team is trying to go from “feel good underdog” to NBA champs. For the past two seasons the Pacers were eliminated by the eventual champion Miami Heat. The most recent coming last season in game seven of the Easter Conference Finals. Indiana has an old school mentality on defense that keeps them in games but they must become more consistent on the offensive end. Too many times last year they found themselves lacking offensive down the stretch of games. With the additions of Luis Scola, CJ Watson and Chris Copeland, Indiana has a much-improved bench. Another area they struggled last year. Watson will give them solid minutes at the back up point guard spot and Copeland will stretch the floor giving the Pacers a three-point threat they didn’t have last season. The big question is can Danny Granger and Paul George coexist on the floor at the same time. If they can figure that out, this team will be in the NBA Finals in June.
#3 Chicago Bulls- “The Return” is upon us. Now that Derrick Rose has come back from an ACL tear he suffered in the 2012 payoffs, both him and the Bulls are looking forward to the future. Tom Thibodeau may be the best coach in the NBA; this guy has done more with less over the past 15 months then any other coach in the league. Injuries have plagued this team but his ability to get the most out of his guys night in and night out is what keeps this team a top of the Eastern Conference each year. The team will have to adapt to having Rose back in the line-up, which could be tricky. Chicago was eighth in the NBA last season in assists per game (23.0) and with Rose back the team cant get caught standing around and watching him. The Bulls are built to win a ton of regular season games but like the Pacers they lack offensive power to beat the Heat. If the Bulls want to surpass Miami this year they will have to get better in half court offensive sets and get new addition Mike Dunlevy Jr. going from the outside.
#4 Brooklyn Nets- On paper the Nets have the best roster in the NBA, having said that ask the Lakers how well that worked out for them last season. With the additions of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce along with Jason Terry Brooklyn has become a legit challenger to the Heat. Those guys add a championship pedigree Joe Johnson and Deron Williams lack. The two concerns for this “super team” will be chemistry of so many new guys with new roles and rookie head coach Jason Kidd. Kidd is coaching two hall-of-famers that are his age and he has never called a timeout in an NBA regular season game. Garnett and Pierce are leaving behind a coach in Doc Rivers they loved and could relate to, it will be interesting to see how those two and Kidd will adapt. The steal for this team was Andrei Kirilenko, his length; defense and ability to score in the open court will help this team tremendously.
#5 New York Knicks- Whelp another year came and went for the New York Knickerbockers and no championship. Will 2013-14 be the end of the drought? Considering Carmelo Anthony was drafted in 2003 with LeBron James and hasn’t made it to an NBA Finals, he has gotten a pass to this point. If he wants to be considered one of the NBA elites he is going to have to prove he can win it all. Now that Amare Stoudemire is back in the starting lineup, questions of offensive flow will be in question if they struggle. The Knicks added Metta World Peace for defense and Andreas Bargnani to make up for the loss of shooter Chris Copeland.
#6 Cleveland Cavaliers- Outside out the Golden State Warriors the Cavaliers have the best young nuclease in the NBA. With the addition of Andrew Bynum Cleveland will add a post presence along side of Anderson Varejao, giving them a balance they didn’t have last year. Obviously this means Bynum will have t stay healthy and keep his mind on the game. Kyrie Irving is emerging as one of the most exciting players in the game and with another off-season to get better he will be looking to take this young squad to the playoffs. The acquisition of Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark will give the Cavs some balance on offense and leadership.
#7 Atlanta Hawks- With Joe Johnson and Josh Smith both out of Atlanta, this season will be about the Hawks looking for a new identity. Al Horford may be one of the most underappreciated players in the NBA. The addition of Paul Milsap will give the Hawks a toughness that will mesh well with Horford. Lou Williams who is coming off injury but when he becomes healthy he will add a spark off the bench for this team; keep him in your 6th man of the year thoughts. Rookie head coach Mike Budenholzer has his work cut out for him this season but Hawks fans should be excited about a new era.
#8 Toronto Raptors- This team has young talent and a core that can make some noise in Toronto. With a full offseason with the Raptors, Rudy Gay will be hoping to get his offense going this year. If Gay wants to lead this team to a playoff birth he is going to need to shoot better then 41.6% from the field like he did last season. DeMar DeRozan is a STUD, he has the ability to score from anywhere on the floor and with a player like Gay on the roster DeRozan will get many one on one situations. The offense will be there but to make a run at the playoffs Toronto will need to make sure they have a defensive a focus.
#9 Detroit Pistons- The Pistons had some great “on paper” additions in the offseason. Even though guys like Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Chauncy Billups will give this team an upgrade from last year, it wont be enough to make the playoffs. Jennings, who is known for his scoring is a volume shooter. The young guard has only shot over 40% in a season once since being drafted in 2009 and is a career 39% shooter. Smith who is exciting to watch at times is also a very limited player offensively and could be irritated with fewer touches.
#10 Washington Wizards- Now that John Wall has received his max deal; its time for him to play like one for an entire season. Bradley Beal will help take some of the offensive pressure away from Wall, I’m just not sold on the fact this team has what it takes to make the playoffs. Wall is coming off a season where he missed 33 games with a knee injury. Health will play a key factor for this team; if these young guys can stay healthy they will be able to build a foundation for years to come.
#11 Charlotte Bobcats- Unless Michael Jordan decides to come out of retirement (again) this Bobcats team wont be anything special. Jordan, known for his bizarre draft picks did it again by selecting Cody Zeller. Kemba Walker has shown glimpses of great play but nothing that suggests he can sustain that for an entire season. Al Jefferson will add leadership and consistency to a franchise that has lacked it for years. Don’t get me wrong, this Bobcats team will be better than last year but its not like they set the bar very high.
#12 Boston Celtics- It’s been quite a few years where the Celtics were entering a season without a contending team. The loss of players like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will hurt tremendously. The transition from Doc Rivers to Brad Stevens will be interesting and entertaining to watch. Rajon Rondo isn’t used to losing, it will be a learning experience for the talented point guard. How he handles it will speak volumes of his maturity but if it becomes too much for him look for Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge to move the All-Star. Rondo will find himself in uncharted territory. With the big-three era over, he will be the main focus of opposing teams and will lack the talent around him to take the pressure off.
#13 Philadelphia 76ers- The 76ers made it no secret this past offseason they want to build for the long term future. Trading All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday may have been the most shocking move any team made this past summer. The addition of Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams are great moves but it will take time for this team to gel and come of age. Carter-Williams was able to show his ability to attack the basket and score with ease during summer league in Orlando. Noel is known to be a great shot blocker but if he doesn’t put on some weight he wont be able to bang around with the NBA’s best.
#14 Milwaukee Bucks- If Bucks fans are hoping OJ Mayo will save the day for their team, they better wake up. Even though Mayo has the talent to be a star in this league, he lacks the intangibles. Having said that, Mayo got the money he was hoping for along with a roster so bad he will be able to shoot as much as he wants. First year head coach Larry Drew will have his work cut out for him this year.
#15 Orlando Magic- If you’re a Magic fan get used to hearing the name Andrew Wiggins. That may be the only thing this team will be playing for this year. NO SHOT at this great organization, just too young and inexperienced to make any type of run this year. Rookie Victor Oladipo is going to be explosive and fun to watch. Head coach Jacque Vaughn will try Oladipo at the point guard spot, a position he showed he can play well during summer league. Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless and Kyle O’Quinn decided to stay in Orlando to train together, something they all said helped their chemistry. General Manager Rob Hennigan may look to move veteran guard Jameer Nelson mid-season if the team is struggling to position themselves better for the draft.