NBA 2017-18 Season preview - Every team in detail

NBA 2017-18 Season preview - Every team in detail

Basketball: The 2017-18 NBA season is here.

It was a wild offseason with superstar players getting traded left and right. We have also enjoyed the social media highlights of China Klay, workout LeBron, and smiling Kawhi. But, enough with that. The NBA season needs to start already. We’re tired of having a certain someone call out our favorite sports personalities and flood our Twitter timelines with nonsense.

It’s time to indulge in another season of the hit TV drama: The National Basketball Association. Twitter drama can now be limited to stress tweeting during fourth-quarter comebacks and close games.

Some teams are entering the 2017-18 campaign with the expectation of title contention, while others are in rebuilding mode. Others are just caught in NBA limbo — not good enough for a high playoff seed, but talented enough to barely make the playoffs.

Let’s take a look at each NBA Division for the upcoming season:

NBA Southwest Division:

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans are in an interesting situation. They have arguably a top-5 NBA talent in Anthony Davis, who is the Pelicans are in an interesting situation. They have arguably a top-5 NBA talent in Anthony Davis, who is their franchise player and only 24-years-old, by the way.

Last season, New Orleans went all-in and traded rookie Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans and a first-round pick for All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi. It was a trade that left the entire NBA flabbergasted, as if the Pelicans had committed grand larceny. The team was pegged to make a strong push for the eighth seed last year, but fell flat.

In this New Age NBA, where having a shooting backcourt is essential to success, the Pelicans have loaded their talent in the front court. It’s an interesting experiment that we’ll get a better taste of, as Cousins has had a full offseason to get acclimated to the offense.

Both Davis and Cousins can work around the perimeter and around the basket. Adding Rondo and Allen provides additional veteran leadership and solid defense. Collectively, they have made 10 All-NBA Defensive teams in their careers (both first and second teams). However, both are atrocious jump shooters.

The Pelicans threw out the red carpet when they re-signed Jrue Holiday to a five-year, $126 million extension this offseason. Holiday will be entering his ninth NBA season, and the success of this team will teeter on his ability to run the offense. Having Cousins and Davis should make his job much easier; he can also play off-guard when Rondo runs the point.

If Alvin Gentry is unable to get this team to the playoffs yet again, don’t be surprised if the Pelicans’ organization tires to blow up the team and start over.

Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks are in rebuilding mode. Last season was just the first year the team posted a losing record in the Rick Carlisle era. Luckily, the team has struck it big by landing Dennis Smith, Jr. at the ninth pick in this year’s draft and acquiring Nerlens Noel on virtually pennies on the dollar from the Philadelphia 76ers.

Rick Carlisle should be considered in the top five of elite NBA coaches, along with Greg Popovich, Steve Kerr, Erik Spoelstra and Mike D’Antoni. He has the ability to get the most out of his players without having elite talent all around. Dirk Nowitzki is a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he is in the twilight of his career and this year might be his last hurrah.

The Mavericks will be rocking the young trio of Harrison Barnes, Nerlens Noel and Dennis Smith, Jr.

Smith might just be the biggest steal of the draft, falling all the way to number nine. If Las Vegas Summer League was any indication, Smith is an explosive guard and exceptional finisher at the rim.

He has a bit of young Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook in his game. For a team that has mowed through hundreds of point guards, the team might just have found its next franchise player to take the torch from Nowitzki.

Memphis Grizzlies

memphis grizzlies logo.png

The Memphis Grizzlies were branded as Grind City: a tenacious group of gritty defenders. Defense is what defined the team and what made them successful over the years. Yet, they lost two of their most notable characters in Tony Allen and Zach Randolph to free agency. This leaves a big hole on their bench as well as in the locker room in terms of veteran presence.

Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are still talented enough to lead a playoff push for this team, but it’s hard to say they got better this offseason.

Adding McLemore and Evans is pretty underwhelming, but Chandler Parsons has a chance to redeem himself after a disappointing first year that was cut short due to a season-ending knee injury.

Andrew Harrison, therefore, should be the best candidate for an increased role with the departure of Vince Carter. Harrison can create his own shot and has extended range which Memphis has lacked over the years.

This team is closer to being a fringe playoff team rather than a title contender. The talent is there, but the team just isn’t enticing. David Fizdale might just be one of the better young coaches in the NBA, but I don’t see this team making the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs

Death, Taxes and Spurs in the playoffs: All are certainties in life.

The Spurs are the model franchise, having made the playoffs just about two straight decades. Each and every year they are in discussion for title contention and each and every year Greg Popovich outsmarts us all.

He was able to clone Tim Duncan’s DNA and upload his genetic profile into Kawhi Leonard — a true robot that shows no emotion or expression on the court.

The Spurs should contend for a top-three seed in the West, as the team is substantially the same as last year. But the key loss was breakout player Jonathan Simmons, replaced by notorious chucker Rudy Gay.

We all know the Spurs will make the playoffs. But, let’s face it: This team is old. Pau Gasol is 37, Manu Ginobili is 40 and Tony Parker is 35. These are arguably three of their top five or six players and it’s just not reasonable to expect them to continue to draw from the fountain of youth.

Parker is still on the road to recovery after suffering a ruptured quad tendon in last year’s Western Conference Semifinals. Patty Mills is the starting point guard and does a fairly good job, but there is another young guard who has a chance to break out this year: Dejounte Murray.

Murray should see an expanded role with Parker still recovering. He is an exciting 6-foot-5 point guard coming into his second year. While Mills is able to succeed off of fundamentals, Murray possesses a bit more skill and could be a better long-term fit.

His length gives him advantage over smaller guards and he has great range. With the limited shots he got off last year, Murray was able to put up a 39% three-point field-goal percentage.

Keep an eye out for Murray this year.

Houston Rockets

Chris Paul is a Houston Rocket.

Although it still sounds weird to say, Paul was part of a blockbuster trade this summer — traded to the Rockets for a boatload of players and a future first-round pick.

Most notable losses are Dekker, Beverley, and Williams, which was a BIG gamble by Daryl Morey, as the team sacrificed a lot of depth in exchange for a premium player. Now the Rockets have an elite backcourt, pairing two top-10 NBA players in James Harden and Paul.

The issue here is whether they can coexist as running mates. Both need to play on-ball to really be effective, and with Harden transitioning to point guard last season, they both play the same position. The benefit of bringing in Paul is that it allows D’Antoni to stagger their minutes to have at least one of them play with the second unit.

D’Antoni proved he can make this offense run, and Paul adds another facet that can further unlock their potential. However, the expectations for this team might be a bit excessive. Though Paul is a great player, he is a 32-year-old player who has already hit his peak. And the players lost by way of trade should not be discounted. Beverley is a pest on defense, Dekker was starting to carve out a significant role and Williams was an efficient bench scorer.

The best breakout candidate might just be Clint Capela.

With the departure of Dwight Howard last offseason, Capela carved out a larger role and had a bit of a breakout already. With Paul added to the mix, Capela can expect to see even more opportunities at the rim. He may not be DeAndre Jordan, but I expect a lot of lobs to the rim.

This team will be good, but I would peg them below the Spurs in the division. The Paul trade could easily blow up in their faces, however, and he could leave for nothing next summer.

NBA Northhwest Division:

The Northwest is a gauntlet. This is the only division in the league in which all five teams could realistically make the playoffs, a feat that would be all the more impressive considering how many times they would run into one another. Three of the five teams can trace their promise to banner offseasons.

This division alone absorbed four of last year’s Eastern Conference All-Stars, largely by way of lopsided trades. The playoff race in the West should be all the better for it. This, by sheer coincidence, turned out to be the division of lofty expectations, league pass darlings, and incredible intrigue. The answers to some of the biggest questions in the league start here.

Minnesota Timberwolves

This is the year the Timberwolves grow up. Karl-Anthony Towns is as capable a big man as you’ll find in the league, but it’s time to put his considerable defensive potential into practice. Andrew Wiggins has all the raw tools necessary to be, well, Jimmy Butler, but to this point has failed to make the jump to two-way influence. Butler’s arrival creates a different kind of urgency. No longer is this a fun, young team content to develop at its own pace.

Much is expected of the Wolves because—for the first time in a long while—they have everything they need to win. Butler gives Minnesota a proven star at its center who cares deeply about defense. Towns is one of the league’s truly unguardable players, able to compromise his matchup beyond measure. Wiggins is the kind of high scorer whose game could be focused to even greater potency. The Wolves have stabilizing veterans in Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson, a solid bench big in Gorgui Dieng, and useful specialists in Jamal Crawford, Shabazz Muhammad, and Aaron Brooks. The pieces are in play for Tom Thibodeau to turn an afterthought franchise into a playoff fixture. All that remains is the diligence, man to man, of committing to the team’s principles and getting it done.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Outlook: The deals the Thunder ultimately made for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are the sort that strain credulity. Surely Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis weren’t enough to snag George, a borderline top-10 player and one of the best two-way wings in a league starved for them. Surely the Knicks would want more in return for Carmelo Anthony than Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a second round pick, the sum value of which pales in comparison to one of the league’s most accomplished scorers.

Yet here we are, poised to witness the league’s most preposterous superteam. That’s a fair substitute for last season’s Russell Westbrook Spectacular. Entertaining as it was to watch Westbrook roll a boulder up a hill while his teammates watched, this variant of the Thunder is substantially more complete. Nothing on this planet can stop Westbrook from applying consistent pressure. But now when that pressure comes, it’s stars like George and Anthony who reap the benefits. There are bound to be some logistical quirks in juggling the usage of three star players, but OKC has a perfect blend of low-maintenance role players (Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Patrick Patterson) to ease the process. The talent involved makes too much sense together for this to be anything less than a formidable team.

Portland Trailblazers

Outlook: The acquisition of Jusuf Nurkic back in February didn’t just change the Blazers’ season. It recontextualized the team’s immediate future. Portland played so well after acquiring the 23-year-old center that it could look at its roster in different terms. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum need a frontcourt counterpart with offensive skill and significant defensive potential. Nurkic could be it. The early returns (15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.9 blocks per game) were staggering, and one can expect even more familiar, nuanced play from Nurkic once he’s had more time to learn his teammates’ tendencies.

What remains to be seen is whether it’s enough. Portland is already stretched thin, financially, and yet its roster might not have all the options needed to take the next step. The additions of Nurkic and a few rookies also won’t be enough to completely redeem the Blazers’ lacking defense, even after removing minus-defender Allen Crabbe from the equation. We can expect the Blazers to play smart basketball behind two clear stars and a varied supporting cast. That just might not be enough to even make the playoffs in a conference this loaded, much less advance in any meaningful way.

Utah Jazz

Outlook: The story of Utah’s season begins, somewhat painfully, with Gordon Hayward. The closest thing the Jazz had to a primary creator last season bolted for Boston in free agency, leaving the team to rally around the frame of a roster it had left. There’s still more than enough to keep competitive—if at a different level. Rudy Gobert might be the league’s most powerful defensive force and is far better offensively than is widely understood. To flank Gobert with Derrick Favors, Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, and Joe Ingles is effectively a guarantee of elite defense. No opponent will relish playing against this group of shot enders and ball hawks. They might, however, still be able to outscore the Jazz by way of attrition.

The players stepping in for Hayward and George Hill (now a King) are lesser scorers by any measure, straining the equilibrium of what was a delicately balanced offense. The ball will move enough for every potential scorer to try their hand, but even the most plausible formulas for scoring success lean heavily on the likes of Favors, Rodney Hood, Joe Johnson, Alec Burks, or rookie Donovan Mitchell. A measure of skepticism is deserved.

In light of Hayward”s free agent defection, Rodney Hood should see an all-you-can-eat buffet of creative opportunity. His growing role is a matter of necessity. The structure of his game suggests he can handle it; Hood has the ball-handling ability and pick-and-roll awareness to do some real damage. The Jazz, frankly, need every morsel of scoring that Hood can muster. All the layered, side-to-side action in the world can’t replace the do-it-all wing that Utah lost. If Hood can take the next step in his progression, however, he could at least paper over some of the gaps that Hayward left behind.

NBA Pacific Division:

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors will once again finish atop the Western Conference, for the fourth season in a row. They should have no trouble against their Pacific Division rivals, and should comfortably cruise to the top of the division. Each team in the Pacific Division certainly has their strengths and weaknesses. It will definitely be interesting to see if any of these teams can be the Warriors’ kryptonite. The Pacific Division won’t be regarded by many as the strongest division in the league, however, some teams may be surprise packages this season.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers will kick off this Pacific Division preview. The Clippers are definitely an intriguing team this year, with questions surrounding their prospects in the post-Chris Paul era. The Clippers will encounter some adversity this season as they navigate the rough waters of the Western Conference.

The team now falls in the hands of veteran forward Blake Griffin. This season will prove whether or not Griffin is a true leader, and if he has put his past maturity issues behind him. Miloš Teodosić, the Clippers’ Chris Paul replacement has his work cut out for him. While he is an accomplished EuroLeague player, the NBA is a different animal. While he should perform well this season, the Clippers will definitely feel Paul’s absence. The Clippers will have stability at the center position, with workhorse DeAndre Jordan holding down the paint. The rest of the Los Angeles Rockets – excuse me – Clippers, should be nice complementary players to the team’s stars.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings will enter their first full season without DeMarcus Cousins, as their young squad goes to war in the West. Veteran Rudy Gay is gone, too, although another veteran in Vince Carter joins the squad.

The Kings are quite an enigmatic team heading into the new season. It’s hard to know what to make of them. They’re a young team that boast a number of prospective stars, including Buddy Hield and rookie De’Aaron Fox.

However, they don’t strike me as a team that will make any noise in the Western Conference. The Kings lack star power at the present, and star power is essential in the West. The Kings were one of nine Western Conference teams in 2017 with an All-Star. That All-Star, Cousins, is now a New Orleans Pelican. It’s hard to make any argument for the Kings finishing inside the top ten teams in the West.

Los Angeles Lakers

Will Lonzo Ball prove his father correct and shape up to be a Big Baller? That’s the question on everyone’s lips ahead of the upcoming season. The Lakers are one of the more exciting teams as we approach the beginning of the season. The young core – led by Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and veteran big man Brook Lopez – should carry the Lakers to a higher position in the West.

The Lakers are bursting with potential future All-Star talent. They need to have a solid year to convince any of the 2018 free agent superstars to join them. This is a nice team, which won’t scare any of the West’s powerhouses, but should shock a few of the big teams this year.

This squad, like the Kings, lacks a superstar, however, are a better team overall. Big men, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Thomas Bryant should make big strides this year under the tutelage of Lopez and veteran Andrew Bogut. While not destined for a high win-total, the Lakers will be fun to watch this year.

Phoenix Suns

For the Suns, the only way is up, after finishing last in the Western Conference in 2016/17. The Suns, like the Kings and Lakers, boat future star potential. After years of having lottery picks, that’s to be expected. The Suns finally look to have some direction, and if point guard Eric Bledsoe can stay healthy, the Suns could be one of the league’s surprise teams.

The Suns have had a rough few years, plagued by injuries and the loss of stars such as Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragić. However, the Suns have performed well in the draft recently, with prodigies such as Devin Booker and Josh Jackson shaping up to be strong contributors. The squad, is still a few solid pieces off playoff contention, but, they’re heading in the right direction. The 2017/18 season should see the Suns make a few more small improvements on their way to future contention.

NBA Central Division:

The Central Division has had a huge shakeup of talent this summer. It’s seen three of its top players leave with very little in return.

The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers have all shipped out All-Star caliber players in Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Kyrie Irving. That’s arguably three of the division’s top five players gone. Just like that.

The Pacers got screwed. The Bulls might come out okay. And the Cavaliers appeared to get the best return. As of now, at least.

You can also add the Detroit Pistons to the list of teams who lost one of their top players. They failed to re-sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who bolted to the Los Angeles Lakers on a one-year “prove-it” deal.

That only leaves the Milwaukee Bucks. They are the only team who didn’t lose a significant contributor. However, Jabari Parker won’t return to action until February thanks to an ACL tear, and who knows if he will ever be the same again?

The door is now open for a few of the teams to climb the ladder and make some noise. Whether they take advantage of the chaos, however, remains to be seen.

Regardless, the reigning Central champs should have little trouble repeating. The real battle will come in the middle of the pack.

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls made the second-worst trade in the division this offseason. However, they certainly got a few players with good potential in Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. Heck, even Kris Dunn could turn out to be a solid rotational player.

Markkanen is perhaps one of the biggest unknowns on the roster. With the nickname like Baby Dirk, he has high expectations to live up to. At least as far as NBA Summer League goes, he’s having a positive impression on the fans of his new team:

Nikola Mirotic also remains a free agent. He’s stuck on the wrong end of the spectrum. He’s not a superstar who demands a high salary, nor is he a scrub who can play for a minimum contract. After last year’s gold rush, his status as an average to above-average player leaves teams without the money to pay him his true worth.

It won’t make a big difference whether he re-signs or not. Unfortunately, Chicago is in for a long rebuild. This will be the first of many, many long seasons to come.

Indiana Pacers:

The Pacers got fleeced in a big-time way when they traded George to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In return for the four-time All-Star, Indiana received two extremely flawed players. Victor Oladipo, and the $85 million remaining on the four years of his contract, is one. The other? None other than the underachieving second-year player out of Gonzaga, Domantas Sabonis.

Sabonis averaged 10.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per 36 minutes while shooting a robust 39.9 percent from the field last season. Those aren’t horrible numbers for a 20-year-old rookie. However, when you’re one of two major pieces in a trade for a perennial All-Star, it’s not a promising start.

They also lost starting point guard Jeff Teague and shooting guard Monta Ellis, although the latter may be addition by subtraction.

In order to fill the void left by Teague’s and Ellis’ departure, they signed Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic and traded for the underrated Cory Joesph. That will provide them with some nice backcourt depth, but not nearly the talent they had last season.

Myles Turner should also take another step in his production and will be ready to shoulder a heavier load. He’s a promising young player the team can build around moving forward.

The Pacers were able to win 42 games last season and land the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Don’t expect them to equal that win total again as they will surely take a dip. However, they still have enough talent to easily surpass the Bulls.

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons are an interesting case. More than any other team, perhaps, they are stuck between a rock (not bad enough to tank) and a hard place (not good enough to make a playoff run). However, they may be closer to the former.

This summer, they questionably pulled their restricted free agent offer from Caldwell-Pope. This opened the door for him to sign with the Lakers on a one-year deal. With the newly created void at the shooting guard position, the Pistons traded for Avery Bradley. He will bring some much-needed defensive ability and toughness.

Luke Kennard is also an interesting player. The 12th pick of the draft has an opposing skill-set from Bradley. As an outside sharpshooter and questionable defender, his weaknesses are supplemented by Bradley’s strengths. This should allow them to play well together when sharing the floor.

A lot of their 2017-18 season will depend on the resurgence of Andre Drummondand Reggie Jackson. Both had a down 2016-17 campaign and their ability to bounce back as borderline All-Star caliber players will say a lot about the direction this team is headed.

If they aren’t able to return to form, they may opt to blow this thing up and start from scratch. However, if no moves are made, expect the Pistons to come extremely close to their win total from last season.

Milwaukee Bucks

It now appears the Bucks are simply waiting for the inevitable to happen: LeBron James moving on from the Cavaliers and Milwaukee taking their place as Central Division champs.

Unfortunately, James is still in the division. That means Giannis Antetokounmpo and co. will have to wait another season to usurp the Cavs.

Unlike every other team in this division, they will walk into next season with continuity. They return nearly every single player of importance from last year’s team that lost to the Toronto Raptors in six games in the opening round of the playoffs. Only Michael Beasley and Jason Terry are gone from last year’s rotation, and even Terry could re-sign since he’s still a free agent.

The Bucks’ biggest improvements will come internally. With a young core of Antetokounmpo, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton and Thon Maker, the hope is they can continue to get better. If they are each able to take the next step in their development, it will provide all the boost Milwaukee needs.

If Parker is able to return around the All-Star break, he will basically serve as a midseason trade acquisition. There’s no way he will be even close to 100 percent, but even if he can give him half of the offense he showed last season, that will be very helpful.

They, like the Pacers, finished last season with a 42-40 record. Given the inevitable growth of their young players, Milwaukee should take a considerable step up in the win column.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Now that the Kyrie Irving trade is officially official, we have a better sense of what the Cavaliers will be next season: An Eastern Conference force to be reckoned with.

James is one of those generational players who can carry just about any team to the playoffs. Add in a very weak conference and he’s all but guaranteed to make the Eastern Conference Finals. But you already knew that.

Despite the loss of Irving, Cleveland still added quite a bit to this roster. Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade are their four big acquisitions. Although they may lack the star-power to hang with the top teams in the West, they still run two-deep at almost every position. This depth will help them navigate the regular season without requiring too much wear and tear on James and Kevin Love.

Isaiah Thomas’ return to the court will also play a huge factor in the seed they earn. If he misses substantial time then it will obviously make things more difficult. However, if he’s able to play from the jump, it will allow him to learn how to jell with his new teammates.

NBA Atlantic Division

The Atlantic Division promises to be one of the NBA’s most fascinating throughout the 2016-17 season. Each team has its own unique storyline and reasons for fan engagement. Some squads are fighting for supremacy in the Eastern Conference, while others are attempting to work their way out of the basement.

Brooklyn Nets

brooklyn nets.png

The bad news is the Nets, once again, do not possess their own first round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. This now belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers (for now at least).

The good news is they should be much improved heading into next year.

Having lost 60 or more games each of the past two seasons, they have been unable to rebuild due to the horrible, awful, no good trade they made with their division rival back in 2013. That’s the trade that saw Brooklyn trade their future down the drain. They gave up the rights to their 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018 first round picks in the deal.

Seeing as they have one more year without their pick, it’s imperative they improve their roster through other means. And that they did.

The Nets traded the 27th pick of the draft along with Brook Lopez to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Timofey Mozgov and D’Angelo Russell. It was a sly way for them to use their excess cap space in return for a promising young player.

They continued to use their cap space in order to acquire DeMarre Carroll from the Raptors and Allen Crabbe from the Portland Trail Blazers. They also received a 2018 first- and second-rounder in the deal with Toronto.

Although these transactions don’t give them a superstar, it certainly improves their depth. It also gives them some nice young talent to build around in the future.

Sessions struggled a bit last season, but is only three years removed from a season which saw him post 12.3 points and 4.1 assists per game.

Beasley is one of the most up-and-down players in the game. He can catch fire and carry a bench unit for spurts of a game. If he’s able to do so for extended stretches next season, look out. Unfortunately, that probably means taking away shots from Porzingis.

Frank Ntilikina has interesting potential at the point. He figures to run a mean pick-and-roll combo with the Latvian big man in the near future.

Altogether, there are some interesting pieces on this Knicks’ team. They may be able to surprise some people and sneak into the playoffs. However, the more likely scenario is for them to struggle and earn a top-10 pick once again.

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers are one of the most intriguing teams in the league. They have been one of the basement dwellers for what feels like decades (it’s really only been four years).

Even before those four years, however, they weren’t a team with sustained success. It’s been 12 years since they’ve finished with more wins than losses. I’m not sure if that record will be snapped this season. But one thing is certain; they will compete every single night.

If Joel Embiid can stay healthy for an entire 82-game stretch, he alone will improve the squad. When you add in the debuts of Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, they really begin to get interesting.

The Embiid-Simmons-Fultz trio is one of the best and brightest in the league. Each player brings their own unique skill-set to the table, allowing them to mesh together.

The 76ers also added some nice veteran presences in Amir Johnson and J.J. Redick. They both have a lot of experience in this league and have been successful at the highest levels. That’s an important balance to have with a young up-and-coming team.

Robert Covington might also be one of the most underrated players in the game today.

If this squad stays healthy it will be one of the deepest in the entire league. However, the Sixers are still a few years away from competing with the big dogs.

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors might have peaked two years ago and taken another step back this summer. They finished the 2015-16 season with 56 wins before dropping to 51 last year. Now, as their star players have become more expensive, they lost a couple of key role players.

Both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka‘s contracts surged (pun intended) this offseason. Because of that, Toronto was forced to rid themselves of Carroll and Cory Joseph. It costs them a 2018 first and second round pick to dump the small forward’s salary onto Brooklyn.

C.J. Miles should replace most of Carroll’s production. At this point in their careers, Miles has been the more productive offensive player.

The Joseph trade may hurt the most. He was really beginning to come into his own as a player, having increased his points, rebounds and assists per game each of the past four seasons. That will be a huge loss for a team that saw its starting point guard fall victim to multiple injuries during the playoffs.

Delon Wright and Norman Powell figure to pick up most of the slack at the 1. How well they step into that role will go a long way in determining this team’s success in a brittle East.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics have been one of the most active teams in the entire league this summer. And for good reason.

For the second year in a row, they signed one of the top free agents on the market. After bringing in Al Horford last summer, they agreed to terms with Gordon Hayward this year. My, oh my, how nice it must be to have Brad Stevens as your head coach.

In order to make room for Hayward, however, Boston had to trade one of their top wing defenders. Avery Bradley and a 2019 second-round pick were shipped to the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris. Morris is on a team-friendly deal and is owed just over $10 million the next two seasons.

The Celtics also traded down from their No. 1 slot in the draft. In doing so, they picked up an additional pick and still drafted Jayson Tatum. He’s one of the top offensive talents in the NBA. That alone would be enough to constitute a busy summer. However, that was only the beginning.

At the end of August, the Celtics agreed to a blockbuster deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers. They received Kyrie Irving in exchange for Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic, a 2018 first round pick (Brooklyn’s) and a 2020 second round pick.

With a trio of Irving, Horford and Hayward, along with a young supporting cast, the Celtics figure to have taken another step closer to successfully challenging the Cavs as kings of the East.

NBA Southeast Division:

Miami Heat


It was a tale of two halves last season for the Heat.  For the first 41, they went 11-30, while in the second half that record was flipped, going 30-11, for a final record of 41-41.  But it was all for naught as they lost tiebreakers to the Chicago Bulls and ended up with the 9th place spot, less than a game out of the playoffs.  In the offseason, the Heat were major players for Gordon Hayward but ended with the one offseason splash being the signing of F/C Kelly Olynyk from the Celtics for 4 years and $50 million.  Chris Bosh, the dinosaur, was waived by the team as he is likely to retire due to blood clots.

All in all, the starting lineup looks pretty much the same, with All-Star Hassan Whiteside anchoring the frontcourt and guard Goran Dragic leading the backcourt. Erik Spoelstra, a Coach of the Year candidate last season, will need to find a way to get Justise Winslow on the court and continue his team’s second-half success in order for them to be a serious contender.  In this weak Eastern Conference, the Heat will make the playoffs, as they have gotten better, although minutely.  Look for them to make a strong run at the end of the season, and sweep their first-round opponent in an upset before losing in the second.

Charlotte Hornets

Last season was a major disappointment for Charlotte as their win total decreased by 12, and missed the playoffs by 5 games.  Even so, it wasn’t a total wash-out for Hornets fans as guard Kemba Walker posted career highs in nearly every single shooting category en route to his first career ASG appearance, they’re first since the ’09-10 season, and 11th all time.  The team added 8-time All-Star center Dwight Howard in a trade with the tanking Hawks and signed former ROY guard Michael Carter-Williams.  In the draft, Guard Malik Monk fell to them at 11, when he was projected to go in the top 6 by many draft experts.

Since the 2013-14 season, Charlotte has alternated playoff seasons, with playoff berths coming in 13-14, and 15-16.  Expect this trend to continue next season as they have improved at center, which was one of their strongest positions during their playoff run in ‘15-16.  Interestingly, Howard’s best seasons came with current Hornets HC Steve Clifford as an assistant with the Magic, so that should bode well for a revival in Charlotte.

Atlanta Hawks

Yet another bad team who made it to the playoffs last season due to a depleted eastern conference, the Hawks lost 5 more games than the year before and stumbled into the playoffs as an awful 5th seed.  In those playoffs, they performed like bad teams should, and lost quickly to the Wizards in the first round.

And the offseason wasn’t great either.

On draft night, they moved what is left of the 31-year-old Dwight Howard and the 31st overall pick to the Hornets in exchange for Marco Belinelli(why) and Miles Plumlee(echh).  The immediate future of the Hawks is not bright. Even In a horrid Eastern conference, they will challenge for 30 wins.  The one player to watch this year will be Ersan Ilyasova, but only because he’s going to be trade bait at the deadline.  I’m sorry Atlanta fans, but at least you have fuzzy Luka Doncic and Michael Porter highlights to look forward to, right?

Orlando Magic

Yet another team stuck in mediocrity, the Magic have lived up to that billing extraordinarily, with 5 straight seasons without a playoff appearance.  Last season was all about Elfrid Payton trying to become the player that he was destined to be when they traded for him in the 2014 draft. Even though he has improved his stroke each of his seasons in the league, his time is running out in Orlando.  Depending on how the draft reforms go, it may be time for the Magic to cut their losses and break it down in order to get an actual superstar.

Washington Wizards

One of the few truly good teams in the East, Washington cruised to the 4th seed on the back of their young dynamic duo, John Wall, and Bradley Beal.  A strong showing against the Celtics in the 2nd round of the playoffs last season solidified their spot amongst the best teams in the East.

A relatively quiet offseason for the Wizards started with them resigning Wall to the $170 million ‘supermax’ deal, which will run through 2023. Seeing as they totaled 49 wins a season ago, the over/under from Vegas seems very low.  With the exception of Marcin Gortat, their entire projected starting 5 is either in or entering their primes, which is a recipe for 50-win potential.

Check out Nick on Social media...

The Scrumdown - Champions Cup roundup

The Scrumdown - Champions Cup roundup

MLB -NLCS preview

MLB -NLCS preview