2019-2020 NBA Regular Season Predictions

In a complete turnaround from the summer of 2016, the recent events of 2019 free agency has leveled the entire NBA out to foster some unpredictable competition. Super-teams laden with three or more All-NBA caliber players have been dissipated due to a combination of injuries and newfound resolves, from KD’s decision to team up with Kyrie in Brooklyn, to Kawhi’s steadfast aspiration to play at home. The NBA’s ratings are about to blow up, mostly because for the first time since before LeBron’s decision to take his talents to Miami in 2011, there is no clear championship favorite. NBA Draft Lottery changes responsible for Zion Williamson’s landing in New Orleans have limited the pool of tanking teams in 2019-2020, such that less than five teams in the league will look to prioritize development over making the playoffs. It’s a great time to follow the NBA, and here are my predictions on what the regular season standings will look like at the end of next April.

Eastern Conference

  1. Boston Celtics

Notable Additions: Kemba Walker, Enes Kanter, Romeo Langford
Notable Losses: Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes

As far as talent is concerned, the Celtics have undoubtedly worsened. Regardless, plugging Walker into Irving’s role will likely produce positive results, given that Kemba’s playing style involves his teammates more so than Kyrie’s style does. This will translate into Boston’s young talent being fully utilized – a synergy that the team hasn’t experienced since the 2018 playoffs. With a more defined go-to group in Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown, Walker and a healthier Gordon Hayward, the Celtics should have more of a clear game plan and more of a unified locker room. They’re going all in on letting their players participate on Team USA, giving the Celtics their own unique training camp on the international stage. Their top seeding won’t necessarily translate into playoff success, though; this talented roster just screams second round elimination to me.

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  1. Philadelphia 76ers

Notable Additions: Al Horford, Kyle O’Quinn, Raul Neto, Josh Richardson, Trey Burke
Notable Losses: Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick, TJ McConnell, Boban Marjanovic

The Sixers did well to preserve some shooting by keeping Tobias Harris on a long-term deal, but the loss of Jimmy Butler could certainly put a stain on their championship aspirations. They did manage to snatch Al Horford away from Boston on a surprise deal, which should create major defensive problems for their opposition, while also solidifying their starting five as the tallest in the NBA. It will be interesting to see how Philadelphia stacks up against smaller lineups, and the loss of JJ Redick should be taken very seriously. Look for the Sixers to heavily recruit shooting talent throughout the season, and look for Ben Simmons to improve on his jump shot. Joel Embiid will be putting everything into this upcoming season, so 2020 will tell us a lot about the young stars of Philadelphia.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks

Notable Additions: Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver, Jon Leuer, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Dragan Bender, Frank Mason III
Notable Losses: Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell, Pau Gasol

Lots of NBA analysts see the Bucks continuing their regular season Eastern Conference dominance, but I see them sliding down the standings by a few spots. Losing Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic should prove to be challenging for the Bucks to deal with. Brogdon gave Eric Bledsoe a perfect simultaneous running mate and backup depending on how Milwaukee wanted to line up, and there will be plenty of pressure for Bledsoe (who is about to hit 30) to repeat a stellar defensive season. He will almost surely regress from his First Team All Defense status, while Mirotic gave them a great combination of size, shooting and defense. This team can prove me wrong if Giannis develops his shot at a faster rate than I would have expected, but I expect Milwaukee’s shooting core to streakily lose hold of many close games next season; there’s no way that Brooke Lopez has the same success from three next year, either. Their small market status forced them into handing Khris Middleton a sizable contract, and it’s hard to see this team stay atop the East when the rest of their competition (except for the Raptors) only got better.

  1. Brooklyn Nets

Notable Additions: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Garrett Temple, Wilson Chandler, Taurean Prince, David Nwaba
Notable Losses: D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll, Ed Davis, Jared Dudley, Shabazz Napier, Treveon Graham, Allen Crabbe, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

The Nets have built a roster that rivals the Clippers for the deepest roster in the NBA. They truly have an extensive rotation with over 10 players legitimately deserving of regular minutes, and Kevin Durant’s injury gives them a perfect opportunity to define their core. Expect Caris LaVert to take the step in his career that he was about to make last season before an injury put him on the sidelines and turned D’Angelo Russell into an All-Star. Kyrie Irving has adopted a public NBA image of being a difficult teammate and this season will show the fans that this has been yet another idea driven by the media and by a difficult situation in Boston. With so many players hoping to take a step in their career last year after a successful playoff run without Kyrie, the New Jersey native was doomed to fail in a scenario of having too many mouths to feed. Now, with an opportunity to make the team his own while Durant sits out and on a roster where players have openly accepted their roles, Irving is going to take Brooklyn by storm.

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  1. Indiana Pacers

Notable Additions: Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, TJ McConnell, TJ Warren, Justin Holiday
Notable Losses: Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Wesley Matthews, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Kyle O’Quinn

In a season that was pretty much forfeited after Victor Oladipo had a season-ending injury, the Pacers turned heads by staying competitive. Sixth man of the year candidate Domantas Sabonis took a big step last season, and the team added some key future contributors in Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb. Lamb and TJ Warren slot in as perfect replacements for Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young, while Brogdon certainly provides Indiana with an upgrade at point guard. While they can still certainly bolster their depth on the wing, Indiana should be a team that competes on a nightly basis, with at least three players looking to elevate their game into All Star territory.

  1. Detroit Pistons

Notable Additions: Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris, Tony Snell, Sekou Doumbouya
Notable Losses: Wayne Ellington, Ish Smith, Glenn Robinson III, Jon Leuer

I am a huge fan of the Detroit Pistons in 2020. They may not have made any huge alterations to their roster, but each of their additions added a layer to their team that they certainly needed. Derrick Rose comes in to back Reggie Jackson up at the point guard position, which will push Jackson to take his game more seriously. Rose adds the kind of grit that Blake Griffin has been longing for out of his teammates, and it looks like Detroit got a steal when they selected Doumbouya late in the first round of the draft. This team will wear their opposition out for 48 minutes, and head coach Dwane Casey should be pushing his team toward success all season long.

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  1. Toronto Raptors

Notable Additions: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Matt Thomas, Cameron Payne
Notable Losses: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green

On one hand, these guys just won the NBA title, so who cares about the fact that they lost their Finals MVP? On the other hand, with big money owed to aging ex-All Stars like Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry, this team’s window may have closed for the near future. Toronto showed me enough when Kawhi was rested last year for me to believe that they will still find a way into the playoffs, with Fred Van Fleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby continuing to develop into NBA mainstays. However, the amount of noise they’ll be able to make will certainly be limited. This team shapes up as a worse version of the Conley-Gasol Grizzlies.

  1. Miami Heat

Notable Additions: Jimmy Butler, Meyers Leonard, Tyler Herro
Notable Losses: Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside, Ryan Anderson

Miami has been working towards softening the financial hole that they dug themselves into. They have made significant progress on this front, moving Hassan Whiteside and waiving Ryan Anderson. Granted, they still fall almost $6 million above the luxury tax bill, but managing to acquire Jimmy Butler in the midst of this situation is certainly a win. They should be continuing to work on a Goran Dragic trade to put them under the luxury tax threshold, but have built a competitive roster in the meantime. While Justise Winslow hasn’t completely lived up to his potential, he is still a solid contributor and the Heat is poised to benefit from a full season of Dion Waiters and a bigger role for Bam Adebayo. Miami got a steal in the draft in Tyler Herro, whose shooting will surely be coveted by Miami, giving him plenty of minutes. Miami should sneak into the playoffs after narrowly missing out last season.

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  1. Atlanta Hawks

Notable Additions: Jabari Parker, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, Evan Turner, Damian Jones, Chandler Parsons, Allen Crabbe
Notable Losses: Vince Carter, DeWayne Dedmon, Omari Spellman, Miles Plumlee, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince

Atlanta is poised to make a big jump this season, perhaps a bit more quickly than people may have expected. After a hugely successful draft in which their two top-ten picks translated into De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, the Hawks have young talent at pretty much every position. They’ll miss Taurean Prince, but Trae Young showed All-Star ability in the second half of last season and John Collins is one of the league’s best up-and-coming big guys. Jabari Parker comes in with plenty to prove and nothing to lose, but the Hawks should fall just short of a playoff appearance. The team still needs a bit more, as they are taking the opportunity this year to collect more assets and take on large contracts since their best players are on their rookie deals. Atlanta should be this season’s Brooklyn Nets, as they gear up to compete at an even higher level in 2021.

  1. Orlando Magic

Notable Additions: Al-Farouq Aminu, Chuma Okeke
Notable Losses: Jerian Grant, Timofey Mozgov

Orlando continues to tread in no-man’s land, compiling mid-level talent in every position that isn’t a guard. Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic are nice complementary pieces, but putting them at the head of a team is a recipe for disappointment. The team did well to re-sign Vucevic and Terrence Ross, but may have paid too much to keep players that will get them a low seed in the playoffs at best. Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba remain promising prospects, but the team really needs a quality ball handler to take them to the next level. Orlando took on Markelle Fultz, gambling that he could potentially reach the prospective level that made him the number one overall pick, which was the right move considering the lack of attention that Orlando gets from big-name free agents. However, I would have loved to see them go harder after a player like Terry Rozier, who signed a contract with Charlotte. If Fultz gets good, they could surprise some people.

  1. Washington Wizards

Notable Additions: Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Davis Bertans, CJ Miles, Jemerrio Jones, Jonathon Simmons, Rui Hachimura
Notable Losses: Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, Trevor Ariza, Tomas Satoransky, Jeff Green, Dwight Howard

The Wizards just recently announced Tommy Sheppard as their new GM, which could explain the lack of direction shown from all of the moves that they have made prior to his appointment. Aside from Bradley Beal, Washington essentially lost every good thing that they had going for them to free agency. Portis, Ariza, Satoransky, Parker and Green were probably the five next best players on the team last season in that order, and they would have done well to at least keep two of them. On the bright side, Rui Hachimura is a promising upcoming rookie who should get plenty of minutes right away, and if Isaiah Thomas truly feels as good as he says he does, we could be looking at a dangerous backcourt tandem. It puzzles me that Washington went and signed players like Davis Bertans and CJ Miles, who are probably done developing and belong on a playoff-bound roster. Perhaps they are simply building up assets and plan to make some trade deadline deals to offload them for picks. Regardless, their financial flexibility is stunted by John Wall’s massive contract, who continues to make money for sitting on the bench due to his injury. The Wizards may need to consider trading Bradley Beal and pressing the reset button soon.

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  1. New York Knicks

Notable Additions: Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Bobby Portis, Elfrid Payton, Taj Gibson, Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, Ignas Brazdeikis, Marcus Morris
Notable Losses: DeAndre Jordan, Mario Hezonja, Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke, Luke Kornet

The Knicks won’t be THAT bad in 2020. The future could certainly look brighter, but their rotation is deep and coach Fizdale will make sure that they’re fun to watch. At PG, Dennis Smith Jr. will get another chance to convert his athleticism into All Star ability with backup from the long Frank Ntilikina. At the two, RJ Barrett comes in with pundits brashly declaring him a surefire future All Star, with the fearless Alonzo Trier coming off the bench with something to prove. Last year’s top pick for the Knicks, Kevin Knox, will look to take a big leap while second round rookie sensation Iggy Brazdeikis hopes to solidify his spot in the league. At the four, the Knicks have a wealth of options, as Julius Randle looks to take his game to the next level, while having Taj Gibson provide veteran bench presence and having Bobby Portis play the sixth man role. DeAndre Jordan going across town to the Nets opens up more time for Mitchell Robinson at the five. Past these players, New York paid Marcus Morris after he had second thoughts about signing with the Spurs, which didn’t really make sense for the fit of the team, but made sense in regards to recruiting the best available talent. The Knicks’ season will likely be a better version of what they did last season, staggering minutes so that everybody gets a chance to shine, playing the hot hand on a night-to-night basis. This provides an opportunity for all of Fizdale’s players to grow, but also limits the time that certain players have to stand out. This team still needs a few years but I don’t know what everybody’s crying about – at least their money isn’t tied up in trash.

  1. Chicago Bulls

Notable Additions: Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky, Coby White, Luke Kornet
Notable Losses: Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday

The Bulls didn’t waste time adding any useless players this offseason. They signed Tomas Satoransky to a affordable multi-year deal in a move to give rookie Coby White some competition at the point guard position, which gives them some depth at every position. Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen round out their immediate rotation, giving Chicago a fun roster that could challenge opposing teams every night. Though Chicago is not yet ready to make a playoff push, this young team is certainly on its way up and could become a contender for free agents in 2020 if they show some promise this season.

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  1. Cleveland Cavaliers

Notable Additions: Kevin Porter Jr., Darius Garland
Notable Losses: David Nwaba, Marquese Chriss, Channing Frye, JR Smith

Cleveland still has plenty of bad contracts on its books from the LeBron era, and their lack of cap flexibility has kept them from adding any meaningful free agents in 2019. Their biggest additions come in the form of rookie talent, with two first round studs in Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. Those two look to team up with a young core made up of Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman and Larry Nance Jr. in a race to lose as many games as possible. Even when the Cavs do indeed free up cap space, it will be difficult to recruit free agents to come to Cleveland, so their best chance is to trade Kevin Love at some point this year and continue to build their collection of assets. This team will likely own one of the top three picks in next year’s draft.

  1. Charlotte Hornets

Notable Additions: Terry Rozier, PJ Washington
Notable Losses: Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky, Tony Parker

The Hornets decided that giving Kemba a max deal and wallowing in mediocrity for the foreseeable future was not for them. There is little that Charlotte could have done to advance their roster, given that they have so much money tied up in players like Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (almost $86 million). Surely none of them figure into their long-term plans, leaving the future of the franchise to a young trio of Rozier, Malik Monk and Miles Bridges. Charlotte would do well to tank their season away and contend for the a top spot in the draft lottery.

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Western Conference

  1. LA Clippers

Notable Additions: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Maurice Harkless
Notable Losses: Garrett Temple, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Tyrone Wallace

There is about to be a war in Los Angeles. This team has few defensive shortcomings, with a core group of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverly and Montrezl Harrell. Reigning sixth man of the year Lou Williams adds some legitimate offensive firepower off the bench. Leonard and George have both confirmed that they will not be taking games off this season due to “load management”, so we can expect this team to bring a fully-loaded attack every night. The Clippers get the nod over the Lakers because of their depth and because their star players also shoot threes at a high clip. The Lakers may still top the Clippers come playoff time, but the regular season is almost undoubtedly theirs.

  1. LA Lakers

Notable Additions: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Danny Green, Troy Daniels, Jared Dudley, Quinn Cook, Avery Bradley, Kostas Antetokounmpo
Notable Losses: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Isaac Bonga, Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Jemerrio Jones, Mike Muscala, Reggie Bullock

The Lakers managed to do very well with the cap space that was left over after they signed Anthony Davis. DeMarcus Cousins may not currently be the player that he used to be, but there is star potential every time that he is on the basketball court. Danny Green is one of the best three-and-D players in the league, and they did well to bring Rajon Rondo back. This team will likely forfeit some games in the regular season in an effort to keep their stars rested, but will be firing on all cylinders come playoff time. If Kyle Kuzma makes a jump this year, it could make the difference in this team running away with an NBA title.

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  1. Utah Jazz

Notable Additions: Mike Conley Jr., Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green, Emmanuel Mudiay
Notable Losses: Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, Derrick Favors

Donovan Mitchell suffered a bit of a sophomore slump in the first half of last season, but certainly picked up the pace at the end of the year. The young star is certainly on his way to superstardom, and there may be no better veteran point guard to guide him there than Mike Conley. Conley is notoriously underrated and certainly a step up from Ricky Rubio, and gives the Jazz a top five backcourt in the NBA. Bojan Bogdanovic had a sneakily good season in 2019 and provides shooting, size and defense on the wing in a lot of the same ways that Joe Ingles provides those things. Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay provide the Jazz with energy and athleticism off the bench, while Ed Davis comes in as a cheaper version of Derrick Favors. Not to mention that their starting center, Rudy Gobert, is coming off of his second DPOY trophy, capping off an elite defensive team roster.

  1. Houston Rockets

Notable Additions: Russell Westbrook, Tyson Chandler, Anthony Bennett, Ben McLemore
Notable Losses: Chris Paul, Iman Shumpert, Nene Hilario, Kenneth Faried

I think that this is going to work. Russell Westbrook has been through enough storylines to fill an entire career, and he has to be exhausted with the noise. He will look to put any accusations of stat padding away this year as he teams back up with James Harden, who started his career as a sixth man in Oklahoma City. My main concern for this team does not have to do with ball dominance, as the rest of the league seems to expect; this was the same concern that we had for the Rockets when they signed Chris Paul, and they seemed to do much fine. Westbrook knows Harden well, and will be willing to split duties of bringing the ball up the court accordingly. Rather, my concern lies with Westbrook’s openness to letting Harden be the number one guy. Harden is far and away the better scorer among the two, but in their last stint together, he was the third option. Westbrook must come to terms with the fact that Harden’s offensive game has surpassed his own, and that his main role on the team is as a distributor. Still, the intensity that Russ brings to the court every night is one of a kind and will be the key to pushing Houston over the hump that Chris Paul was never able to do. Paul is a great defender, but he gives up much more size than Westbrook does, and is about a quarter of the athlete that he is. The Rockets have great shooting, which Westbrook has never had from a supporting cast, and many of their shooters are also exceptional athletes. This Rockets team will undergo an adjustment period to start, but will be locked and loaded for the playoffs. They’re also my extra-early prediction to lead the Western Conference standings in 2021.

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  1. Denver Nuggets

Notable Additions: Jerami Grant, Bol Bol
Notable Losses: Isaiah Thomas, Trey Lyles

Denver hasn’t added many contributors in the offseason, but bring back the same exact core that took them to a second seed in the West last season. This young squad can only be optimistic as Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic get another offseason of development. They did well to sign Gary Harris and Jokic to extensions in 2017 and 2018 respectively, allowing them to ensure two of their three most important players long-term while not having to pay 2019’s inflated contractual norms. They also bolstered their young core through the draft by stashing a steal for the second consecutive year. Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol’s success in the NBA may be a mystery, but with one of the deepest rotations in the west, Denver has the luxury of being able to give them two of their 15 roster spots. They fall from second to fifth in the west, simply because of the competition.

  1. Golden State Warriors

Notable Additions: D’Angelo Russell, Glenn Robinson III, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks, Omari Spellman, Shabazz Napier, Treveon Graham
Notable Losses: Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins, Quinn Cook, Damian Jones, Jordan Bell, Shaun Livingston

Golden State will be lining up very differently from how they lined up this past season. I actually think that the Warriors did a decent job of recouping assets after Kevin Durant’s departure. This season marked the end of the Warriors dynasty for many core players like KD, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, with other promising players looking for new homes and expanded roles as well. Many NBA fans half-expect the Warriors to trade D’Angelo Russell elsewhere after Klay Thompson returns from injury, despite signing him to a max deal. In this scenario, Golden State has put together a roster that could compete in Thompson’s absence, still fielding three all-stars. Thompson signing his max deal means that the Warriors now have three guards under max contracts. They could theoretically deploy Thompson at the wing given his size, but that still leaves two ball-dominant guards and leaves no wiggle room to finance their frontcourt. Draymond Green will be expecting a payday at the end of the season, so it will be interesting to see how long D-Lo stays on this team. As for their regular season success – it seems to hinge on Steph Curry’s performance. Many expect the two-time MVP to put up video game numbers this year, which would surely merit a playoff spot. Regardless of ball dominance, D-Lo proved himself to be an elite shooter last season, which could amount to a new set of splash bros in the bay area.

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  1. Portland Trailblazers

Notable Additions: Hassan Whiteside, Mario Hezonja, Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, Nassir Little, Pau Gasol
Notable Losses: Seth Curry, Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, Enes Kanter, Evan Turner, Jake Layman, Meyers Leonard

I love the moves that Portland made this offseason, but this team will take the brunt of the fact that the West is stacked. The only reason that this team isn’t higher in the standings is because of how good the other teams are. Portland is better than Denver, but it’s hard to play at Denver’s home court, so they’ll end with a better regular season record. I don’t expect there to be a huge gap between playoff team records in the West, so this is a deceptive seventh seed. Hassan Whiteside provides a high-level fill-in for Jusuf Nurkic as he recovers from injury, and it is good to finally see Portland move past their horrible wing depth. While Kent Bazemore’s contract is equally as bad as Evan Turner’s deal, at least it provides a fresh face and a more athletic skillset. Mario Hezonja showed flashes of promise in New York last season, and Pau Gasol is a perfect veteran to discipline Whiteside. They also got a steal in the draft in Nassir Little, and Anfernee Simons had an incredible Summer League. They’ll miss Seth Curry, but Rodney Hood can more than fill his role and it’s important that they got rid of so many players who are good enough to be in the rotation, but not good enough to contribute to winning. Portland is still one player away from contending for the Western Conference title, but they are definitely on the right track.

  1. San Antonio Spurs

Notable Additions: Trey Lyles, DeMarre Carroll
Notable Losses: Davis Bertans

The Spurs had a very Spurs-y offseason, which could translate to success in the regular season. We all expected Gregg Popovich to regress into retirement after his big three left San Antonio, but his resolve is as strong as ever. The DeMarre Carroll addition adds much needed shooting depth to the most mid-range-heavy roster in the NBA. The Spurs front office is also extremely eager to finally get Lonnie Walker IV and Dejounte Murray back from injury, as well. Murray was supposed to make a massive jump last year, so expect him to slot in as the second or third offensive option and one of the best defenders on the team. With a mix of veteran players like Rudy Gay and promising young players like Derrick White, continuity should play a large factor in this team’s success.

  1. New Orleans Pelicans

Notable Additions: Zion Williamson, Jaxon Hayes, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, JJ Redick, Derrick Favors, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Nicolo Melli
Notable Losses: Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Solomon Hill, Stanley Johnson, Cheick Diallo

This team recouped their losses in the best way after Anthony Davis requested a trade. Their haul from the Lakers, coupled with their stellar draft night gives them a hyper-talented roster with several options at each position. Zion Williamson is obviously a generational talent, but people aren’t talking enough about Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, their other first round draft picks this past summer. They performed very well in Summer League, and will get a chance to continue their development alongside Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram. I’m a Lonzo believer; his perimeter defense is elite and his speed, vision and passing is also among the NBA’s best. Ingram is still 22, giving him plenty of time to keep filling out his body. Players like Derrick Favors, JJ Redick, Jahlil Okafor and Nicolo Melli provide plenty of high-level support, while Jrue Holiday is still a top-ten two-way guard in the NBA. This team will challenge for a playoff spot right away, but will need to build a bit more experience before they get over the hump.

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  1. Sacramento Kings

Notable Additions: Trevor Ariza, DeWayne Dedmon, Corey Joseph, Richuan Holmes, Tyler Lydon
Notable Losses: Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks

Sacramento improved in the offseason, but the problem is that so did the rest of the NBA. I would liken this 2020 roster to that of the LA Clippers last season; it’s not like they have an electric sixth man as their scoring focal point but what they do have is heaps of talented players who have something to prove. Much like the Clippers, the team will look to continue developing their core while staying competitive and making a playoff push. Players like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Harry Giles can easily reach higher ceilings, especially with veterans like Harrison Barnes, Cory Joseph, Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon to direct them. Vlade Divac knew who he wanted early on in free agency, and decided to focus on lower-level free agents and secure them right away. This was a smart move, given that Sacramento would struggle to compete for the same level free agents as some of the bigger name NBA teams. This could mitigate their future cap space, but this team already has plenty of young talent to build around. The Kings will continue to show the energy and speed that they showed last season, as Fox continues to make his case as my favorite player in the NBA.

  1. Dallas Mavericks

Notable Additions: Delon Wright, Seth Curry, Boban Marjanovic
Notable Losses: Kostas Antetokounmpo

Lots of NBA analysts have the Mavs as their dark horse to sneak into the playoffs in 2020 with a late seed. I believe the hype that the duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are quietly attracting, but I think that they’re one year away from showing their talent. Porzingis won’t be his dominant self this upcoming season because he is still recovering from a torn ACL, and Luka’s supporting cast doesn’t have enough to support a playoff run. Seth Curry was a nice pickup after he solidified himself as a starting-caliber player in his time with Portland, and Jalen Brunson showed flashes of talent last season. Delon Wright’s contract gives Dallas a solid long-term backup for a good price, but their flexibility is limited because of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee’s contracts. They also didn’t need to pay Dwight Powell eight figures. Expect this team to show promise and expect Luka to take another step, but it could be a year until they start seriously competing.

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  1. Memphis Grizzlies

Notable Additions: Ja Morant, Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, Solomon Hill, Miles Plumlee, Grayson Allen, Jae Crowder, Tyus Jones, Andre Iguodala
Notable Losses: Delon Wright, Mike Conley Jr., CJ Miles, Chandler Parsons, Avery Bradley

I am loving the project that is going on in Memphis. This team has been building a roster of gritty players that are tough to play against every single night. Despite being a few years away from contending, the Grizzlies will be very pesky on both ends of the floor and look poised to be that high-energy team that exceeds expectations. Jaren Jackson Jr.’s rookie season showed a ton of promise, and Jonas Valanciunas put up some of the most impressive late-season numbers in 2019 when he was shipped to Memphis in the Marc Gasol trade. They took low-risk high-reward gambles when they picked up Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton and Grayson Allen, and picked up some elite wing defenders in Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala. The Grizzlies want to trade Iggy, but will not buy him out, meaning there is a chance that he stays put. This rag-tag squad is rounded out by second overall pick Ja Morant, who has a chance to truly be special. I’m very excited to watch this team surprise people with their rapid ascension as 2020’s version of the 2019 Sacramento Kings.

  1. Phoenix Suns

Notable Additions: Ricky Rubio, Frank Kaminsky, Aron Baynes, Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric, Cheick Diallo
Notable Losses: Richuan Holmes, Troy Daniels, Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, TJ Warren, Tyson Chandler, Dragan Bender

The Suns are getting there, but it’s taking much longer than Devin Booker would have hoped. Phoenix’s frontcourt is coming together, as DeAndre Ayton is expected to continue progressing, while Dario Saric opens up their spacing. They got Kelly Oubre Jr. back on a two-year deal, giving them a short-term solution on the wing. They still need more from that position, as good wing play has become a key to success in the NBA. Phoenix and Minnesota were expecting to fight over D’Angelo Russell before he surprised the league with a move to Golden State. This meant that they had to fall back on Ricky Rubio, who is nobody’s first option as a free agent pickup, but will – again – do the job. To make the playoffs in the West, the Suns need more than just guys who will sufficiently fill a space; they need dynamic contributors. With Booker inked to a max deal, the Suns are in no rush to win now, but would like to show some progress if they don’t want their young star to hand in a trade request.

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  1. Minnesota Timberwolves

Notable Additions: Jake Layman, Jarrett Culver, Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Bell
Notable Losses: Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Tyus Jones, Anthony Tolliver, Dario Saric

I believe that the success of this team depends on – Andrew Wiggins. We’ve been looking for Wiggins to take that leap his entire career, and we are still waiting. Despite his young age and room for development, Karl Anthony-Towns has convinced me that he will never be better than the third best player on a championship team, or the second best player on a playoff team. He has a diverse skillset, but his demeanor and approach to the game tells me that he cannot be a centerpiece. However, if Wiggins finally turns his career around and performs the way that he needs to, the Wolves can certainly compete for a late seed. Unfortunately, I don’t foresee this coming to fruition, given the lack of progress we have seen thus far from the 2014 top pick. Minnesota lost key contributors in Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Dario Saric, and failed to acquire a top-tier free agent. Robert Covington’s return is good news, but don’t expect this team to win many games in 2020.

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder

Notable Additions: Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul
Notable Losses: Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Markieff Morris, Jerami Grant

This team isn’t nearly bad enough on paper to merit a last place finish in the Western Conference, but we also know that this team will not be staying together. There is never pleasure in losing two all-stars, but Sam Presti managed to generate double-digit returns in future first-round picks, giving OKC reason to be optimistic. The Thunder will look to trade Chris Paul’s lucrative contract for more assets, and as the team shows a lack of competitive ability, they will continue to trade their veterans. Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams are solid players, but they are also overpaid for their production and are likely to be traded as well. The one current bright spot on the roster is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who showed on the Clippers last season that he can play. This team gives him a better development opportunity than he had in LA, but don’t expect them to win many games. From a pure talent perspective, this roster is no worse than the Magic’s roster, but their placement in the stacked Western Conference doesn’t do them any favors.

Best Free Agents Still Available

Point Guard: Jerryd Bayless, Jeremy Lin, Jerian Grant, Shaun Livingston, Shane Larkin, Devin Harris, Jose Calderon, Raymond Felton, Chasson Randle
Shooting Guard: Iman Shumpert, Lance Stephenson, Vince Carter, Jamal Crawford, Jodie Meeks, Monta Ellis, Joe Johnson
Small Forward: Lance Thomas, Corey Brewer, Thabo Sefolosha, Carmelo Anthony, Justin Anderson, Luol Deng, Sam Dekker
Power Forward: Ryan Anderson, Kenneth Faried, Marquese Chriss, Luc Mbah a Moute, Jonas Jerebko, Dante Cunningham, Amir Johnson
Center: Timofey Mozgov, Nene Hilario, Joakim Noah, Zaza Pachulia, Amar’e Stoudemire

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There is plenty of veteran locker room leadership still available on the market, and many of these players are still serviceable on the court. Players like Shaun Livingston, Jamal Crawford and Iman Shumpert could provide any contending team with a strong rotation piece who knows his role, while players like Shane Larkin and Marquese Chriss still have the potential to develop their game. I’m also interested to see which NBA veterans successfully make a comeback to the league, with guys like Joe Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, Monta Ellis and Amar’e Stoudemire looking to revive their careers. NBA fans will also look forward to Vince Carter’s decision on where he wants to end his lengthy career.

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