15. Brooklyn Nets – Aside from Linsanity returning to New York, there’s not a whole lot to speak of here. The Nets are probably the least talented team in the entire NBA and will struggle to win 15 games. At least they’ll have a jump on the loaded 2017 draft class!
14. Orlando Magic – Aside from superstar ball handlers setting him up for easy midrange jumpers and a great defensive big allowing him to chase weak side blocks, will Serge Ibaka still be able to produce at a high level? I say no. There’s some talent here, but the team’s lack of spacing will be absolutely toxic.
13. Philadelphia 76ers – Joel Embiid is looking like Wilt Chamberlain in Vine clips and Ben Simmons and Dario Saric make for perhaps the best draft haul of any team. They’ll struggle at the outset while Simmons recovers from his foot surgery, but if he turns out to be the generational talent some have projected him to be, the Sixers could be competitive down the stretch.
12. Miami Heat – Dwyane Wade has gone to Chicago and Chris Bosh has retired, likely knocking the Heat out of playoff contention in 2017, but all is not lost. Given full control of the the offense, expect the dynamic Goran Dragic to bounce back to his All-NBA level of play from two years ago and Hassan Whiteside to contend for Defensive Player of the Year.
11. Chicago Bulls – In case you thought a backcourt of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo would work out, you are wrong. I’m half expecting them to start fighting in between the bevy of bricks.
10. New York Knicks – Are the Knicks living in 2012? Four years ago, the additions of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Brandon Jennings to a team built around Carmelo Anthony would have made New York a title contender. Today, unless Kristaps Porzingis makes The Leap, I have a hard time seeing the Knicks in the postseason, despite some other pundits’ lofty predictions.
9. Detroit Pistons – A surprise playoff team in 2016, the Pistons will have a hard time staying with the best of the East while PG Reggie Jackson misses the first two months to tendinitis.
8. Washington Wizards – KD didn’t come home to DC, but the Wizards could still find themselves back in the playoffs. If Bradley Beal could just manage to stay healthy, he and John Wall could potentially make for the best non-Warriors backcourt in the league.
7. Atlanta Hawks – Make no mistake, going from Al Horford to Dwight Howard is a distinct downgrade at this point in their careers. The talent level from the 60-win team of two years ago is still in place, but the petulant Howard will almost certainly mess with continuity.
6. Milwaukee Bucks – My prediction for this season’s surprise playoff team, the Bucks will trot out a bunch of freakishly tall lineups if the preseason is any indication. It remains to be seen whether the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo can function as a full-time point guard, but I’ve got faith.
5. Charlotte Hornets – This is the year Kemba Walker stops being underrated and takes his place alongside the NBA’s point guard elite. Better than the sum of their parts, Charlotte will prove last season was no fluke.
4. Indiana Pacers – The Pacers don’t have a lot of shooting, but they do have a Paul George. George returned triumphantly from his gruesome shin injury and will reveal himself as a star capable of leading just about any group to success.
3. Toronto Raptors – Toronto will bring back almost the entire squad from the one that took the Cavs to six games and losing Bismack Biyombo certainly isn’t enough to knock them from their place amongst the East’s elite.
2. Boston Celtics – I still dream every night of Durant choosing the Celtics over the Warriors….Even without KD, the addition of Al Horford and the continued development of Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas could make for a 60 win team.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers – Huge surprise here, I know! Once again, it’ll take a miracle to prevent the Cleveland LeBrons from rolling over the rest of the East.