Season preview

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Atlantic division

Brooklyn Nets 

The league’s newest big market franchise is looking scarier than ever. The Nets have acquired essential pieces in building their championship team this season with the additions of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Andrea Kirieinko. Deron Williams can now relax and simply focus on distributing the ball. The only variable in the equation is new Head Coach Jason Kidd. It is too early to say if Kidd will be able to manage the minutes and personalities of this deep roster. The Nets should finish near the top of the Eastern Conference and make some real noise in the playoffs.

New York Knicks

The Knicks have been dethroned by the Nets for the title of best team in New York. This may be a surprise to many, but the Knicks do not have a roster that can contend for an NBA championship. Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler give the squad recognizable names, but this team must still figure out how to play cohesively. New York’s weaknesses will be exposed by a superior team in the playoffs. The Knicks have added a little bit more depth with Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace, but this won’t stop New York from finishing below the top spots in the East.

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors have made some big moves this year. They acquired Tyler Hansborough, Steve Novak, and even added Drake as a global ambassador in the off-season. Canada’s team is really starting to find its way after Bryan Colangelo’s resignation and the hiring of Masai Ujiri. The new nucleus for Toronto consists of Demar Derozan, Terrence Ross, and Jonas Valanciunas after trading Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks. Look for the Raps to finish around ninth or 10th in the East as the growing pains continue for the Raptors.

Boston Celtics 

The reset button has been pushed for one of the greatest franchises in NBA history. In the off-season, the Celtics traded away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, two of the most important players to ever don Celtic green. This year, Boston is going to rely on mainly unproven talent while waiting for All-Star Rajon Rondo to recover from injury. Also, the Celtics introduced the precocious Brad Stevens as their new head coach.   the Celtics will just miss out on the playoffs.

Philadelphia 76ers 

It is safe to say that the 76ers will be the worst team in the NBA this year after falling victim to the promise that Andrew Bynum once had. Their first round draft picks—Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams—have multiple flaws. Noel is recovering from a knee injury and may not play this season while Carter-Williams can’t shoot, or play defense. Expect to see the Sixers at the top of every mock draft from now until Andrew Wiggins stands on stage to shake Adam Silver’s hand.

 

Central Division 

Chicago Bulls

Derrick Rose is back! NBA fans spent the entire 2012-2013 season wondering when the former MVP would return to the basketball court, and the time has finally arrived. With a starting lineup featuring the elite defensive play of Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, this team is  a defensive juggernaut. Jimmy Butler is the x-factor and needs to take the next step in his game and relieve some of the offensive pressure off of Rose. If Carlos Boozer is dealt away and the team receives adequate compensation, Chicago will be in the conversation to win an NBA Championship.

Indiana Pacers

Last season NBA fans saw Paul George mature into a legitmate NBA All-Star and lead the Indiana Pacers to within one game of the NBA Finals. This time around, the Pacers regain the scoring abilities of Danny Granger, who will complement the imposing defence of Roy Hibbert. The team struggled with awful bench-play all season, forcing rehired General Manager Larry Bird to bring in the veteran role players C.J. Watson and Luis Scola to help anchor the back-end of the rotation. With added depth and the return of Granger, this team is set to compete with the top of the East.

Detroit Pistons

If the Pistons are clicking on all cylinders, Motor City might be getting revved up to make some noise in this year’s NBA playoffs. Unfortunately, this won’t be the case. The Pistons had a video game-like off-season, bringing in the talents of Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, but these skill sets come with glaring flaws. Both love to take ill-advised jump shots, and with only one ball to go around, it will be tough to see these players meshing. Detroit will easily make the playoffs as the sixth seed in an Eastern Conference that lacks depth.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers shocked the world this off-season by taking Anthony Bennett with the first pick in the 2013 NBA draft. They followed this up by adding sixth man of the year candidate Jarrett Jack along with the carcass of Andrew Bynum. The team will depend on the elite scoring and playmaking abilities of point guard Kyrie Irving and the development of Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson to find success this year. If Bynum can’t make it onto the court this year, it could be another lottery-pick season for the Cavs in the post-LeBron era.

Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks gave up on the inefficient and overrated offensive duo of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis and recplaced them with Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo. The Bucks are built around a solid group of young role players, a plan that does not lead to success in the NBA. Look for them to try to acquire an All-Star calibre small forward to complement the defensive prowess of Larry Sanders. Unfortunately, the Bucks seem bound for another season stuck in middling purgatory. Milwaukee isn’t good enough to win a playoff series and isn’t bad enough to get a top five draft pick.

 

Southeast division 

Miami Heat

The Miami Heat enter the 2013-2014 campaign with no shortage of confidence, and why shouldn’t they? They have retained the core of their previous championships squads, led by the Big 3. After amnestying Mike Miller, the Heat took a considerable risk in signing the perpetually injured former no. 1 overall pick, Greg Oden. If he can withstand the demanding regular season and playoff schedule, he will provide a vital inside threat offensively and defensively.  The Heat are heavily favoured to become the newest NBA dynasty with a third consecutive championship.

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks attempted to plug the sizable void left by losing franchise cornerstone Josh Smith with the talented and under-appreciated Paul Millsap. Although he may lack Smith’s athleticism, Millsap is a jack-of-all-trades forward who will contribute consistently while bringing a blue collar mindset. In the backcourt, Jeff Teague will have his hands full for the time being, while Lou Williams recovers from a torn ACL. The lack of perimeter options will limit Atlanta’s progress this season and may keep them out of the post-season for the first time in seven years.

Washington Wizards

The Washington Wizards have a lot to be excited about this season, which has not been the case since the departure of Gilbert Arenas. John Wall is poised to break out as a bona fide superstar, while Bradley Beal looks to build on his impressive rookie season. In recent trade activity, the Wizards acquired Marcin Gortat, who is one of the better defensive centres in the game.  It’s been a long time coming for Washington, but the team appears to be ready for their first playoff berth since 2008.

Orlando Magic

Ever since Dwight Howard’s departure, the Magic have been without an all-star calibre player. If his summer league and pre-season success are any indication, rookie Victor Oladipo may be that player somewhere down the road. Look for the athletic guard to contend for Rookie-of-the-Year honours. Third-year centre Nikola Vucevic gobbles up rebounds at a rate that has made fans forget about his predecessor, while Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson provide scoring support. The Magic are taking steps in the right direction but are not quite ready to be in the playoff mix.

Charlotte Bobcats

It feels as if the Bobcats have been in the rebuilding stage for years now. Bringing in Al Jefferson will provide Charlotte with a proven scorer for whom opposing defences will have to account on a nightly basis. The team’s best future assets are also their greatest current liabilities, as second-year small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and rookie Cody Zeller are being thrust into the spotlight with very high expectations. A time will surely come when the potential talent of the Bobcats will come to fruition, but that time is not in the near future.

 

Pacific division

LA Clippers

After winning the Pacific Division for the first time in franchise history last season, the Los Angeles Clippers were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.  This year’s team will be much improved after a busy off-season that saw the departure of Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler, and the addition of Darren Collison, Jared Dudley and JJ Redick. However, the most important off-season change for the Clips has undoubtedly been hiring of Doc Rivers as their head coach.  With a strong core and deep bench, the Clippers will compete again for first place in the division this season.

Golden State Warriors

There was no team more captivating in the NBA last season.  Stephen Curry electrified the league with a breakout year that included topping Ray Allen’s record for three-pointers in a season.  With no significant losses aside from reliable bench pieces Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, the Warriors are a rising force and will look to make the Finals for the first time since their 1975 championship team.  The acquisition of All-Star defensive menace Andre Iguodala will help the squad’s young nucleus grow. Golden State will now have the capability to fully embrace the role of a dark horse contender.

LA Lakers

Hollywood’s team is in for a long season. Nobody knows how many games Kobe Bryant will play after suffering a serious injury to his Achilles tendon last season. Steve Nash is nowhere near his prime, and Pau Gasol is at the centre of constant trade rumours. The starting five includes the likes of small forward Wesley Johnson and power forward Jordan Hill.  Coach Mike D’Antoni has little to work with, as the only significant newcomers are Nick Young and Chris Kaman.  It would be a surprise if D’Antoni makes it through the season before getting a pink slip.

Sacramento Kings 

The Kings are rolling the dice on the enigmatic DeMarcus Cousins, giving the talented but troubled big man a max level extension.  The move was probably co-owner Shaquille O’Neal’s idea, and although the genie’s wisdom can’t be doubted (see: Kazaam), this move is not going to push Sacramento above mediocrity.  Neither is the signing of breakout guard Greivis Vazquez or the play of rookie shooting guard Ben McLemore.  However, this is a promising young team that will definitely build on last season with the promises of a new era following a new owner, general manager, and head coach.

Phoenix Suns

This will be an interesting season in Phoenix as we watch how the Eric Bledsoe trade works out.  The team has impressive salary flexibility due to the departure of numerous veterans. Under first-year Head Coach Jeff Hornacek, the revamped Suns’ biggest obstacle will be finding cohesion among a group of fresh players.  Phoenix has shown a willingness to create a long term plan that involves mortgaging the present, and such intent will land them at the top of the lottery come draft time.

 

Northwest division

Oklahoma City Thunder

Even though the Thunder are clearly the class of the Northwest division, there are glaring flaws with the roster as it is currently built. Superstar forward Kevin Durant will have to shoulder a larger scoring load until Russell Westbrook returns. There are several question marks on this roster aside from the dynamic duo. Once known for its trio of young stars, the Thunder had to let go of All-Star guard James Harden to stay under the luxury tax—with minimal returns from the trade. If they are to succeed next May, the team will need consistent bench production from either Jeremy Lamb or Reggie Jackson.

Minnesota Timberwolves

For the past few seasons, the Wolves have been fighting the injury bug and the ineptitude of recently jettisoned General Manager David Kahn. If healthy, this year’s pack is a good bet to return the franchise to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Presently, the team arguably possesses the league’s best power forward, Kevin Love. Look for him to lead a dominant offence with Ricky Rubio, and the newly acquired Kevin Martin. Defence will be a glaring liability at times, but if coach Rick Adelman can squeeze some passable defence out of his team, be prepared to pencil them in for a low playoff seed.

Denver Nuggets

It’s hard to be optimistic about the 2013-2014 Nuggets. Ty Lawson will put together dazzling fast breaks, Kenneth “The Manimal” Faried will hustle his way to rebounds he has no business snagging, and Nate Robinson will probably get hot off the bench and go for 50 points one night—but it’s fool’s gold to think that any of it will be enough to make the squad a lock for an 11th straight post-season appearance. This year’s group could be a pleasant surprise, but don’t expect the Nuggets to emerge out of a loaded Western Conference.

Portland Trail Blazers

Rip City spent the first half of last season in the thick of the playoff race thanks to another impressive year from LaMarcus Aldridge and the outstanding play of Rookie-of-the-Year Damian Lillard. Portland has a nice collection of pieces moving forward with C.J. McCollum, Thomas Robinson, and Meyers Leonard playing behind solid starters Nicholas Batum and Robin Lopez. While they brought in more young talent and addressed their once-laughable bench, the Trail Blazers are still a long shot to leapfrog fringe playoff teams in a deep Northwest Division.

Utah Jazz

By letting go of two established big men who helped them compete for the eighth seed the past two years, Utah cleared the front court for two developing big men who may play integral roles on a Jazz contender one day. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter will fill the void left by Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson in the starting lineup, Gordon Hayward will log heavy minutes on the wing, and the young backcourt of Trey Burke and Alec Burks will aim to provi de perimeter support. If anyone in the Northwest is ‘Riggin for Wiggins,’ it’s Utah.

 

Southwest division

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs came within one play of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy last season. Despite an aging core, San Antonio remains the favourite to win the division. While playoffs and a high seed are essentially a guarantee, there will be questions as to whether the team has the energy to make another deep playoff run. Coach Greg Popovich will likely employ the same tactic of limiting minutes for his ancient Big 3 during the season, in order to have enough in the tank come playoff time. With another year of experience under his belt, Kawhi Leonard’s role should also grow.

Memphis Grizzlies

This off-season featured a number of odd coaching changes. Former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins is among a number of coaches who were fired despite leading their team to success. Former assistant Dave Joerger will replace him, taking over a team that is hoping to improve on a 2012-2013 campaign that saw them make the conference finals before being swept by San Antonio. With very few changes in the roster, the Grizzlies are hoping that a change in tempo will lead to improvements.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets made the biggest splash this off-season, signing Dwight Howard to a four-year max level deal. The chemistry between Howard and superstar guard James Harden makes sense on paper, but is unproven on the court. Elsewhere, Houston must figure out whether Jeremy Lin is the answer at the point guard spot and whether center Omer Asik can capably mesh with Howard. The move to acquire Howard makes the Rockets a serious contender in a tough Western Conference, but the team lacks the depth that is needed for a long playoff run.

Dallas Mavericks

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Mavericks were crowned NBA champions, but it certainly feels that way. Since that season, Dallas has endured two seasons of mediocrity. The team added guards Monta Ellis, Devin Harris, and Jose Calderon in the off-season for slight improvements. The Mavs are in a difficult position: they aren’t close to being a contender, but are too good to bottom out. With very little salary on the books for 2014-2015, it seems that the Mavs could slide into a low playoff seed before what should be a very busy off-season.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans (formerly the Hornets) are often overlooked. In perhaps the toughest division in basketball, the Pelicans are sitting at the bottom looking up. The centrepiece of the ongoing rebuild is  Anthony Davis. The ‘Brow is a special talent, but the Pelicans gave him little to work with last season. This off-season they traded for young guards Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday. The two of them join Eric Gordon in a backcourt that should fill up the stat sheet. The Pelicans have young talent on its roster but the team will need more experience before it can get back to the playoffs.