2016-17 finish: 51-31, second
A loss in the NBA Finals and a teammate’s spurning might bring back the most valuable player version of LeBron James. Kevin Love will be a bigger offensive cog and move to center with Jae Crowder on board. Nostalgic additions Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade can buy time until Isaiah Thomas returns from a hip injury in January.
2016-17 finish: 53-29, first
The Celtics have much more potential with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward as co-stars than being led by Isaiah Thomas, a defensive liability. Boston still has to cover defensively for Irving without Avery Bradley, now that Irving will be taxed more as a playmaker.
2016-17 finish: 51-31, third
Coming: O.G. Anunoby (rookie), K.J. McDaniels, C.J. Miles.
The Raptors’ playoff disappointment makes many forget that Toronto is a solid two-way team that has averaged 51 wins over the last four seasons. The Raptors got career seasons from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan last season but a Norman Powell breakthrough could change Toronto’s prospects.
2016-17 finish: 49-33, fourth
John Wall’s $170 million extension and Otto Porter Jr.’s $106 million contract meant continuity for a top-notch starting lineup, although Markieff Morris is temporarily sidelined after a sports hernia surgery. The bench remains an issue for posting Washington’s first 50-win season since 1979. An injury-free Ian Mahinmi could help.
2016-17 finish: 42-40, sixth
Coming: Gerald Green, D.J. Wilson (rookie).
Going: Michael Beasley.
The Bucks can threaten for their first home-court playoff advantage since 2001 but remain inexperienced. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a special star capable of carrying the Bucks to new heights if Jabari Parker comes back strongly in February from his second anterior cruciate ligament tear and Thon Maker shows more promise.
2016-17 finish: 41-41, ninth
Coming: Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo (rookie).
The Heat went from an 11-30 start to a 30-11 finish with Justise Winslow sidelined most of the season. He can help a strong-shooting, tough-defending team be a consistent winner if Goran Dragic can maintain his “Dragon” play after carrying Slovenia this summer to a EuroBasket title.
2016-17 finish: 36-46, 11th
Putting a franchise’s rebound in the hands of Dwight Howard is risky. Howard, playing for his fifth team in seven seasons, is charged with lifting the Hornets’ inconsistent offense. Jeremy Lamb will have to step up while Nicolas Batum’s left elbow is on the mend until December.
2016-17 finish: 28-54, 14th
Coming: Markelle Fultz (rookie), Amir Johnson, J.J. Redick.
“The Process” is turning into “The Progress.” The 76ers still are inexperienced but they’re uber-talented, young and loaded with playoff upside if oft-injured Joel Embiid’s availability can match his talent and personality. The East allows for instant movement with Ben Simmons playing and J.J. Redick spacing the floor.
2016-17 finish: 37-47, 10th
Coming: Avery Bradley, Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard (rookie).
Going: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris.
A venue change to downtown Detroit is the best move the Pistons have made since going all in on Stan Van Gundy, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. Drummond has post-up and free-throw issues. Jackson had knee issues. Detroit’s struggling offense leans on Jackson to be injury-free and a scoring playmaker.
2016-17 finish: 42-40, seventh
Coming: Bojan Bogdanovic, T.J. Leaf (rookie), Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis.
Paul George’s planned 2018 exit hurt his trade value. Victor Oladipo returns to his college home state to pick up the scoring. The Pacers will try yet another point guard scenario after acquiring Darren Collison and Cory Joseph. After only two years, Myles Turner is Indiana’s mainstay and upside.
2016-17 finish: 29-53, 13th
Going: Jeff Green, Jodie Meeks.
The Magic are on trial this season for a new veteran front office that probably will shake up a franchise that is spinning its wheels. Experienced additions improve the team’s depth but a leap would be unexpected unless Aaron Gordon blossoms at power forward or Jonathan Isaac makes a rookie splash.
2016-17 finish: 43-39, fifth
Coming: Marco Belinelli, John Collins (rookie), Dewayne Dedmon, Taurean Prince.
When Paul Millsap left for Denver over the summer, it marked three consecutive years of All-Star departures that brought nothing in return. Mike Budenholzer is a great coach but this season probably will bring an end to the East’s longest playoff streak (10 years) with a rebuilding team in mercurial Dennis Schroder’s hands.
13. NEW YORK
2016-17 finish: 31-51, 12th
Trading Carmelo Anthony did not make New York any better than the last two seasons of 32 and 31 wins but the deal, coupled with Phil Jackson’s exit, at least allows the Knicks to start the process of improving. It is Kristaps Porzingis’ team and the burden might make him less efficient.
2016-17 finish: 20-62, 15th
Going: Brook Lopez.
The Nets are in the early stages of transforming a team that was 41-123 the last two seasons. They become more enjoyable to watch, building on last season’s NBA-leading pace by banking on D’Angelo Russell as one rebuilding cornerstone. He’ll team with a healthier Jeremy Lin.
2016-17 finish: 41-41, eighth
The direction is clear after the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler and ate contract buyouts for Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. The Butler haul will depend on how Zach LaVine returns from an ACL tear and if Kris Dunn can improve upon his rookie season to fulfill his pre-draft hype. Robin Lopez is the team veteran.