Sunday 18 March 2018 / 12:53 PM


Folks! It’s time for the NBA season finally, with just a week left before we’re tipping off the season with the Celtics and Cavaliers. With that being said, now is a good time to take a look at all the teams coming up in each conference and what we could see from each. Now, with the NBA moving so frequently, we decided to take a bizarre approach to this: with each team’s best-case and worst-case season! Take a look, in projected order of finishing:

1. Boston Celtics

Best Case: The Celtics ragged new roster gets rolling together early behind the play of Irving and that new and shiny offense. The defensive concerns are mitigated by the play of Smart, Hayward, and Horford. The Celtics take advantage of the Cavs’ injuries and lackluster attempts in the regular season, again taking the top seed. With home court, the Celtics upend the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals and Irving laughs all the way to the bank.

Worst Case: The Celtics struggle to get things going with this totally new roster and Irving goes way too ball dominant. The Celtics don’t get into rhythm, Hayward’s PPG dips below 20 and the free-flowing offense turns to a frustrating one. The Celtics stumble down the East rankings and fizzle out in round two to the Bucks-Wizards-Raptors-Hornets.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

Best Case: The Cavs do well without IT in the early part of the season, with Derrick Rose returning to decent form. IT comes back in January, and the Cavs somehow maintain the top record in the East while being on cruise control. The addition of IT gives some life to the Cavs offense and Crowder changes the defensive substitutions. Wade also goes off in the postseason and the Cavs take the Warriors down in seven games to claim James’ biggest NBA ring to date.

Worst Case: Well, you know. IT doesn’t come back until post-All Star Break and is so much of a liability on defense that he barely plays 20 MPG. Rose goes through injury, so does Wade, and the offense is bad. The Cavs limp into the playoffs with around 50 wins and get through a tough round-two series before getting bounced in six by the Celtics, as James hits free agency.

3. Washington Wizards

Best Case: John Wall picks up exactly where he left off and the Wizards start rolling immediately, building off the success of a year ago. Bradley Beal continues his ascension, and Otto Porter becomes a more focal point of the offense. The Wizards climb to the top of the Eastern Conference, with the Cavs and Celtics struggling to build chemistry. They knock off both in the playoffs and Wall outplays IT and Irving and the Wizards fall to the Warriors in Wall and Beal’s first Finals appearance.

Worst Case: The Wizards get that old chemistry issue from before with Wall and Beal and they sink back to old ways. The roster takes a step back, with Wall voicing his frustration and Beal demanding the ball more. They get into the playoffs but get shredded because of depth by the Bucks and make a quick exit home.

4. Toronto Raptors

Best Case: The Raptors overcome the loss of bench pieces and ride Lowry and DeRozan through the regular season. They play the slot machine at the trade deadline again and add a scoring wing (maybe a piece like Vince Carter or Rudy Gay if experiments don’t work on their new teams), and move up the Eastern standings. In the playoffs, Lowry takes a step and DeRozan rides an added three-point shot to finally knock off Cleveland’s old roster and head to the NBA Finals.

Worst Case: The depth issues catch up and force Lowry and DeRozan into more minutes during the regular season. Ibaka and Valanciunas struggle on the floor together and the Raptors defense sinks to the floor. The lack of shooting creates problems, and they flounder to 45-48 wins. They get bounced in round one by a younger guard set like the Pistons or Bucks.

5. Milwaukee Bucks

Best Case: Giannis keeps moving up the ‘best player’ rankings and leads his offense to new highs. Brogdon takes another step and Middleton settles the offense down and gives them some presence outside. Parker returns early and the Bucks become the terrifying team of last year and rampage through the regular season toward the playoffs. There, they use the scary length to frustrate Boston and Cleveland and get through to the Finals behind a roster that can hang with anyone on that end.

Worst Case: The Bucks don’t mesh that well, and the rough shooting bites them. The rest of the conference gets better, Brogdon doesn’t progress, Middleton struggles with more injuries and Parker doesn’t mesh when he gets back on the floor. The Bucks take a step back and are gone in the first round again in the playoffs.

6. Charlotte Hornets

Best Case: The Hornets’ addition of Howard brings their defense back to a top-five unit like before, and the Hornets use size to counter teams on the wing. Howard progresses on offense back to days of old, and Kemba has his ideal P’n’R partner. The depth and shooting maintains the Hornets as Batum returns, and the Hornets nab a top-four seed. In the playoffs, they upset the Celtics and sneak into the Eastern Conference Finals.

Worst Case: Dwight goes nuclear and reverts back to his old chemistry issues. The Hornets have trouble finding a back-court partner for Kemba, as Monk fizzles and Lamb doesn’t work. Batum’s injury nags him all the way to the All-Star Break, and the Hornets stumble back into the lottery mix in a weak and bad East.

7. Detroit Pistons

Best Case: The addition of Avery Bradley changes everything: the defense gets menacing with yet another weapon, and the offense finally gets a shooter that can complement all those slashers and bigs. Reggie Jackson takes off with a true back-court partner, and the Pistons show the promise they had a few years ago, and they make a trip into the second round of the playoffs.

Worst Case: Bradley’s addition does little to make up for the loss of KCP, and Jackson’s drama with Stan Van Gundy just gets worse. Andre Drummond continues to frustrate on offense, and the Pistons fumble with a bad offense and fall out of the playoff mix early, with either Drummond or Jackson (or both) shipped out by the All-Star Break.

8. Miami Heat

Best Case: The ‘little team that could’ rides that upstart roster from a year ago to a better season in 2017/18. Justise Winslow takes more steps and Dion Waiters proves the last year wasn’t a blip. Whiteside terrorizes everyone inside, and the Heat’s sneaky deep team get into the playoffs with close to 50 wins and make some noise in the first round.

Worst Case: The young talent on the team regresses without a presence, as Whiteside starts to struggle. They middle around .500 most of the year as Waiters struggles with the added pressure on offense, and they fight for a playoff spot most of the season, which they eventually miss as they finish below .500.

9. Philadelphia 76ers

Best Case: Join me on the hype train. The Sixers get the best out of Joel Embiid, who plays 70 games en route to the biggest jump in his career. He beasts out all season and competes for an MVP, as the Sixers move into the serious playoff team conversation. Ben Simmons plays like we all hope and Fultz meshes with them all, while Reddick spaces the floor out. The team looks like the wave of the future, and upsets some big team in the first round. Trust the Process!

Worst Case: Well, do we really need to go there? Embiid again hobbles with injury issues, and Ben Simmons faces the same fate. When they do play, they aren’t good together and their styles don’t mesh. The Sixers can’t put the pieces together, and then remember they gave Embiid $150 million for those knees. Yikes.

10. Orlando Magic

Best Case: Well, the Magic finally do something and show some signs of life with the young (are they anymore?) roster they’ve had. Jonathan Isaac turns into a freak, and the Aaron Gordon-Elfrid Payton connection goes deadly. The added vets of Afflalo and Speights, as well as the spice of Jonathon Simmons turns them into a playoff team for the first time since Dwight.

Worst Case: The young guys still play like young guys and the league’s most awkward roster gets more awkward. That plethora of big guys just gets more odd, and they make another move toward a rebuild by putting everybody up for sale at the trade deadline and hitting the hard reset one more time.

11. Indiana Pacers

Best Case: The Pacers remove the distraction of PG and embrace the youth on the roster. Victor Oladipo thrives being the primary option again, and point Lance Stephenson revitalizes his career. Myles Turner looks like a beast, and the Pacers look young and ready to build something else, competing. for a playoff spot all the way down the stretch behind the play of Turner and Oladipo.

Worst Case: The new pieces just don’t gel, and the players that struggled with a player like George in town struggle even worse without a superstar. The team doesn’t get along and the rebuild gets more apparent as all spare parts are shipped out for young pieces and picks to pair with Turner.

12. New York Knicks

Best Case: The Knicks actually look a little competent in the days without Melo, as new guard Frank Ntilikina looks like a nice young point guard. Porzingis gets all the minutes and none of the drama without Phil, and the roster’s young pieces play really well. They rally to around an over-achieving .500 record, and the Knicks faithful finally have something to cheer.

Worst Case: None of that happens, as Ntilikina struggles under the NY lights. Kanter doesn’t mix with KP, and Porzingis shows his continued dismay with ownership and the front office. The guys around him are bad, and the stench of losing starts to create another disgruntled star in the Knicks building. Things get toxic quickly again.

13. Brooklyn Nets

Best Case: Hey, they aren’t the worst anymore. D’Angelo Russell plays well with Jeremy Lin in the back court with him, and the dumping ground for young pieces shows some serious progress. All the young guys take off, with Hollis-Jefferson and Allen Crabbe playing well on the wing, and Timofey Mozgov going back to his old self. The Nets actually convince some people in January and February that they could make the playoffs, and thin East keeps them in it until the end.

Worst Case: Well, can it really get much worse than where they’ve been? The Nets marriage of Russell and Lin works poorly, and they ship Lin out at the All-Star Break to a contender. The rest of the pieces don’t show much life, and they again go back bargain bin shopping at the end of the regular season with another number one pick that they can’t keep.

14. Chicago Bulls

Best Case: There’s not really a best case for this team beyond playing the young guys on the roster about as reasonably as you can. They finally embrace the tank and throw Markkanen all the minutes he can handle, and they scuttle their way down to 20 wins and getting a top pick.

Worst Case: In the most Bulls way possible, the roster actually wins enough to keep them out of the East’s bottom three, but not enough that anything feels good. LaVine struggles after his injury and they ship off Lopez and Dunn at the deadline for anybody that will buy. And fire their head coach, maybe a rebuild too soon.

15. Atlanta Hawks

Best Case: Same for Chicago. Give Schroder as many minutes as possible and just let the guys develop. Oh, and lose. A lot. Beyond that, the Hawks find a way to unload that awful Miles Plumlee contract, and Dewayne Dedmon turns into a solid investment and is their center going forward.

Worst Case: Schroder gets real sick of losing and asks for a trade, and the Hawks make a dumb decision and replace their coaching staff. The roster doesn’t net any buyers in the regular season and they lose the lottery (I don’t know how this could miss the mission of being bad, this roster is god-awful).

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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