Playing Buy or Sell with Every NBA Team's 2013-14 Playoff Chances
A new year and fresh start are on the table for all 29 NBA teams that didn't finish last season happy.
All franchises are looking at 2013-14 with eager eyes. A great many of those squads have their sights set on a playoff berth. Some aim to continue their trek toward title contention, while others want to break into the conversation for the first time in a long while.
Only 16 teams get in, though. The other 14 will be licking their wounds and staring at a long offseason before getting another chance in 2014-15.
Which teams are worthy of making the playoffs? Let's play buy and sell with each NBA squad.
I don't mind the Atlanta Hawks' summer, but there are going to be some repercussions to letting perhaps your two best players leave in a 12-month period.
Almost exactly one year apart, the Hawks traded away Joe Johnson and saw Josh Smith sign with the Detroit Pistons. There is a good chance that both were the right moves for Atlanta's future, but they do make it harder to maintain a winning culture.
Obviously, bringing in a skilled big man like Paul Millsap will help fill the void, but Smith may have done more for this team than anyone knows. None of the other offseason acquisitions will turn heads, as the Hawks had to deal with re-signing Jeff Teague, which took considerable time, along with Smith's saga.
In addition to this, Lou Williams' health is still a giant question mark. Until he proves he is back from a major injury, the Hawks are relying too much on guys like DeMarre Carroll and John Jenkins.
Through a very poor preseason, it got harder and harder to picture the Boston Celtics as a playoff team, even on the outskirts of a weak Eastern Conference.
Depending on when Rajon Rondo returns, this team could still surprise. In last year's standings, this roster might be worth a seventh or eighth seed. However, too many of those middling franchises have made improvements with the general directive of getting to the postseason.
Boston may not the same goal. Even if it does, teams that missed the cut last season, like the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers, have made moves to enter the conversation.
That should be enough to force the Celtics out of their incumbent spot and into the lottery—especially if Rondo is out deep into 2014.
There is a very good chance that the Brooklyn Nets made the best immediate improvements of the offseason.
The players they brought in, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko, are aging, but still good players. Even Shaun Livingston and first-rounder Mason Plumlee should be capable of giving light, productive minutes.
The only issue should be health, which is already a minor problem with Deron Williams. He should be good to go by the opener, though. Barring multiple injuries to their major players, the Brooklyn Nets are going to be in the playoffs again.
I don't dislike the move for Al Jefferson. Nor do I agree that being in the middle of the pack is a death sentence for any franchise.
It is good to play good basketball and treat your fans to meaningful games with legitimate, upper-echelon NBA players. That is what Jefferson, Kemba Walker and perhaps Michael Kidd-Gilchrist bring to the Charlotte Bobcats.
Unfortunately for this piece, what the Bobcats have is not enough. Even with Jefferson good to go by the opener, I don't see Charlotte making enough noise to enter the playoffs.
For now, Charlotte fans can simply take solace in no longer being horrible. This team will give you some fun basketball to watch and the occasional great game.
The No. 5 seed in last year's Eastern Conference has the 2011 NBA MVP returning from a year of ACL recovery to lead its 2013-14 roster.
The boost of Derrick Rose should be more than enough to help the Chicago Bulls overcome the losses of Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Rip Hamilton.
The Bulls surprised a lot of people with last year's run into the second round. This year they won't be sneaking up on people with Rose back, but they have more than enough talent to get back into the playoffs.
There are a boatload of question marks for the Cleveland Cavaliers entering this season.
Four of their five highest-paid players must be considered injury risks. Andrew Bynum still isn't fully ready to go, which is a scary thought considering his past year. Rookie Anthony Bennett suffered a minor injury before playing an NBA game. Kyrie Irving still hasn't played 60 games in a season, and Anderson Varejao is typically a walking time bomb.
Still, it is hard not to like the roster Cleveland has put together. If all of those players stay healthy, this is beyond just a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. This is a legitimate middle seed.
However, I find it too difficult to ignore those health concerns when making predictions like this, especially after everything most middling Eastern Conference teams did to fight for one of the last postseason bids this offseason.
It is obviously a wait-and-see year for Cleveland, but for now I can't responsibly buy.
The Dallas Mavericks are going to threaten for a postseason spot all year.
For as long as Dirk Nowitzki can stay healthy, this roster will be talented enough to scare the top teams in the league and pound on the lower class. Moves to acquire Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon will only amplify that.
I'm just not sure offseason additions like Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington, Sam Dalembert and the above mentioned are of the caliber to raise this team over their contemporaries.
It is certainly going to be a battle for the final two playoff spots in the west, but the fellow middle teams are younger, hungrier and perhaps will be healthier to handle that challenge. The Mavericks didn't add many spring chickens ease Dirk's load.
I'd like to see Nowitzki and Shawn Marion battling again in a postseason series, but there is just too much quality clogging up the Western Conference spots.
We'll for sure find out just how many wins Andre Iguodala and George Karl were worth when this season wraps up.
The Denver Nuggets won 57 games last year but lost their head coach and two of their top wings, as Corey Brewer is gone as well. Is that enough to knock them out of the postseason? Most likely not, though it should be enough to knock them from their perch as the incumbent No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
They have made smart moves in the offseason to replace some of that lost production, but defensively this is a bad team. Newcomers J.J. Hickson and Nate Robinson will do little to prevent that. With Iguodala's help, they still allowed 101.1 points per game.
In order to win while giving up that much, the Nuggets are going to have to up the tempo even more. With Ty Lawson running the show, Denver will be able to do that and simply outscore enough teams to get back into a postseason slot.
Josh Smith hasn't missed the postseason since 2007 and was one of the most important players on the Atlanta Hawks in that time.
With the Detroit Pistons, he has a retooled roster to lead into the playoffs once again.
There will certainly be kinks to work out with this new unit, and they may struggle to find shooters throughout the season. However, by year's end, their star power in Smith, Greg Monroe, Brandon Jennings and maybe even Andre Drummond will be enough for a spot in the Eastern Conference's top eight.
If Smith is in prime form and Drummond and Monroe take their games to the next level, this is a team that can challenge for even a top-five spot. At the very least, the Pistons are getting in.
Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors did sacrifice a little bit to bring in Andre Iguodala, and that depth will be felt at certain parts of the season.
The addition of Iguodala will be enough to offset that in the overall scheme, though. Much like he helped the Denver Nuggets' bad defense reach the postseason last year, Iguodala should elevate the bottom-half defense of Golden State to new levels.
Bringing in Toney Douglas and Jermaine O'Neal may just be enough to cover up the losses of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry anyway.
This is still a roster with exciting and dangerous offensive weapons in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee. They'll once again have to hope for 65-plus games from Andrew Bogut, but they made the playoffs with him going for only 32 games last season.
The Houston Rockets sneaked into a No. 8 seed last season by two games. Things shouldn't be quite so tight in 2014.
With the addition of Dwight Howard, Houston now has a pulverizing offensive threat in the paint. Omer Asik was great last season, but offensively he doesn't require the same coverage and schemes that Howard does. That, in turn, will lighten the load James Harden has to bear for Houston to be successful.
All those surrounding pieces will find movement a whole lot easier with Howard commanding eyes around the hoop.
Howard's arrival, along with newcomer Marcus Camby as a backup, will also help what was one of the league's worst defenses last season. If Houston creates a passable unit on that side of the ball, its balance will propel it from playoff contention to title contention.
The Indiana Pacers are still a team on the rise.
The franchise worked its way from an No. 8 seed three years ago to being the No. 3 seed each of the last two seasons.
Now that they've made it, the Pacers aren't going anywhere. Retaining mostly the same roster, Indiana will add Danny Granger, returning from injury, along with trade acquisition Luis Scola and free agents C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland.
Indiana has the goods to get back into the Eastern Conference playoffs for years to come.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers pretty much assured themselves a spot in the 2014 playoffs over the summer when they re-signed Chris Paul.
They added to their chances by bringing in one of the few title-winning coaches in the league in Doc Rivers. The background additions of Jared Dudley, J.J. Redick and Darren Collison are icing on the cake of a sure-fire postseason team.
The Clippers were a No. 4 seed last season and will be making a play this year to enter that top three.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers were barely able to scratch out a postseason spot last year. They nabbed the No. 7 seed but were only two games out of the lottery.
Six of the of eight teams that finished below them have improved by varying degrees. Have the Lakers improved as well?
Los Angeles lost an elite center in Dwight Howard and has put together a patchwork roster of role players to surround Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Both of those stars are well into their 30s, and Bryant is still recovering from an injury.
The bottom line is that too much has happened beneath the Lakers, and a variety of teams will threaten to take their spot all season long. I'm not sure this roster can hold up against that kind of competition.
The Memphis Grizzlies finished 30 games over .500 last season in a tough Western Conference. There shouldn't be any major reason they can't emulate that type of season once more.
Memphis played the second half of 2013-14 without Rudy Gay and wasn't terribly worse off. It will need Tayshaun Prince to step it up a bit and newly acquired Mike Miller to be healthy and hot from outside in order to go anywhere in the postseason. However, its defense is enough to get into the playoffs.
This was the league's top scoring defense a year ago, and the Grizzlies re-signed First-Team All-Defensive guard Tony Allen in the offseason. Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are all back and looking healthy to start the season.
LeBron James doesn't miss the playoffs.
Until the Miami Heat roster doesn't include that name, this team is playoff-bound.
The Heat took some chances in the offseason with Michael Beasley and Greg Oden but still have plenty to get back into the postseason with a very good seed.
The new-look Milwaukee Bucks have a year to go before getting themselves back into the playoff picture.
They'll certainly threaten for that No. 8 seed in a jumbled Eastern Conference middle, but this roster is going to take some adjusting first.
Milwaukee was hastily re-assembled in order to maintain relevancy after a wild summer. O.J. Mayo, Zaza Pachulia and Carlos Delfino were all signed during a one-week period that also featured the Bucks signing Jeff Teague but ultimately losing out on him, as well as trading away Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and waiving Drew Gooden.
Later there was the big trade of Brandon Jennings for Brandon Knight, another trade that brought in Caron Butler, Larry Sanders' extension and numerous other small moves.
The bottom line here is that this starting lineup will feature three brand-new players (Knight, Mayo and Butler) being backed up immediately by three or four brand-new players (Pachulia, Delfino, Gary Neal and Giannis Antetokounmpo).
The roster will need midseason adjustments and possibly some trimming and supplementing, but the Bucks have a good shot to be back in the postseason come 2015.
Much like with the Cleveland Cavaliers, this is a tough call to make.
It is irresponsible to buy a product that hasn't been proven or has a recent history of falling apart on you. That is where the Minnesota Timberwolves stand right now.
Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love played a combined 75 games last season. That won't get a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
What the T-Wolves did in the offseason was get healthy and fortify where needed. Kevin Martin will help with scoring, while extending Nikola Pekovic and drafting Gorgui Dieng will solidify the frontcourt.
Both Rubio and Love are playing at full strength in the preseason, which is a promising pitch for their playoff candidacy.
Unfortunately, there just isn't room in the Western Conference. Barring someone's fall from grace, the Timberwolves will be in a fierce battle for one spot and may not have the healthy bodies to hold up.
New Orleans Pelicans
Neither Rome nor New Orleans was built in a day.
The New Orleans Pelicans have done a good job of assembling a threatening roster. However, this will take time to coach up, develop and figure out roles.
With new additions like Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, the roster is crowded with similar players and will take some time to trim and supplement. The Pelicans have worlds of young talent, but they will need to learn to win with each other before a playoff spot can be attainable.
Sure, there is still the possibility of an exciting eruption, but I'll play it safe and wait a year.
New York Knicks
Whether you liked the offseason moves for Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani or not, the New York Knicks are still too talented to miss the playoffs.
Even if they implode, the abilities of Carmelo Anthony as a solo artist will still be enough to squeeze them into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. If things go even remotely smoothly, this is one of the top rosters in the East.
At best, the new additions click and Amar'e Stoudemire stays healthy. In that case, watch out, because the New York Knicks will challenge for a top seed.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder should have enough talent to survive the first chunk of the season without Russell Westbrook.
If they can keep the team in the top half of the Western Conference until his return, Westbrook and Kevin Durant will fall right back in line and get this team into the playoffs.
By virtue of having a mammoth trade piece in Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic are a step ahead of the curve in rebuilding their roster towards a playoff spot.
However, that just means they are one year away instead of two. There is a lot of quality, young talent on this roster. The majority of it will be under contract beyond this season, barring some team options. With another solid draft and perhaps a free agent brought in with freed-up money from Hedo Turkoglu's contract, the Magic could make noise in a year.
In the 2013-14 season, they will still have to deal with the inconsistencies of young players learning the NBA grind. Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson got a healthy dose of experience last year, but it will take more before they lead a team to a playoff spot.
The 2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers aren't looking too good right now.
This team has very little in terms of name NBA talent. Evan Turner should have been that after going No. 2 overall in the 2010 NBA draft, but a few years in and Philadelphia is still waiting for him to be great, not good.
Nerlens Noel, this summer's No. 6 overall pick, could be that talent as well, but he may not play this season.
Other than them, there are a series of role players ranging from barely NBA-caliber to solid. Or, as the 76ers know it, Daniel Orton and Kwame Brown to Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young.
The 76ers aren't heading towards the postseason, and they may not want to right now.
Even prior to their big trade with the Washington Wizards, the Phoenix Suns weren't going to the playoffs.
Now, the worst team in last year's Western Conference has dealt away Luis Scola, Jared Dudley, Caron Butler and Marcin Gortat, a healthy chunk of its frontcourt production.
That isn't a recipe for immediate improvement. The Suns do have a bevy of picks in the upcoming 2014 draft and beyond. They also have Eric Bledsoe, who is one of the most highly touted prospects in the NBA.
With new general manager Ryan McDonough at the helm, there are things to look forward to in Phoenix.
Portland Trail Blazers
Expectations are starting to come back to the Pacific Northwest, which is a good thing for the Portland Trail Blazers.
This is a monster season for the team and a whole lot of its individuals.
LaMarcus Aldridge has missed the playoffs far too many times for a player of his age and supposed caliber. It is time for him to prove himself with a postseason berth.
Damian Lillard will attempt to avoid any sophomore slump and prove that his Rookie of the Year season was no fluke. Nicolas Batum is getting rave reviews as an all-around asset and threat, but he doesn’t have a signature season to back it up.
Portland made solid moves over the offseason to fortify its bench, bringing in Robin Lopez, C.J. McCollum, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and Mo Williams. Normally that number of new additions would scare off a prediction, but none of these players are expected to carry the team, and only Lopez might start right away.
It is time for Portland to make that postseason leap.
The 2013-14 Sacramento Kings will provide some good basketball and intriguing storylines for fans.
However, don't expect to see them cracking the top half of the Western Conference just yet. The new ownership group, general manager and head coach need time to get their ducks in a row, and patience will be key.
In the meantime, DeMarcus Cousins and Greivis Vasquez are very good NBA players, and the development of Ben McLemore will be something the entire league keeps an eye on.
San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs have done enough in the background to assure themselves a playoff spot next season.
They have enough well-rounded pieces, along with the league's top coach, that even if a major injury befalls Tony Parker or Tim Duncan, the team should continue to win enough games to get in.
With an entirely healthy roster, there are very few reasons this team can't earn one of the top seeds in the Western Conference again.
Most of the Toronto Raptors' playoff hopes hinge on a bounce-back year from Kyle Lowry and breakout season for Jonas Valanciunas.
Both Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan finished last season playing some very good basketball, but they need a legitimate third option.
Lowry is getting a bad rep for failing to contribute enough during his Raptors tenure, but I see a clearing now for him to settle in. He only averaged 29.7 minutes per contest over 68 games last season. The Jose Calderon factor weighed pretty heavily on everything he tried to bring to the table. Now, Lowry is the definite No. 1 point guard and could return to the excellent form he had with the Houston Rockets.
Valanciunas is being talked about as the possible surprise star of this year. He put up good numbers in limited minutes as a rookie and may have a huge season on tap. He'll be aided by newly acquired bigs Tyler Hansbrough and Austin Daye.
There is a lot of potential in Toronto this season, and I see it all coming together for a playoff spot over the uncertainty in Cleveland.
Just because this won't be a playoff-caliber season for the Utah Jazz doesn't mean it won't be interesting, fun and telling.
The Jazz sacrificed nearly all of their veteran talent this offseason. That means they won't threaten to play late into the spring, but it also means they'll feature a lot of the young prospects fans have been hearing so much about.
Utah will finally know what it got when trading for Derrick Favors and drafting Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Trey Burke. The team will also know what kind of leader Gordon Hayward can be.
None of that gets you into a top-eight spot in the Western Conference, but it doesn't make for a boring watch either.
Prior to their recent deal with the Phoenix Suns, the Washington Wizards looked like they could be the odd man out in the battle for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Now, with Marcin Gortat added, they have the best chance to get in.
Instead of entering with an injured Emeka Okafor, they'll have a legitimate three-man rotation of bigs with Gortat joining Nene and Kevin Seraphin.
The real reason for their playoff berth will be the starting backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Though neither played remotely close to a full season last year, the two have had time to learn each other's game and should mesh nicely in Year 2—assuming they both stay healthy, of course.
The small forward position is worrisome, considering the opponents they will have to face at that spot. However, the Wizards have what should be three passable options there. If any one of Otto Porter, Trevor Ariza or Martell Webster exceeds expectations, they will be fine.
With Ariza's expiring $7.7 million contract, there is always the possibility of an in-season trade as well.
The Wizards have enough to earn a seventh or eighth seed.