Indiana Pacers (49-32, lost in the eastern conference finals to Miami):
Headline: After falling just short of the NBA finals last season, can the Pacers take the final step?
Summary: Two years in a row the Pacers have been by far the sternest test in the east for the two-time defending champion Heat. Paul George has become a superstar and it seems like everyone on that roster fits. Perhaps most impressively, they did it last year without the guy thathad been their #1 cog the previous several seasons, Danny Granger, who finally returns from a long injury layoff this season. This could indeed be the year the Pacers win it all.
Overall Trend: Up, if the Pacers can find a way to use Granger, or get a good value in trade for him, they could be by far the second best team in the east behind Miami.
Salary: $70.71M (over cap)
2014 Draft Picks: Owe 2014 First Round Pick to Phoenix (Protected for Picks 1-14)
Biggest Addition: Luis Scola
Losses: DJ Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough
Best Case: NBA Champions. This team certainly has proven it has what it takes to hang with Miami and if they can get past them, there is no reason to believe they can’t win it all.
Worst Case: Second Round. Indiana should be good enough to win a series regardless unless they completely implode.
Most Likely Case: Eastern Conference Finals. They aren’t as good as Miami but I would place a bet on them being a solid #2 in the east behind the Heat.
Chicago Bulls (45-37, lost in the second round to Miami):
Headline: With Rose back, can Chicago reclaim its place among the Eastern Conference elite?
Summary: The Rose saga is finally over and he has returned. While there remain significant questions about whether he’ll be able to hold up physically and how well he will play, the early returns certainly look promising. This Chicago team is one of the best-coached in the league and with an elite scorer like Rose, they are certainly capable of holding their own with almost anyone else out there.
Overall Trend: Up, if Rose is back and close to his old self they are going to be very good.
Salary: $82.72M (over luxury tax threshold).
2014 Draft Picks: Owed Charlotte’s 2014 first round pick (Protected for Picks 1-10)
Biggest Addition: Mike Dunleavy Jr.
Losses: Nate Robinson, Richard Hamilton.
Best Case: NBA Champions, if it all comes together for them, they are certainly title contenders.
Worst Case: First round, Chicago sometimes is Rose plus four other guys on offense, and that sort of thing could lead to an early exit.
Most Likely Case: Second round. The Bulls are still a step behind Indiana and Miami and so their journey will end after winning one series..
Milwaukee Bucks (38-44, lost in the first round to Miami):
Headline: After getting swept in the first round last year, Milwaukee looks to the future as serious questions loom
Summary: Losing Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings is a huge hit for this team. The Bucks have ten new players on this year’s roster and look to take a huge plunge. Yet, if there was a year to be awful, this is probably the year with one of the deepest drafts in recent memory looming.
Overall Trend: Down, the Bucks pressed the reset button and basically flipped over most of the roster, they will not return to the playoffs this season.
Salary: $52.05M ($6.6M under cap)
2014 Draft Picks: Owed the LA Lakers’ 2014 Second Round Pick and the lesser of Toronto’s (protected for picks 31-36) and Sacramento’s (protected for picks 56-60) 2014 Second Round Picks.
Biggest Addition: OJ Mayo
Losses: Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, JJ Reddick, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute,
Best Case: Top five pick, the Bucks have some talent so they won’t be among the favorites to land a top three pick but top five is possible.
Worst Case: Late lottery pick, the bottom of the east is so scrambled the Bucks could find themselves with an inferior record but still getting a pick in the high single digits or low teens.
Most Likely Case: Mid lottery pick, say 6-8. The Bucks will be bad but not AS bad as several others like Boston, Phoenix or Philly.
Detroit Pistons (29-53, missed playoffs):
Headline: Detroit looks to finally make a playoff push after years stuck in neutral
Summary: Detroit finally did what needed to be done a few years ago last season, shedding its aging veterans and rebuilding around a solid core. The tandem of Josh Smith and Andre Drummond could become one of the most feared frontcourts in the league. The Pistons may not be a great team but even a very good team but they are a solid team. They will certainly be in the mix for the final few playoff spots out east.
Overall Trend: Up, sure they gave up Brandon Knight but in return they landed Josh Smith and a cadre of other talented players that move them forward.
Salary: $61.89M (over cap)
2014 Draft Picks: Owe Charlotte their 2014 First Round Pick (Protected for Picks 1-8)
Biggest Addition: Josh Smith
Losses: Brandon Knight.
Best Case: First round. They are a solid step behind the eastern conference elite but they are certainly good enough to get to the playoffs.
Worst Case: Miss the playoffs and lose their pick. It is likely that Detroit will lose their pick to Charlotte this year since it is only top 8 protected. As a result, failing to make the playoffs would be the worst case scenario.
Most Likely Case: Miss the playoffs. Detroit is certainly playoff-worthy but I’d rate them a step behind Toronto and Cleveland as the teams most likely to make the jump to that level.
Cleveland Cavaliers (24-58, missed playoffs):
Headline: After landing their second #1 pick in three years, the Cavs look ready for a playoff run
Summary: Yes winning the draft lottery twice in three years is lucky but you know what, good for the Cavs. As a result of those dual draft lottery wins and some other solid moves besides, the Cavs now have what looks to be a very solid core on which to build. The biggest stumbling block for them may be health as Irving, Bynum and Bennett all have worrying injury histories. If all three can remain healthy, watch out.
Overall Trend: Up, this Cavs team may just be a few years away from challenging for a title and they continue to improve.
Salary: $60.3M (over cap)
2014 Draft Picks: Owed Sacramento’s 2014 First Round Pick (Protected for picks 1-12) and owed Memphis and Orlando’s 2014 Second Round Picks.
Biggest Addition: Anthony Bennett.
Losses: Omri Casspi
Best Case: Second round. Irving is a good enough player that he could possibly lead the Cavs to a series win almost entirely by himself if the Cavs draw the right opponent.
Worst Case: Just miss the playoffs, if you aren’t going to be good in the NBA, you might as well be bad. The Cavs still need talent and thus the worst thing that can happen to them is barely missing the playoffs and getting a late lottery pick.
Most Likely Case: First round. This is the year the Cavs return to the playoffs but it will likely be a short visit.