Wednesday, October 28, 2015

J-Speaks: 2014-15 Off-Season Review/Season Preview

As the 2015-16 National Basketball Association (NBA) approaches, there is one word that can describe each of the 30 teams about how they are feeling coming in, optimistic. For the defending NBA champions from the Bay Area, their optimistic about their chances of repeating because all of their core players are back in the fold. For several other contenders in the Western Conference like two teams from the state of Texas and about three teams in the Eastern Conference, they are optimistic about overtaking the defending champ’s crown thanks to the additions they made to their teams in free agency. Other teams, who are starting from ground floor are optimistic about getting back into the playoffs this year or that better days ahead because of who they drafted this summer; who they signed in free agency and their new approach to winning and how to go about it. Here is the off-season review/season preview of all 30 NBA teams.

Abbreviation Key: ppg (points per game); rpg (rebounds per game); spg (steals per game); bpg (block shots per game); FG% (field goal percentage); 3-Pt.% (three-point percentage); opp.-opponent’s.

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Hawks: 60-22 (1st Southeast Division; No. 1 Seed East) 35-6 at home, 25-16 on the road. Defeated the Brooklyn Nets 4-2 in East Quarterfinals. Defeated the Washington Wizards 4-2 in East Semifinals. Lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-0 in East Finals.  

-102.5 ppg-10th; opp. ppg: 97.1-4th; 40.6 rpg-28th

After getting off to a 9-6 start with a 105-75 victory versus the Charlotte Hornets on Nov. 26, 2014, the Atlanta Hawks seemed on course for another season of making the playoffs and then flaming out.

All of a sudden they reeled off a string of victories that made those on the outside looking in take notice of them being in the conversation as a contending in the East a reality.

They won an incredible 34 out of 39 games from Dec. 2, 2014 to Feb. 11, which included a franchise record 19 straight wins from Dec. 27 to Feb.2 which tied the fifth longest winning-streak in NBA history. The eventual Southeast champs garnered victories against the likes of Cleveland Cavaliers twice; Portland Trail Blazers twice; the Los Angeles Clippers; the Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies; Washington Wizards and the Toronto Raptors during the streak.

The Hawks became the first team in NBA history to have 17 wins in a calendar month without a loss as they went 17-0 last January. In that same month, the starting quintet of Jeff Teague (16.7 ppg-led team, 7.0 apg-led team, 1.7 spg), Kyle Korver (12.1 ppg, 48.7 FG%, 49.2 3-Pt.%), who shot an NBA record 53.6 percent from three-point range the first 41 games a season ago; Al Horford (15.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg); Paul Millsap (16.7 ppg-Led team, 7.8 rpg-Led team, 47.6 FG%) and DeMarre Carroll were named Eastern Conference Players of the Month, marking the first time in NBA history for that occurrence.

Last February, the Hawks became the eight team in NBA history to have four players make the All-Star as Horford, Millsap, Teague and Korver represented the organization at the 2015 All-Star weekend in New York City last February joining head coach Mike Budenholzer, who became the first Hawks since Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens in 1994 to coach the East All-Star. He also won the 2015 NBA Coach of the Year.

The Hawks won a franchise record 60 wins not just because of their aforementioned starting five, but the high level of play from their bench.

Teague’s understudy Dennis Schroder (10.0 ppg, 4.1 apg) had a career season last year. Forward Mike Scott (7.8 ppg, 34.4 3-Pt.%) provided the Hawks perimeter shooting off their bench. New editions from last off-season in swingmen Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore had a major impact, especially defensively and forward/center Pero Antic and guard Shelvin Mack had their moments as well.

The biggest key to their rise is a healthy Horford, who was lost the season before to a season ending pectoral tear the day after Christmas a season ago.

The consistent level of winning has also energized the fan base, which has not been seen in many years. Fans flocked to Phillips Arena, a.k.a the “Highlight Factory” selling out the arena for the first time in many years.

The lingering question that remained  was could the Hawks make some serious noise in the playoffs, especially after finishing the season 18-11 and the fact that they did not have that superstar go-to-guy that put fear into the opposition.

While it was not a walk in the park, the Hawks managed to get past the Brooklyn Nets and the Washington Wizards in the first two rounds in six games, although it helped their cause that the Nets did not play at their maximum in the opening round and in the Semis versus the Wizards, All-Star guard John Wall injured his hand in the early stages of that series and the Wizards were not the same team.

It all fell apart though in the Conference Finals as the Cavaliers swept the Hawks in 4-0 to advance to the NBA Finals.

Their inability to rebound the basketball, which was weakness in the regular season really bit them in the rear end as the Cavs dominated them, particularly on the offensive glass in the series.

Korver’s inability to provide scoring punch from the perimeter did not help and that was before he sustained ligament damage to his right ankle when Cavs’ guard Matthew Dellavedova rolled up on his foot in the Conference Finals.

On top of that their ability to find the open man was nothing like it was in the regular season where they were No. 2 in the NBA in assists per game at 25.7. They averaged in the postseason just 23.8 per contest.

Coming into this season, the question now is can the Hawks prove they are in the same league as the likes of the Cavs and the Chicago Bulls as serious title contenders.

Millsap, who joined All-Stars DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings and Russell Westbrook of the Thunder as the only players to average16-plus points, seven-plus boards, three-plus assists and one-plus steals per contest in 2014-15 signed a new three-year $59 million contract this off-season to stay in Atlanta.

Acquiring guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. (11.5 ppg) from the New York Knicks on draft night back in June will provide the Hawks some solid scoring punch whether he starts or comes off the bench.

The acquisition of forward/center Tiago Splitter (8.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg) from the San Antonio Spurs on July 9 and signing of Justin Holiday will add depth to a bench that lost Antic, who will be playing overseas with Fenerbahce in Turkey and Carroll signed a big time new contract with the Raptors.

Sefolosha, who missed the Hawks’ postseason run after sustaining a broken fibula and torn ligaments in his leg on a New York City street a week before the end of the regular season will be back in the fold, but he will be challenged for playing time whether as a starter or reserve from Bazemore and Hardaway. What Sefolosha has in his favor is that he has played quality minutes for a contenders like the Chicago Bulls and the Thunder and he knows his role.

Along with a new sense of optimism because of what happen a season ago and new uniforms, the Hawks feel very confident that they can get back to the Conference Finals and this time win it this season. Will that dream become a reality Conference Finals, we will find out over the next few months?

Best Case Scenario: The Hawks win over 50 games again and make the playoffs for the eighth straight season; are a top three seeded team and they make it back to the Conference Finals.

Worst case scenario: They lose in the first round of the playoffs.

Off-Season Grade: B-

Boston Celtics: 40-42 (3rd Atlantic Division; No. 7 Seed East) 21-20 at home, 19-22 on the road. Lost to Cleveland Cavaliers 4-0 in East Quarterfinals.

-101.4 ppg-13th; opp. ppg: 101.2-T-21st; 43.8 rpg-13th

Coming into last season, the Boston Celtics were in year two of their rebuilding program and the burning question as the season began is what would happen to then starting point guard Rajon Rondo, the true last link to the C’s 2008 title team and the starting lead guard on their 2010 East championship team?

On Dec. 16, 2014, the All-Star guard was traded to the Mavericks along with forward Dwight Powell for forward Jae Crowder, veteran lead guard Jameer Nelson, center Brandan Wright and a 2015 first-round pick and a 2016 second-round pick.

Last January, the team’s other top notch player in forward Jeff Green was dealt to the Memphis Grizzlies for a protected future first-round draft pick and newly acquired Wright was sent to the Phoenix Suns.

At the trade deadline last February, the C’s acquired guard Isaiah Thomas (16.4 ppg, 4.2 apg. 37.3 3-Pt.%). They also acquired forwards Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome from the Detroit Pistons for forward Tayshaun Prince.  

This has left starting shooting guard Avery Bradley (13.4 ppg) as the only player left from the 2012 Celtics playoff roster as well as the one player from the aforementioned 2008 title unit

The team’s future under the guidance head coach Brad Stevens, whose entering his third season and not just the new acquisitions, but some very talented, but young players like forward Jared Sullinger (13.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg-led team), who was shelved for 24 games as season ago because of a stress reaction in his left foot; center Tyler Zeller (10.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 54.9 FG%); swingman Evan Turner (9.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.5 apg) and the Celtics two high draft choices from the 2014 draft in guards Marcus Smart (7.8 ppg, 3.1 apg), the No. 6 overall pick out of Oklahoma State and guard James Young, the No. 17 overall pick out of Kentucky from the 2014 draft.

This young core though did the unthinkable a season ago going 21-11 after the All-Star break to make the playoffs and even though they were swept by the Cavs 4-0, they played the eventual Eastern Conference champs very tough.

There were times that Thomas, who lead the Celtics with a 17.5 points and 7.3 assists per game averages looked like the best player on the floor.

Along with the players the team acquired, general manager and two-time champion with the Celtics in the 1980s Danny Ainge acquired a high number of first round draft picks, with many of them protected.

This upcoming June the Celtics will have their own 2015 1st round pick as well as the one they received from the Los Angeles Clippers and three second round picks.

In the 2016 draft, the Celtics will have their own first round pick and the Brooklyn Nets, Cavs and Mavericks, along with five second round picks.

In the next five drafts overall, the Celtics will have as many as 12 first-round picks and up to 26 overall picks.

Despite having all of those assets to work with, the Celtics were unable to find that transcending superstar player in the draft or in acquiring one via trade.

They did bring in some much needed veterans into the fold by acquiring forward David Lee (7.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg) from the World Champion Golden State Warriors and signing former Raptors’ forward/center Amir Johnson (9.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 57.4 FG%) to a two-year $24 million, who will add needed depth to the front court. 

They also re-signed forwards Jae Crowder (9.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg) to a new five-year $35 million deal and Jerebko to a new two-year deal.

In the draft this past June, the Celtics selected guards Terry Rozier, with the 16th overall pick out of Louisville; sharp shooter R.J. Hunter with the 28th overall pick out of Georgia State and forward Jordan Mickey, with the 33rd overall pick out of LSU.

It is one thing to be a nice story like the Celtics were a season ago. It is another thing to be a consistent playoff contender. That is where the Celtics find themselves entering this season.

Yes this roster loaded with talented players, who should benefit greatly after getting some great experience in the playoffs a season ago.

With that being said, is this team ready for the challenge of not flying under the radar any longer?

Can Thomas have the same impact with the opposition giving him serious attention in their scouting reports?

Are the likes of Turner, Sullinger, Zeller, Smart and Young ready perform at a consistent high level night in and night out?   

Can Stevens instill belief in this team that they are good enough to not only make the playoffs again, but that they can contend?  

What will benefit the Celtics entering this season is that they were 8-6 in games decided by three points or less in 2014-15. They led the NBA in field goal attempts last season and they had 39 games of 25 assists or more. 

Best Case Scenario: The Celtics make the playoffs again as a low seed. The young core of players continue to mature and grow.

Worst Case Scenario: They miss the playoffs.

Grade: B

Brooklyn Nets: 38-44 (3rd Atlantic Division; No. 8 Seed East) 19-22 at home, 19-22 on the road. Lost to Atlanta Hawks 4-2 East Quarterfinals.

-98.0 ppg-21st; opp. ppg: 100.9-18th; 42.4 rpg-22nd

Just two years ago, the Brooklyn Nets and their new owner Mikhail Prokhorov put all their chips on the table in pursuit of a championship by acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to go alongside Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez.

On top of that, they signed Jason Kidd as their new head coach, one year after he finished his playing career, which will land him in the Hall of Fame.

They withstood the Atlantic Division champion and No. 3 seeded Toronto Raptors in seven games of the First Round in 2014, but fell in five games in the Semis to the eventual Conference champion Miami Heat.

Since then, Pierce left last off-season to join the Washington Wizards and is now with the Los Angeles Clippers. Garnett was dealt at the trade deadline this past February to his old team the Minnesota Timberwolves for forward Thaddeus Young (13.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 49.5 FG%) and this off-season, Williams, whose numbers have declined in the nearly four years with the Nets was bought out the final two seasons of his contract and signed with the Dallas Mavericks over the summer.

As for Kidd, he essentially was shipped out to the Milwaukee Bucks last off-season because he wanted more influence in the front office and the Nets said no.  

The Nets hired former Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins and his team was as in  inconsistent as the stock market.

After winning six out of seven games from Dec. 21, 2014 to Jan. 2, 2015 to get back to the .500 mark at 16-16, the Nets lost 15 out of their next 20 games.

Key players like Johnson (14.4 ppg-lowest since 2002-03 season, 4.8 rpg, 3.7 apg), who recently turned 34 years old and Lopez (17.2 ppg-Led team, 7.4 rpg-Led team, 1.8 bpg-Led team) and Williams did not perform at a consistent level their talent and their huge salaries would suggest a season ago. 

Lopez has had moments where he plays like a dominant center averaging 19.7 points, nine boards and 1.8 blocks after the All-Star break, where he also registered six 30-plus point games after recording just one prior. He was especially great against the Hawks in the Quarterfinals last spring, where he averaged 19.8 points, nine boards and two blocks.

There were times though he disappeared when the Nets needed him most like in their embarrassing 111-87 loss in Game 6, Lopez had 19 points, but garnered just seven boards as the Hawks finished the Nets 4-2.

To bring the Nets inconsistent play to a crescendo in 2014-15 , there were times that back-up guard Jarrett Jack (12.0 ppg, 4.7 apg), who started 27 times last season and averaged 15.9 points and 6.6 assists on 45.8 percent shooting played like the he’s the best player on the floor for the Nets.

This off-season for the Nets was about retooling the team in a more economical matter unlike the past. This was especially important to do since they did not have their own outright first round pick until 2019.

In this past June’s draft, they acquired the rights of the 23rd overall pick in collegiate defensive ace in swingman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson from the Portland Trail Blazers for forward Mason Plumlee.

They re-signed Lopez to a three-year $60 million deal and Young to a four-year $50 million deal.

In free agency the Nets signed players that essentially were looking for a fresh start like former No. 1 overall pick center Andrea Bargnani (14.4 ppg), who signed a two-year $2.9 million; guard Shane Larkin signed a two-year $3 million deal; forward Thomas Robinson (5.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg) signed a two-year $2.2 million deal; guard Wayne Ellington (10.0 ppg, 37.0 3-Pt.%) Wayne Ellington signed a one-year $1.5 million deal and guard Donald Sloan (7.4 ppg, 3.6 apg).

It is very hard to find any optimism for a team that wanted to take a shortcut to reaching the NBA mountain top.

The good news if anything for the Nets is that at the end of this season, the Nets will no longer have the $24 million price tag of Johnson. That will result in the Nets having $44 million in cap space for next summer.

Unfortunately, they have no draft picks to use as assets to get better. Besides Lopez, they really have no serious talent that is going to attract the eye of any A-listers on the free agent market this summer like Kevin Durant of the Thunder.

The Nets are in a very tough place. They are trying to rebuild their team without completely bottoming out. They have the talent to be a playoff contender this season and they are in the East.  

Best Case Scenario: Nets contend for a lower seeded playoff spot. Lopez plays consistently in the paint and on the boards. The new acquisitions have resurrecting seasons.

Worst Case Scenario: The Nets miss the playoffs.

Grade: D+

Charlotte Hornets: 33-49 (4th Southeast Division; missed the playoffs) 19-22 at home, 14-27 on the road.

-94.2 ppg-28th; opp. ppg: 97.3-5th; 44.1 rpg-10th

Two years ago, the then Charlotte Bobcats went from a bottom feeder in the East to a playoff team, falling to the eventual East champion Miami Heat.

They felt they took a serious step in emerging as a perennial playoff team when they signed in free agency guards Lance Stephenson and Brian Roberts (6.7 ppg), forward Marvin Williams (7.4 ppg) and in the 2014 draft selecting forward Noah Vonleh with the No. 9 overall pick out of Indiana and with the 26th pick, sharp shooter P.J. Hairston (5.6 ppg) out of University North Carolina.

Those glittering acquisitions were nothing but fool’s gold when they got on the court in 2014-15.

Stephenson shot just 37.6 percent from the field a season ago and just 17.1 percent from three-point range. It had gotten so bad that Stephenson was on the bench in fourth quarters because the team lost confidence in him.

Williams shot just 42.4 percent from the floor last season. Vonleh, who was injured most of last season barely got on the floor when he was healthy and Hairston played in just 45 games a season ago.

It did not help that their three top players in guard Kemba Walker (17.3 ppg-Led team, 5.1 apg-Led team), center Al Jefferson (16.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 48.1 FG%) and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (10.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 46.5 FG%) missed a total of 64 games because of injuries a season ago.

This off-season, the Hornets decided to bring in players that are a better fit alongside the likes of Walker and Jefferson.

Back on June 15, the Hornets shipped Stephenson to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for center Spencer Hawes (5.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg). Hawes is looking to bounce back from a tough season where he was not even able to get on the court in the postseason for the Clippers.

Nine days later, they sent guard Gerald Henderson and Vonleh to the Trail Blazers in exchange for forward Nicolas Batum (9.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 5.9 apg), who is looking to bounce back from a poor season where he shot just 40 percent from the field and just 32.4 percent from three-point range.

The Hornets acquired guard Jeremy Lamb and conditional 2016 second-round pick from the Thunder for guard Luke Ridnour back on June 25.

Back on July 9, the Hornets signed guard Jeremy Lin (11.2 ppg, 4.6 apg, 36.9 3-Pt.%) to back-up Walker. His addition will allow Walker to be more of a scoring guard this season and this will hopefully be a spot where Lin can rebuild himself into a solid back-up. He has not been the same since his moment in the spotlight, a.k.a. “Linsanity” when he was with the New York Knicks three years ago. 

Thirteen days later, the Hornets signed forward Tyler Hansbrough, who is hoping a return to where his star shined brightest as a collegiate with the North Carolina Tar Heels in leading them to a National title will revive his pro career, which has been a bust to this point.

The one burning question coming into this season for the Hornets is how will they use forward/center Frank Kaminsky III, who they selected ninth overall out of University of Wisconsin this past June.

From the outside looking in, selecting a player who was the 2015 College Basketball Player of the Year and led the Badgers to the Final Four two straight seasons sounds like a no brainer. The issue is that he is close to the same player that third-year forward Cody Zeller (7.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg). A front court player who can face-up and knock down jumpers and can put the ball on the floor.

Does this mean that Hornets have lost faith in the No. 4 overall pick in 2013 or will they let the two handle it in practice and during the pre-season?

One player who will not be on the court anytime soon is Kidd-Gilchrist, who sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder in an Oct. 3 victory in the preseason over the Orlando Magic. Kidd-Gilchrist, who signed a four-year $52 million contract extension over the summer underwent successful surgery on that shoulder earlier this month and the defensive ace is expected to be out approximately six month, if not the entire upcoming season.

Last season when Kidd-Gilchrist played, the Hornets were a respectable 28-29 and were victorious just five times in 25 chances when he was out because of injury. When MKG was in the lineup, the Hornets allowed just 92.5 points per contest and gave up just 34.8 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Teams averaged 98.7 points per contest on 36.2 percent from three-point range when MKG was out of the lineup.

This is especially going to hurt the Hornets at the defensive end, where the Hornets were tied for seventh in opponent’s field goal percentage at 44.0 percent and tied for sixth in block shots per game at 5.5 a season ago.

Last off-season, the Hornets made a splash in free agency last off-season and things did not work out. This off-season, they went with more substance and found players who seem to not only fit better, but each of the new additions have something to prove.

The team has something to prove at the offensive end as they were next to last in field goal percentage at 42.0 percent; last in three-point percentage at 31.8 and ranked 28th in assists per contest at 20.2.

To put the offensive struggles of the Hornets into a broader perspective since the 2008-09 season the Hornets have only averaged 93.6 (30th), 95.3 (28th), 93.3 (29th), 87.0 (30th), 93.4 (26th), 96.9 (23rd) and aforementioned 94.2 (28th) points per contest.

With the new additions and good health, the Hornets offense should match what they have produced on defense. It will be difficult without Kidd-Gilchrist, though, but head coach Steve Clifford, owner Michael Jordan and the fans should be optimistic about the prospect of a return to the playoffs this season, especially the fact that they are in the East.

Best Case Scenario: The Hornets are in the fight for a lower seed in the playoffs. Walker and Jefferson stay healthy and have solid seasons. The supporting cast plays at a high level.

Worst Case Scenario: They miss the playoffs again.  

Grade: B-

Chicago Bulls: 50-32 (2nd Central Division; No. 3 Seed East) 27-14 at home, 23-18 on the road. Defeated Milwaukee Bucks 4-2 in East Quarterfinals. Lost to Cleveland Cavaliers 4-2 in East Semifinals.

-100.8 ppg-15th; opp. ppg: 97.8-9th; 45.7 rpg-3rd

In five seasons under the direction of head coach Tom Thibodaux, the Chicago Bulls made the playoffs in each time, winning 50 games or more in three of those five seasons.

In year one, the Bulls won 62 games and made it to the Conference Finals only to fall to the eventual East champion Heat 4-1.

In the years that followed, the Bulls have had their season twice end in the opening round and twice in the Semis.

Last season’s setback in the Semis to the Cavs in the Semis was especially tough because of the great seasons turned in by 2015 Most Improved Player and first time All-Star Jimmy Butler (20.0 ppg-Led team, 5.8 rpg, 1.8 spg-Led team, 46.2 FG%, 37.8 3-Pt.%), who signed a five-year $92.3 million contract this off-season and fellow All-Star Pau Gasol (18.5 ppg, 11.8 rpg-4th NBA-career-high, 1.9 bpg-Led team), who lead the league with 54 double-doubles a season ago.

On June 2, Thibodeau was replaced by former Iowa State head coach and former NBA guard Fred Hoiberg and the hope is that he will get the team to take that elusive last step to the championship.

Hoiberg comes into a very solid situation though. He has a team that has a philosophy of playing great at the defensive end. They play hard for 48 minutes and they have a star player who is all about team in All-Star lead guard Derrick Rose (17.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg-Led team). The only problem is that the former No. 1 overall pick in 2008 draft has had a difficult time staying on the court.  

Since becoming the youngest player to win the Most Valuable Player Award back in 2011, Rose has played including the playoffs a total of just 212 of 275 games the past four seasons. He has appeared in just 100 regular season games combined the last three seasons, sustaining sustained a torn ACL in his left knee and a torn meniscus in his right knee twice.

The injury bug has hit Rose again as just four days into the start of this training camp he sustained a fracture to his left orbital but will be ready to go to start the season when the Bulls host the Cleveland Cavaliers.  

If there has been any silver lining in this is that it has forced the rest of the team to raise their games individually and collectively to another level.

As mentioned earlier, Butler had a break out season, earning him a big-time contract this off-season. Gasol gave the Bulls a low-post scorer who can score and pass the basketball and was a solid compliment in the starting front court with forward/center Joakim Noah (7.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 4.7 apg), who is looking to bounce back from a subpar season where he was hampered by a knee that never got right a season ago.

New comers from a season ago in guard Aaron Brooks (11.6 ppg, 38.7 3-Pt.%), who re-signed on a one-year deal worth $2.3 million; rookie forward Nikola Mirotic (10.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg) joined forward Taj Gibson (10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 50.2 FG%), swingman Mike Dunleavy (9.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 40.7 3-Pt.%), who re-signed on a three-year $14.4 million contract to and guard Kirk Hinrich (5.7 ppg), who re-signed a two-year $5.8 million stepped up and became big time scoring threats whether they started or came off the bench.

Mirotic played extremely well at the close of last season with averages 16.0 points and five rebounds post All-Star break and averaged 20.8 points and 7.6 boards last March.

Along with bringing in a new head coach, the Bulls in this past June’s draft selected with the 22nd overall pick forward Bobby Portis out of Arkansas to add depth to the front court.

Over these past five seasons, the Bulls have been a team in position to make that step and win it all. What has stood in their way has been injuries and an inability to score at a consistent rate.

Along with the continued maturation of the aforementioned supporting cast at the offensive end, the likes of second-year forward Doug McDermott, who was shelved most of last season because of a leg injury and third-year forward Tony Snell (6.0 ppg) have to develop into players who can come into the game any instantly strike a match offensively.

The hope is that Hoiberg can come in and take this talented group that plays hard and make them into a respectable offensive team. He has been on the Bulls radar to be their head coach and now that time is here.

More than anything, they need Rose to become more of a facilitator and not the one man show that he was in the early part of his career.

Best Case Scenario: The Bulls win over 50 games and are a Top Three Seed in East Rose and the core players stay healthy. They reach the Conference Finals and finally get over the hurdle of LeBron James.

Worst Case Scenario: The Bulls fall early in the playoffs again to James and the Cavs.   

Grade: B+

Cleveland Cavaliers: 53-29 (1st Central Division; No. 2 Seed East) 31-10 at home, 22-19 on the road. Defeated Boston Celtics 4-0 East Quarterfinals. Defeated Chicago Bulls 4-2 in East Semifinals. Defeated Atlanta Hawks 4-0 in East Finals. Lost to Golden State Warriors 4-2 in NBA Finals.

-103.1 ppg-8th; opp. ppg: 98.7-13th; 43.0 rpg-18th

Last off-season was about rebuilding for the Cavaliers when they hired long time overseas head coach David Blatt as their new head coach.

That all changed in a major way when the proud son of Akron, OH, four-time MVP and two-time NBA champion with the Heat LeBron James (25.3 ppg-3rd NBA, 6.0 rpg, 7.4 apg-Led team, 1.6 spg-Led team) came back to where his future Hall of Fame career began and this past off-season re-signed with the team on a new two-year $47 million deal this off-season.

On top of signing James, they acquired All-Star forward Kevin Love (16.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg-Led team, 36.7 3-Pt.%), who re-signed this off-season to a five-year $110 million contract, to team up with former Rookie of the Year and All-Star guard Kyrie Irving (21.7 ppg, 5.2 apg, 1.5 spg, 46.8 FG%, 41.5 3-Pt.%), forward/center Tristan Thompson (8.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg), who finally was re-signed to a five-year $82 million deal earlier this month and center Anderson Varejao (9.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg).

The team did not gel right away winning just 19 of their first 39 games. In that stretch, the Cavs lost 10 of 12 games in the middle of January and they were without James for eight games recuperating from a nagging knee and sore back.

James returned on Jan. 15 at the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cavs began a 12-game winning streak and they never looked back finishing the season 34-9 and claiming their first Central Division title since 2009-2010 season.

Along with the improved health of James, the Cavs acquired center Timofey Mozgov (9.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.6 bpg) from the Denver Nuggets to bolster their front court, which lost Varejao in late December with a torn Achilles.

Back in January, the Cavs acquired guards Iman Shumpert (8.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg), who re-signed for four years at $40 million, J.R. Smith (12.1 ppg, 38.3 3-Pt.% with Cavs), who also re-signed with the team, from the Knicks and they added perimeter shooting and better perimeter defense for the Cavs.

In the playoffs, the Cavs went 12-2 in defeating the Celtics, Bulls and Hawks. In the opening round series however, the Cavs lost Love to a separated shoulder, which required surgery and he missed the remainder of the playoffs.

The Cavs marched on and reached the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history. The injury bug hit the team again as Irving sustained a fractured left kneecap in Game 1 at the Warriors that required surgery.

While he has made progress in his rehabilitation, there is no set timetable for his return to the court.

The Cavs will also be without the services of Shumpert to start the season as he will be sidelined for 12-14 weeks following surgery on his right wrist earlier this month.

That makes the new additions of Mo Williams for two years at $4.3 million (14.2 ppg, 6.2 apg), who is in his second stint with the team; forward Richard Jefferson (5.8 ppg) and the re-signing of forward James Jones (one-year, $1.4 million) and guard Matthew Dellavedova (one-year, $1.2 million) really important.

The lingering elephant in the room though is when would Thompson be re-signed?

That issue was taken care of six days ago when he signed a new deal for five years at $82 million.

To put his importance to the Cavs into perspective, only Enes Kanter (277) of the Thunder, Tyson Chandler (294), now with the Phoenix Suns; DeAndre Jordan (397) of the Los Angeles Clippers and Andre Drummond (437) of the Detroit Pistons had more total offensive boards in the regular season than Thompson, who had 274 in 2014-15.

His 10.8 rebounds per contest average in the playoffs was second only to James, who averaged 11.3.

In the 4-0 sweep in the Conference Finals against the Hawks, Thompson had three double-doubles in the series and averaged 11.8 points and 11.0 rebounds in the series.

With the re-signing of Thompson, the new additions and the re-signing of James, Shumpert, Smith and Love the Cavaliers are poised to win the city Cleveland its first professional sports title in 51 years. Counting the seasons of the Cavs, Indians, Browns Columbus Jackets, the city has gone 144 seasons with a pro sports championships.

They have the team to win it all, but they must get healthy and stay that way.

We saw in The Finals against the Warriors, James who averaged 35.8 points, 13.0 boards and 8.8 assists in The Finals last season and the Warriors won in six games because they had the depth and the Cavs did not.

Best Case Scenario: The Cavs are a Top 3 Seed in the East and they win the championship.

Worst Case Scenario: The Cavs fall short in The Finals or do not even get there.

Grade: A+

Detroit Pistons: 32-50 (5th Central Division; missed playoffs) 18-23 at home, 14-27 on the road.

-98.5 ppg-18th; opp. ppg: 99.5-14th; 44.9 rpg-4th

When he became the head coach and team president two seasons back, Stan Van Gundy new that it was going to take a lot of work in turning the Pistons back into a consistent playoff participant.

His first season in the “Motor City” did not get off to a great start as the team was 5-23 three days before Christmas in 2014 and they said goodbye to a prize free agent from the prior off-season in forward Josh Smith, who the team bought out of his very hefty contract.

Things began to pick up after that as the team went 16-10 in one stretch and were in striking distance of the No. 8 and final playoff spot.

The two big reasons for that was the great play of center Andre Drummond (13.8 ppg, 13.5 rpg-2nd NBA, 1.9 bpg-Led team) and starting lead guard Brandon Jennings (15.4 ppg, 6.6 apg-Led team) who was playing the best stretch of basketball of his career, averaging 19.8 points, 7.0 assists on 39.4 percent from three-point range.

In the Pistons 128-118 victory versus the Orlando Magic back on Jan. 21, Jennings 24 points, 21 assists and just two turnovers, going 10 for 21 from the field. Drummond had a strong performance as well with a team-high 26 points, 17 rebounds, four steals and three block shots.

The good fortune of the Pistons took a serious turn three nights later at the Milwaukee Bucks, when Jennings sustained a serious foot injury late in the third quarter, which turned out to be a ruptured left Achilles tendon, bring an end to his season. He did have surgery to repair the Achilles. He is expected to be back sometime in December.

The Pistons lost their next four games in a row and saw their playoff hopes go up in smoke.

This off-season, Van Gundy wanted to construct the Pistons into his image. A team that plays great defensively, shoots the three-point shot consistently and plays hard night in and night out.

They said goodbye to Greg Monroe, who is now with the division rival Milwaukee Bucks, leaving the paint responsibilities to Drummond who has shown he is more than capable of handling it.

Van Gundy also signed a very capable back-up to Drummond in former San Antonio Spur Aron Baynes to a three-year $19.5 million deal.  

They acquired from the Phoenix Suns guard Reggie Bullock, and forwards Danny Granger, who was released by the team this week and Marcus Morris (10.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 35.8 3-Pt.%). They also acquired from the Nets back-up guard Steve Blake and forward Ersan Ilyasova (11.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 47.2 FG%, 38.9 3-Pt.%) from the Bucks, who will be playing for his seventh coach in his eight-year career.

In the draft, the Pistons selected with the eighth overall pick forward Stanley Johnson out of University of Arizona.

The Pistons also re-signed center Joel Anthony to a two-year $5 million deal.

The big get this off-season for the team was re-signing guard Reggie Jackson (14.5 ppg, 6.0 apg, 4.2 rpg), who was acquired at the trade deadline last February from the Thunder and averaged 17.6 points, 9.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 27 games and turned it into a new 5-year $80 million deal.

Jackson showed last season in a small sampling that he is more of a fit next to starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (12.7 ppg, 34.5 3-Pt.%), who had a breakout second-year in 2014-15.

Caldwell-Pope’s improved shooting ability to along with the likes of Jodie Meeks (11.1 ppg, 34.5 3-Pt.%), Blake’s, Granger’s, Ilyasova’s, Jackson’s Morris’s and Anthony Tolliver’s (7.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 36.0 3-Pt.%) ability to space the floor, will allow Drummond to thrive in the paint.

Even with the improved roster though, the Pistons seemed to be a few steps away from being a real playoff threat.

For them to get a little closer, they must play better at the defensive end though. Ranking 21st in opponent’s field goal percentage at 45.6 percent and three-point percentage at 35.5 percent will not get it done.

Best Case Scenario: The Pistons are contending for the No. 8 spot. Drummond is a borderline All-Star. The Pistons are ranked in the middle of the NBA pact defensively.

Worst Case Scenario: The Pistons miss the playoffs for a seventh straight season.

Grade: B-

Indiana Pacers: 38-44 (4th Central Division; missed playoffs) 23-18 at home, 15-26 on the road.

-97.3 ppg-24th; opp. ppg: 97.0 4th; 44.9 rpg-5th

For three consecutive postseasons, the Pacers had their championship dreams end at the hands of the Miami Heat and LeBron James, with the last two happening in the Eastern Conference Finals respectably.

Swingman Paul George (8.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg) went from an unknown to an All-Star and one of the best two-way players in the league.

The team also used a tough brand of defense and ability to score in the paint with center Roy Hibbert and David West to win games under the direction of head coach Frank Vogel.

The fortunes of the Pacers in 2014-15 changed last off-season when starting shooting guard Lance Stephenson bolted in free agency for the Hornets and George suffered a broken leg during USA Basketball tryouts.

Things went from bad to worse when West and starting lead guard George Hill (16.1 ppg, 5.1 apg-Led team, 47.7 FG%, 35.8 3-Pt.%) and his back-up C.J. Watson began the season on the shelf with injuries. 

After a rough start where the Pacers stood at 17-32 after 99-94 loss versus the Kings on Jan. 31, they went 21-12 to close the season, but that 12th loss on Apr. 15 at the Memphis Grizzlies coupled with a Nets victory denied the Pacers a ticket to the 2015 NBA playoffs.

This off-season, team president and Hall of Famer Larry Bird, an Indiana native decided that it was time to overall the Pacers roster and make it into a team that can play in the new NBA.

The Pacers in the off-season traded Hibbert to the Lakers. Let forward Luis Scola go in free agency and traded Damjan Rudez to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for forward Chase Budinger (6.8 ppg, 36.4 3-Pt.%). West opted out of the final $12 million dollars of his deal to sign with the Spurs.

In free agency, the Pacers signed guard Monta Ellis (18.9 ppg, 4.1 apg, 4.5 FG%) to a four-year, $44 million deal; forward/center Jordan Hill (12.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg) to a one-year $4 million deal and forward Glenn Robinson III, who the Pacers signed to a three-year deal.

They re-signed forward/center Lavoy Allen; forward/center Shayne Whittington and guard Rodney Stuckey (12.6 ppg, 39.0 3-Pt.%), who had a solid season for the Pacers and earned himself a new three-year $21 million contract. 

In this June’s draft, they selected with the No. 11 overall pick forward/center Myles Turner out of Texas, who is expected to be the starter in place of the departed Hibbert.

He showed in the 2015 Orlando Summer League that he is ready for the opportunity as he averaged 18.7 points, 8.3 boards and 4.3 blocks. He is trying to be the 6th lottery selection out of the University of Texas to have an impact on the league, joining forward LaMarcus Aldridge, the 9th pick of the in 2006 by Portland Trail Blazers; forward Kevin Durant, the No. 2 overall pick in 2007 draft by Oklahoma City Thunder; guard D.J. Augustin, the No. 9 overall pick in 2008 draft by the then Charlotte Bobcats and Tristan Thompson, the No. 4 overall pick in 2011 draft by the Cavaliers.

With the 43rd overall pick, the Pacers selected the 2015 Pac-12 Player of the Year in guard Joseph Young out of Oregon, who averaged 22.5 points per game in the 2015 Orlando Summer League and acquired the draft rights to forward Rakeem Christmas out of Syracuse University.

The retooled roster that Bird and the Pacers brass had put together is expected to play at a faster pace, no pun intended.

The new starting back court of Ellis and Hill could become one of the most underrated back courts if they can mesh well together.

George who is looking to bounce back after playing in just eight games a season ago is expected to see minutes at the power forward to create mismatches on the perimeter.

Despite not having their franchise player in George, the Pacers as mentioned earlier were within a hair of making the playoffs. With George back and a different offensive philosophy, the Pacers are optimistic that they can make it back to the postseason after a one-year absence.

The key for them is to maintain that tough minded defensive attitude that made them title contenders. For that to happen, Turner has to have an immediate impact on that end of the court.

Best Case Scenario: Pacers are in the middle of the playoff pact. George returns to All-Star form. The Pacers are better offensively while still sticking to their defensive principles.

Worst Case Scenario: The Pacers are on the outside of the playoffs looking in and they struggle to score.

Grade: C+

Miami Heat: 37-45 (3rd Southeast Division; missed playoffs) 20-21 at home, 17-24 on the road.

-94.7 ppg-27th; opp. ppg: 97.3 3rd; 39.1 rpg-30th

When LeBron James opted out of his contract with the Heat and decided to return to the Cavaliers, it was expected that the Heat would take a step back as a title contender in the East.

Unfortunately injuries and inconsistency play had them on the outside of the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08.

They were 22-30 at the All-Star break and averaged just 92.8 points per contest.

Perennial All-Star forward Chris Bosh (21.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 46.0 FG%) missed the final 38 games of 2014-15 because of a blood clot found back in February that required surgery.

The team went 15-15 after the All-Star break and returned to form offensively averaging 98.0 points per contest. They also improved their rebounding per contest averaging 47.3 boards in those final 30 games.

Two big reasons why the Heat stayed in playoff contention was because of the acquisition of guard Goran Dragic (16.3 ppg, 4.5 apg, 50.1 FG%, 34.7 3-Pt.%) at the February trade deadline and he averaged 16.6 points and 5.3 assists on 50.2 percent from the floor in 26 games with the Heat. Dragic turned that solid performance earned him a new five-year $90 million contract.

The other reason, the emergence of a new comer they signed earlier in the season in eventual starting center Hassan Whiteside (11.0 ppg, 62.8 FG%-Led team, 10.0 rpg-Led team, 2.6 bpg-Led team).

Prior to the All-Star break, the 2010 second pick out of Marshall averaged 10.0 points, 8.6 rebounds in 19.5 minutes and started 10 games. After the break, Whiteside averaged in 28.4 minutes 13.7 points and 11.7 rebounds and started 22 times.

His introduced himself to the national audience in a game back on Jan. 25 at the Bulls where in 25 minutes had  14 points, 13 boards and 12 block shots and he never looked back.

This will be a big season for him as he is an unrestricted free agent and a huge season could net him a big contract. For that to happen though along with his growth in his game, he also must have a mature temperament that at times was not there a season ago.

Along with re-signing Dragic, the Heat were able to hold onto their other All-Star in guard Dwyane Wade (21.5 ppg-Led team, 4.8 apg-Led team, 47.0 FG%) who signed a one-year deal for $20 million. 

Last season’s prized free agent forward Luol Deng (14.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 46.9 FG%, 35.5 3-Pt.%) opted-in to stay with the Heat.

In free agency, the Heat looked to bettering its bench and signed swingman Gerald Green (11.9 ppg, 35.4 3-Pt.%) and forward/center Amar’e Stoudemire (11.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg) to one-year deals worth $947,000.

They were also able to get a gift in the draft when forward/guard Justise Winslow from the National Champion Duke University Blue Devils fell to them at the No. 10 spot in the draft.

The highly talented Winslow comes to a team that is loaded with players that have amazing work habits and know how to win year in and year out. On top of that, he gets to learn from one of the best wing players in “The Association” in Wade.

With the All-Star duo of Wade and Bosh back; the additions via the draft and free agency and the remaining supporting cast of guards Mario Chalmers (10.2 ppg, 1.5 spg-Led team) and Tyler Johnson, center Chris Andersen, forwards James Ennis, Udonis Haslem and Josh McRoberts, who was limited to 17 games a season ago because of a bad knee, the Heat not only will make it back into the playoffs, but have the chance to make some serious noise.  

There have a solid starting five in Wade, Bosh, Whiteside, Deng and Dragic. A very good bench and a head coach in Erik Spoelstra and one of the best motivators to ever be in the NBA in former champion head coach and Team President Pat Riley.

They must stay healthy if they expect to make any kind of noise in the East.

Best Case Scenario: The Heat are fighting for home court advantage and make a serious run in the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario: They are fighting to just get into the playoffs and their key players miss time because of injury.

Grade: A-

Milwaukee Bucks: 41-41 (3rd Central Division; No. 6 Seed East) 23-18 at home, 18-23 on the road. Lost to the Chicago Bulls 4-2 in East Quarterfinals.

-97.8 ppg-22nd; opp. ppg: 97.4-8th; 42.1 rpg-24th

Despite a few moments of success that were not sustained, the Bucks for the last decade have been stuck in the mud. Two years ago, they hit rock bottom finishing with the worst record at 15-67.

The fusion of new ownership in Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry, a new head coach in Jason Kidd and some solid draft selections, the Bucks made a 26-game improvement from a season ago and gave the division rival Bulls a run for their money in the opening round of the playoffs last spring.

That good fortune continued this off-season when they were able to sign forward/center Greg Monroe (15.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 49.6 FG%) to a three-year $50 million contract. The 25-year-old’s addition gives the Bucks a player who can score on the post and has an incredible ability to find the open man.

The team did not conclude their as the Bucks were able to re-sign swingman Khris Middleton (13.4 ppg, 1.5 spg, 46.7 FG%, 40.7 3-Pt.%), who turned his breakout season into a new five-year $70 million contract. He was especially great in the playoffs as he lead the Bucks in scoring at 15.8.

Along with the signing of Monroe, the Bucks added another perimeter threat in forward Chris Copeland and acquired from the Raptors guard Greivis Vazquez (9.5 ppg, 3.7 apg, 37.9 3-Pt.%), gritty, tough guard who has played well off the bench in his career.

With the No. 17 pick in this past June’s draft, the Bucks selected Rashad Vaughn, who will add solid shooting to a team that was lacking in that area a season ago.

The new additions alongside the core players of Giannis Antetokounmpo (12.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 49.1 FG%), Michael Carter-Williams (14.1 ppg-Led team, 5.6 apg, 2.0 spg-Led team), who the Bucks acquired at the trade deadline from the Philadelphia 76ers back in February, John Henson (7.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.0 bpg), who signed a four-year $44 million contract extension back on Oct. 1, O.J. Mayo (11.4 ppg, 35.7 3-Pt.%), Jerryd Bayless (7.8 ppg), Miles Plumlee and the No. 2 overall pick in 2014 Draft in Jabari Parker (12.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 49.0 FG%), who missed 57 games last season because of a torn left ACL he sustained back in Dec. 2014 have given the Bucks a real athletic, interchangeable team that is long and deep.

What has to happen now for this young team is they have to play at a high level when they are not sneaking up on people like they did a season ago.

While they added depth to the team, they are lacking in veteran leadership that is very necessary for a team that is very talented, but raw in terms of the ABC’s of the NBA.

They said goodbye to that when they let the likes of Caron Butler, Jared Dudley and ZaZa Pachulia go via trade or free agency.

With that being said, the Bucks do have assets to acquire such a player if necessary. If anything else they have their head coach and future Hall of Famer in Kidd to lean on.

The Bucks also have something else to look forward to. A new arena that was approved thanks to Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau). The arena deal was passed thanks to a provision which will impose a ticket surcharge on ticket buyers which will help both state and local facilities who are helping to fund the $500 million arena to pay off their respective debts at a fast pace.

Last season, they were a team with no direction. The Bucks enter the 2015-16 season, with a clear direction and optimism to get back to the playoffs and eventually contend for a title. They also will be wearing new uniforms this season and they are very good.

Best Case Scenario: The Bucks are fighting for home court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. They continue to play great defensively and become a better offensive team.

Worst Case Scenario: They are a lower seeded playoff team and fall in the opening round in a sweep.

Grade: B+

New York Knicks: 17-65 (5th Atlantic Division; missed playoffs) 10-31 at home, 7-34 on the road.

-91.9 ppg-30th; opp. ppg: 101.2-T-21st; 40.4 rpg-29th

Other than New York City hosting the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend back in February, there was nothing positive about the professional basketball in “The Big Apple” a season ago.

ESPN First-Take host Stephen A. Smith said back in the middle of April on the network’s flagship show “Sportscenter” to host Linsay Czarniak about the worst season in New York Knickerbockers history that they were “an atrocity of the highest order.”

How awful were they, well they lost 16 games in succession from Dec. 14, 2014 to Jan. 15, 2015, the longest losing streak in franchise history. Prior to that, they went through a seven game losing streak from Nov. 4, 2014 to Nov. 14, 2014 and then a 10-game losing from Nov. 24, 2014 to Dec. 10, 2014.

To top it all off, All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony (24.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg) had surgery on his knee after playing in the NBA halfway classic, ending his season after playing just 40 games, the lowest of his career.

It had gotten so bad that they bought out the contract of Stoudemire and he then joined the Dallas Mavericks, who made the playoffs last season.

It was a season of the absurd for a historic franchise that is entering its 70th season; has retired the jersey of seven players; worth approximately $2.5 billion according to Forbes; won eight Eastern Conference crowns and two NBA titles.

This off-season, the Knicks and team president Phil Jackson, the owner of 13 championship rings, 11 of them as head coach of the Bulls and Lakers went right to the business at hand of putting the worst season in franchise behind them.

In free agency, they signed guard Arron Afflalo (13.3 ppg, 35.4 3-Pt.%) at two years and $16 million, who should provide scoring and tough defense on the perimeter; center Robin Lopez (9.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 53.5 FG%) at four years and $54 million, who will bring a presence in the paint on both ends; center Kevin Seraphin (6.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg) at one-year $2.8 million and forward/center Kyle O’Quinn (5.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg) will be a solid back-ups at center to Lopez and Quinn can also play the power forward spot; forward Derrick Williams (8.3 ppg) at two-years and $9 million gives the Knicks a player who can play both forward positions and who has the ability to score on the perimeter and in the paint, if he can stay focused and guard Sasha Vujacic at one-year veteran minimum gives the Knicks a veteran familiar with the triangle offense and a veteran who won titles back-to-back titles with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010.

The team raised more than a few eyebrows when in this past June’s draft they selected with the No. 4 overall pick forward Kristaps Porzingis and at the No. 19 spot, they selected guard Jerian Grant out of Notre Dame.

In Porzingis, they Knicks have a forward who can shoot the ball and who can put the ball on the ground and attack the rim.

The problem with his selection, when the likes of Jahlil Okafor was still out there is that Porzingis is a wait and see, maybe he will be better down the road type of player and the Knicks are in a situation where they need to win now.

Jackson said earlier this summer to Charley Rosen of about Porzingis that, “Like Shawn Bradley, who was nevertheless a pretty good player, KP might almost be too tall for the game. What I mean is that his core strength might never be good enough, and that he might not be able to get low enough to get himself into prime defensive position to body power rebounders or drivers.”

The one good thing with the selection of Grant is that he comes from a solid blood line with his father being former swingman Harvey Grant, who played 11 seasons in the league with the then Washington Bullets and eventual Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers and averaging 9.9 points and 4.4 rebounds in those seasons. His uncle is Horace Grant, who played 17 seasons with the Bulls, Orlando Magic, the then Seattle Supersonics and Los Angeles Lakers, winning four titles with the Bulls and Lakers. He averaged 11.2 points and eight boards in those seasons.

The only positive of the Knicks season in 2014-15 was that NBA D-League call up Langston Galloway (11.8 ppg, 35.2 3-Pt.%), who started 41 out of 45 games a season ago showed that he belonged and he really finished strong in the month of April averaging 14.3 points in eight contest connecting on 41.2 percent of his three-pointers.

His impressive showing should allow him minutes as the team’s understudy behind starter Jose Calderon (9.1 ppg, 4.7 apg-Led team, 41.5 3-Pt.%).

As a player, second-year head coach Derrick Fisher had a career resume of winning five titles with the Lakers alongside future Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant; playing 18 seasons with the Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Utah Jazz and Thunder; playing in 259 playoff games, the most in NBA history and being President of the National Basketball Players Association from 2006-13.

As a head coach so far, the result have been painful and it looks like things are not going to get better anytime soon.

With that being said, the roster looks a lot better than it did a season ago and Anthony is back healthy and very motivated to turn things around. Also they are in the East. If they can get off to a good start, then there is a possibility that they can make the playoffs.

Best Case Scenario: The Knicks are fighting for either the No. 7 or No. 8 Seed in the East. Anthony returns to All-Star form and the team understands the triangle offense a lot better.

Worst Case Scenario: The Knicks miss the playoffs again and Anthony becomes frustrated.

Grade: C+

Orlando Magic: 25-57 (5th Southeast Division; missed the playoffs) 13-28 at home, 12-29 on the road.

-95.7 ppg-25th; opp. ppg: 101.4-23rd; 41.8 rpg-25th

Coming into year four in their rebuilding process, the Orlando Magic have been able to via the draft and trades been able to bring in young talented players that have shown moments in glimpses that they belong in the league.

Like with all young talented teams, they struggle to win games and that is no different for the team that is from a city built on fantasy. The Magic counting last season have won just 68 games over the past three years.

That was one of main reasons why they fired head coach Jacque Vaughn back on Feb. 5, after going just 58-158 in 2 ½ seasons. His replacement James Borrego who finished out the season is now an assistant head coach for the Spurs.

At a crossroads, team manager Rob Hennigan and president Alex Martins turned to a former player from their past to turn their back into a winner. Enter gritty and hard noise competitor as a player for 11 NBA season (1986-97) and as a head coach in Scott Skiles, who the team hired on May 29 as the 12th head coach in franchise history.

In his five seasons with the Magic, where he averaged from 1989-94, he was part of a team that went from the NBA basement to an eventual playoff team playing alongside and up and coming Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, currently an analyst for NBATV.

Back on Dec 30, 1990, Skiles recorded an NBA record 30 assists, breaking the old mark of 29 by former Washington Bullet, New Jersey Net, Detroit Piston guard Kevin Porter as the Magic registered a 155-116 victory versus the Denver Nuggets.

Skiles was no different in his first 13 seasons as a head coach, where he amassed a record of 443-433 with the Phoenix Suns, Bulls and Bucks from 1999-2013.

The one great advantage that Skiles has coming into his new head coaching spot is that the he has as mentioned a talented group of young players.

He has one of the best kept secrets in the league in starting center Nikola Vucevic (19.3 ppg-Led team, 10.9 rpg-6th NBA, 52.3 FG%), who ranked fourth in the league in double-doubles a season ago with 45. Since the 2012-13 season, only Sacramento Kings’ center DeMarcus Cousins (135) and Memphis Grizzlies’ forward Zach Randolph (130) have more double-doubles than Vucevic, who has garnered 127.

A very young, but talented backcourt in second-year lead guard Elfrid Payton (8.9 ppg, 6.5 apg-Led team, 1.7 spg-Led team) and his running mate Victor Oladipo (17.9 ppg, 4.1 apg).

One of the team’s biggest priorities besides finding a new head coach this past summer was keeping emerging forward Tobias Harris (17.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 46.6 FG%), who was with the Bucks when Skiles was the head coach. The Magic were able to retain Harris, who signed a new four-year $64 million contract.

While the supporting cast consist of very talented players like swing man Evan Fournier (12.0 ppg, 37.8 3-Pt.%), forward/center Channing Frye (7.3 ppg, 39.3 3-Pt.%), forward Andrew Nicholson and second-year forward Aaron Gordon, some upgrades were very necessary.

In free agency, the Magic signed guard C.J. Watson for three-years at $15 million; center Jason Smith (8.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg) at one-year for $4.3 million and acquired second-year guard Shabazz Napier from the Heat.

In this past June’s draft, the Magic selected with the No. 5 overall pick forward Mario Hezonja from Croatia, who bring an offensive ability where he can score on the perimeter who never met a shot he did not like and bring an aggressive style to the game that will make him a crowd favorite at the Amway Center.

While all of these players may have outstanding ability at the offensive side of the court, the only way they are going to show that ability under Skiles is to bring a non-wavering focus to the defensive end of the court.

The Magic ranked 28th in opponent’s field goal percentage giving up 46.6 percent shooting. They were next to last in three-point percentage allowed giving up 36.8 percent shooting and in block shots per game at 3.6. They did however force their opposition into 14.3 turnovers per game, ranking 12th in the league and they were also that same ranking in steals per contest averaging 7.9.

At some point this team has to turn the corner and eventually get into the playoffs. Whether it is this year remains to be seen.

They have assembled talented players who are getting better and better each year. They have a head coach with experience and who while demanding as in his three previous stops has gotten results. It is now up to the team to turn the corner and play meaningful games in the months of March and April.

Best Case Scenario: The Magic are competing for the No. 8 and final playoff spot in the East.

Worst Case Scenario: Another season of less than 30 wins.

Grade: B-

Philadelphia 76ers: 18-64 (4th Atlantic Division; missed playoffs) 12-29 at home, 6-35 on the road.

-92.0 ppg-29th; opp. ppg: 101.0-20th; 42.9 rpg-19th

If there is one thing about professional sports fans in certain cities is that they want to be able to root for a winner and when that opportunity is not there, they have no problem expressing their displeasure via calling to a sports radio station that covers the team, through social media today or through conversations in places like sports bar or with family and friends.

That has certainly been the case in the city of “Brotherly Love” where the hometown Philadelphia 76ers, whose rebuilding process has yet to yield any kind of optimism of better days ahead with the team winning just 19 and 18 games the past two seasons.

To capsule the Sixers terrible 2014-15 season, they lead the league with 41 different starting lineups and 25 different players played for the Sixers a season ago.

Over the last three seasons, only the Magic has suffered more losses at 178 than the Sixers, who have sustained 175 defeats.

To top it all off, they traded away their lead guard and last year’s Rookie of the Year in Michael Carter-Williams to the conference rival Bucks at the trade deadline.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft center Joel Embiid has yet to suit up for the Sixers and will not anytime soon after a second surgery on his foot.

According to reports, Embiid has been uncooperative in his rehabilitation, which is not a good sign.

On top of that, forward Dario Saric, who the Sixers selected with the 12th overall pick in two summers back, is still playing basketball in Europe and is not coming over anytime soon.

In this year’s draft, the Sixers had their eyes on Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell, but he was taken one spot before him at No. 2 by the Lakers.

They did end up with a great pick by selecting center Jahlil Okafor at No. 3 from the National Champion Duke Blue Devils.

In Okafor, the Sixers have a low-post threat who has amazing foot work and in the eyes of many NBA scouts, has the ability to be a player to average 20 points and 10 rebounds for the next several years if everything falls into place.

He should be an excellent complement to third-year forward Nerlens Noel (9.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.9 bpg-Led team), who put it all together in the month of March of his first full season playing after sitting out his rookie season recovering from knee surgery. He averaged 14.3 points, 11.2 boards, 2.1 blocks and 2.4 steals in the next to last month of the season last year.

The addition of Okafor will allow Noel to be more of a weak side defender blocking shots and at the offensive end clean up the boards of his teammates misses.

Along with adding talent via the draft, the Sixers made some solid additions via a trade with the Sacramento Kings acquiring center Jason Thompson, who is now with the Golden State Warriors; Nik Stauskas, the sharp shooting guard second-year; forward Carl Landry (7.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg), who will provide veteran leadership for a young team in serious need of it and a protected future No. 1 pick as well as the right to swap first-round picks with the Kings in 2016 and 2017.

Stauskas, who could not crack the Kings lineup playing behind guard Ben McLemore, will have ample opportunity to get playing time and develop.  

 The new additions along with some of the returning players from a season ago like guard Tony Wroten (16.9 ppg-Led team, 5.2 apg), whose season was cut short because of injury, forwards Robert Covington (13.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg 37.4 3-Pt.%), Jerami Grant (6.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg), guards JaKarr Sampson, Hollis Thompson (8.8 ppg, 40.1 3-Pt.%) and Isaiah Canaan (9.2 ppg, 37.0 3-Pt.%) will get a chance to get on the court for third-year head coach Brett Brown, who has gone 37-127 so far as Sixers head coach.

The question is how long before take for President of Basketball Operations Sam Hinke and O’Neil to bring playoff basketball back to Philly? Time and the fan base is not on their side. So they better turn this current roster and the number of draft picks they have gotten in a number of these trades into players that the team can build with for this so-called bright future. It better happen soon or they will be run out of town.

Best Case Scenario: The Sixers win at least 25 games. Okafor is in contention for Rookie of the Year and he and Noel mesh well together on the court. Some of the new additions emerge as key players for the Sixers going forward.

Worst Case Scenario: The Sixers show no improvement and have five-plus long losing streaks during the season.

Grade: D+

Toronto Raptors: 49-33 (1st Atlantic Division; No. 4 Seed in East) 27-14 at home, 22-19 on the road. Lost to Washington Wizards 4-0 in East Quarterfinals.

-104.0 ppg-4th; opp. ppg: 100.9-19th; 41.5 rpg-26th  

For two straight seasons, the Toronto Raptors have captured the Atlantic Division crown garnering 48 and 49 wins respectably and have open the Quarterfinals with home court advantage.

In both seasons however, they ended in the opening round of the playoffs and the last season’s conclusion was extremely painful as they were swept by the Wizards, who they had their way with in the 2014-15 regular season.

The Wizards in the four-game sweep averaged 110.3 points per game; shot 44.3 percent from three-point range; out-rebounded the Raptors by 9.8 per game and averaged 26.5 assists compared to the Raptors 19.5.

The other major factor was the play of the starting backcourts. The Wizards backcourt of Bradley Beal (20.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.0 apg in the series) and John Wall (17.3 ppg, 10.0 apg in the series), who shot just 38.0 and 38.9 percent respectably outplayed the starting tandem of first time All-Star guard Kyle Lowry (17.8 ppg, 6.8 apg-Led team, 4.7 rpg, 1.6 spg-Led team) and former All-Star DeMar DeRozan (20.1 ppg-Led team, 4.6 rpg, 3.5 apg), who respectably averaged 12.8 and 20.3 points per contest, but shot just 40.0 and 31.6 percent respectably from the field. Lowry just an abysmal 21.7 percent from three-point range after shooting a respectable 33.8 percent from behind the arc in 2014-15.

The Raptors, who were a solid defensive team two years ago were a far cry from that a season ago.

The opposition shot 45.9 percent against them last year, ranking 26th in the league. The Raptors were 21st in rebound differential at -1.0 and ranked just 23rd in block shots per contest at 4.4.

While the Raptors were a solid offensive team, they were at the bottom in assists per game ranking just 22nd overall at 20.7 per contest

This off-season, the Raptors additions were mainly to address the defensive problems and to inability to move the basketball.

The big catch for them was signing their new starting small forward DeMarre Carroll (12.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 48.7 FG%, 39.5 3-Pt.%), who turned his career year in 2014-15 into a four-year $60 million pay day back on July 9. He brings to the hardwood an ability to stretch the floor with his great three-point shooting as well as the ability to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player.

While he may not be a gladiator inside offensively, the addition of Bismack Biyombo (4.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg) for two years at $5.8 million gives the Raptors a capable starter at the power forward position, who can protect the rim on defense and who does not need the ball offensively to be productive.

In the draft this past June, the Raptors selected guard Delon Wright at No. 20 overall out of the University of Utah, who was a defensive terror as a collegian. He also as solid blood lines as he is the brother of veteran sharp shooter Dorell Wright, who is still out there as a free agent.

To address their offensive continuity issues, the Raptors signed fellow Canadian and NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs guard Cory Joseph (6.8 ppg 50.4 FG%, 36.4 3-Pt.%) and veteran forward Luis Scola (9.4 ppg, 46.7 FG%, 6.5 rpg). Both players bring not just their veteran savvy, but they are guys who come from systems whether in the league or playing for their countries national team’s the willingness to move the ball and find the open man.

Even with the new additions to go alongside the role players like James Johnson (7.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Patrick Patterson (8.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 37.1 3-Pt.%), if they cannot get more consistent play from center Jonas Valanciunas (12.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg-Led team, 57.2 FG%) and Terrence Ross (9.8 ppg, 37.2 3-Pt.%), the Raptors will continue to have flame outs in the postseason.

Valanciunas has serious incentive to rise to the moment this season as General Manager Masa Ujiri gave him a four-year $64 million contract extension. With forward Amir Johnson now with the division rival Celtics, the need Valanciunas to be a force on both ends, especially on the boards.

Ross has underperformed the last two postseasons and perhaps being the team’s sixth man may help him become a better player.

One big reason the Raptors should feel optimistic about the 2014-15 season is that Lowry came into camp in the best shape of his life according to reports. That is great news for the Raptors and bad news for the rest of the league.

Before the All-Star break last season, Lowry was averaging 18.6 points, 7.2 assists and 4.8 boards. Following the NBA mid-season classic, Lowry averaged just 15.4 points, 5.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds and his shooting went from 42.3 percent to an atrocious 37.3.

Also DeRozan, who missed 22 games because of injury last season is healthy and will be on his game this season as he will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. 

The Raptors enter this season with new uniforms. A goal of finally winning 50 games or more for the first time in franchise history. A mindset to be more cohesive offensively and more focused on getting stops defensively and to finally get passed the opening round for just the second time in franchise history.    

Best Case Scenario: Finally winning 50 games or more in a season for the first time in franchise history. Lowry and DeRozan both make the All-Star team. Raptors advance to Semifinals and maybe beyond.   

Worst Case Scenario: Another first round exit in postseason.

Grade: B+

Washington Wizards: 46-36 (2nd Southeast Division; No. 5 Seed East) 29-12 at home, 17-24 on the road. Defeated the Toronto Raptors 4-0 in East Quarterfinals. Lost to the Atlanta Hawks 4-2 in East Semifinals.

-98.5 ppg-17th; opp. ppg: 97.8-10th; 44.7 rpg-8th

In the early 2000s, the Washington Wizards were making some serious headway as a perennial playoff participant in the East and seemed on the verge of turning into a title contender.

Since 2005 playoffs where they lost in the Semifinals to the East runner-up Heat, they had three consecutive first-round setbacks to LeBron James and the Cavs losing in six games two of those three times.

In the years that followed, the Wizards missed the playoffs five straight seasons.

Last year they made the playoffs for the second straight seasons and garnered their most wins since the 1978-79 seasons, where they won 54 games and made it to The Finals falling to the then Seattle Supersonics in five games.

Two big reasons why the Wizards made the playoffs and advanced to the Semis for the second straight season was the emergence of their starting backcourt of John Wall (17.6 ppg-Led team, 10.0 apg-2nd NBA, 4.6 rpg, 1.7 spg-Led team), who shot a career-high 44.5 percent from the field and lead all NBA guards and was second overall in the league with 40 double-doubles and Bradley Beal (15.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.1 apg, 40.9 3-Pt.%), who really stepped up in the postseason leading the Wizards with 23.4 points per contest, grabbing 5.5 boards, dishing out 4.6 assists and getting 1.6 steals.

To put the growth of Wall, who has averaged 17.6 points 8.7 assists and 4.4 boards to this point in his career into perspective, the two-time All-Star is only the third player in NBA history to average 17-plus points, eight-plus assists and four-plus rebounds through the first 345 games of their NBA career. The other three to accomplish this feet are Hall of Famers and NBA champions Oscar Robertson (30.2 ppg, 10.5 apg, 10.6 rpg) and Earvin “Magic” Johnson (18.1 ppg, 9.8 apg, 8.4 rpg) and current Clippers All-Star lead guard Chris Paul (19.3 ppg, 9.9 apg, 4.7 rpg).

The big X-factor for the Wizards in their playoff run a season ago was veteran swingman Paul Pierce, who in the postseason averaged 14.6 points on 48.5 percent from the field and 52.4 percent from three-point range.

The heroics of Pierce and the emergence of Beal were especially big in the Semis because Wall out in the middle of the serious due to a hand injury. Pierce in particular lived up to his shot making greatness at the end of games and his game-winning three-pointer off the glass at the buzzer of Game 3 versus the Hawks gave the Wizards a 103-101 win and a 2-1 series lead.

He nearly did it again in Game 6, but his game-tying shot was called off up further review by the official and the Wizards fell 94-91 in Game 6 back on May 15.

It was also the last game for Pierce in a Wizards uniform as he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers as a free agent this summer.

With that veteran leadership no longer in the picture, the Wizards looked to this off-season to replacing the future Hall of Famer by committee and without breaking the bank for it. More on that later.

In free agency, they signed swingman Alan Anderson (7.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 34.8 3-Pt.%) to a one-year $4 million deal for his ability to defend perimeter players as well as his ability to shoot the ball consistently; guard Gary Neal (10.1 ppg), who when with the Spurs in his career was a solid three-point shooter; forward Jared Dudley (7.2 ppg. 46.8 FG%, 38.5 3-Pt.%), who can both forward positions, can stretch the floor and is a solid presence in the locker room and they drafted with the 15th overall pick in this past June’s draft Kelly Oubre, Jr. from University of Kansas Jayhawks.

These new additions will be solid fits alongside the likes of sharp shooter Martell Webster, guards Garrett Temple and Ramon Sessions (7.4 ppg, 3.1 apg, 40.6 3-Pt.%) and center DeJuan Blair.

One person that must step to the forefront with Pierce gone is forward Otto Porter, Jr. (6.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg).

While the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft had a rough rookie season, he did show some flashes in his sophomore season and really came of age in the postseason averaging 10.0 points, shooting 44.3 percent from the field, 37.5 from behind the three-point arc and finishing second on the Wizards in rebounds per contest with eight in 33.1 minutes off the bench.

Entering his third season, it is now or never for the former Georgetown Hoya because they have a talent player in Oubre waiting in the wings.

Along with their great starting backcourt and the new editions on the perimeter, the Wizards have the luxury of having one of the most productive centers in the league in Marcin Gortat (12.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 56.6 FG%) and alongside him is veteran forward Kris Humphries (8.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Nene (11.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Drew Gooden, who the Wizards re-signed to a two-year deal at $6.8 million.

In trying to take that next step in going beyond the second round this season, the Wizards and head coach Randy Wittman, entering his fourth season want to play at a higher tempo.

They still want to maintain their defensive mindset though, where they ranked second only to the World champion Golden State Warriors in opponent’s field goal percentage surrendering just 43.3 percent shooting and they were tied for 4th in the league with the Sacramento Kings in rebound differential at a +3 per game.

While the Wizards finished with the most wins in 25 years, they were 15-21 after Jan. 27.

With the East improving, inconsistency like that is something the Wizards cannot afford if they want to reach the Conference Finals this season.

They also must stay healthy, unlike last season where Beal, Nene, Humphries, Webster and Blair missed a total of 102 games because of injuries.

The other reason for them getting to the next step is that in the summer of 2016, they might have a serious chance in signing All-Star and 2014 MVP Kevin Durant as he is scheduled to become a free agent.

On top of that, Beal is set to be a free agent at season’s end as well. He told NBATV’s Vince Cellini at the start of training camp back in October that he will not let that be a distraction.  

Best Case Scenario: Wizards win over 50 games for the first time since 1978-79 season. Contend for the Southeast Division and reach the Conference Finals for first time since aforementioned 1978-79.

Worst Case Scenario: They are a lower seed in the postseason and they have another exit in the Semis.   

Grade: B

Western Conference

Dallas Mavericks: 50-32 (4th Southwest Division; No. 7 Seed West) 27-14 at home, 23-18 on the road. Lost Houston Rockets 4-1 in West Quarterfinals.

-105.2 ppg-3rd; opp. ppg: 102.3-25th; 42.3 rpg-23rd  

In a little over 15 seasons since current owner and billionaire tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban strolled into “Big D,” the Dallas Mavericks have won 50 games or more in 12 of the last 15 years. Two Southwest Division titles and they won the NBA title in 2010-11 defeating the Miami Heat in six games.

Since winning it all however, the Mavs have tried to keep their salary cap down to attract a big name player to help them win another title.

After not being able to snag the likes of Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and LeBron James to name a few, they felt they finally hit the jackpot in signing DeAndre Jordan away from the Clippers by selling him on the idea that he would become a major piece of their offense and the anchor of their defense.

In the 11th hour before free agent could sign to their new team in the early part of July, Jordan decided to stay with the Clippers and the Mavs were once again the brides made in free agency.

By putting all their eggs into one basket in trying to sign Jordan, the Mavericks said goodbye to some key members of their team as season ago and the last two seasons in forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson; center Tyson Chandler; guard Monta Ellis and forward/center Amar’e.

This is especially considering what is ahead for them this season in the unforgiving Western Conference and how the 2014-15 season concluded for them.

Prior to their acquisition of All-Star guard Rajon Rondo from the Celtics on Dec. 18, 2014, the Mavericks were 19-8, averaging 110.1 points per game on 48.1 percent shooting from the field. In the 55 games with Rondo in the line-up during the regular season, the Mavs went just 31-24, scoring 102.8 points and shooting just an average 45.4 percent from the floor.

Things really came to ahead for Rondo after Mavs lost Game 2 of the Quarterfinals at the Rockets 111-99 back on Apr. 21. Rondo, who scored just four points and had just one assists and was plagued by foul trouble the entire contest, walked around nearly 30 reporters in the locker room after the game.

Mavs’ head coach Rick Carlisle in his postgame presser was in no mood to talk about Rondo and showed his displeasure when asked about the effort he displayed in the game.

“You can ask him that question,” Carlisle said after the loss. “All I know… is that we need everybody at their competitive best. This isn’t about one guy who did or didn’t play.”

That essentially was the end of Rondo’s time with the Mavericks and he is now with the Kings. 

There average offense really exposed their deficiencies at the defensive end, where the Mavericks were tied for 15th in field goal percentage allowed at 45.0 percent. Teams shot 36.4 percent from three-point range against the Mavericks, ranking 26th in the league. They were 23rd in rebound differential at a -3.8.

The one area they were good defensively is getting steals were they were tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves for 9th in the league at 8.1 and they were tied for 3rd with the Warriors and Houston Rockets for turnovers forced at 15.5 per game.

When Jordan got away from the Mavs, they went into scramble mode to rebuild this roster and still maintain their cap space.

They were able to re-sign guard J.J. Barea (7.5 ppg, 3.4 apg) to a new four-year %16 million deal and forward Charlie Villanueva one-year veteran minimum of $947,000. Reserve guard Raymond Felton opted in on his contract this off-season, giving the Mavs that three-headed monster at the lead guard spot with Barea and Devin Harris (8.8 ppg, 35.7 3-Pt.%)

In free agency they signed center Samuel Dalembert to a one-year $1.4 million deal; forward Jeremy Evans to a two-year $3.3 million deal; swingman John Jenkins (5.6 ppg, 49.5 FG%, 40. 3-Pt.%); centers ZaZa Pachulia (8.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg) to a one-year $5.2 million deal and JaVale McGee.

The Mavs two big gets in free agency were sharp shooting and perimeter defensive ace Wesley Matthews to a four-year $70 million deal, (15.9 ppg, 44.8 FG%, 38.9 3-Pt.%), but is questionable to start this season on time as he is still recovering from a torn Achilles that cost him the final 22 games of the last season when he was with the Portland Trail Blazers and guard Deron Williams for two years at $11 million (13.0 ppg, 6.6 apg, 36.7 3-Pt.%), who when a free agent a couple of seasons back was on Dallas’ radar and is trying to re start his career after being bought out by the Nets earlier this summer.

Just four seasons ago, Williams was one of the top lead guards in “The Association” averaging 21.0 points, 8.7 assists and getting to the free throw line 5.5 times.

In the years that have followed, Williams has averaged 18.9, 14.3 and 13.0 points and has gotten to the foul line an average of 4.7, 3.4 and 3.5 per contest respectably in those seasons.

Injuries have been a big reason for his low production and he has been on the mend for much of this pre-season because of a calf injury

Two big questions with the Mavericks coming into this season is will last season’s prized free agent in forward Chandler Parsons (15.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 46.2 FG%, 38.0 3-Pt.%) who was shelved most of the playoffs a season ago because of a mysterious knee problem be ready when their season begins and how much does All-Star forward and future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki (17.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 45.9 FG%, 38.0 3-Pt.%), have left in the tank?

To put the amazing career of 2007 MVP into perspective, he is the 7th leading scorer in the history of the NBA entering this season having put in 28,119 points and stand just 477 points from moving past future Hall of Famer and current NBA on TNT studio analyst Shaquille O’Neal into 6th place trailing the late great Wilt Chamberlin (31,419); six-time champion and Hornets owner Michael Jordan (32,292); Lakers’ guard Kobe Bryant (32,482) and six-time MVP, multiple NBA champion and UCLA Bruin legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387).

Nowitzki is one of four players to score 27,000 points or more with one team, joining the aforementioned Jordan, Malone and Bryant.

Also, Nowitzki has 15 seasons where he has scored over 1,000 points, which ranks 5th in NBA history.   

With one more victory this upcoming season, Carlisle will tie former Mavs’ head coach Don Nelson for the most wins in team history with 339 and with another victory he will pass him.

One thing that the NBA will teach you is that staying a contender is very hard to do. Not a lot of teams and the great players or the coaches and owners that lead them can say they have a chance to close their career with a legitimate chance at a title.

On paper, the Mavericks have a look of a team that can win 45 games or more and get into the playoffs. They also have the look of a team that could miss the postseason entirely for the first time since the 2012-13 season, when they won 41 games.

Nowitzki, Cuban and Carlisle together have taken the Mavs to amazing heights. It is a shame that they will not have that chance to win another title with the ways things are now.

Best Case Scenario: The Mavs win 45 games or more and are a lower seed in the West playoff picture. Some of the new additions revive their careers and are key cogs in the Mavs success.

Worst Case Scenario: The Mavs miss the playoffs for just the third time since the 1999-00 season.

Grade: D-

Denver Nuggets: 30-52 (4th Northwest Division; missed playoffs) 19-22 at home, 11-30 on the road.

-101.5 ppg-12th; opp. ppg: 105.0-27th; 44.7 rpg-7th

In what has become the rugged West, being able to make the playoffs for 10 straight seasons is a wonderful accomplishment. That is what the Denver Nuggets did from the 2003-04 seasons to the 2012-13 season.

The 2012-13 was the franchise’s best record in NBA team history as they went 57-25 under the guidance of George Karl. They were the No. 3 Seed in the West, but were eliminated in the first round by the up and coming Warriors, who two seasons later captured the NBA title.

Despite winning Coach of the Year and leading the Nuggets to their ninth straight postseason appearance on his watch, Karl, now with the Kings was let go. They also said goodbye to their general manager Masai Ujiri, who is now with the Raptors as their GM.

The Nuggets hired long-time assistant and former Kings’ head coach Mike Malone back on June 15, making him their third head coach in as many seasons.

In this past June’s draft, the Nuggets selected the top lead guard of the 2015 class Emmanuel Mudiay at the No. 7 spot.

The selection of Mudiay made it clear that the days of starting lead guard Ty Lawson, who had a great season last year, but his second off-the-court arrest on July 14 on the suspicion of driving under the influence in the last six months made him expendable.

One week later, Lawson was traded to the Houston Rockets, who received in return forward/center Joey Dorsey, guard Nick Johnson and forward Kostas Papanikolau.

For most teams that are rebuilding, getting veterans to either join up or stay if they were a part of the team prior is very difficult. They would rather go elsewhere and be a part of a more stable situation.

The Nuggets were able to keep some of their key vets in re-signing forward Darrell Arthur (6.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg); guards Will Barton (11.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and Jameer Nelson (9.6 ppg, 3.7 apg, 45.0 FG%, 35.4 3-Pt.%) at three years at $10.5 million and $13.5 million respectably and forwards Danilo Gallinari (12.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 35.5 3-Pt.%) for three years at $45 million and Wilson Chandler (13.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 34.2 3-Pt.%) for four years at $46 million.

Getting a new contract is especially gratifying for Gallinari, who sustained a very serious ACL injury late in the 2012-13 season and it has been a long road back for him. On Mar. 22, he scored a career-high 40 points going 12 for 21 from the field, including 6 for 13 from three-point range and 10 for 11 from the foul line in leading the Nuggets to a 119-100 victory at the Magic. Gallinari also had seven boards, four assists three steals and two blocks.

He scored a new career-high 47 points on Apr. 10 with nine boards going 15 for 23 from the floor, including 7 for 12 from three-point land and 10 for 10 from the foul line in the Nuggets 144-143 double-overtime loss versus the Mavericks. 

Still in the fold for the Nuggets is forward J.J. Hickson (7.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and veteran guard Randy Foye (8.7 ppg, 35.7 3-Pt.%).

The Nuggets also signed this off-season veteran sharp shooter and NBA champion Mike Miller.

Two other players the Nuggets are expecting big things from this season are second-year guards Erick Green and Gary Harris. Second-year center Jusuf Nurkic (6.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg), who showed flashes of being a real presence on both ends a season ago.

One Nugget that has to get back on track this season is forward Kenneth Faried (12.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg).

In his first three seasons, the 22nd overall pick in the 2011 draft used his ability to run the court and make plays out of sheer hustle and want to and that earned him a spot on the 2014 FIBA World Cup Basketball Team and he helped them capture Gold and was named to the All-Tournament team.

Back on Dec. 26, 2014, Faried scored 26 points and grabbed a career-high 25 boards in helping the Nuggets to a 106-102 win versus the Timberwolves.

If Faried wants to become a top notch NBA players, he has to develop a post-up game, develop a 10 to 15 foot perimeter shot and shoot better from the charity stripe than he has for his career at 65.4 percent.

There are talented players in place for the Nuggets to be optimistic about their future. For this season they will experience some growing pains with a rookie at the steering wheel of the offense in Mudiay. A head coach implementing a new system that is predicated on playing better defense and getting in the open court.

Speaking of that swish cheese defense, the Nuggets were just 25th in opponent’s field goal percentage giving up 45.8 percent shooting. Despite garnering a lot of boards per contest a season ago, the Nuggets were just 18th in rebound differential at -0.4 and just 21st in block shots per contest at 4.5.

For this team to get back to its roots of becoming a high up-tempo team that gets up and down, their defense must get better and that will take time.

Best Case Scenario: The Nuggets win more than 30 games and Mudiay is in the running for Rookie of the Year. They get better defensively and become a solid home team.

Worst Case Scenario: They do not get better defensively and Mudiay becomes turnover prone.

Grade: C+

Golden State Warriors: 67-15 (1st Pacific Division; No. 1 Seed in West) 39-2 at home, 28-13 on the road. Defeated New Orleans Pelicans 4-0 in West Quarterfinals. Defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 4-2 in West Semifinals. Defeated the Houston Rockets 4-1 in West Finals. Defeated Cleveland Cavaliers 4-2 in NBA Finals.

-110.0 ppg-1st; opp. ppg: 99.9-15th; 44.7 rpg-6th

It is one thing to have optimism about a team as a fan or as an analyst. It is another thing to have optimism about your team’s chances of competing for a title as an organization, especially as management.

After a tough finish in the 2014 playoffs where they lost to their hated division rival the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games, the Golden State Warriors and General Manager Bob Myers, the 2015 NBA Executive of the Year, owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber decided back on May 6, 2014 to fire then head coach Mark Jackson, who compiled a 121-109 record in resurrecting the team as a perennial loser and turning them into yearly playoff participant and borderline title contender.

In a bold move, the Warriors hired five-time champion with the Bulls and Spurs and former president and general manager of the Phoenix Suns from 2007-2010 Steve Kerr.

For many in the circles of the NBA, this was a huge gamble for a team that was on the rise.

Well the gamble worked as the Warriors garnered not just the best record in the NBA, but they reach a new franchise record for wins and captured their first division title in 39 years. Combined with their 16 victories in the 2015 postseason, the 83 Warriors wins a season ago was the third highest single season total in the history of the NBA.

Starting lead guard Stephen Curry (23.8 ppg-6th NBA, 7.7 apg-Led team, 2.0 spg-4th NBA, 48.7 FG%, 44.3 3-Pt.%) not only made the his second straight All-Star team, he became the first Warrior player to be named Most Valuable Player of the league since Wilt Chamberlin did it back in the 1959-60 NBA season). He really showed he was the MVP with his play in the playoffs averaging 28.3 points, 6.4 assists and 1.9 steals 21 postseason games on 45.6 percent from the floor and 42.2 percent from three-point range.

His fellow backcourt mate and the other have of “The Splash Brothers,” Klay Thompson (21.7 ppg, 46.3 FG%, 43.9 3-Pt.%) made his first All-Star game back in February, who too had a great playoff run with averages of 18.6 points on 44.6 percent from the floor and 39.0 percent from three-point territory.

The Warriors greatest season ever was the result the emergence of their stellar backcourt and of several players.

Former 2012 second-round pick, 35th overall out of Michigan State in forward Draymond Green (11.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg-Led team, 3.7 apg, 1.6 spg) had a break out season and in the playoffs, which he also finished second in voting for Defensive Player of the Year. He really took it up a notch in the playoffs with averages of 13.7 points, 10.1 boards, 5.2 assists and 1.8 steals. His energy and grit were on full display game in and game out and earned him a new five-year $82 million contract this summer.

Two other key cogs in the Warriors machine were forward Harrison Barnes (10.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 48.2 FG%, 40.5 3-Pt.%), who had a bounce third season after a rough sophomore season and Marreese Speights (10.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 49.2 FG%), who provided inside scoring off the bench all season long.

While by the numbers they might not have provided much, the contributions of forward David Lee, guards Shaun Livingston (5.9 ppg, 3.3 apg), Leandro Barbosa (7.1 ppg, 38.4 3-Pt.%), swingman Andre Iguodala (7.8 ppg), who won MVP of The Finals, centers Festus Ezeli and Andrew Bogut (6.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg-Led team), they were very important to the Warriors success on both ends.

The Warriors despite being primarily a team that scores from the perimeter led the NBA in assists per game at 27.4; field goal percentage and three-point percentage at 47.8 percent at 39.8 percent. They finished second in makes from distance at 10.8 and fourth in attempts at 27.0.

They were a chore for opponents to be effective against offensively leading “The Association” in opponent’s field goal percentage giving up just 42.8 percent. Finishing 5th in opponent’s three-point percentage surrendering just 33.7 percent shooting. Only the New Orleans Pelicans averaged more block shots per contest than the Warriors a season ago with 6.0 swats. The Warriors averaged 9.3 steals per game, finishing 4th in the league and they were tied for third with the Rockets and Mavericks in forced turnovers per contest at 15.5.

By their 16-5 record in the playoffs last season capturing the franchise’s fourth title in franchise history and its first since 1975, you would think their journey to the top of the NBA was easy. It was far from it.

In Game 3 of the opening round at the Pelicans back on Apr. 23, the Warriors overcame a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 123-119 in overtime.

Curry lead the way with 40 points, hitting seven three-pointers, including one in the closing second of regulation to send the game into the extra frame. Thompson had 28 points, hitting six trifectas. Green had 12 points, 17 boards, five assists and three steals. Barnes had 11 points and seven boards.

After beating the Grizzlies rather handily in Game 1 of the Semis back on May 3, the Warriors lost Game 2 and Game 3 in Memphis to fall behind in the series 2-1. In both contest, the Warriors managed just 90 and 89 points and shot just 41.9 and 43.2 percent respectably.

There were a lot of questions about the Warriors resolve, especially because they rarely lost two straight games during the regular season. They responded in a major way capturing Games 4, 5 and 6 to close out the series winning in their two visits to the FedEx Forum. The Warriors scored 101, 98 and 108 points in the final three games of the series and held the Grizzlies to 37.5 39.8 and 37.4 percent shooting respectably.

After capturing Game 1 of The Finals versus the Cavs 108-100 in overtime back on June 4, the Warriors dropped Game 2 and Game 3 in Cleveland to fall behind 2-1.

They responded again taking the final three games scoring 103, 104 and 105 respectably and they held the depleted Cavaliers to an average of 90 points in those final three games.

One big adjustment that the Warriors made in those final three games is starting Iguodala playing alongside Barnes, Green, Curry and Thompson in the starting quintet. Going to that smaller lineup and having Iguodala guarding James worked to perfection and Iguodala earned aforementioned MVP honors of The Finals averaging, 16.3 points, 5.8 boards, four assists on 52.1 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from three-point range. In the final three games of the series, Iguodala scored 22, 14 and 25 points respectably.

While much of the team that hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy this past June is back to try and defend the title, the Warriors said goodbye to Lee this off-season trading him to the Celtics and swingman Justin Holiday signed with the Hawks.

They acquired forward/center Jason Thompson (6.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg) from the Sixers to replace Lee. They re-signed Barbosa and Speights to one-year deals and guard Brandon Rush opted in on his contract. In the draft this past June, the Warriors selected forward Kevin Looney with the No. 30 overall pick.

The Warriors in their quest to repeat as champions will do it without coach Kerr, who is out indefinitely after complications from back surgery. Leading the way on an interim basis will be assistant coach Luke Walton, the son of Hall of Famer and longtime NBA analyst Bill Walton.

Yes they might have won the title in an unconventional way by shooting jump shots, especially three-pointers, they still did the other key things to capture the title in 2014-15.

While their counterparts in the league, especially in the West have gotten better, the Warriors are still the champs until someone takes their crown and that will not come easy.

Best Case Scenario: The Warriors win at least 55 games again. Are in the Top 3 in the West and they make it back to The Finals and win it.

Worst Case Scenario: They lose early in the playoffs.

Grade: A

Houston Rockets: 56-26 (1st Southwest Division; No. 2 Seed in West) 30-11 at home, 26-15 on the road. Defeated the Dallas Mavericks 4-1 in West Quarterfinals. Defeated the Los Angeles Clipper 4-3 in West Semifinals. Lost to Golden State Warriors 4-1 West Finals.

-103.9 ppg-6th; opp. ppg: 100.5-17th; 43.7 rpg-14th

Last season marked the 20-year Anniversary of the Rockets back-to-back titles, with the back end of it coming as the No. 6 Seed, the lowest for a title team. They also on the back end of it became the first team in NBA history to defeat four teams (Utah Jazz: 60 wins; Phoenix Suns: 59; Spurs: 62; Magic: 57) that won 50 games or more in the regular season.

The 2014-15 version of the Rockets won their first division title since the 1993-94 season where they captured the then Midwest Division for the second straight season. Their 56 wins were the third best in franchise history and their most since 2007-08, where they won 55 games.

This achievement is incredible considering the fact that starting center Dwight Howard (15.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg), forwards Donatas Motiejunas (12.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 50.4 FG%, 36.8 3-Pt.%) and Terrence Jones (11.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.8 bpg-Led team) and starting lead guard Patrick Beverly (10.1 ppg, 35.6 3-Pt.%) missed a total 101 games because of injury.

One huge reason for the Rockets won as many games as they did was All-Star guard James Harden (27.4 ppg-2nd NBA, 5.7 rpg, 7.0 apg-Led team, 1.9 spg-Led team, 37.5 3-Pt.%),  turning from a great player into an MVP candidate.

He recorded four of his six career triple-doubles in 2014-15, all in Rocket victories. He registered 33 30-point games a season ago. Nine 40-point games and two 50-point games, which made him the Rocket to do so in the same season. His second 50-plus point performance came back on Apr. 1 when he scored a career-high 51 points, going 16 for 25 from the field, including hitting 8 for 9 from three-point land and going 11 for 13 from the free throw line in leading the Rockets to a 115-11 win versus the Sacramento Kings. Harden also had eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.

Along with the great play of Harden, who finished second in MVP race to Stephen Curry of the Warriors and became the first Rocket to reach the All-Star Game three straight seasons in succession since center Yao Ming (2003-09), the Rockets received major contributions from forwards Trevor Ariza (12.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.9 spg, 35.0 3-Pt.%), Josh Smith and swingman Corey Brewer (11.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg).

They Rockets besides the great play from Harden and the supporting cast, the Rockets had a style of play of shooting a tone of three-pointers, getting to the foul line consistently, scoring on fast breaks and force a lot of turnovers.

While they ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of three-point percentage at 34.8 percent, ranking 14th in the league, they led “The Association” in makes at 11.4 and in attempts at 32.7.

Only the Kings attempted more foul shots per contest a season ago than the Rockets, who attempted 26.0, however they were 27th in percentage at 71.5 percent.

Harden lead the NBA in foul shot attempts in 2014-15 at 10.2 per contest and makes per game at 8.8 and shot 86.8 percent.

Last season, the Rockets finished 2nd in the league in fast break points with 18.7 per contest.

Entering the 2015 playoffs, the Rockets were trying to erase the memory of being ousted by the Portland Trail Blazers a season ago where in Game 6, lead guard Damian Lillard hit a three-pointer at the horn that ended the Rockets season in six games.

The Rockets entered the 2015 postseason without Beverly and Motiejunas because of season-ending injuries.

They made short work of their in-state and division rivals from Dallas as they took care of the Mavs in five games.

In the Semis, they played like they were overmatched as the Clippers took three of the first four games and the Clippers scored over 100 points in each one and won Game 4 128-95 back on May 10.

The Rockets kept their season alive 48 hours later as they defeated the Clippers in Game 5 124-103 behind the first career playoff triple-double by Harden, who had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists to cut the series lead 3-2.

In Game 6 however, it seemed like the Rockets magical carpet ride of 2014-15 was about to come to a crashing halt as they trailed at one point in the second half by 19.

Thanks to 29 combined fourth quarter points by Smith and Brewer, the Rockets exploded in the final period outscoring the Clippers 40-15 and garnering a 119-107 win to tie the series 3-3.

Brewer, who finished with 19 points, 15 of them coming in the final stanza also had 10 rebounds. Harden, who was on the bench much of the final period led the way with 23 points and Howard had 20 points, 21 rebounds and two blocks.

The Rockets became the ninth team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit to win a series when they defeated the Clippers in Game 7 113-100 back at the Toyota Center in Houston, TX.

Harden led the Rockets with 31 points to go along with eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals. Ariza had 22 points, hitting 6 for 12 from three-point range and grabbing seven boards. Howard had 16 points and 15 rebounds. Smith and Brewer, who were big in Game 6 had 15 and 11 points respectably.

The Rockets great playoff ride ended one round later as the eventual NBA champion Warriors beat them in five games in the Conference Finals.

In the Rockets loan victory 128-115 over the Warriors in Game 4 on May 25, Harden, who had an awful Game 3 had a playoff career-high of 45 points going 13 for 22 from the floor, including 7 for 11 from three-point territory and 12 for 13 from the charity stripe. He also had nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks in cutting the series deficit to 3-1.

Harden went through the lowest of the lows 48 hours later as he had just 14 points, connecting on just 2 for 11 from the field and committing an NBA-playoff record 13 turnovers as the Rockets fell in Game 5 104-90.

While the Rockets took a major step in trying to win another title “Clutch-City,” it was clear that they needed to make a couple of key additions to their roster, especially at point guard.

Their search for a new lead guard led them to the Rocky Mountains as they acquired Ty Lawson (15.2 ppg, 9.6 apg-3rd NBA, 34.1 3-Pt.%) from the Nuggets for forward/center Joey Dorsey, guard Nick Johnson and Pablo Prigioni, who is now with the Clippers and forward Kostas Papanikolau.  

The addition of Lawson gives the Rockets one of the more solid lead guards in the business and he will take much needed pressure off of Harden to be the facilitator at the offensive end for the Rockets.

The big thing for Lawson is that he must maintain his composer and make better decisions away from the court.

Hopefully his rehab stint for his issues with alcohol has made him see the light and that he capitalizes on the he has in front of him to be with a winning organization that is competing for a championship.

The Rockets re-signed Beverly to a four-year $25 million deal. They also re-signed Brewer to a three-year $24 million deal and forward K.J. McDaniels, who they acquired at the trade deadline back on Feb. 19 from the Sixers for three years at $10 million.

In free agency, the Rockets signed veteran guard Marcus Thornton (7.9 ppg, 37.8 3-Pt.%), who will give them another shooter, who can come into the game off the bench and provide instant offense.

In this past June’s draft, they selected forward Sam Dekker with the No. 18 pick out of Wisconsin and with the No. 32 overall pick selected forward Montrezl Harrell out of Louisville. 

Dekker gives the Rockets another athletic forward who can score in the open court, but he must improve his perimeter shot if he expects to get on the floor. Harrell, who was a rugged front court player in his collegiate career for head coach Rick Pitino.

Head coach Kevin McHale in his time with the Rockets rarely has relied on rookie in his rotation, so an improvement from the Rockets will most likely come from the returning aforementioned rotation players, which also includes forward/center Clint Capela, who in the month of March last season averaged eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes.

In year three of the Howard-Harden combination, it is now or never for them to lead the Rockets to a title. They now have a true starting lead guard; a solid supporting cast and the experience. It is now or never for this team to make a push at winning a title.

Best Case Scenario: Rockets win over 50 games again. Are a Top 3 Seed in the West and make it back to the Conference Finals.

Worst Case Scenario: They finish in the middle of the pack in the West or are a lower playoff seed. Fall in the Semifinals.

Grade: A

Los Angeles Clippers: 56-26 (2nd Pacific Division; No. 5 Seed in West) 30-11 at home, 26-15 on the road. Defeated San Antonio Spurs 4-3 in West Quarterfinals. Lost Houston Rockets 4-3 in West Semifinals

-106.7 ppg-2nd; opp. ppg: 100.1-16th; 42.6 rpg-20th

The last three regular seasons have been stellar for the other basketball team in the “City of Angels.” Three straight playoff appearances unfortunately have ended short of expectations and last season’s conclusion was a tough one to swallow.

The Rockets as mentioned earlier became the ninth team to win a series after trailing 3-1 as they won the final three games of the Semis to overtake the Clippers 4-3.

It almost went from bad to worse as starting center DeAndre Jordan was on the verge of leaving the team in free agency to sign with the Mavericks after agreeing to a new deal during the moratorium period of free agency in early July.

The Clippers thankfully got back into the mix lead by head coach and GM Glenn “Doc” Rivers, All-Star duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and owner Steve Balmer and they were able to re-sign Jordan (11.5 ppg, 15.0 rpg-Led NBA, 2.2 bpg-4th NBA, 71.0 FG%-Led NBA) to a new four-year $87.6 million deal.

They re-signing of Jordan not only saved their off-season, correcting the grade of “F” given by starting shooting guard J.J. Redick, it kept their window of winning title open.

The Clippers two other main priorities this off-season was to rebuild their bench, which only got consistency from Sixth Man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford (15.8 ppg) and bring in a small forward to compliment the starting five of Griffin (21.9 ppg-Led team, 7.6 rpg, 5.3 apg), Paul (19.1 ppg, 10.2 apg-Led NBA, 1.9 spg-5th NBA), Redick (16.4 ppg, 47.7 FG%, 43.7 3-Pt.%).

They traded center Spencer Hawes, who was a major disappointment last season to the Hornets and acquired guard Lance Stephenson (8.2 ppg, 3.9 apg, 4.5 rpg), who is looking to put a nightmare of a season behind him.

The only issue that Stephenson had in his career with the Pacers was his antics on the court. For much of last season, he was on his best behavior, but his play on the court was abysmal as he tied a career-low of 37.6 percent from the field, 17.1 percent from three-point range and 62.7 percent from the free throw line.

The Clippers were also able to sign future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce (11.9 ppg, 44.7 FG%, 38.9 3-Pt.%) to a three-year $10 million deal. Pierce is not only coming home not too far from where he grew up, but he reunites with a head coach that thinks the same way as he does and that helped bring a title back to the Celtics eight seasons ago. They hope to bring the Clippers franchise their first title in franchise history.

With the addition of Pierce, the Clips not only have their likely starting small forward, they have a shot maker that will take the pressure off of Paul and Griffin at the end of close games. Just look at this past year’s playoffs and what Pierce did for the Wizards. Whenever a big shot was needed, Pierce took them and made them.

The addition of Josh Smith (12.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg), to a one-year $1.5 million contract, gives the Clippers an athletic forward who can score, be a player maker for other and block shots as a weak side defender. The key for him is to stay within the system and not shot too many three-pointers

Rounding out the bench for the Clippers are new additions in forward Wesley Johnson (9.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 35.1 3-Pt.%) and center Cole Aldrich (5.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg), who each signed for two years at $2.3 million; for two years at $2.3 million; guard Pablo Prigioni for one-year at $947,000 and guard Austin Rivers (7.1 ppg), who re-signed for two years at $6.4 million.

The Clippers fell short in their drive for a title because of a lack of a legitimate threat from the perimeter and a second unit that can spell the starters. The Clippers addressed all those issues this off-season and while it seemed like Jordan was about to slip from their grasp, they were able to re-sign him and in the process he and Paul seemed to have put any rift they had between themselves to rest.

Yes the West has gotten even tougher, but the Clippers have as good a chance to win not just the Conference, but the title. It is up to them. If not now, when?

Best Case Scenario: The Clippers are a Top 3 team in the West and finally reach the Conference Finals and then the NBA Finals. The supporting cast puts the team’s needs first instead of their own.

Worst Case Scenario: Another playoff collapse that might break up the core of the Clippers.

Grade: A+

Los Angeles Lakers: 21-61 (5th Pacific Division; missed playoffs) 12-29 at home, 9-32 on the road.

-98.5 ppg-19th; opp. ppg: 105.3-29th; 43.9 rpg-12th

In a perfect world, the Lakers would be entering this season as one where the Lakers would be talked about as a serious contender for the NBA title and future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant would be working on catching the great Michael Jordan for ring number six.

Unfortunately, legendary careers like Bryant (22.3 ppg-Led team, 5.6 apg-Led team, 5.7 rpg) do not always have the greatest of endings like Spurs Hall of Famer David Robinson, who walked off into the sunset in 2003 with his second title.

Coming into the 2015-16 NBA campaign, the Lakers season will most likely be a fair well salute to Bryant, who had his season conclude because of an injury again, missing last 47 games because of a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder that required surgery.

Also, the Lakers were unable to make any minor additions this past off-season, instead of a big time championship contending addition. The moves they made are ones that hopefully will pay dividends down the road, but do nothing in getting Bryant, who is in the final year of a two-year $48 million deal, another crack at winning a championship.

With the No. 2 overall pick in this past June’s draft, the Lakers selected guard D’Angelo Russell out of Ohio State. They hope that the talented and confident Russell, who has shown amazing maturity and great court vision in the early part of his career, is worth the pick, especially when they passed on center Jahlil Okafor of the National Champion Duke Blue Devils and also the opportunity to trade down to collect multiple aspects.

Russell at times this season will share the backcourt with Jordan Clarkson (11.9 ppg, 3.5 apg, 44.8 FG%), who was big time surprise a season ago. His play was the only shining light on a season where there was very little to cheer about if you were a Laker fan.

They also in the draft back selected with the No. 27 overall pick forward Larry Nance, Jr. out of Wyoming, who is the father of former Phoenix Sun and Cleveland Cavalier forward Larry Nance, Sr.

In free agency, the Lakers were able to sign last year’s Sixth Man of the Year in guard Lou Williams (15.5 ppg) for three-years at $21 million and he will provide insurance in the case the team decides to either trade Nick Young (13.4 ppg, 36.9 3-Pt.%) before this season concludes or they let him walk next summer as a free agent. They also added another solid player in forward Brandon Bass (10.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 50.4 FG%) for two-years at $6.1 million. The addition of Metta World Peace will provide another veteran voice in the locker room and if anything will be someone that will stand up to Bryant when things go south this season will be a voice that will keep him from exploding on the young players

While Julius Randle is not a newcomer, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2014 draft had his season conclude in the first game of the season with a broken leg back on Oct. 28 versus the Rockets.  

This season is very important for the Lakers in a lot of ways. For starters, they need to see if Russell, Randle, Clarkson are the pillars of a nucleus that will lead the Lakers back to their winning ways. They also need to find out if the likes of center Tarik Black (7.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg), forwards Ryan Kelly (6.4 ppg) and Nance Jr., Williams and Bass can be the supporting cast that can complement the young players.

Competing for a playoff spot, even in the tough and rugged West is a lot to ask. If this is the last hurrah for Bryant, not competing to get into the postseason is not how he would want to go out as a Laker, if this is it for him.

Best Case Scenario: Lakers win over 30 games. Play much better defense. The young players play consistent and show flashes of greatness and Bryant stays healthy all season.

Worst Case Scenario: Another rough season that includes a high number of losing streaks. The young players have more low points than high ones and Bryant is shelved early again because of injury and like ends his career.     

Grade: D+

Memphis Grizzlies: 55-27 (2nd Southwest Division; No. 5 Seed in West) 31-10 at home, 24-17 on the road. Defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 4-1 in West Quarterfinals. Lost to Golden State Warriors 4-2 in West Semifinals.

-98.3 ppg-20th; opp. ppg: 95.1-2nd; 42.6 rpg-21st

Since the 2010-11 season, only the Spurs (.726), the Oklahoma City Thunder (.675), Miami Heat (.662) and Bulls (.647) have had a better winning percentage than the Grizzlies.

The great difference in the Grizzlies from the other four squadrons is that the Spurs and the Heat have won championships in this span. The Thunder have made it to The NBA Finals and have appeared in another Conference Finals twice. The Grizzlies and the Bulls have only made it as far as the Conference Finals.

Last season, the Grizzlies led the eventual NBA champion Warriors 2-1 in the Semis, but a scoring output of 86 points the final three games doomed them and they lost the series 4-2.

This off-season, the Grizzlies had one main priority, re-sign All-Star center Marc Gasol (17.4 ppg-Led team, 7.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.6 bpg-Led team) which they did to the tune of five years at $110 million. He earned every bit of that money, especially with his stellar season in 2014-15 where he scored 20 points or more 27 times. He had scored 20 points just 17 times in the previous 436 games entering last season. In the playoffs, Gasol was sensational leading the Grizzlies at 19.7 points, 10.3 boards and 1.7 blocks, while also dishing out 4.5 assists.  

He rejoins his front court mate Zach Randolph (16.1 ppg, 10.5 rpg-Led team 48.7 FG%), who finished 11th in the league a season ago in double-doubles with 38.

Keeping the dynamic frontcourt duo together, the Grizzlies also chose to stick to their “Grit and Grind” identity that puts an emphasis of posting up Gasol and Randolph at the offensive end and deny penetration and be pest on the perimeter at the defensive end.

In an era of pace, space and small ball, the Grizzlies are the type of team that the likes of the Warriors fear because they give you nothing easy and force you to play their game.

The Grizzlies biggest issue is scoring, especially on the perimeter, where they were tied for 22nd in three-point percentage at 33.9 percent and were next to last in three-point connections a season ago at 5.2.

Those issue on the perimeter limited the efficiency of Gasol and Randolph in the playoffs as they shot just 39 and 42 percent respectably from the field.

The team tried to address this last season with the additions of Vince Carter (5.8 ppg), who is not the same player as he was in the early stages of his career and shot just 29.7 percent from long range and 33.3 percent overall a season ago.

Guard Courtney Lee (10.1 ppg, 44.8 FG%, 40.2 3-Pt.%) did his part, but not by much and forward Jeff Green (15.0 ppg), who was acquired last season from the Celtics and who opted in on his contract this summer had his moments, but was very inconsistent, especially in the postseason where he averaged just 8.9 points on 43.9 percent shooting and just 34.2 percent from three-point land.

It all came ahead in the aforementioned Semis when the Warriors elected to give swingman Tony Allen (8.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.1 spg-3rd NBA), the Grizzlies’ best perimeter defender was left open to shoot jump shots and more often than not he did not connect and that ended the Grizzlies title hopes.

The Grizzlies tried again to address their perimeter shooting problems by acquiring forward Matt Barnes (10.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 36.2 3-Pt.%) from the Hornets.

While they get another intimidator and enforcer on their squad, the Grizzlies need Barnes to be a consistent shoot maker, especially from three-point range.

With the exits of center Kosta Koufos in free agency and forward Jon Leuer via a trade to the Phoenix Suns, the Grizzlies needed more front court depth.

They signed Brandan Wright (7.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) for three years at $18 million dollars. He brings athleticism to the front court and will be a solid back-up to Gasol and Randolph and he lives in the paint, where he shot 64.2 percent a season ago.

As an insurance policy, the Grizzlies also signed veteran center Ryan Hollins. 

In this June’s draft, the Grizzlies selected at No. 25 forward Jarell Martin and acquired the draft rights to guard Andrew Harrison from the Suns.

Those are nice additions to alongside young players like guards Jordan Adams and Russ Smith, forward JaMychal Green. Unfortunately, all of these players need time to learn the game and minutes on the court to develop, which is hard on a team that is in a win now mode.

One major reason the Grizzlies only made minor tweaks to their team this summer is that their trying to stay under the cap to pay their starting lead guard Mike Conley (15.8 ppg, 5.4 apg-Led team, 44.6 FG%, 38.6 3-Pt.%) next summer.

To put how the No. 4 overall pick in the 2007 draft has progressed in his career with the Grizzlies, he is the franchise leader in games played at 581; assists at 3,236; steals at 896 and is second in four other categories.

While they may have some chinks in their armor at the offensive end, the Memphis Grizzlies have a style of play that has served them well these past few seasons, especially in the tough Southwest Division. Just two years ago, they were in the Conference Finals, but lost to the Spurs 4-0. Most of that team is still there. If they can ever fix their offensive problems on the perimeter, they have as good a chance of winning the West and even raising the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Best Case Scenario: The Grizzlies win over 50 games again and are a Top 4 Seed in West. Make it back to the Conference Finals.

Worst Case Scenario: The Grizzlies continue to struggle to score on the perimeter and they flame out in the Semis.

Grade: B

Minnesota Timberwolves: 16-66 (5th Northwest Division; missed playoffs) 9-32 at home, 7-34 on the road.

-97.8 ppg-23rd; opp. ppg: 106.5-30th; 40.9 rpg-27th

The only successful period in the history of the Minnesota Timberwolves was from 1996-2004 where they made the playoffs for eight straight seasons. The team’s breakthrough came in the 2003-04 season where perennial All-Star forward Kevin Garnett was named league MVP and the team won a franchise record 54 games. They made it all the way to the Conference Finals, where they lost to the Lakers in six games.

Since that season, the T’Wolves have not made it back to the playoffs and have gone from a title contender to a lottery team. In the early years and in the years since 2003-04, the T’Wolves have not had much luck in finding that franchise changing player.

That type of fortune changed the past two drafts with the acquisition of the draft rights to the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 in swingman Andrew Wiggins (16.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg), who won the 2015 Rookie of the Year thanks of solid play over the final four months of the season where he averaged 19.8, 16.8, 17.9 and 23.3 points per contest.

In this past June’s, the T’Wolves with the No. 1 overall pick selected nimble big man in forward/center Karl-Anthony Towns out of the University of Kentucky.

In Towns, the T’Wolves have a building block who can score in the post and brings a maturity and high-character that goes beyond 19-years of age.

The great thing about Towns starting his career is that he does not have to be the best player of this draft out of the gate. Unlike certain situations where he would be coming in as someone the team would be looking to carry the offensive load, he will be coming to a team that has building blocks around him.

Those building blocks consists of the aforementioned Wiggins, second-year guard Zach LaVine (10.1 ppg, 3.6 apg, 34.1 3-Pt.%), second-year forwards Shabazz Muhammed (13.5 ppg, 39.2 3-Pt.%) and Adreian Payne (6.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg), third-year center Gorgui Gieng (9.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg), rookie forward Nemanja Bjelica—the Euroleague MVP, who the team signed for three years at $11.7 million and starting lead guard Ricky Rubio (10.3 ppg, 8.8 apg, 5.7 rpg, 1.7 spg).

The team also in this past June’s draft acquired the rights to guard Tyus Jones from the Cavaliers, the of the Duke University’s national title team as well a native of the “Twin Cities.”

They acquired from the Pacers forward Damjan Rudez from the Pacers for forward Chase Budinger.

Even with all of the talent that the Timberwolves have and they are expected to be great individually someday, they were able to either keep or bring in some veterans who have proven to be some of the best that have played on the hardwood.

The T’Wolves re-signed their greatest player in franchise history in the aforementioned Garnett (6.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg) for two years at $16.5 million. To put the great career of KG, who help lead the Celtics to the title in 2008 into perspective, he is currently tied for 5th in “The Association” all-time with Hawks’ great Kevin Willis with 1,424 and is fifth all-time in minutes played with 49,862.

They also signed another former champion this summer in forward Tayshaun Prince. While he may not be flashy, he is steady and can play on both ends and is a great locker room presence.

The T’Wolves also signed veteran guard Andre Miller, who is still taking care of business at age 39. In Miller, the T’Wolves have one of the best floor general to ever play and if Rubio misses time again because of injury and Jones is not going well, the team has a lead guard to turn to that can get the job done.

The T’Wolves also have two players who are not as young, but still have tread on their tires are guard Kevin Martin (20.0 ppg, 39.3 3-Pt.%) and center Nikola Pekovic (12.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg).

The influx of the young players has made Martin and Pekovic expendable and valuable assets to trade for the right price. The thing about the often injured Pekovic is that his contract of five years at $60 million that he signed on Aug. 14, 2013 is something that a lot of teams will not touch.

The T’Wolves will not be entering this season intact as this past Sunday, head coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders passed away from cancer he was 60 years old.

Saunders had announced this past August he was taking an indefinite leave of absence to be treated for Hodgkin lymphoma. Doctors had said that it was “very treatable and curable,” and Saunders said he was not going to step down from both his post with the team.

Earlier this past weekend though, Saunders was hospitalized following a setback in his treatment back in September and it was announced on Friday that Saunders would miss the entire season.

Leading the T’Wolves on the sideline will be former player and former head coach with the Raptors Sam Mitchell and handling the personnel duties will be GM Milt Newton.

Best Case Scenario: T’Wolves win over 35 games and the young players develop at a solid pace. Towns is in the running for Rookie of the Year. Team plays at a high level in honor of Saunders.

Worst Case Scenario: The team struggles and the young cornerstones do not get together.  

Grade: B  

New Orleans Pelicans: 45-37 (5th Southwest Division; No. 8 Seed in West) 28-13 at home, 17-24 on the road. Lost to the Golden State Warriors 4-0 in West Quarterfinals.

-99.4 ppg-16th; opp. ppg: 98.6-T-11th; 43.5 rpg-16th

There are very few franchises that can say they have a great player that is a once in a lifetime, game changing, franchise changing player. When you have a player of that caliber, it becomes easier to build a can contend.

The Pelicans have that player in former No. 1 overall pick in 2012 draft in two-time All-Star forward/center Anthony Davis (24.4 ppg-4th NBA, 10.2 rpg-Led team, 2.9 bpg-Led NBA), who helped lead his team to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

They got in on the final night of the regular season when they defeated the Spurs 108-103 on Apr. 15. Davis led the way with 31 points, 13 boards and three blocks.

In their match up with the eventual NBA champion Warriors, Davis had an incredible series scoring 31.5 points, grabbing 11.0 rebounds and blocking three shots. The young Pelicans were no match for the Warriors, who swept them 4-0.

In the off-season, they gave their star player a well-deserved five-year $145 million contract extension back on July 1, keeping him from enter restricted free agency next summer.

In the off-season, the team decided that they needed a new system in order to compete for a higher playoff spot in the rugged West.

Out was head coach Monty Williams and in was assistant coach of the World champion Warriors Alvin Gentry and his famed Seven Seconds or Less offensive style from his days with the Phoenix Suns in the early part of the decade.

Everything that you saw with the Warriors a season ago, the pace that they played with, the ball movement and three-point shot after three-point shot attempted will be on display at the Smoothie King Center hopefully for many seasons.

The question is are the players in place? Yes the Pelicans have the centerpiece in Davis, but what about his supporting cast.

While the team has the perimeter shooting in forward Ryan Anderson (13.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 34.0 3-Pt.%), guard Eric Gordon (13.4 ppg, 44.8 3-Pt.%) and Quincy Pondexter (9.0 ppg, 43.3 3-Pt.%), can lead guard Jrue Holiday (14.8 ppg, 6.9 apg-Led team, 1.6 spg-Led team) and swingman Tyreke Evans (16.6 ppg, 6.6 apg, 5.3 rpg) be the kind of facilitators that can make plays for others while being able to create offenses chances for themselves?

The other issue, that the Pelicans have to figure out is how do centers Alexis Ajinca (6.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Omer Asik (7.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and Kendrick Perkins and forward/center Dante Cunningham (5.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg) fit in to all of this?

In any other system, these players would fit in wonderfully. This system is based on pace really does not fit well for players that are non-scorers. With that being said, if the Pelicans do not defend, they cannot get out and run and each of these players can defend the basket and Perkins can play the pick-in-roll real well. 

On top of that, the team committed a lot of money to Asik, Ajinca and Cunningham this summer. Asik re-signed for five years at $60 million; Ajinca re-signed for four years at $16 million; Cunningham re-signed for three more seasons and Perkins signed for just one-year at the minimum of $947,000.

The team also re-signed forward Luke Babbitt and signed forward Alonzo Gee for two years at $2.7 million. 

This is a talented team that stills has a ways to go before than can be in the conversation a perennial playoff team. They squeaked into the playoffs last season and the quicker they can grasp Gentry’s system as well as improve their defense the better their chances will be in making the playoffs for a second straight season.

Best Case Scenario: The Pelicans get into the playoffs as a lower seed. They become a tough out and Davis becomes a part of the MVP conversation.

Worst Case Scenario: The Pelicans take a step back and miss the playoffs.

Grade: B-

Oklahoma City Thunder: 45-37 (2nd Northwest Division; missed playoffs) 29-12 at home, 16-25 on the road.

-104.0 ppg-5th; opp. ppg: 101.8-24th; 47.5 rpg-1st

All of the optimism the Thunder had last season of making a championship run took a major hit last season as All-Star forward Kevin Durant (25.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 4.1 apg, 51.0 FG%, 40.3 3-Pt.%) because of three separate surgeries on his right foot.

His All-Star running mate Russell Westbrook missed 15 games early in the season because of a broken hand and shot blocking ace Serge Ibaka (14.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg-Led team, 2.4 bpg-2nd NBA) also missed 18 games because of injury.

The reason the Thunder stayed in striking distance of the playoffs, ultimately to be left on the outside looking in was because of the historic play of Westbrook (28.1 ppg-Led NBA, 8.6 apg-4th NBA, 2.1 spg-2nd NBA).

He led the NBA last season with 11 triple-doubles and became the first scoring champion since Hall of Famer Nate “Tiny” Archibald in 1972-73 to average 8.5-plus assists. He joined LeBron James (2010-11) and Hall of Famers Michael Jordan (1988-89) and Oscar Robertson (six times) to average 28-plus points, seven-plus boards and eight-plus assists in a season.

In the month of February Westbrook averaged 31.2 points, 10.3 assists, 9.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals. He followed that in March with averages of 30.9 points, 10.2 assists, 8.5 boards and 2.5 steals in March and 32.5 points, 8.1 assists, eight rebounds and 1.6 steals in April.

What also helped the Thunder stay in the playoff race until the end was what they did at the trade deadline, they acquired from the Utah Jazz Enes Kanter (15.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 51.9 FG%), who averaged 18.7 points, 11 boards on 56.6 percent shooting in 26 games with the Thunder.

Kanter gave the Thunder a dimension at the offensive end they have not had in Durant and Westbrook era, an offensive presence in the low-post. That is one of the reason they overpaid to keep him matching the five-year $70 million deal that he got from the Portland Trail Blazers this summer.

The Thunder also acquired from the Jazz sharp shooter Steve Novak at the trade deadline back in February.

They turned disgruntled back-up guard Reggie Jackson into forward Kyle Singler, who the team re-signed for five years at $25 million and guard D.J. Augustin (7.3 ppg, 3.1 apg, 35.4 3-Pt.%). 

There was a time that the Thunder supporting cast could be described as subpar at best. Coming into this season, the Thunder supporting is the best they have ever had.

Those aforementioned players the team acquired a season ago will be joining a supporting cast consisting of center Steven Adams (7.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg); guard Dion Waiters (11.8 ppg), who the Thunder acquired early last season and he averaged 12.7 points in 47 appearances; guards Anthony Morrow (10.7 ppg, 46.3 FG%, 43.4 3-Pt.%) and Andre Roberson; forward/center Nick Collison and forward Mitch McGary (6.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg).

In this past June’s draft, the Thunder selected at No. 14 overall guard Cameron Payne out of Murray State, who can play both the lead guard and the shooting guard spots.

The real big move came on the Thunder’s bench as they said goodbye to Scott Brooks over the summer and hired back on Apr. 30 two-time national champion head coach with the Florida Gators Billy Donovan.   

Besides winning back-to-back titles, he was tutored under one of the best basketball minds in current Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and has been an assistant head coach in the NBA. Two current NBA All-Stars who helped lynchpins of those two titles to Florida are Al Horford of the Hawks and Joakim Noah of the Bulls.

The biggest elephant in the room of the Thunder is will Durant stay in OKC as he is set to become a free agent this upcoming summer. A lot of what happens this season will dictate how that will be answered.

The one good thing the Thunder have in their favor is that they put together a team that can contend for the title right now. They can go big or small with their lineups and can score with anybody and they enter this season healthy.

The key for this team is can their defense be on par with their offense?  

Best Case Scenario: The Thunder are a Top 3 Seed in the West and make it to The Finals.

Worst Case Scenario: Their defense does not improve and they have an early playoff exit.

Grade: A

Phoenix Suns: 39-43 (3rd Pacific Division; missed playoffs) 22-19 at home, 17-24 on the road.

-102.4 ppg-11th; opp. ppg: 103.3-26th; 43.2 rpg-17th

In sports one team can look internally and say they made some solid moves during their off-season and those on the outside that report on that particular sport for a living and see what you did during the off-season and they scratch their head at what they just looked at. That is the case for the Phoenix Suns, who missed the postseason for the fifth straight season in 2014-15.

The Suns in free agency signed veteran center Tyson Chandler (10.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 66.6 FG%) to a four-year $52 million deal. They also signed guard Ronnie Price (5.1 ppg, 3.8 apg, 1.6 spg) for two years and they signed sharp shooting forward Mirza Teletovic (8.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg) to a one-year $5.5 million deal.

In this past June’s draft, they selected at No. 13 sharp shooting guard Devin Booker out of the University of Kentucky, who was the 2015 South Eastern Conference Sixth Man of the Year.

They re-signed guard Brandon Knight (13.4 ppg, 4.5 apg), who the Suns acquired from the Bucks at the trade deadline back in February to a new five-year $70 million deal and they acquired forward Jon Leuer from the Grizzlies.

On paper, these look like solid moves, especially the signing of Chandler because last season the Suns were ranked 28th in points allowed in the paint surrendering 45.3 per game and 29th in second chance points allowed at 14.4.

In each of Chandler’s first seasons with the teams he played on, the defense has improved tremendously. The then Charlotte Bobcats in 2009-10 went from 7th in defensive ranking to No. 1. The Mavericks went from being ranked 12th to 7th and won the championship. The Knicks defense went from 21st in 2010-11 to 5th and in Chandler’s return to the Mavs last season they went from 22nd in defense to 18th.

The Suns thought that by signing Chandler, they could entice then free agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge to sign with them this off-season, but he decided to sign with the Spurs.

The other issue is where does leave Alex Len (6.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg-Led team, 1.5 bpg-Led team)? Chandler can serve as a mentor to Len, but in order for the former lottery pick in 2013 to really develop he needs minutes.

The re-signing of Knight means that the Suns have over $40 million tied into Chandler, Knight and lead guard Eric Bledsoe (17.0 ppg, 6.1 apg-Led team, 5.2 rpg, 1.6 spg-Led team) over the next four seasons. The only real potential star out of this trio is Bledsoe, who the Suns paid the prior summer. These three realistically are complimentary players, not cornerstones of a championship team.

Aside from that, if the Suns realistically are going to compete for a playoff spot in the rugged West, they will need rapid growth from the aforementioned Len and Booker, forward T.J. Warren (6.1 ppg) and guard Archie Goodwin (5.6 ppg).

They also have to make a decision on forward Markieff Morris (15.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 46.5 FG%), who was very disgruntled over this summer when the Suns traded his twin brother Marcus, guard Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger to the Pistons for a second round draft pick in 2020.

The Suns felt a need to do this because of a couple of situations that took place off-the-court, which included and alleged assault. Also Keef took some shots at the Suns fans questioning their loyalty to the team.

This has been a difficult situation for a player who has improved each year since he has been in the pros going from 7.4 points in 2011-12 to 8.4 and 4.8 boards in 2012-13 to 13.8 points and 6.0 rebounds the prior season. The 6-foot-9 forward even earned a contract extension.

Since future Hall of Famer Steve Nash was dealt away after the 2011-12 season, the Suns have missed the playoffs three straight seasons. They have won just 45.5 percent of their games. Not had an All-Star and have been in the Draft Lottery in those aforementioned seasons.

While the moves the team made over the summer suggest they are not going backwards, it is hard to see how the moves the Suns made make them and head coach Jeff Hornacek, who is entering the final year of his contract a playoff contender this season and in the years to come.

Best Case Scenario: The Suns are competing for the No. 8 and final playoff spot. They are ranked in the middle of the pact defensively.

Worst Case Scenario: The Suns miss the playoffs again.

Grade: F

Portland Trail Blazers: 51-31 (1st Northwest Division; No. 4 Seed in West) 32-9 at home, 19-22 on the road. Lost to Memphis Grizzlies 4-1 in West Quarterfinals.

-102.8 ppg-9th; opp. ppg: 98.6-T-11th; 45.9 rpg-2nd

With back-to-back 50 wins seasons, the Trail Blazers were a team on the rise in the West. They were coming off their first postseason series win over the Rockets in the 2014 playoffs before falling to the Spurs in the Semis 4-1.

Those dreams came crashing down very fast, especially with what happened to their team in the postseason and this past summer.

It began with a five-game setback in the first-round against the Grizzlies.

That was followed by All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge leaving in free agency to sign with the Spurs.

Starting small forward Nicolas Batum was traded to the Hornets. Starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who missed the final 22 games because of a torn Achilles signed with the Mavericks and starting center Robin Lopez signed with the Knicks along with guard Arron Afflalo.

The team also said goodbye to forwards Dorell Wright and Alonzo Gee, guard Steve Blake and forward/center Joel Freeland.

The only member of the starting quintet the last two seasons was lead guard Damian Lillard (21.0 ppg, 6.2 apg, 34.3 3-Pt.%), who the Blazers signed to a five-year $120 million extension over the summer.   

The Blazers started the process of building their team for the future around their two-time All-Star guard by getting in return for Batum guard Gerald Henderson (12.1 ppg) from the Hornets as well as second-year forward Noah Vonleh.

In a trade with the Magic, the Trail Blazers acquired forward Maurice Harkless and on the night of the draft this past June acquired the draft rights to forward Pat Connaughton, the 41st overall pick out of Notre Dame and third-year forward Mason Plumlee (8.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) from the Nets.

In free agency, the Trail Blazers signed forwards Ed Davis (8.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg) who signed for three years at $20 million and Al-Farouq Aminu (5.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg) for four years at $40 million.

These new additions will join the remaining cast from last season’s playoff team, which consist of guard C.J. McCollum (6.8 ppg, 39.6 3-Pt.%), who really showed well in the final three games of the team’s first round loss to the Grizzlies where he scored 26, 18 and 33 points in Games 3,4 and 5; center Meyers Leonard (5.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 42.0 3-Pt.%), who averaged 7.8 points and 6.6 boards off the bench in the playoffs last spring; veteran center Chris Kaman (8.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and third-year forward Allen Crabbe.

The Trail Blazers unlike the Sixers at least have plan in place and an established star in Lillard, who is 25 years-old to build around. He also has a backcourt mate in McCollum, who is just 23 years-old who with time can only get better.

The rest of the cast will have plenty of opportunities to show that they can be a serious part of the future in “Rip City.”

The spotlight is now on GM Neil Olshey and head coach Terry Stotts, who has gone 138-108 in his first three seasons as Trail Blazers head coach.

The Blazers have been in this position before. After making the playoffs from 2009-2011, they went through two rough seasons of winning just 28 games in the shortened season of 2011-12 and just 33 wins in 2012-13. Because they drafted Lillard and Aldridge developed into a star and other solid moves were made in free agency and in the draft, the Trail Blazers produced an aforementioned back-to-back 50-plus win seasons and last season won their first division title since 1998-99, when they were in the Pacific.

If the right moves are made, the Trail Blazers in three years from now could be back in the playoff mix in the West.

Best Case Scenario: Trail Blazers win 33 games. The Lillard, McCollum backcourt establishes solid cohesion and they find a diamond in the rough in the front court.

Worst Case Scenario: Several long losing streaks and Lillard does not establish offensive chemistry with the rest of his teammates.

Grade: D

Sacramento Kings: 29-53 (4th Pacific Division; missed playoffs) 18-23 at home, 11-30 on the road.

-101.3 ppg-14th; opp. ppg: 105.0-28th; 44.2 rpg-9th

Only the Timberwolves at 11 straight seasons have been on the outside of the playoffs looking in than the Kings, who have not made the playoffs in nine straight years.

Besides having dysfunctional management, all summer long there a reported discord between head coach George Karl, who went 11-19 on an interim basis a season ago and All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins (24.1 ppg-5th NBA, 12.7 rpg-3rd NBA, 1.7 bpg-Led team), who has an NBA leading 135 double-doubles since start of 2012-13 season made NBA headlines.

This soap-opera started in the early part of the summer when Cousins accused Karl of convincing the Kings to trade him, which Karl denied ever doing. This left former Kings’ center and new general manager Vlade Divac to play peacemaker between the two.

By the middle of August, the two sides seemed to mend fences and got back to the business at hand of turning a team back into the playoff team that they were back in the early 2000s.

With the No. 6 overall pick in this June’s draft, the Kings selected defensive maven in forward/center Willie Cauley-Stein out of the University of Kentucky.

While he is lacking any consistent game at the offensive end, his game at the defensive end in college was one of the best. He is a willing rebounder and can make an impact at the defensive end immediately.

In free agency, the Kings also added center Kosta Koufos (5.2 ppg, 5.3 ppg), who signed for four years at $33 million. Koufos played for Karl when he was the head coach of the Nuggets in the early part of the decade and had his best seasons of his career.

The Kings now have a solid three-man rotation at the center position and all are 26 years of age or younger.

The Kings also signed forward Quincy Acy (5.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) for two years at $2 million.

In a major gamble, the Kings signed former All-Star and NBA champion in guard Rajon Rondo (8.9 ppg, 7.9 apg, 5.5 rpg) to a one-year $9.5 million deal back on July 13.

He was supposed to be the missing piece to the championship puzzle for the Mavs when they acquired him back in December, but a serious falling out during the team’s first-round clash with the Rockets essentially ended his time in Big-D and plummeted his value on the free agent market.

If Rondo can return to the player that was considered among the elite three years ago, he could be in for a big pay day from the Kings or another team in free agency next summer.

The other issue about Rondo’s signing is what does this mean for last season’s starting lead guard Darren Collison (16.1 ppg, 5.6 apg, 1.5 spg), who played in just 45 games a season ago because of injury.

Will Collison be Rondo’s understudy this season or will the Kings look to trade a guy that they just signed the prior off-season?

The Kings bolstered their bench with notable perimeter shooters this summer in guards Marco Bellinelli (9.2 ppg, 37.4 3-Pt.%), who signed for three-years at $19 million; Seth Curry, the brother of 2015 MVP Stephen Curry for two years at $1.9 million; James Anderson for two years at $2.3 million and veteran forward and NBA champion Caron Butler (5.9 ppg, 37.9 3-Pt.%).

The Kings also retained forward Omri Casspi (8.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg 40.2 3-Pt.%) for two years at $6 million.

The Kings hope the additions of Curry, who will finally get a real chance to show that he belongs in the league, Bellinelli and guard Ben McLemore (12.1 ppg, 35.8 3-Pt.%) pan out a lot better than sharp shooting rookie Nik Stauskas, who weirdly was traded along with a protected No. 1 draft pick to the Sixers this summer.

If they can consistently strike a match from the perimeter, that will leave plenty of room for Cousins and forward Rudy Gay (21.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 45.5 FG%, 35.9 3-Pt.%) to operate at the offensive end.

The addition of Butler is big in the sense that they have a necessary veteran presence in the locker room, especially on a team that consists of quirky personalities.

The Kings made some history with a major addition to their coaching staff in hiring Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, who will be the second full-time female assistant coach in the NBA after Becky Hammon, who the Spurs hired a season ago.

This season can go in one of two directions for the Kings. They can push for a playoff spot in the brutal West or this turn into a dysfunctional, ugly would not want to be there fiasco.

Either way it will be something to watch all season long.

Best Case Scenario: The Kings are fighting for the No. 8 playoff spot in the West. Cousins becomes an All-Star again and really matures into a team leader.

Worst Case Scenario: The Kings lose over 50 games again and miss the playoffs for a 10th straight season. Cousins and Karl continue to clash and the team has to be retooled in a major way once again.  

Grade: C+

San Antonio Spurs: 55-27 (3rd Southwest Division; No. 6 Seed West) 33-8 at home, 22-19 on the road. Lost to Los Angeles Clippers 4-3 in West Quarterfinals.

-103.2 ppg-7th; opp. ppg: 97.0-3rd; 43.6 rpg-15th

They have made the playoffs for 18 consecutive seasons, all in the era of Tim Duncan, who they drafted No. 1 overall back in June 1997. Won five championships. Garnered seven division titles and going back to the first season of Hall of Fame center and 1990 Rookie of the Year David Robinson, the Spurs have won 50-plus games in a season 22 times.

What has made the Spurs consistent level of greatness so remarkable is that they have been a team that has not made a habit of being in the draft lottery except on two occasions and they have not signed an A-list free agent.

That all changed in the summer when they signed forward LaMarcus Aldridge (23.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 46.6 FG%) for four years at $84 million.

While he may not be the best player in the league nor one of the top 10 in “The Association.” But he is a proven scorer in the prime of his career and decided of all places he could have gone, he chose a team that more than capable of dethroning the defending World Champion Warriors.

Besides nice payday he received, he is close to his hometown of Austin, TX, where he makes his home in the off-season. He in a place where he does not have to pay state taxes. His coach is one of the very best in the history of the game in Gregg Popovich and he will teaming up with the one of the greatest trio’s in NBA history in Duncan (13.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg-Led team, 2.0 bpg-7th NBA), who re-signed for two-years at $10.9 million; Manu Ginobili (10.5 ppg, 4.2 apg, 34.5 3-Pt.%), who re-signed for two years at $5.8 million and Tony Parker (14.4 ppg, 4.9 apg-Led team, 48.6 FG%).

Along with signing Aldridge, the Spurs got a gift from the heavens when veteran forward David West (11.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg) left $12 million on the table with the Pacers as he opted out of the final year of his contract and signed with the Spurs for two years at $3.1 million to win a championship.

They also were able to re-sign 2014 Finals MVP and the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year in forward Kawhi Leonard (16.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.3 spg-Led NBA, 47.9 FG%, 34.9 3-Pt.%) to a new five-year $94 million contract.

To make room to get Aldridge though and to re-sign Leonard, the Spurs had to say goodbye to key members of the supporting cast and who were a part of their title team in 2014 in centers Aron Baynes and Tiago Splitter and guards Cory Joseph and Marco Bellinelli.

They did make sure to re-sign the likes of sharp shooters in guard Danny Green (11.7 ppg, 41.8 3-Pt.%) for four years at $40 million and forward Matt Bonner for one-year at $947,000. They still have in the fold forward/center Boris Diaw (8.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg); guard Patty Mills (6.9 ppg, 34.1 3-Pt.%) and forward Kyle Anderson, who really performed well in Summer League this off-season.

The new additions that will be counted on to replace what the Spurs lost this summer will be guard Ray McCallum (7.4 ppg), who was acquired from the Kings; veteran forward Rasual Butler (7.7 ppg, 38.7 3-Pt.%); center Boban Marjanovic, who signed for one-year at $1.2 million and swingman Jonathon Simmons, who signed for two years at $1.4 million.

When Clippers guard Chris Paul made an off balance shot in the closing moments of Game 7 in the opening round last spring, it ended the Spurs season for just the fourth time in the Duncan era.

When they made the additions they did this summer, they not only secured a run at the title this year, they also put themselves in a position for life after the retirement of Duncan, whenever that takes place.

With good health, especially from Parker, who was not himself after hurting his hamstring early in the season and consistent play on both ends, the Spurs once again will serve as one of the favorites to hold the Larry O’Brien trophy in June 2016.

Best Case Scenario: The Spurs win 50-plus games again and make it to The Finals and win their Sixth title in franchise history.

Worst Case Scenario: The Spurs lose in the Conference Finals.

Grade: A+

Utah Jazz: 38-44 (3rd Northwest Division; missed playoffs) 21-20 at home, 17-24 on the road.

-95.1 ppg-26th; opp. ppg: 94.9-1st; 44.0 rpg-11th

Get who finished with the 6th best winning percentage after the All-Star break a season ago. It was the young up and coming Utah Jazz, who went 19-10 after the NBA’s mid-season classic.

One of the big reasons for equaling the total number of wins they had at the unofficial midway point of 2014-15 was their play at the defensive end, where they lead the league in points allowed at 89.0 points per contest and were second in opponent’s field goal percentage at 42.2.

At the center, no pun intended, of that great defense was Rudy Gobert (8.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg-Led team, 2.3 bpg-3rd NBA), who was put in the starting lineup when the team traded Enes Kanter at the trade deadline to the Thunder.

In the final two months of the season, Gobert really came on averaging 10.9 points, 14.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks this past March and 12.3 points, 12.0 boards and 2.3 blocks in April.

The prime candidate for Defensive Player of the Year will be part of a young core When you are a young team and you are trying to become one that contends for the playoffs year in and year out, it takes having the core players putting in the work to make getting better a standard.

For the Jazz, those core players include swingman Gordon Hayward (19.7 ppg-leads team, 5.0 rpg, 4.3 apg, 46.0 FG%, 39.2 3-Pt.%), forward Derrick Favors (15.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg-leads team, 1.7 bpg), guards Trey Burke (12.6 ppg, 4.7 apg), guard Alec Burks (13.9 ppg, 38.2 3-Pt.%), whose season ended after 27 games because of left shoulder surgery in December 2014 and second-year guard Rodney Hood (8.7 ppg, 36.5 3-Pt.%).

An important member of that core in second-year guard Dante Exum (4.8 ppg), who replaced Burke as the starting lead guard for the Jazz in the second half of last season is likely out for the season after tearing his ACL playing for the Australian National Team over the summer.

This will mean that Burke, who is in the final year will take the reins back as the main floor general and he will need to play better unlike last season where he shot just 36.8 percent from the field and just 31.8 percent from three-point range.

Serving as the understudy to Burke this season will be Raul Neto, who was signed by the Jazz this summer to a three-year $2.9 million deal. The 23-year-old played last season in the ACB League in Spain for UCAM Murica.

The Jazz also signed center Tibor Pliess to a three-year $10 million deal and re-signed forward Joe Ingles to a two-year $4.5 million deal.

In this past June’s draft, the Jazz selected forward Trey Lyles with the No. 12 overall pick out of the University of Kentucky.

He will be joining a supporting cast that consist of center Jeff Withey, who the Jazz also signed this summer; guard Elijah Millsap, forward Chris Johnson and veteran forward Trevor Booker (7.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg).

The Jazz made major strides under head coach, Quin Snyder, who is entering his second season on the sideline for the Jazz.

The question now is, how ready are they to compete for a playoff spot in the unforgiving West?

They have a borderline All-Star in Hayward, who the Jazz retained two summers back when they matched the four-year $63 million contract he received from the then Charlotte Bobcats. Burks received a contract extension last summer.

For years, the Jazz have had to look to the draft and making trades to turn their team into a contender. That is how they got Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone many years ago. That is how they found the aforementioned Hayward, Burke, Burks, Exum, Favors and Gobert.

If they can continue to play the stellar defense they did a season ago and get up to speed at the offensive end, making the playoffs is a real possibility.

Best Case Scenario: The Jazz are fighting for that final playoff spot. Hayward makes the All-Star team. Burke has a breakout third season.

Worst Case Scenario: The Jazz miss the playoffs. Burke offensive struggles continue and the defensive intensity slides.

Grade: D-
Information, quotes and statistics are courtesy of from 2014-15; NBATV/TNT Insider David Aldridge’s Off-Season Rankings: Top 10 Middle 10 and Bottom 10 from Oct. 13, 2015 from; by Shaun Powell from Sept. 1-Sept. 30, 2015;;; 10/8/15-10/2/15 NBATV “Team Preview” of all 30 NBA teams hosted by Jared Greenberg, Vince Cellini, Rick Kamla, Kristen Ledlow, Mike D’Antoni, Greg Anthony, Brent Barry, Brian Shaw, Vinny Del Negro, Isiah Thomas, Stu Jackson, Steve Smith and Richard Hamilton; 10/13/15-10/22/15 NBATV’s “The Starters-2015-16 Season Preview,” with J.E. Skeets Tas Melas, Leigh Ellis and Trey Kerby and 10/15/15 7 p.m. ESPN: The Magazine 2015-16 NBA Season Preview Special with Cassidy Hubbarth, Brad Daugherty and Chris Broussard.