Each summer, NBA teams attempt to redefine their future, both short and long-term. Some may feel they are one player away from a title, while others may feel the need to tank. Let’s take a look at every team in the league and see how they should be feeling heading into the season.
Atlanta Hawks: Fresh
With no playoff expectations, the Atlanta Hawks will be fresh and looking for an identity. The roster is filled with young guys and random signings, so don’t anticipate seeing much cohesion mid-season. The reigns have clearly been handed to Trae Young, after trading away Luka Doncic to the Mavericks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Vince Carter will be the elder statesman on the squad and provide much-needed guidance to the young guys. They hope the majority of games end on a positive note, like this:
Boston Celtics: Revived
We can’t speak on it enough. As we all now know, the Celtics reached the Eastern Conference Finals last season without their two (arguably) most talented players. Adding Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back to the lineup should rejuvenate the team that felt they should’ve already made The Finals. They’re poised to be able to switch everything on defense, and they’re so deep, they have multiple options on offense. With Brad Stevens at the helm, we shouldn’t expect much less than the Eastern Conference Finals again. It’s up to the players to make it happen.
Brooklyn Nets: Optimistic
D’Angelo Russell, check. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, check. You get the picture. Players that dealt with injury last season, and somewhat this summer, should be ready to go for the majority of this upcoming season. New additions like Shabazz Napier and Kenneth Faried will inject energy and excitement to this young team.
"We're better than the Knicks."
– Spencer Dinwiddie pic.twitter.com/7r8sIuP7JV
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) October 12, 2018
Without Kristaps Porzingis suiting up across the bridge, this team may feel they’re better than their inter-city rival New York Knicks. They might not win a ton of games, but they will surely be competitive. Visiting Brooklyn won’t be a walk in the park.
Charlotte Hornets: Surviving
The Hornets are one of the few teams that sport mainly the same roster heading into a new season. They added Tony Parker, who at this point in his career is no longer the focal point of the offense. Bismack Biyombo returns to the team after stints in Toronto and Orlando. However, this is still Kemba Walker’s team (for as long as he remains in Charlotte). They drafted Miles Bridges who brings youth and athleticism to the table.
Miles Bridges has had himself a nice preseason thus far. pic.twitter.com/B0UCeY0Nxa
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) October 3, 2018
However, with Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams all returning, there doesn’t seem to be much that will move the needle.
Chicago Bulls: Energetic
From a talent perspective, this team has a few young guns. Jabari Parker and Zach LaVine are both in the “prove it” season of their career. They’re expected to start the season fully healthy and must show the world that there is a place for them on this team, and in the league. Coming back from major injuries tend to take time as we watch players get their rhythm back and continue to regain confidence. Kris Dunn has been solid at the point guard position, and Lauri Markkanen had a breakout rookie season.
Bobby Portis also showed flashes of productivity last season and looks to continue that this time around. Anticipate a hungry team, similar to the Nets, who will be out competing on a nightly basis.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Relieved
Yes, we all know. LeBron James has left Cleveland for the second time, only this time it was to join the Los Angeles Lakers. What a relief! At this point in his career, ‘Bron brings championship or bust expectations wherever he is. There’s a certain attitude you must play with. A certain mistake-less game you must exude on the court. A level of respect you must demand as a coach. But now, everyone can be free. Kevin Love can go back to his Minnesota days of rebounding and scoring. J.R. Smith can go back to hoisting crazy three-point attempts (although he still did this with ‘Bron around). Expect this team to be loose every night, try different things, and look much happier while doing it.
Dallas Mavericks: Promising
The Luka Doncic era has arrived! Expectations are high for the international star who many anticipate will win Rookie of the Year and potentially have the best career in his draft class.
Sharing the backcourt with Dennis Smith Jr. could be explosive and unpredictable. Add ex-lob city employee DeAndre Jordan down low, Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews on the wing and you have a competent unit. Dirk Nowitzki is on his last legs, but coming off the bench could prove useful to this squad. 15 to 20 minutes of a stretch-big man is a boost this team will need, along with his veteran leadership. Add this team to your league pass ‘teams to watch’ list.
Denver Nuggets: Fearless
After finishing the last two seasons in 9th place out West, and missing the postseason by one game each time, what is there to be scared about? This team must be tired of knocking on the door, and this season looks to bust the door down.
The dangerous backcourt of Gary Harris and Jamal Murray have another year of experience. Both Trey Lyles and Paul Millsap return after their first seasons with the team and should be fully implemented in their scheme. They drafted Michael Porter Jr. and have guard help with Isaiah Thomas coming off the bench. This will be a ‘run it back’ season for them from the starters perspective, but they should be confident that unit can carry them to the playoffs.
Detroit Pistons: Unsure
Can Reggie Jackson stay healthy? Can Blake Griffin stay healthy? What’s this team’s ceiling? There are many questions surrounding this team, and not many of them can be answered prior to the season. With Blake Griffin around for a full season, that should surely increase their odds of getting off to a good start. Winning may be the only cure for the franchise whose last two playoff appearances were quickly ruined by sweeps in the opening round at the hands of the Cavaliers (’08-’09 & ’15-’16). Not even the new Little Caesars Arena could attract fans.
Golden State Warriors: Intrigued
Boogie! DeMarcus Cousins will and should be the focal point of the Warriors this season. We’ve already seen what the core four can do (twice), and it was rather dominating. Now we get the opportunity to see what a team with five All-Stars who seem to fit perfectly together can do.
Will it be sheer domination once again? Or will the likes of another re-tooled team surface and endanger the re-crowning of the Warriors as champions? They have absolutely nothing to prove in the regular season, and everything to prove in the post-season. “Let’s get Boogie a ring and become one of the few teams in NBA history to three-peat”. They might throw that quote on the whiteboard in the locker room and keep it there all season.
Houston Rockets: Hungry
Houston, we have a problem! Except, they don’t. They lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah A Moute, but added Carmelo Anthony and retained PJ Tucker. The additions of Michael Carter-Williams and James Ennis III can help bolster some of the defense lost by the two aforementioned players. Not to mention–the acquisition of Marquese Chriss, who can be a poor man’s Clint Capela. He’s athletic enough to run and catch lobs, and competent enough to protect the rim. Being one hamstring injury away from the NBA Finals last season left a sour taste in their mouths–and they look to claim what they feel should be rightfully in their possession–an NBA title. Don’t expect those threes they took and made last season to disappear either. They’ll just look more like this:
Indiana Pacers: Excited
Let’s face it. Not even the Pacers saw this coming. A six win and two playoff spot improvement from the ’16-’17 season, and the sudden emergence of Victor Oladipo as an All-Star. Couple that with a noticeable improvement in production from Domantas Sabonis, and you got the team that pushed the eventual Eastern Conference champions (Cleveland Cavaliers) to a seven-game series in the first round of the playoffs. They’ve got new blood in Tyreke Evans and Kyle O’Quinn to add depth where it was much needed. Another season is under the belt for Myles Turner, who can put up more numbers this season as his chemistry with Sabonis should improve. Roles are defined and the players seem to accept any adjustment that comes their way. Don’t be surprised if this team finishes in the top four in the East at the end of the season.
Los Angeles Clippers: Seeking
The Clippers are actively looking for their next franchise player. Recent reports from various outlets cite Jimmy Butler as one of their potential targets, as Butler had the team on his short list of preferred trade destinations. They spent the second half of last season, and this summer, getting decent players who can do multiple things well. However, they do have players that seem somewhat duplicative (Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley). Along with seeking a franchise player, the Clippers will also be seeking an identity this season while they attempt to make the playoffs. Are they building to be a defensive powerhouse? Will they accumulate multiple scorers? Just what are they? Stay tuned to find out.
Los Angeles Lakers: Ecstatic
The new energy around this team starts and ends with LeBron James. However, it’s the collection of players around him that will make things go this season. Let’s count the number of players around ‘Bron that can create a shot for themselves. Rajon Rondo, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart, Michael Beasley, and Lance Stephenson. EIGHT! Opposing defenses are used to keying in on ‘Bron and just watching the backdoor movement and/or screens coming from his teammates. In this iteration of the James crew, the offense will be able to attack from anywhere on the floor. The versatility on this team is vastly underrated, especially defensively with the shortest player previously named is Rondo at 6’1″. In that select bunch, the next shortest player is 6’5″. Coach Luke Walton will have the time of his life (or his worst nightmare) trying to disperse minutes for his players. Things should be fine though when the oldest player on the roster is still doing things like this:
Oh, and this…
Maybe it’s just too easy for this guy now! @KingJames with the half court buzzer beater!
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) October 11, 2018
Memphis Grizzlies: Falling
The good news? Mike Conley is back! With only 12 games played last season, the Grizzlies surely missed his ability to create for others and for himself. The bad news? Not much else has changed. At 33 years of age, we may have seen the best of Marc Gasol. The former Defensive Player of the Year will still be solid, but he might not be the game changer he once was. More bad news? Chandler Parsons is on the books for $24.1M this season and is devouring a huge portion of cap space while not producing nearly enough to justify the contract. OK, OK, back to some more good news. Jaren Jackson Jr. proved to be NBA ready in the Vegas Summer League by averaging 11.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and making the All-NBA Summer League Second Team. He could impact this team right away, and MAYBE, just maybe, they can compete for a playoff spot.
Miami Heat: Uncertain
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) September 17, 2018
Question marks remain around the health of Dion Waiters and the production of Hassan Whiteside. In order for the Heat to make strides and improve upon last season, they need a healthy Waiters and a Whiteside that returns to being a double-double machine. They know what they’ll get from their backcourt and perimeter players, but the two aforementioned players will be the game-changers for team success this season.
Milwaukee Bucks: Confident
The Bucks already know who they are and now it’s time to flourish. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been pegged in many people’s eyes as a frontrunner for MVP. The addition of Brook Lopez immensely helps the offense, as he can stretch the floor and bring the tallest defender out to the perimeter, away from the basket.
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) June 22, 2018
Drafting Donte DiVincenzo gives them another playmaker and shooter who brings a collegiate championship pedigree to the table. And finally, signing Ersan Ilyasova might be the shooting touch that puts them over 50 wins this season. If all the above hold true to form, the Bucks could be a team poised to make some noise in the playoffs.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Confused
Let’s keep this simple. There’s been tons of Jimmy Butler stories and reports on deals being close, but not quite being complete. Minnesota’s asking price appears quite high, and teams are unwilling to give up a heap and get the shorter end of the stick. Butler made his first appearance at the Timberwolves practice and a quick recap of all the proceedings can be found here. In short, Butler is holding the team hostage and it’s difficult for them to look forward without knowing how things will play out.
All in all, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins need to take their games to another level, regardless of if Butler remains on the team this season. They are the pillars of the franchise, and after being bumped in the first round last year, it is safe to say they are looking to improve on that. The Timberwolves will go as far as their star players take them. We’ll see if they’re up for the challenge this go round.
New Orleans Pelicans: Encouraged
Usually, things would remain somewhat stale in the offseason for the Pels. This time around, they’ve infused some new and youthful players to help Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, and Jahlil Okafor were removed from situations that were going nowhere and now have the opportunity to run with one of the best players in the game today. A franchise that was often left looking for talent over the summer has finally gotten some and hope to duplicate the success they had last season. With the depth out West, it is unlikely that they will go deep into the playoffs. But the biggest question that will be looming all season is, can they do enough to convince Anthony Davis that signing long-term is in his best interest. Only time will tell.
New York Knicks: Refreshed
For the first time in a long while, the Knicks are surrounded by talented youth. Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and Alonzo Trier have all showed flashes of brilliance in the preseason. Knox especially, being their lottery draft pick, showed out in Summer League.
Kevin Knox looked like the real deal in Summer League. Knicks got a good one. pic.twitter.com/hyveKxFxNl
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) July 15, 2018
They have a new coach in David Fizdale to scout the roster, help develop the players, and put them in positions to succeed. With Kristaps Porzingis nursing a torn ACL, there is no pressure on this team to make the playoffs. This season can be all about becoming familiar with Fizdale’s coaching style and creating chemistry amongst each other. They don’t have superstar talent that can afford to take night’s off, therefore this team should play hard and compete every night. Like Brooklyn, visiting The Garden will be no walk in the park.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Secure
With Carmelo Anthony out of their hair, the Thunder can focus on Russell Westbrook and Paul George as their Batman and Robin. Every other player should have no issues falling in line and following their lead. Having defined roles on a team is very underrated, but leads to huge success when each player performs their job to the highest level. Adding Dennis Schröder to backup Westbrook was key in solidifying consistent play off the bench. They may even elect to play them together to get Westbrook off the ball and in motion. Joining Schröder off the bench will be Nerlens Noel, who will help Steven Adams man the paint. His stint in Dallas didn’t go quite as planned but the new scenery and leadership may help him finally put it all together.
Orlando Magic: Rebuilding
Aaron Gordon is the best player on the roster, and it’s unlikely that he can be the best player on a championship team. Expect them to be lottery bound again with a roster full of players that are trying to find their niche in the league. They are starving for talent and direction. The franchise has not produced an All-Star since Dwight Howard in the ’11-’12 season. Hiring Steve Clifford as the next head coach should provide some sense of stability, as long as they believe in him and keep him long term. No team wants to go through a coaching carousel, which can not only lose the trust of the current players but keep free agents away as well.
Philadelphia 76ers: Retooled
Nothing feels better than going directly at the team that eliminated you from the postseason. After being quickly dismissed in 5 games in the playoffs, the Sixers look to redeem themselves with that experience in the chamber. They lost Ersan Ilyasova but signed Wilson Chandler, who is athletic, can shoot, and also create. Markelle Fultz is fully back and will try to make amends to what essentially became a lost rookie season. Don’t look now, but he’s been off to a good start:
— NBA (@NBA) September 29, 2018
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid will be perennial All-Stars as long as their health remains intact. Best believe they feel they can take down the Celtics, who have the biggest target on their back. Another year older, another year wiser. Their identity has been established and they will look to make their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since Allen Iverson led them in the ’00-’01 season.
Phoenix Suns: Positive
It sure isn’t fun when your franchise player (Devin Booker) breaks his hand and will miss time to start the season. The silver lining? There’s time for first overall draft pick DeAndre Ayton to develop as the primary option. Ayton showed dominant flashes in college, so much so that members of the media compared him to Shaquille O’Neal. He’ll have Tyson Chandler as his vet to show him the ropes and give him tips defensively. The Suns also sport a bevy of wing players in Trevor Ariza, TJ Warren, Josh Jackson, and Mikal Bridges. Young talent mixed with savvy veterans usually results in a positive locker room. The franchise finally gets to mold their talent into what they want. We’ll see if this is finally another step in the right direction.
Portland Trail Blazers: Wishful
The Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum experiment will resume once again. A sudden rise to the third seed out West last season gave them hope that they were close to making a lot of noise in the playoffs. However, there’s been talk about whether they should break up the dynamic duo after an unexpected sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans. There hasn’t been any major change to the roster over the summer, so expect to see much of the same from this team. They’ve been longing for an elite wing to pair with the backcourt but have been unsuccessful in attracting one. With a couple improved teams in the West, keep a close eye on the Blazers and whether they can have similar regular season success just as the last.
Sacramento Kings: Surprising
Don’t look now but the Kings have actually amassed a bevy of young talent. De’Aaron Fox, Harry Giles, Marvin Bagley III, Willie Cauley-Stein are all athletic and like to push the envelope.
They may be too young to rack up a ton of wins but they will definitely be more exciting than in years past. If you think the Lakers will get out and run, then you’ll have to watch the Kings as well. With all those guys on the floor, running may be their best option.
San Antonio Spurs: Ready
For all the talk about trading Kawhi Leonard, what often gets lost is that the Spurs made the playoffs with Leonard only playing nine games last season. Remove Leonard and add an All-Star in DeMar DeRozan and you’ve got what should be a pretty decent team. The Spurs will look to him and LaMarcus Aldridge to take them to the promise land. Especially after a summer that saw franchise cornerstones Tony Parker (traded to the Hornets) and Manu Ginobili (retired) part ways. They brought back Marco Bellineli which is crucial for shooting after packaging Danny Green in the trade to Toronto with Kawhi Leonard. Injuries to Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV definitely put a damper on the team, but with Gregg Popovich at the helm, anything is possible.
Toronto Raptors: Hopeful
Regardless of the outcome of this season, the Raptors main goal is to convince Kawhi Leonard to re-sign with the team. Trading away DeMar DeRozan was a bold play and huge gamble by the organization. We get it. It’s been the same story over the past few seasons and nothing much has changed. They needed to shake up the foundation and light a fire under the team. Only time will tell how they perform, but with Kawhi himself being in a “prove it” year to the rest of the league, all signs point to him going all out and returning to All-NBA form.
Utah Jazz: Enthusiastic
Talk about hitting the ground running. Donovan Mitchell shocked the world with his play last season by putting up gaudy numbers in pressure moments like this:
The Jazz overall shocked the world finishing 18-6 after the All-Star break and eliminating the Thunder in 6 games out West. They seem to be ahead of schedule with player development which only bodes well for the franchise. To ensure they maximize Donovan Mitchell’s rookie deal they must try to add an impact player alongside himself and Rudy Gobert. They have attractive pieces that could be used for trade bait, although the Jazz aren’t known for making big splashes via trade. If they can match the success they had last season, they may be players in the free agency market in the summer of 2019.
Washington Wizards: Unchanged
Yes, the Wizards signed Dwight Howard over the summer. But the rest of the team remains relatively unchanged from years past. Austin Rivers and Jeff Green are not enough to move the needle for this squad. At least in the past, the Raptors have the excuse of consistently losing to LeBron, but the Wizards have lost before they even had the opportunity. This may be the last season we see John Wall and Bradley Beal play on the same team. Don’t be surprised if one of the two get traded before the deadline if things get off to a slow start.