Boston Celtics: What, you thought I was done being a homer after I picked the Indians to beat the Yankees? Guess again my friend. This isn’t some wild pipe dream either, people who are expecting the Cavs to roll over everybody seem to have forgotten that it was Boston who earned the top seed last year. And the Celtics look even better this year. The upgrade from Jae Crowder’s whininess to Gordon Hayward’s dreaminess can’t be overstated, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford already seem to have a Vulcan mind-meld from their limited preseason action and the Jaylen Brown/Jayson Tatum combo make up the most talented young frontcourt in the league, don’t @ me. Oh and Mahcus Smaht is skinny now. Expect 55-60 wins.
Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron will still lead to the Cavs to the Finals because he’s LeBron but I will stake my reputation on the road being significantly tougher in 2018. This roster would look absolutely loaded if it was 2011, but come on, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose? Those guys are injury-prone defensive sieves who will cramp the floor like your grandmother’s unnecessarily large coffee table. The (hopefully) triumphant return of my adopted son Isaiah Thomas will help in that regard, but January is a long ways off.
Washington Wizards: You could argue that he got most of the way there last season, but I say this is the year John Wall finally makes “The Leap” and finds himself in top-five MVP consideration. He and Bradley Beal make up the best backcourt in the East, and while Washington’s bench is notoriously thin, the firepower of the starters should be enough to garner the three-seed in this dumpster fire of a conference.
Milwaukee Bucks: FEAR THE DEER. If you are still not onboard the Giannis Antetokounmpo hype train I don’t know what to tell you, dude is on the short list of players likely to succeed LeBron as the best player in the world once the King finally abdicated his throne. This is another painfully thin roster with Jabari Parker sidelined until February, but I’m telling you, one superstar is enough. And you know what? We’ll make that two superstars, because I’m pretty sure Malcolm Brogdon is going to start his 2020 presidential campaign sometime around Christmas.
Miami Heat: Even as a diehard Celtics supporter, it pained me as a basketball fan that we didn’t get to witness an epic Boston-Miami first round matchup last year after the Heat finished the season on an incredible 30-11 blitz. That kind of success obviously can’t be extrapolated over the course of 82 games but you can sleep on this relentless, in-your-face squad at your own risk. Regression in the three-point shooting of Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters is to be expected but Isaiah’s illegitimate brother Kelly Olynyk should help fill some of that void. And Justice Winslow, don’t worry baby, you’ve still got one person who still believes in you!
Toronto Raptors: We the north? If you say so. Winter is coming for the Raptors, if their three-year run as a faux contender even counts as a summer. Kyle Lowry is sneakily 32 and always banged up, the guy is going to fall off sooner rather than later. And once that happens, they’re relying on an incredibly talented wing scorer who is somehow a worse three point shooter than I am (DeMar DeRozan) and a traditional back-to-the basket center (Jonas Valanciunas). No thank you.
Philadelphia 76ers: We’ve trusted the process so far, and it’s about to pay off. Even with the much-hyped debuts of Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, Philly’s season depends almost entirely on the health of Joel Embiid. The 76ers dominated with the bug guy on the floor in ‘16-’17 and played like a lottery team without him. It’s a risky proposition betting on a seven-footer with knee and ankle issues but Embiid is just too much fun. I’m going all in.
Charlotte Hornets: Losing Nicolas Batum for 8-12 weeks stings and looking at the rest of the roster makes you queasy about their playoff chances. Michael Carter-Williams is a bust, Dwayne Bacon is an NBA 2K MyPlayer and Dwight Howard is a statuesque corpse. Still, Kemba Walker + East should equal some measure of success.
Detroit Pistons: I wanted to put Detroit a couple spots lower but word on the street is Andre Drummond can actually shoot free throws now. That is a massive development for one of the NBA’s biggest underachievers and if his improvement leaks over to the other side of ball, he and Avery Bradley could elevate this team’s defense from middling to downright stingy. The Pistons will be battling for the final playoff spot come season’s end.
Brooklyn Nets: Surprise, so will the Nets! This feels like it could be a year or two early but I think D’Angelo Russell will thrive once he’s out of the pressure cooker of LA and allowed to run Brooklyn’s fast-paced, spaced-out offense. Make no mistake, these guys aren’t all that good, but you don’t really need to be to win 35 games.
Orlando Magic: Squint hard enough and Aaron Gordon sort of looks like a poor man’s Aaron Gordon. And, um, that’s all I’ve got. If nothing else, the Magic will be an intriguing league pass team with their bevy of high-flyers in Gordon, Jonathon Simmons and Terrence Ross.
New York Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis baby, that’s all there is to say. Literally. The once-booed giant should continue his steady ascension to All-Stardom but he’s sharing the floor with too many scrubs to do much damage. I am excited to see the killer inside-out big man combo of the Zinger and Enes Kanter as they produce some of the highest scoring and least effective defensive lineups in the league.
Atlanta Hawks: It was only three years ago that Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks became Spurs: East edition and won 60 games. Now they have perhaps the most anonymous roster in the NBA led by a point guard who won’t sniff the All-Star game in Dennis Schroder and an excellent seventh man in Kent Bazemore. Somehow coming off 43 wins, Atlanta won’t be in the playoff picture in 2018.
Indiana Pacers: There are some interesting pieces here. Myles Turner is the forgotten player in the “best young big man” conversation. Victor Oladipo has an underrated but objectively terrific name. Lance Stephenson will be the best two-way player in the world for three nights a year and a total liability for the rest. Starting point guard Cory Joseph is the best backup point guard in the league. I could easily see this team exploding for 25 wins.
Chicago Bulls: Shit, you’re off the hook Atlanta. This is the most anonymous team in the association. Shout out to Kris Dunn, Providence College class of 2016.
Golden State Warriors: After another dominant season, it’s hard to see anyone challenging the Warriors for the top spot in the conference… again. Kevin Durant fit into the team seamlessly last year, and they return the core of the championship team as they look to repeat.
Oklahoma City Thunder: OKC were big spenders this offseason, bringing in two of the most prized targets in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Russell Westbrook will no longer need to provide half of the offense for this team. This season we will be able to see his distribution abilities as he provides space for the forwards to work. I think this lethal offense will be second only to the Warriors this season.
Houston Rockets: How much did the Rockets improve this offseason? Well, they added one of the best point guards in the league in Chris Paul, but I’m not convinced of the success they will have. James Harden loves to have the ball in his hands so he can carry the team; will he be okay giving point guard duties to Paul to facilitate? The Rockets will safely make the playoffs and be a top team in the West, but I don’t think the guard duo is enough to knock off the Warriors.
San Antonio Spurs: You can never count out the Spurs. Gregg Popovich always has his team in contention at the end of the season, no matter how the odds are stacked against them. Kawhi Leonard is still the best two way player in basketball, but the supporting cast will determine how far the Spurs can go in the postseason. That, and if the Warriors don’t intentionally take out Kawhi like last season.
Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers will field a very similar lineup that they did last season, with guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum leading the team. The elite backcourt will be enough to put the Blazers back in the postseason, but they will struggle there against more complete teams.
Utah Jazz: The Jazz lost their best player from last season when Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics in free agency. This season, they will look to counter much of the top teams in the West with a different style. Their strength will be defense, and it will carry them to a playoff spot but not much farther. There will be a point when the top teams have too many weapons for the defense to shut down.
Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves pair of young stars in Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins continue to improve, and they added a pair of veterans in Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague. As Towns and Wiggins continue to grow, they will be able to compete for a playoff spot.
Denver Nuggets: Denver is another team with a young core that is continuing to grow well together. Nikola Jokic appears to be a superstar in the making, and the team features a solid group of guards in Gary Harris, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Jamal Murray. Veteran Paul Millsap will provide leadership and anchor the team at the forward position, and Denver can improve on their 9th place conference finish from last season.
Memphis Grizzlies: Losing Tony Allen, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter significantly hurts the Grizzlies chances this season. The Grizzlies will experience a down year after making the playoffs, but will give the last few seeds a run for their money in an attempt to stay competitive.
Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers face a lot of question marks this year. Chris Paul is gone, and their best remaining players are huge injury risks. Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari have both missed significant amount of games over the past few seasons, and can’t be relied on to be on the court for 82 games. When healthy, they will compete with some playoff teams, but there is too much risk to think the Clippers can return to the playoffs.
New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis. DeMarcus Cousins. Jrue Holiday. Any lineup that starts with those three names sounds promising, and very explosive. Unfortunately for New Orleans, that’s where the excitement ends. They have no supporting cast for those three, and will struggle this year as a result.
Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr. looks to be a steal at the No. 9 spot from last year’s draft, as he could be the rookie of the year. However, the Mavericks still have too many old players on their roster that are well past their prime. They won’t be competitive again until they rebuild around Smith Jr.
Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball is all the hype around the league, but he’s still playing for the Lakers. A Lakers team that hasn’t been good since 2013 and won a mere 26 games last year. Attendance will increase with Ball on the roster, but they will still be bad this year.
Phoenix Suns: The Devin Booker show. That’s all Phoenix will be this year. As exciting as he can be when he lights up the scoreboard with 70 points, the Suns will struggle to win games this year.
Sacramento Kings: The Kings are in a waiting period. They have a lot of young talent that could develop into strong NBA players, but need a few years to do so. The Kings will occupy the cellar of the West this season.