Win-Loss Predictions for Every NBA Team Post 2014 NBA Draft
Parity is going to rule the NBA in 2014-15.
That much is clear after the landscape-changing NBA draft on June 26. While the lottery teams largely made the right selections and added impact players at positions of need, the playoff-caliber squads improved as well, just with less-impactful selections. It's a process that helped balance the disparity between the top and the bottom of each conference.
For the most part, at least.
However, this isn't just about the draft.
There have already been a few trades made in the Association, despite the emphasis on youth that has marked the 2014 offseason, all of which changes things around. There's a lot of summer left, during which time marquee players will change teams and completely alter these win-loss projections, but let's capture an early snapshot, starting with the Eastern Conference.
Try not to be too offended. There are only so many wins to go around.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: 20-62
2013-14 Record: 15-67
2014 Draft Picks: Jabari Parker (No. 2), Damien Inglis (No. 31), Johnny O'Bryant (No. 36)
Did the Milwaukee Bucks improve by drafting Jabari Parker at No. 2?
Even during his rookie season, the former Duke star is fully capable of serving as the Bucks' top offensive option, which is something that the lanky Bucks have been lacking since Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings left in free agency. But that's not nearly enough for Milwaukee to emerge out of the basement, even in the Eastern Conference.
Larry Sanders staying healthy and out of trouble should aid the cause, as will the expected development from Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson, but this team still doesn't have enough defensive talent to compete, particularly if Parker is playing heavy minutes.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Milwaukee floundered away with the No. 30 defensive rating and No. 26 offensive rating in 2013-14. Even if the latter improves drastically and the former takes a Sanders-aided step forward, that's just not enough.
Let's just take solace in the fact that, due to skill, opportunity and an NBA-ready nature, Parker should be considered the prohibitive favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year honors.
14. Philadelphia 76ers: 27-55
2013-14 Record: 19-63
2014 Draft Picks: Joel Embiid (No. 3), Dario Saric (No. 12), K.J. McDaniels (No. 32), Jerami Grant (No. 39), Vasilije Micic (No. 52), Jordan McRae (No. 58)
The Philadelphia 76ers are playing for the future.
Yes, Nerlens Noel will be making his long-awaited debut and the team nailed the 2014 NBA draft, but everything is still geared toward future contention, not current success. Michael Carter-Williams will have a tough time improving upon his rookie numbers once there are more options around him and he's not chasing stats.
And many of the additions come with caveats.
Joel Embiid will miss at least a portion of the season. At best, he'll start contributing early on after missing training camp and the summer league, thereby slowing down his development. At worst, he'll be held out the entire season for precautionary reasons, as was Noel this past season.
The Sixers also used a lottery pick on Dario Saric, who isn't coming to the NBA until 2016-17, at the earliest.
Drafting an injured big man and a guaranteed draft-and-stash player doesn't indicate that general manager Sam Hinkie plans on playing competitive basketball right away.
"Watching Philly next season is going to be awful," claimed Zach Lowe for Grantland shortly after the draft wrapped up. "It is only for the NBA’s jittery League Pass fiends watching four games at once, tweeting, and chugging Red Bull. But watching Philly over the next half-decade is going to be amazing."
Be patient, Philly.
13. Boston Celtics: 30-52
2013-14 Record: 25-57
2014 Draft Picks: Marcus Smart (No. 6), James Young (No. 17)
The Boston Celtics are going to improve during the 2014-15 season, just not enough to have a shot at the postseason.
Rajon Rondo will be back, but it's troubling that he didn't get better as he tried adjusting to new teammates upon his return from injury last year. Those struggles made it increasingly clear that he needs to be surrounded by offensive stars in order to play up to his full capabilities.
The draft-day additions of Marcus Smart and James Young will both help, but Smart and Rondo aren't complementary players. Neither can shoot from the perimeter, and the combination of the two would make things awfully easy for opponents to defend, as they can just sag and dare the backcourt to shoot.
Landing a few promising free agents will help things dramatically, but until that happens, the C's don't appear as though they'll escape the lottery quite yet.
12. Orlando Magic: 33-49
2013-14 Record: 23-59
2014 Draft Picks: Aaron Gordon (No. 4), Elfrid Payton (No. 10), Roy Devyn Marble (No. 56)
The Orlando Magic are going to be a surprisingly competitive squad in 2014-15, even if they aren't true playoff contenders at this early stage of the rebuilding process. That will come in 2015-16, not this next season.
But heading into free agency, the Magic already have the ability to boast a starting five of Elfrid Payton (who should eventually take over for Jameer Nelson), Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic.
It has to be exciting for the Orlando faithful that it has high-upside players at each and every position, but the Arron Afflalo trade (which netted Roy Devyn Marble and Evan Fournier) is a clear-cut indication that general manager Rob Hennigan is still acquiring talent, not pushing for the playoffs.
This team is full of promise, and it should immediately be an effective if underrated defensive squad. However, a lack of rim protection, limited outside shooting and a near dearth of experience will ultimately drag down the team's 2014-15 playoff hopes.
11. Detroit Pistons: 34-48
2013-14 Record: 29-53
2014 Draft Picks: Spencer Dinwiddie (No. 38)
The presence of Stan Van Gundy on the sidelines will help stabilize this struggling squad, but stability won't spur this shooting-devoid group on to success.
Even if Spencer Dinwiddie is fully recovered from his ACL tear by the start of the season, he's not going to earn an abundance of playing time while behind—at a minimum—Brandon Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He'll hit threes when he comes off the bench, but it's still largely up to the starters to space the court.
The Detroit Pistons massively underachieved during the first season of the ill-fated Josh Smith era. They're still chock-full of talent, but until a defined system is established, the players become comfortable and the roster composition begins to make sense, the playoffs will be tough to experience.
SVG should push this team to bigger and better things, but let's give him more than one offseason to shape the roster to his liking. These Pistons are the first team truly capable of competing for a postseason spot in the East, but they're going to fall short once more.
10. New York Knicks: 37-45
2013-14 Record: 37-45
2014 Draft Picks: Cleanthony Early (No. 34), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (No. 51), Louis Labeyrie (No. 57)
For the New York Knicks, the upgrade from Raymond Felton to Jose Calderon is not going to be enough to negate the impact of losing Tyson Chandler. Samuel Dalembert just isn't on the same level as the former Knicks center, as he won't protect the rim as well and can't help compress the opposing defense for New York's bevy of shooters.
Even if Carmelo Anthony decides to return to New York, this is not a team capable of competing for a championship.
Phil Jackson's presence in the front office creates tremendous hope for the future—especially after nailing the 2014 NBA draft by taking two forwards who can make immediate contributions—but this is an organization limited by a lack of elite talent, past poor decision-making and a complete lack of financial flexibility.
Could the Knicks sneak into the playoffs? Sure.
Just don't bet on it.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers: 38-44
2013-14 Record: 33-49
2014 Draft Picks: Andrew Wiggins (No. 1), Joe Harris (No. 33), Dwight Powell (No. 45)
Yes, Andrew Wiggins makes the Cleveland Cavaliers into a legitimate playoff squad, even if they ultimately fall just short.
Wiggins still has plenty of developing to do, but he's essentially going to be able to fill the same role he did at Kansas. While playing alongside Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters—both of whom should continue improving—he'll be an off-ball threat on offense, able to focus his energy on locking down the opposition's best wing player.
Between the addition of Wiggins and the return of a myriad of improving young players (Irving, Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev, Matthew Dellavedova), there's reason to expect a lot more from Cleveland than it delivered last season.
The Kansas product may not be the favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year, a status that should go to an elite first-year player on a team that will give that rookie more touches, but he'll be part of a playoff push. Something tells me that's more important to him, anyway.
8. Brooklyn Nets: 39-43
2013-14 Record: 44-38
2014 Draft Picks: Markel Brown (No. 44), Xavier Thames (No. 59), Cory Jefferson (No. 60)
The Brooklyn Nets are an intriguing bunch.
Making it to the second round of the 2014 postseason, even if that was achieved by beating an inexperienced Toronto Raptors bunch, offers plenty of hope for the future, as does the return of former All-Star center Brook Lopez.
However, how exactly is the rest of this roster supposed to improve?
The current bunch should be talented enough to make the postseason once more, but there's no guarantee that Andray Blatche, Shaun Livingston or Paul Pierce return to a team with very limited upside. The rest of the aging incumbents—Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson—are only declining, and there's no guarantee that Lopez resembles his old self after suffering so many devastating foot injuries.
Plus, the draft added a trio of players who are only capable of filling small roles off the bench.
Unless the Nets find the Fountain of Youth, they're too capped out to make the necessary improvements that could lead to better prospects at an NBA title.
Yes, even with Lopez back in the lineup.
7. Toronto Raptors: 42-40
2013-14 Record: 48-34
2014 Draft Picks: Bruno Caboclo (No. 20), DeAndre Daniels (No. 37)
The Toronto Raptors are not going to get worse during the 2014-15 campaign, assuming Kyle Lowry remains north of the border and leads the charge once more.
However, a failure to address any primary needs in the draft and the across-the-board improvement of the Eastern Conference will make it awfully difficult to replicate last year's record. Not only is the weak underbelly of the East getting significantly more dangerous, but the returns of formerly injured standouts to some playoff squads will only make things tougher.
The Raptors are still unquestionably a playoff squad, especially if DeMar DeRozan continues adjusting to a lead role, Terrence Ross improves his offensive consistency and Jonas Valanciunas takes a massive step forward.
However, last year's 48-win campaign was the result of a convergence of factors that won't be replicated this next season. No longer will the East be as weak—still weak, just not historically weak—and it's unlikely quite so many stars on title- and playoff-contending teams will go down.
6. Washington Wizards: 43-39
2013-14 Record: 44-38
2014 Draft Picks: None
It's going to be awfully difficult for the Washington Wizards to shell out the cash necessary to keep both Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza. And even if they do, with Martell Webster's back injury forcing Washington's hand, it's still going to be difficult for the Wizards to pony up for other quality players.
Fortunately, the rest of the roster should improve.
John Wall will continue to assert himself as an elite point guard, while Bradley Beal should leave little doubt that he'll eventually be a max player. Factor in Otto Porter returning to full health and getting a full offseason of work in, and this is a stellar core in the nation's capital.
That said, there really isn't any way for the Wizards to improve to the extent that some of the other playoff teams in the East already have.
These next two, for example.
5. Atlanta Hawks: 44-38
2013-14 Record: 38-44
2014 Draft Picks: Adreian Payne (No. 15), Walter Tavares (No. 43), Lamar Patterson (No. 48)
There's a lot to like about the way the Atlanta Hawks are trending.
On the sidelines, Mike Budenholzer is asserting himself as a promising head coach, one whose system did wonders for Hotlanta during his first year holding the clipboard. An offseason of adding more personnel that fits his schemes should do wonders, especially because the incumbents now understand exactly how they should play.
But this roster is also getting a huge boost.
Adreian Payne is a great fit as an NBA-ready stretch 4 who can capably handle the ball on the perimeter, and Lamar Patterson's distributing skills make him the rare late-second-round pick who can contribute immediately. However, the real reason for excitement comes in the frontcourt and doesn't involve the 2014 NBA draft.
Al Horford will be recovered from his torn pectoral, ready to resume his All-Star-caliber play while serving as an offensive hub for the Hawks. And Lucas Nogueira, an athletic first-round pick from the 2013 draft, should be joining the team as well, adding depth and rim protection to a team that needs both.
Failing to recognize the Hawks as dark-horse contenders would be a mistake.
4. Charlotte Hornets: 45-37
2013-14 Record: 43-39
2014 Draft Picks: Noah Vonleh (No. 9), P.J. Hairston (No. 26), Semaj Christon (No. 55)
Please stop thinking of the Charlotte Hornets as the 2011-12 squad that went 7-59, posting the worst winning percentage of any team in NBA history. This current bunch is no longer a laughingstock, and failing to take the fast-rising organization seriously could prove to be a huge mistake.
Sorry, did I say "could"? It will prove to be a massive error.
After adding a trio of contributors in the draft, the Hornets now boast a potential starting five of Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Noah Vonleh and Al Jefferson, with P.J. Hairston and a number of decent players coming off the bench. And that's before using some of the plentiful finances to add quality free agents.
Vonleh will prove to be a huge difference-maker for the former Bobcats, as he's both capable of protecting the rim for head coach Steve Clifford's underrated defense and stepping out to the perimeter and knocking down jumpers to help space the court on offense.
Sleep on the Hornets at your own peril.
3. Indiana Pacers: 50-32
2013-14 Record: 56-26
2014 Draft Picks: None
"Lance wants to be here, there’s no question about it," said Larry Bird, the team's president of basketball operations, via beat reporter Scott Agness' Twitter feed. "So now it’s just getting the terms right and try to get him back."
Eventually, they should find the right terms, even if those have to involve the Indiana Pacers remaining below the luxury-tax threshold. Stephenson is too important, and while his antics helped doom the team during the Eastern Conference Finals, they'll also depress his price in free agency.
While this team will eerily resemble the bunch that was so dominant in 2013-14, there are still a number of reasons to be worried about its ability to replicate the 56-win season.
First, will Roy Hibbert be playoffs/second-half Hibbert or early-season Hibbert? Secondly, how will the bench improve when the front office is staunchly opposed to paying the tax? Thirdly, is Frank Vogel capable of making adjustments after the league as a whole figured out his team's defense in the second half of the 2013-14 campaign?
This team has championship upside, but it's bound for a bit of regression in 2014-15.
2. Chicago Bulls: 51-31
2013-14 Record: 48-34
2014 Draft Picks: Doug McDermott (No. 11), Cameron Bairstow (No. 49)
Having the Chicago Bulls at No. 2 in the Eastern Conference might seem aggressive.
However, there are plenty of reasons to believe in an impressive improvement from the 48-win effort in 2013-14.
Derrick Rose will be back in action, and as long as he can stay healthy, he'll be a dramatic upgrade from the options that the Bulls have been using at point guard over the last couple of years. Taj Gibson is bound for a larger role, and any less Carlos Boozer is a positive for Chicago. After all, the bald-headed big man made the Bulls 8.1 points worse per 100 possessions in 2013-14, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Nikola Mirotic, a former first-round pick who has been balling for Real Madrid and establishing himself as one of Europe's best players, should be joining the team. Doug McDermott is an NBA-ready offensive player who will add a serious scoring punch to the Chicago lineup, and Tom Thibodeau is the coach best suited for hiding him on defense.
Remember, this projection comes under the assumption that no marquee free agents will be joining the team. If Carmelo Anthony changes that—which I suspect he's seriously thinking about doing—this record will only improve.
1. Miami Heat: 53-29
2013-14 Record: 54-28
2014 Draft Picks: Shabazz Napier (No. 24)
In fact, it's more likely that discounts are taken so that Pat Riley can add Trevor Ariza, Luol Deng or another sub-elite free agent while using some money to shore up the lackluster bench. So long as the slick-haired GM is running the show, quality contributors are going to come flocking to South Beach.
Adding Shabazz Napier in the draft will also help.
The former Connecticut floor general is an NBA-ready point guard who should look like an immediate upgrade over both Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, who were exposed by the San Antonio Spurs as subpar options. Plus, his arrival makes LeBron's return all the more likely.
Until there's a serious indication that any member of the Big Three is favoring another location, the Heat are going to reload and reassert themselves as the favorite in the Eastern Conference.
15. Utah Jazz: 18-64
2013-14 Record: 25-57
2014 Draft Picks: Dante Exum (No. 5), Rodney Hood (No. 23)
I feel terrible for what awaits the Utah Jazz in the 2014-15 season.
As you'll see over the next 14 slides, the Western Conference is unfairly loaded with talent and playoff-worthy teams. Even though the Jazz got significantly better by adding Dante Exum and Rodney Hood to their youthful core, they're still well behind the rest of the stacked conference.
There's just too much unproven upside here to compete right away, even if the two aforementioned draft picks, Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward (if his eventual offer sheet in restricted free agency is matched), Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Jeremy Evans and Rudy Gobert give Utah as much unestablished talent as any organization. Inexperience does not win games in the West, even if there's potential for the roster to come together and steal the occasional game on any given night.
But in 2015-16 and beyond?
I no longer feel terrible for the Utah Jazz.
14. Sacramento Kings: 27-55
2013-14 Record: 28-54
2014 Draft Picks: Nik Stauskas (No. 8)
The Sacramento Kings are largely in the same boat as the Jazz.
Even if they're unquestionably getting better, the Kings just aren't filled with enough established talent to hang with the dozen teams that are emerging as playoff-caliber squads in the West.
Yes, I mean a literal dozen; that's in no way hyperbolic.
Even if he's kind of redundant with Ben McLemore, last year's top pick, on the roster, Nik Stauskas will help add some more perimeter shooting and floor-spacing to the Kings. He should be an impact player from the get-go for Sacramento.
At the moment, the Kings are a collection of nice talents—nicer still if they retain Isaiah Thomas now that he's a restricted free agent—but until this squad starts playing more defense and begins to function as, well, a team, the playoffs are still a pipe dream.
The Kings are another squad with a brighter future than its present.
13. Los Angeles Lakers: 31-51
2013-14 Record: 27-55
2014 Draft Picks: Julius Randle (No. 7), Jordan Clarkson (No. 46)
Even if Julius Randle makes a run at Rookie of the Year, it's currently impossible to project the Los Angeles Lakers as a playoff team.
After all, this is what their depth chart looks like at the moment:
- Point guard: Steve Nash, Kendall Marshall
- Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant, Jordan Clarkson
- Small forward: None
- Power forward: Julius Randle
- Center: Robert Sacre
"But you already assumed the Heat would get the Big Three back!" you might be thinking.
There's a major difference. Miami should see each of its three stars return to the lineup, as it can offer them more money than anyone else and is actively working on a way to improve the roster while operating under the fundamental assumption that everyone will return.
How do the Lakers have an advantage when pursuing?
This all changes if a marquee free agent joins Kobe and Co., but not yet. Not when there's no indication that will happen, only a hope from the widespread fanbase.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves: 41-41
2013-14 Record: 40-42
2014 Draft Picks: Zach LaVine (No. 13), Glenn Robinson III (No. 40)
Remember how I claimed there were a dozen teams capable of advancing to the playoffs? Here's the first of the bunch.
And before diving into why the Minnesota Timberwolves are capable of improving upon last year's record, let's first acknowledge that a 41-41 record would be good for the No. 7 seed in the Eastern conference, plus the win total would likely be much higher against the East's weaker competition.
Right off the bat, it's worth noting that the 'Wolves were massive underachievers in 2013-14. According to Basketball-Reference.com, their Pythagorean record—based on margins of victory and defeat—outpaced the actual record by eight wins.
A regression to the mean—coupled with improvement from the young players, more playing time for Gorgui Dieng and two draft-day additions who can contribute during their rookie seasons—bodes well for a slight improvement.
If Kevin Love is traded, this changes the outlook, of course. But after failing to deal him before the draft, it's going to become significantly more difficult to pull the trigger before the midseason deadline. Especially if this squad is within sniffing distance of a playoff berth, which it should be throughout the year.
10 (tie). New Orleans Pelicans: 42-40
2013-14 Record: 34-48
2014 Draft Picks: Russ Smith (No. 47)
Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis basically never played together during the 2013-14 season. Decimating and untimely injuries piled up, preventing this team from ever reaching its full potential.
Well, that should change in 2014-15.
Though it would be falling prey to the gambler's fallacy to expect them to remain fully healthy, they can't possibly get so unlucky again.
Additionally, acquiring Omer Asik from the Houston Rockets for a 2015 first-round pick will increase the immediate effectiveness of this team. All of a sudden, Anthony Davis is going to be able to roam around half-court sets on defense, terrorizing opponents with his versatility, length and athleticism while someone else focuses on protecting the rim.
The Unibrow may well be an MVP candidate during the 2014-15 season, especially if the New Orleans Pelicans can exceed these expectations by staying completely healthy and stealing a few unexpected games.
10 (tie). Phoenix Suns: 42-40
2013-14 Record: 48-34
2014 Draft Picks: T.J. Warren (No. 14), Tyler Ennis (No. 18), Bogdan Bogdanovic (No. 27), Alec Brown (No. 50)
I'm still confused by the Phoenix Suns' draft.
They needed to add a post scorer and a guy who could rain three-pointers from the wings, but instead they landed a creative scorer who thrives in neither of those areas (T.J. Warren) and a point guard (Tyler Ennis) who will play behind Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, if the latter is retained. Alec Brown is the pick that makes the most sense, as he's a floor-spacing 5, but he's going to struggle for playing time.
Phoenix has enough money to match any offer sheet Bledsoe signs and then still add a post player, ideally Pau Gasol, but things are a lot more uncertain now.
Pair that with the league starting to figure the Suns out as the year progressed, no longer taking them for granted—as evidenced by a worse record during second, third and fourth matchups with opponents—and Phoenix is bound for some regression.
Adding a standout free agent and retaining Bledsoe changes this and turns the Suns into a legitimate playoff team, but it's looking like a second season of competitiveness and ultimate heartbreak in the desert.
9. Memphis Grizzlies: 43-39
2013-14 Record: 50-32
2014 Draft Picks: Jordan Adams (No. 22), Jarnell Stokes (No. 35)
The Memphis Grizzlies barely snuck into the playoffs last year, emerging from a three-team race with the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks to earn the No. 7 seed, just two games ahead of the ninth-place finisher in the conference.
It's tough to see them doing the same in 2014-15.
This roster is going to have trouble improving at the same rate as the rest of the Western Conference. A full season of Marc Gasol, the return of Quincy Pondexter and the addition of two draft picks who will immediately find homes in the rotation will all help.
However, age-related declines won't.
Tony Allen, Zach Randolph and Tayshaun Prince are all in their 30s, and Gasol will be there by the end of the season. Their veteran savvy is beneficial, but their legs will be awfully weary by the time Game 82 comes around, and that contest could very well be the difference between making the playoffs and finishing in the lottery.
Should Memphis make the postseason, it has the defensive talent necessary to pull off at least one upset. But the bigger challenge is getting there.
8. Dallas Mavericks: 44-38
2013-14 Record: 49-33
2014 Draft Picks: None
The last time Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler paired up, the result was a championship. Four seasons later, they're teaming up once again, though a lot has changed.
Nowitzki is still one of the best players in the NBA, but he's not capable of sustaining MVP-caliber play and carrying his squad singlehandedly. Meanwhile, Chandler is a 31-year-old big man coming off two injury-filled seasons. He's doing a reverse butterfly, regressing to just a cocoon of his prime self.
The Mavericks are still in good shape for a playoff berth, though, even if dreams of a top seed or championship are spurious ones.
With Chandler protecting the rim, Dallas won't be quite as porous on defense, though a free-agent signing or two would help with that hope. And the offense, led by Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, will still be one of the most potent in the league.
A lot of the roster has yet to be determined, as Mark Cuban and the rest of the front office are hoping that a few marquee free agents will strongly consider coming to Dallas and avoiding that pesky income tax. But this squad already has a strong core and possesses more potential to rise than fall.
7. Denver Nuggets: 45-37
2013-14 Record: 36-46
2014 Draft Picks: Jusuf Nurkic (No. 16), Gary Harris (No. 19), Nikola Jokic (No. 41)
Arron Afflalo is excited about the Denver Nuggets' potential, per NBA.com:
I’ll be blunt. I believe this is a championship team. It’s hard for the casual fan to fathom that because you don’t see big-market stars. Basketball is a team game. Good players win you games.
To have a team that I feel is pretty much 2-deep at every position in talent and experience and hunger to compete and prove themselves as players, I think this is a team with the caliber to make a run for a title.
The 2-guard, who was acquired for the No. 56 pick in the 2014 NBA draft (Roy Devyn Marble) and Evan Fournier, has been a part of the NBA's most successful offseason thus far. After all, the Nuggets have turned the aforementioned assets, Anthony Randolph and the No. 11 pick, into a fringe All-Star from last season (Afflalo), Gary Harris, a promising young center (Jusuf Nurkic) and a draft-and-stash candidate (Nikola Jokic).
All of a sudden, the league's deepest team—arguably, at least—also has one of the more dangerous starting fives: Ty Lawson, Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov or JaVale McGee.
Denver was already bound for serious improvement, as Gallo, Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson and McGee are all recovering from season-ending injuries. But now that's coupled with a ridiculously successful early portion of the offseason.
6. Portland Trail Blazers: 46-36
2013-14 Record: 54-28
2014 Draft Picks: None
The Portland Trail Blazers need to hit the lottery during free agency in order to avoid a regression in 2014-15.
According to Hoopsstats.com, the Rip City bench finished the season No. 30 in offensive efficiency and only three spots higher for defensive efficiency. Even though there's typically a trade-off between volume and efficiency, those marks came while playing only 23.6 minutes per game, easily the lowest mark in the league.
Well, the Blazers can't bank on the starting five—which was massively overworked during the 2013-14 campaign—staying almost completely healthy, suffering only the occasional setback until LaMarcus Aldridge missed time at the end of the year.
Their luck can't be that good.
But unfortunately, the bench isn't yet prepared for prime time. They're just about capped out this offseason, and only Thomas Robinson, Dorell Wright, Joel Freeland, C.J. McCollum, Meyers Leonard, Victor Claver, Will Barton and Allen Crabbe are under contract. There aren't many impact players there, unless McCollum, Robinson and Leonard break out.
Finding bargains in free agency is a must, especially without adding anyone via the draft.
5. Houston Rockets: 49-33
2013-14 Record: 54-28
2014 Draft Picks: Clint Capela (No. 25), Nick Johnson (No. 42), Alessandro Gentile (No. 53)
The Houston Rockets are very clearly going after either Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James.
Not only did they use two of their three picks in the 2014 NBA draft on international players who will be stashed away in foreign leagues to save cap space, but they also officially declined Chandler Parsons' team option, per Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears, so they can free up more money, even letting the promising small forward walk if necessary.
On top of that, they traded Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans for a 2015 first-round pick, taking back no salary in return. They'll likely try to do something similar with Jeremy Lin in the near future, thus ridding themselves of both poison-pill contracts.
However, they're forgetting one thing.
Because they play in the Western Conference, they're at a severe—and unfair—disadvantage in free-agency pursuits of the intended caliber. Why would a marquee player seeking a title chance go anywhere but the East when he's already playing in the weaker conference?
Should general manager Daryl Morey strike out, he's going to weaken his roster for 2014-15 before attempting to chase another star one summer later. And right now, it looks as though that's the most likely scenario.
4. Golden State Warriors: 50-32
2013-14 Record: 51-31
2014 Draft Picks: None
Even though the Golden State Warriors' projected record has one win fewer than the 51-victory total in Mark Jackson's last season with the team, the 2014-15 iteration is going to be better than last year's squad. It's only the overall improvement of the West that will depress the record, as there's a rising level of talent and a constant number of available combined wins for the 30 teams in the Association.
Steve Kerr has to be more creative on offense than Jackson was, and this roster still has access to nearly all of its core pieces. Plus, the ones who are being lost—Steve Blake (unrestricted), Jordan Crawford (restricted) and Jermaine O'Neal (unrestricted)—should all be replaced fairly easily through the improvement of younger players and new signings.
The loss of O'Neal might be tough to offset, but the backcourt players coming off the pine almost have to get better.
Plus, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut are all in place for the starting lineup (provided that none of the trade rumors involving the Warriors become reality). So long as that's the case, this team has elite potential on both ends of the floor.
3. Los Angeles Clippers: 53-29
2013-14 Record: 57-25
2014 Draft Picks: C.J. Wilcox (No. 28)
The problem rests in the frontcourt.
Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are still locked in as the starters at power forward and center, respectively. However, there's not a single backup on the roster. Somehow, things are looking worse than in 2013-14, when the team used Antawn Jamison, Ryan Hollins, Hedo Turkoglu, Byron Mullens and Glen Davis to fill in the gaps.
The Los Angeles Clippers had a chance to address this during the 2014 NBA draft, but instead they used the pick on C.J. Wilcox, a shooting guard out of Washington, at No. 28.
You know, so Wilcox can sit behind J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Reggie Bullock and maybe even Willie Green in the 2-guard rotation. Because that makes sense.
Until the Clippers find help at the 4 and 5, it's hard to project them replicating their 57-win season.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: 56-26
2013-14 Record: 59-23
2014 Draft Picks: Mitch McGary (No. 21), Josh Huestis (No. 29)
Is Mitch McGary going to force Scott Brooks' hand?
The Oklahoma City Thunder were limited by their coach at times during the 2013-14 season. Too often, he handed the ball to Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant and just had them go to work in isolation sets rather than designing anything even remotely creative.
But with McGary, Brooks will have an offensive hub in the frontcourt. After all, the Michigan big man is an intelligent player with plenty of ball skills; he can put it on the floor or distribute the rock to his teammates, doing more than just passing out of double-teams.
By adding McGary and Josh Huestis, a defensively oriented role player, the Thunder also got deeper, which could result in lessening the burden on OKC's superstars.
Is this the year the Thunder get over the hump in the playoffs? That's the ultimate goal, which means, one year after everyone wore down under the heavy workloads, more rest for the best players—and thus fewer wins—is a safe bet.
1. San Antonio Spurs: 57-25
2013-14 Record: 62-20
2014 Draft Picks: Kyle Anderson (No. 30), Nemanja Dangubic (No. 54)
Let's just not bet against the San Antonio Spurs, even if neither of their draft picks will spend much (Kyle Anderson) or any (Nemanja Dangubic) time on the court during the 2014-15 campaign.
Tony Parker is back. Manu Ginobili is back. Kawhi Leonard is back. Tim Duncan is back. Gregg Popovich is back.
With the exceptions of Aron Baynes (restricted free agent), Matt Bonner (unrestricted), Boris Diaw (unrestricted) and Patty Mills (unrestricted), the core is intact. And seeing as Diaw and Mills were vitally important to the title run, they should both either be re-signed by general manager R.C. Buford or replaced by other impact veterans seeking a legitimate shot at a title.
Also, let's not make the mistake of considering this an aging roster anymore. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are all into their 30s, but the majority of the roster is up-and-coming.
Duncan didn't retire while he was sitting atop the NBA, but he may well have another chance next year to hang 'em up as a champion.
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