Added: Ramon Sessions, Roy Hibbert, Brian Roberts, Marco Belinelli
Lost: Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee
Summary: The Hornets came out of nowhere to win 48 games last year, powered by a strong defense and a career year from Kemba Walker. As Kemba is only 26, it’s possible that last season will be the new norm for his prime. If so, he is going to be a perennial All Star candidate, and one of the most fun players to watch in the entire NBA. The Hornets also retained key free agents in Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams, who were both so key to Charlotte’s success last season. They did lose Lin and Jefferson, which will harm their bench scoring significantly. Ramon Sessions is their replacement for Lin, but is a worse defender and playmaker. Hibbert was awful last season, though the Hornets are hoping that was just a result of playing on the atrocious Lakers. If he can regain his Pacers form, he should be able to replace Jefferson reasonably well. Lee is a loss that Belinelli and Roberts can’t fill, but he was only the 5th or 6th most important player on the team last season, and they shouldn’t dip too much because of his absence.
If their offseason as a whole was a negative, why do I have them winning the division? Well, they are getting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back this season after an injury-ridden 2016. MKG is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, and has worked hard to improve his offensive game. He still has a long way to go, but having him for (hopefully) most of the season should help the Hornets already strong defense. They also have a couple young big men in Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky who should continue to improve. Charlotte has good talent, a terrific coach, and some players with upside. They won’t contend for the 1 seed in the East, but have a solid shot at home-court advantage.
Predicted Record: 46-36
Added: Ian Mahinmi, Tomas Satoransky, Andrew Nicholson, Trey Burke, Jason Smith, Coach Scott Brooks
Lost: Nene, Jared Dudley, Ramon Sessions, Garrett Temple, Coach Randy Wittman
Summary: The Wizards were one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA last season, winning only 41 games and missing the playoffs after back to back Conference Semi-Finals appearances. GM Ernie Grunfeld responded, finally axing Wittman, long considered one of the poorer coaches in the NBA. Scott Brooks will bring a defense-oriented mindset, and has the personal abilities to quell some of the Wizards’ locker room tensions. The Wizards have more talent than most of the mid-tier teams in the Eastern Conference, but just haven’t been able to put it all together. Brooks could help them do that.
John Wall is a top five point guard in the NBA, but hasn’t been forced to work on aspects of his game that could push him to the next level. If he improves his off-ball offensive game and remains consistently active on defense, he should be an All-NBA player. Bradley Beal needs to stay healthy—he showed promising signs last year as a ball-handler and shot creator. His ability to space the floor and be a secondary playmaker is crucial for the Wizards to make any noise in the Eastern Conference. The rest of the roster is solid (outside of backup wings), and should be enough to support the Wizards strong starting five. Look for Tomas Satoransky to be a big piece off their bench playing point guard as well as both wing positions. The Wizards should be good, but are an extremely variable team—they could win almost 50 games or under 40. I will split the difference.
Predicted Record: 45-37
Added: Dwight Howard, Taurean Prince, DeAndre Bembry, Jarrett Jack
Lost: Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Lamar Patterson
Summary: Al Horford is no longer on the Hawks. Al had been the starting center on the Hawks for almost a decade, and his absence will leave a noticeable mark on the organization. Jeff Teague, their starting point guard for a half decade, is also gone. The Hawks signed former superstar Dwight Howard to replace Horford at center, and are counting on youngster Dennis Schroder to fill in for Teague at point. Dwight might play better now that he is out of Houston, and is a more traditional fit alongside star Paul Millsap in the frontcourt. If he’s healthy, he’s still one of the best defensive players and rebounders in the NBA, and could bolster a strong Hawk defense. Schroder is more of a question mark. Dennis is quick as lightning, but he’s also an inefficient scorer who kills spacing when on the floor. The Hawks need him to improve his range, and to be consistent in making plays and attacking the basket.
Most of the rest of the Hawks’ rotation consists of older veterans. Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha, and Millsap are all getting up there in age, especially Korver, who is 36. On the other hand, the Hawks have two exciting rookie prospects at the wing positions who are likely to get real minutes this season. DeAndre Bembry was an analytics favorite, and Taurean Prince has a good chance to be a solid 3 and D player in short order. While they provide hope for the future, the team this year will depend on Schroder’s ability to step up to the starting role, and on Howard’s health. Coach Mike Budenholzer is one of the best in the business, and should lead the Hawks to another playoff appearance this year.
Predicted Record: 44-38
Added: Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green, DJ Augustin, Jodie Meeks, CJ Wilcox, Coach Frank Vogel
Lost: Victor Oladipo, Jason Smith, Andrew Nicholson, Brandon Jennings, Ersan Ilyasova, Shabazz Napier
Summary: Just a year ago, the Magic had one of the most promising young cores in the NBA. They are now a veteran team gunning for a playoff spot, having shed several of the youngsters that made them such an intriguing team. Victor Oladipo, the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 draft, was surpassed by Evan Fournier, who is a snugger fit with starting point guard Elfrid Payton. Serge Ibaka is a better player than Oladipo, but is older, and will need a new contract next summer. He will team with Biyombo to create a dominating force around the basket on the defensive end, which should be the Magic’s strong point. Their weakness is on offense, where Payton remains a non-threat. If the Magic try to go small, they lose their defensive advantage, so they might have to just deal with offensive struggles in exchange for a top-tier defense. Orlando could be good enough to make the playoffs, but I just don’t think they have scoring or shooting.
Predicted Record: 36-46
Added: Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Luke Babbitt
Lost: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng, Gerald Green, Joe Johnson, Amar’e Stoudemire
Summary: Look at the list of players who joined the Heat this summer. Now look at the group of players who left. The Heat lost three Hall of Famers, two of whom are still playing at an All-Star leve, as well as a couple productive role players. Their best pickup this off-season was probably Dion Waiters. Yes, the Heat still have Hassan Whiteside (re-signed to a max deal) as well as Goran Dragic. Justise Winslow has the potential to be one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA, and Josh Richardson was a steal in the 2nd round of the draft. Those players are enough to make the Heat respectable, but not nearly enough to propel the Heat to the playoffs. Winslow and Richardson offer hope for the future, but the best option for the Heat might be to trade off Dragic and any other veterans for future assets. The tank could very well be on in Miami for the first time in a long time.
Predicted Record: 31-51