This is a yearly tradition here, and a rare time where I try to prognosticate. Though for no real reason, since we're not scoring these. Are we? You shouldn't.
This is just for the East, because that's all we care about. And the rank is by overall record, not whatever division-winning does for the playoff seeds. Don't worry, I am not using much data, consistency, or thought (despite overuse of the phrase 'I think') when coming up with these. As the late Emanuel Steward would say, this is just 'how I see it going'.
It's another tradition for me to undersell the Bulls for the upcoming season. Given some of the expectations, that may be hard to do. Keep reading to see how low I can go!
- Miami Heat - I've picked them 1st three straight years, so maybe this time I'll finally be right. Obviously they don't value the regular season like most, but the competition for the top seed isn't as threatening this season. The title win will be freeing to LeBron, and he'll have another dominant season, and as a bonus without some of the 'can he do it in the playoffs though?' blather. Wade will be hurt a lot but hopefully (for them) just not at the wrong time. Their 'positional revolution' is interesting, but out of necessity having so few quality bigs and the ability to play LeBron everywhere. I think the Lakers and Dwight Howard could squash them in the Finals.
- Boston Celtics - A pretty big win-total drop between 1 and 2 here, but I think the Celtics definitely improved their depth. And they did so in a pretty admirable way, not having much cap flexibility and seeing one of their best players flee to comfortable South Beach. But with Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, and a high-floor draft choice in Sullinger, they did ok. Even the return of Jeff Green will make a difference, because it's not so much who's coming in as the terribleness they're replacing (Ryan Hollins?!?). They still will get mauled on the offensive glass by the Bulls, and fuck Rondo.
- Brooklyn Nets - I'm getting swept up in the hype a bit, but I think that hype will help them win some games against crappy teams that they might've otherwise coasted in. Deron Williams has seen his stock dropped significantly the past season and a half, but: contrary to the thoughts of insane people, you do actually get better when you have good teammates. While they overpaid some of their role players and their deep bench is more notable than good, that doesn't mean they couldn't provide some quality around Williams and Joe Johnson. And I still have faith in Avery Johnson as a defensive coach, though New Jersey should tell me otherwise. Plus, we know that if there's a way they can make a midseason deal that improves them, they don't mind spending the money to do so.
- Atlanta Hawks - I kinda am digging this team. They've been a running joke as a purgatory-residing early round exit, but to sustain at that level still means you're pretty good. And I think losing Joe Johnson is partially mitigated by a (ideally) full season of Al Horford. And they really have a nice inside-out team if Josh Smith wants to stay inside, having some of the best shooters in the league in Anthony Morrow, Kyle Korver, and draftee John Jenkins. They also have a lot of playmaking on the perimeter with Jeff Teague, Devin Harris, and Lou Williams being able to play in a lot of combinations. Though listing all that shooting and playmaking does alert one to the fact that nobody on that perimeter can really play defense.
- Indiana Pacers - Kind of jumping on the pile a bit in noticing that Indiana was perhaps unsustainably healthy last season. Danny Granger is already making noise about his knee, and George Hill has been absent much of the preseason. But they're also fairly deep, reshuffling their bench a bit but not in a counterproductive way. I think the continuity of their core and coach (and annoying chip-on-their-shoulder-ness) helps them persevere through the season.
- Philadelphia 76ers - Would've been fairly higher if (of course) Bynum was ready, but also if they didn't make such weird choices with the rest of their rotation. They certainly a flawed group last season and may have not repeated some of the success that they started that year with, but they'll probably miss Lou Williams and Elton Brand. I do think when Bynum returns they'll be quite good, as they not only received the center but two solid shooters in Jason Richardson and (later) Dorrell Wright. The Doug Collins meltdown watch isn't happening quite yet. Or, wait: if I mention it, the 'watch' is technically on. Just don't expect the actual tear-filled meltdown this season.
- New York Knicks - Yeah, they're not that well put-together, Mike Woodson is never the answer to figure it out, and the injuries have already begun for the oldest team in the league. But they're also pretty stacked with talent to the point where I can't see them missing the playoffs. And even if some of their bench is ancient, when talking about a deep-rotation role they don't have to play that long, just consistently for the little time they have. Left on earth. /old jokes
- Chicago Bulls - We made it! Not huge news to anyone reading over the summer, but I have a bad feeling about this year. The loss of Rose just gives them so little room for error. There were many close games that Rose took over and won. There were games with bad starts that the bench turned into blowouts. Both traits of a once-dominant team are gone, and that's even before thinking about what happens if a key contributor goes down to injury. With the hard-cap the Bulls are uniquely inflexible and unable to cope with injuries. I think Rose's recovery will go fine, but despite Thibodeau's best efforts it won't be a full-bore return. Without Rose they'll be deep under .500, finishing 40-42. Luckily (?) for them, I tried my best but couldn't find a team any more likely to grab this last playoff spot. If you go with the theory that usually one team can rise up and make a surprise appearance, I'd put the Bulls as the team exiting.
9. Toronto Raptors, 10. Detroit Pistons, 11. Milwaukee Bucks
All these teams have stockpiled a lot of OK players. Or at least players who may be OK, or used to be OK. I think the Raptors have the best chance to jump into the playoffs both based on current talent and their flexibility to make a midseason move (and they won't be tanking)...This isn't an unpopular opinion, but the Skiles meltdown WILL be happening. Even his team's defense has been bad lately, which suggest the tune-out has begun....For some reason I think that Lawrence Frank is a good coach, that late-season 'run' meant something for the Pistons, and with Monroe/Drummond they at least have a potentially unique advantage over a lot of teams.
12. Washington Wizards, 13. Cleveland Cavaliers, 14. Charlotte Bobcats, 15. Orlando Magic
The Wiz could've made a run at #8 if everything had gone right, but obviously with Wall's injury (and maybe Nene) and Jannero Pargo being involved they already blew that chance. And I didn't totally hate their trade with the Hornets either...Cleveland isn't trying to be that good, and they're succeeding. Kyrie Irving may have had a better rookie year than Derrick Rose, but Rose has always had .500-level talent around him...Charlotte Bobcats get a bump because they have Ben Gordon and Tyrus Thomas, thus being league pass #1 option...Orlando is trying to lose, which is pathetic, but that's what the draft lottery forces and what 'The OKC model' has inspired within their new GM. They have some average players now but will probably be big-time sellers during the season.