Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19, lost in the NBA Finals to Miami)
Headline: After falling one step short of their goal last season and with Harden’s contract coming up next summer, OKC looks to take home the trophy come next June
Summary: OKC had about as good a season as you could have hoped for last year, making the NBA Finals before falling to a better team in Miami. With the same core intact for another run, and with the clock on a potential James Harden extension next summer ticking, OKC realizes that, young as they are, their time must be now.
Overall Trend: Up, they may not be the favorites to reach the NBA Finals again this year but they are a better team than they were a year ago.
Salary: $69.44M (over cap)
2013 NBA Draft Picks: Owe 2013 Second Round Pick to Minnesota (top 43 protected).
Biggest Addition: Perry Jones III
Losses: Nazr Mohammed, Royal Ivey.
Best Case: NBA Title. It was no accident that they ended up in the NBA Finals last season and its easy to see OKC winning it all this year.
Worst Case: First round. Here’s the thing about the west this year — there are not really any elite teams but many very good teams. It is possible, however unlikely, that one of these lower seeded teams could knock OKC off in the first round.
Most Likely Case: Western Conference Finals. The Lakers are a better team for now and OKC should make the Conference Finals before falling to them in what looks like it would be a hard fought series.
Denver Nuggets (38-28, lost in the first round to the LA Lakers)
Headline: The retooled Nuggets look to move forward and make a deep playoff run
Summary: The Nuggets proved last summer that you need not actually pay out the entirety of the long-term deals you sign players to, managing to ship off Afflalo in exchange for Iggy after dumping Nene’s contract midseason last year. The Nuggets remain a good, but not great, team, albeit one that you can never count out, especially with one of the best coaches in the league, George Karl, running the show.
Overall Trend: Up, the Nuggets are a better team than they were at the end of last season, although losing Afflalo will hurt a bit, Iggy is an upgrade.
Salary: $65.67M (over cap)
2013 NBA Draft Picks: Owed Portland’s 2013 Second Round Pick (top 40 protected), Owe the LA Lakers their 2013 Second Round Pick (top 40 protected).
Biggest Addition: Andre Iguodala
Losses: Arron Afflalo.
Best Case: Western Conference Finals. Much like the Detroit Pistons when they won the title a while back, Denver is a team without a star but with plenty of weapons across the board. They could easily make a deep playoff run this year.
Worst Case: First round. Its hard to see the Nuggets missing the playoffs with the roster and coaches they have, but nothing says they are likely to stay there very long.
Most Likely Case: Second round. The playoffs are all about matchups and coaching adjustments and few are better able to take advantage of that than George Karl. Denver wins a series before bowing out.
Utah Jazz (36-30, lost in the first round to San Antonio)
Headline: After a surprise playoff run last year, Utah looks to build on that success around its talented young core
Summary: There have been few teams more consistent in the NBA than the Jazz, nearly always making the playoffs but going nowhere once they get there. After one year without a playoff run, the Jazz made a surprise appearance last year. The fact that they got swept by the Spurs in the first round does not diminish this accomplishment.
Overall Trend: Up, the Jazz have a good young core and look ready to become a middle of the pack playoff team once again.
Salary: $68.77M (over cap)
2013 NBA Draft Picks: Owed Golden State’s 2013 First Round Pick (top 6 protected).
Biggest Addition: Marvin Williams
Losses: Devin Harris, Josh Howard
Best Case: First round, losing in 7 games. The Jazz are not good enough, yet, to win a series but they are certainly good enough to be a tough out in the first round.
Worst Case: Just miss the playoffs. If it were not for Kevin Love’s injury, Minnesota would probably be expected to surpass the Jazz for the playoffs and as it is, they still could.
Most Likely Case: First round, losing in 4-5 games. The Jazz will make the playoffs but should be little more than target practice for whichever western power they draw in the opening round.
Portland Trail Blazers (28-38, missed playoffs)
Headline: Following a nightmare season, the Blazers rebuild behind Lillard and Leonard
Summary: Last season was probably the single most painful regular season I have ever endured as a Blazers fan, with a team that started so well seemingly imploding on itself, only to be blown up midway through the season as the team acknowledged that a rebuild was necessary. Thankfully they got a few good draft picks in Lillard and Leonard but is probably going to be a couple years at least before we can even think about a legitimate playoff run.
Overall Trend: Up, if only because Raymond Felton is gone, forever.
Salary: $60.31M (over cap)
2013 NBA Draft Picks: Owed Boston and Minnesota’s 2013 Second Round Picks, Owe Charlotte their 2013 First Round Pick (top 12 protected) and Denver their 2013 Second Round Pick (top 40 protected).
Biggest Addition: Damian Lillard
Losses: Raymond Felton, Kurt Thomas, Jamal Crawford
Best Case: Lillard wins rookie of the year and the team gets a mid-lottery pick. The Blazers are not a truly awful team but neither are they very good. The best they can legitimately hope for this year is Lillard being the player he has shown he can be so far and the team landing a pick in the 5-7 range.
Worst Case: Just miss the playoffs and lose the pick to Charlotte. The Blazers have enough talent to potentially fight for that last playoff spot, not something this team wants to do this year.
Most Likely Case: Lottery pick in the 6-9 range. The Blazers are a classic mid to slightly after the middle of the lottery team.
Minnesota Timberwolves (26-40, missed playoffs)
Headline: Minnesota looks to survive another Love injury and make a playoff push
Summary: GM David Kahn apparently decided that his plan this offseason was to sign as many former Blazers as possible, most notably of course was Brandon Roy but also Dante Cunningham as well. Minnesota looked ready for a playoff run before Kevin Love suffered his fourth major injury in four years, an injury that may keep him out as long as two months. That may be fatal to their playoff hopes.
Salary: $62.92M (over cap)
2013 NBA Draft Picks: Owed Memphis’s 2013 First Round Pick (top 14 protected), OKC’s 2013 Second Round Pick (top 43 protected) and Brooklyn’s 2013 Second Round Pick, Owe Phoenix their 2013 First Round Pick (top 13 protected) and Portland their 2013 Second Round Pick.
Overall Trend: Up, the Wolves are improving, of that there is no doubt.
Biggest Addition: Brandon Roy
Losses: Martell Webster, Darko Milicic.
Best Case: First round. The Wolves could sneak into the playoffs this year. They’d be easy fodder for someone once they get there, but it would still be a successful season for them.
Worst Case: Mid-lottery pick. The Wolves without Love are not a great team and if he is out as long as two months, it could bury their playoff hopes before they even begin.
Most Likely Case: Just miss the playoffs. The Wolves with Love for an entire season are a playoff team but without him Utah looks the better bet this year.