1. Boston Celtics: Despite having four new starters, I’ve got them #1 because of coaching, talent and depth. There will be some issues early, but I expect a post All-Star break tear when Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have had a few months in the system. Cause for concern? Lost their two best defensive players, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. Excitement: The offense upgraded with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Feels like 55-58 wins.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers: Improved their depth with Jeff Green, Derrick Rose and Jae Crowder, but two of those guys have an injury history. There is a massive burden on LeBron, who turns 33 in December. When he has an off night, or takes a night off to save himself for the playoffs, do they have enough offense? Somewhere over 50 wins.
3. Milwaukee Bucks: This may seem high, but consider the fact that Khris Middleton missed 52 games, Jabari Parker missed 31 games and Thon Maker is still only 20 years old. They won 42 games with Giannis doing everything. Feels like 49 wins and the team Boston and Cleveland least want to see in the semifinals.
4. Miami Heat: There isn’t much separation between teams 4-7, and Toronto could easily be up here, as it has been the last few years. I didn’t like Miami’s offseason, overpaying for role players like Dion Waiters (who knows how different he’ll play with money), Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson. Expect a bounce-back year for Justise Winslow, who only played 18 games last season. I’ll guess 46 wins.
5. Washington Wizards: Oddly, they might have the best 1-2 punch in the East with John Wall and Bradley Beal … but I’m not sure there’s enough behind them to make a run at the Big 3. Even if Otto Porter improves on his 13.4 ppg and 43 percent on 3-pointers, where’s the depth? All five of their starters started 76 or more games. Duplicating that seems impossible. I’ll go with 45 wins.
6. Philadelphia 76ers: The excitement is palpable. (Health?) I’m excited to see Ben Simmons running point, Joel Embiid playing more than 60 games, and Markelle Fultz in transition. (Health?) They’ve got it all – role players like Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes – a potential sleeper in veteran guard Jerryd Bayless, and I didn’t even mention the ROY runner-up, Dario Saric. (Health?) If you’ve trusted the process for years, anything less than the playoffs would be a disappointment. Put me down for 44 wins.
7. Toronto Raptors: Is it strange that the three players I like most on this team are all guards? They lost their three most fungible wing players, PJ Tucker, Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll. They’ve won 48+ games the last four years, but I’ll guess there’s a correction to 43 wins.
8. Detroit Pistons: Feels like a last chance for Stan Van Gundy. I like the personnel – Avery Bradley is a big upgrade at SG, I’m bullish on Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson, and I refuse to sell my Reggie Jackson stock. What the heck happened to Andre Drummond? Forty-two wins.
9. Charlotte Hornets: I’m torn between the Pistons and Hornets for the final playoff spot, and I always go against whichever team has Dwight Howard. The Hornets were above .500 for the first two months, then cratered mid-January. Bad sign: MKG and Batum were healthy all year. Forty-one wins.
10. Orlando Magic: The plan seems to be collect talented players, we’ll figure it out later. I’m not sure they will be able to figure it out anytime soon. Weak at point guard, spotty shooting, but I’ll tune in to watch rookie Jonathan Isaac. If you’re looking for awesome athletes, Orlando has ’em! So that means maybe 34 wins.
11. New York Knicks: How can you not feel bad for Kristaps Porzingis? In year three, he gets a 19-year old point guard (Frank Ntilikina), a veteran desperate to leave (Melo) and an overpaid-but-fun-to-watch SG (Tim Hardaway). Another 33-ish win season.
12. Brooklyn Nets: I’ve written about them at length. I think they’ll be better than expected thanks to the new additions. I think this team can win 29 games.
13. Indiana Pacers: Lost their two leading scorers, best 3-point shooter, and they will have new starters at PG (Darren Collison), SG (Victor Oladipo) and SF (Bojan Bogdanovic). Yuck. Twenty-five wins.
14. Atlanta Hawks: Might be the least watchable team in the league. The Dennis Schroder experience will be … something. I’d like to see DeAndre’ Bembry playing 20 minutes a night. This smells like a 23-win team.
15. Chicago Bulls: I don’t think they got fleeced in the Jimmy Butler deal, I’m excited for Kris Dunn to run a team, Zach LaVine have the green light, and you know I love the potential of Lauri Markkanen. It should be a fun 20-win team.