1. Clippers, 58-24
Totally bored by last season’s overhyped Clipper team that got stomped by the tougher Grizzlies in the first round of the Playoffs, I was slow to get on their ’13-14 bandwagon. But as Russell Westbrook got hurt again and I looked closer at the off-season moves they made, the more I realized that L.A.’s second team has never had a better chance to finish first. You know about Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and you know that new coach Doc Rivers won’t stand for any bullshit. That’s 50 wins right there. The extra eight dubs come from one of the L’s deepest rosters and a sense of urgency this franchise has rarely taken into a season.
2. Thunder, 56-26
If James Harden was still here (no, I’m not quite over that terrible trade) and Russell Westbrook was 100 percent, this team would have an outside shot at 70 wins. Instead, it has a roster as thin as its leader, the remarkable Kevin Durant. KD, Serge Ibaka and a rejuvenated Westbrook will still give the OKC faithful a good regular season and a deep Playoff run, but I feel like there will always be a sense of what might have been for this group.
3. Warriors, 55-27
These are heady times for the long-suffering fans in Oakland, who finally have a team worthy of all their sellouts. I think a top-six of Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes is the best in the NBA, and if you know me at all, you know how I feel about their head coach. The problem is, that same top six is also the most injury-prone in the
League. *Knocks on wood.*
4. Spurs, 51-31
I’m actually quite confident that San Antonio will be right in the mix of title contenders come Playoff time, getting through at least one round and threatening to go much further. What I don’t have any sense of is how they’ll approach the regular season. Sometimes Pop has gone all-out in the first 82, while other years he’s been all about resting his aging stars for the postseason. Assuming he goes with the latter, guessing a win total is no easy feat. The one guy who could make them a top team regardless of how many minutes Tim Duncan plays is Kawhi Leonard, who could be a future All-Star as easy as a future seventh-man.
5. Rockets, 49-33
I’m entirely over the off-court sagas of Dwight Howard and my hunch is that his best days on the floor are behind him, but I also think the Rockets were wise to spend their available free-agent kitty on him. What other route did they have out of the middle of the pack? Still, the Lin-Beverley situation at point guard is pretty dicey and question marks abound at forward, so it says here that 47-51 wins is their fate.
6. Grizzlies, 48-34
The statheads got their wish when Rudy Gay was jettisoned to Canada last season, and I have a hunch that getting rid of Lionel Hollins was a dream fulfilled for them as well. Where will all this get the Grizz? The sublime abilities of Marc Gasol notwithstanding, not as far as last year. Incidentally, I was flabbergasted that anyone who gets paid to cover this industry would deem Memphis the “best franchise” in North America.
7. Nuggets, 45-37
From trendy status as a darkhorse title contender last spring to saying goodbye to their GM, head coach and highest-profile player, it’s not just the altitude that is making Denver fans dizzy. Confusion aside, there are still some really nice pieces here (Ty Lawson for All-Star, anyone?), and all indications are that Brian Shaw will be a solid coach.
8. Lakers, 43-39
Just ’cause. Mike D’Antoni inspires zero confidence in this writer, and the roster is equal parts thin and bizarre, but is a team with accomplished warhorses Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash finishing under .500 and missing the Playoffs?
9. Mavericks, 41-41
I’ve long felt Mark Cuban was good for the game because of how much he cared about his players and about keeping an authoritarian League office on its toes. But why don’t free agents want to sign there? The Mavs’ 2011 title remains on LeBron as much as anyone, and since that time, Dallas has seen talented players leave and more talented ones choose not to go there. Dirk deserves a better swan song than this.
10. Timberwolves, 38-44
I’ll watch this team even more than I watch the Pistons, just because of Ricky Rubio. Literally, he plays the way I wish I could. But will there be one-handed, between-the-leg alley-oops delivered in the Playoffs? Not unless Kevin Martin reaches a level he has stubbornly been unable to so far in his career.
11. Trail Blazers, 36-46
Spend a week in Blazer-mad PDX and you start thinking this team could go places. Get back to New York and reality sets in. Their coach has never accomplished much and we don’t even know if their “star,” LaMarcus Aldridge, wants to be there.
12. Jazz, 31-51
I will never understand Utah holding on to Jefferson and Millsap at the trade deadline, only to let them walk for nothing in free agency. Were the Jazz ever run well, or did they just get lucky to have Karl Malone and John Stockton all those years? Trey Burke will be nice, though.
13. Pelicans, 31-51
The “Thin Towers” seemed like a good idea to me. Oh, well. Anthony Davis will still be an All-Star before long, and Jrue Holiday was one already (before Steph Curry somehow), but this team is going nowhere of consequence in 2014. At least they get to live in New Orleans. See you cats for ASW!
14. Kings, 29-53
Shout out to whatever Twitter genius first called these guys the “NBA’s first AAU team,” or something to that effect. An entirely apt description for a team with this many gunners. Give Chris Mullin a couple years, though, and he and Boogie can turn this thing around.
15. Suns, 21-61
Remember when this franchise mattered? Yikes! It took 30 entries before I had to do this, but I literally just Googled ”Suns head coach.” Horny?! Fans that pay good money to see the likes of Gerald Green and the Morris twins play huge minutes sure won’t be.