For the first time in years, the window to win an NBA championship is wide open.
Across the board, the league is as competitive as ever, and few teams head into the 2018-19 season with little to no playoff hope. With so many superstars (Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker) switching teams this summer, the balance of power is far more spread out.
One thing that’s stayed the same? The dominance of the Western Conference, which could have seven of the top 10 teams in the league, led by the new-look Los Angeles Clippers.
With the 2019-20 season nearing its start, here’s how every team stacks up.
Battle for the No. 1 Pick
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30. Charlotte Hornets
Biggest Adds: Terry Rozier, PJ Washington
Worst Losses: Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb
With Walker and Lamb leaving in free agency, the leading returning scorer for Charlotte is a tie between Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller at a whopping 10.1 points per game.
Rozier should get all the shots he can handle, but his true shooting percentage last season (50.1 percent) ranked 87th out of 96 qualified guards. Charlotte doesn’t have any other go-to options, meaning the Hornets offense should be the league’s worst.
The growth and development of Miles Bridges, PJ Washington and Malik Monk will be the lone bright spots on a team that should have traded Walker when it had the chance.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers
Biggest Adds: Darius Garland, Dylan Windler, Kevin Porter Jr.
Worst Losses: Channing Frye, David Nwaba
The health of Kevin Love will ultimately determine how far the Cavaliers fall this season, and the team needs to be among the bottom 10 to keep its 2020 first-round pick stemming from a 2017 Kyle Korver trade.
Consider the pick safe.
Three first-round selections (Darius Garland, Dylan Windler, Kevin Porter Jr.) join 2018-19 All-Rookie second-teamer Collin Sexton, who averaged 16.7 points while shooting 40.2 percent from three.
The locker room will miss the retired Frye, and losing their best perimeter defender in Nwaba could mean an even worse defense than their record-setting performance (117.6 defensive rating) from last season. Cleveland has some nice young talent and lots of expiring contracts but still won’t be able to stop anybody this year.
28. Washington Wizards
Biggest Adds: Rui Hachimura, Isaiah Thomas, Davis Bertans
Worst Losses: Trevor Ariza, Tomas Satoransky, Jabari Parker, Bobby Portis
The Wizards only won 32 games last season and lost a ton of talent in free agency. Combine that with John Wall’s Achilles injury and Washington should be a serious contender for the No. 1 overall pick.
Bradley Beal will be in trade talks all year as the Wizards sink to the bottom of the East, and trading him with two years left on his contract would probably be the best play for all involved. Beal could challenge for the league scoring title as long as Thomas, when healthy, doesn’t attempt to hijack the offense. Thomas is among the NBA’s worst defenders and made just 36.7 percent of his shots over the past two years.
Bertans was third in three-point shooting among all forwards last season (42.9 percent), Hachimura could be a sneaky Rookie of the Year pick, and Thomas Bryant should outplay his new three-year, $25 million deal. There are some positives on this bad Wizards team, but not enough to keep them out of the basement.
27. Memphis Grizzlies
Biggest Adds: Ja Morant, Andre Iguodala, Tyus Jones, Jae Crowder, Brandon Clarke
Worst Losses: Mike Conley Jr., Avery Bradley
The last time a Grizzlies team didn’t feature Conley or Marc Gasol, Allen Iverson led the NBA in minutes per game, Brandon Roy won Rookie of the Year, and the “We Believe” Golden State Warriors shocked MVP Dirk Nowitzki’s 67-win Dallas Mavericks.
Yeah, it’s been a while.
The good news? Memphis already has a pair of future stars and franchise building blocks in Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Others like Brandon Clarke, Grayson Allen and De’Anthony Melton could turn into solid role players, as well.
Center Jonas Valanciunas was uber-productive following a midseason trade to Memphis (19.9 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks in 27.7 minutes per game), and the team should get some decent draft picks and young talent back for Iguodala and Crowder from wing-hungry playoff teams closer to the deadline.
Morant should be among the Rookie of the Year finalists with the offense flowing through him from Day 1.
26. New York Knicks
Biggest Adds: RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, Elfrid Payton, Bobby Portis, Marcus Morris
Worst Losses: DeAndre Jordan, max cap space
New York could win 10 more games than last season thanks to a rise in overall talent, even if no superstars came flocking to Madison Square Garden this summer.
Barrett carries star potential, while Dennis Smith Jr. (21) and Randle (24) are still young enough to become standouts, as well. The rest of the veteran signings should at least help keep things competitive, and nearly all have small enough guarantees to be bought out and transformed into cap space again next summer.
New York’s goal should be trying to establish a more attractive culture for future free agents while developing Barrett, Smith, Randle, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Frank Ntilikina.
In the Lottery
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25. Phoenix Suns
Biggest Adds: Ricky Rubio, Dario Saric, Cameron Johnson, Ty Jerome
Worst Losses: TJ Warren, Josh Jackson
The Suns probably messed up by trading back in the draft and passing on Jarrett Culver and Coby White, even if Johnson will give them a much-needed floor-spacer between Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.
Rubio was a huge signing for Phoenix as a veteran who cares about ball distribution and defense. The Suns were just 19th in assists per game last season (23.9) and next to last in defense (115.1 defensive rating).
Kelly Oubre Jr. (16.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals) is still 23 and could be Phoenix’s answer at small forward, while Ty Jerome and Mikal Bridges should be key rotation pieces.
The roster still isn’t playoff-worthy, but at least it’ll be fun to watch.
24. Chicago Bulls
Biggest Adds: Coby White, Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky
Worst Losses: Robin Lopez
The Bulls have assembled a nice, young roster that should be in the running for the playoffs. But unless they can develop a star or trade for one, they’ll once again be on the outside looking in.
Only the 17-win Knicks had a worse offense than Chicago last season (104.8 offensive rating), and starting point guard Kris Dunn has unimpressed to this point. White and Satoransky should help jumpstart the scoring attack, which is led by Zach LaVine (23.7 points), Lauri Markkanen (18.7 points) and Otto Porter Jr. (17.5).
Injuries hit this roster hard last season, so even a clean bill of health could add five to 10 wins. Chicago will need a strong sophomore season from center Wendell Carter Jr., who could be the next Al Horford with his defense and impressive overall game.
23. Atlanta Hawks
Biggest Adds: De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, Jabari Parker
Worst Losses: Dewayne Dedmon, Taurean Prince, Kent Bazemore
Looking for a surprise team to surge into the Eastern Conference playoffs? This is it.
Following a miserable 6-23 start to the 2018-19 season, the Hawks finished a respectable 23-30 behind Trae Young’s 19.1-point, 8.1-assist rookie campaign. Power forward John Collins averaged 20.3 points and 10.3 rebounds after the All-Star break, while 6″7″ shooting guard Kevin Huerter drilled 39.7 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes.
Mix in a pair of lottery picks, a versatile forward in Turner and some scoring off the bench with Parker, and this could be a sneaky seventh or eighth seed in the East.
22. Dallas Mavericks
Biggest Adds: Seth Curry, Delon Wright, Boban Marjanovic
Worst Losses: Dirk Nowitzki
Like the Knicks, the Mavericks entered free agency with lots of cap space and big free-agent targets who ultimately went elsewhere. Unlike the Knicks, the Mavericks have Kristaps Porzingis to fall back on.
Signing Porzingis to a five-year, $158 million contract means he and Luka Doncic will both be under team control for at least the next four years, giving them perhaps the most talented young duo in the entire league.
The rest of the supporting cast (Tim Hardaway Jr., Curry, Dwight Powell, Jalen Brunson) isn’t good enough to make this a playoff team in the loaded West, no matter how dominant Doncic and Porzingis will be.
Even though he had little left to offer on the court, Nowitzki soaked up a lot of the media attention last season and was beloved in the locker room. Not having him in a Mavericks uniform for the first time since Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were breaking the single-season home run record in 1998 will just be weird.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder
Biggest Adds: Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Worst Losses: Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Jerami Grant
After punting on their George-Westbrook combo, the Thunder stockpiled eight first-round picks and a new face of the franchise with Gilgeous-Alexander.
Having Paul on board, at least to start the season, is a bit awkward since neither party likely wants to be together. Unless Oklahoma City wants to give up a draft pick or two to dump his remaining three years and $124.1 million, Paul will guide this Thunder team to be a competitive lottery squad in the West.
Steven Adams (13.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.0 blocks) remains a fan favorite, and Gallinari carries value both with his production (19.8 points, 6.1 rebounds 43.3 three-point percentage) and expiring $22.6 million contract.
At some point, OKC can cash in all its gift cards and build a contender once again. But for now, it’ll finish with a losing record for the first time since becoming the Thunder in 2008-09.
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20. Minnesota Timberwolves
Biggest Adds: Jarrett Culver, Jordan Bell
Worst Losses: Dario Saric, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, Tyus Jones
Minnesota sported a playoff-worthy 111.4 offensive rating last season, but a 24th-ranked defense ultimately doomed it.
Point guard will be thin with the loss of both Rose and Jones, and Shabazz Napier will now fill in behind 31-year-old Jeff Teague. Karl-Anthony Towns (24.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.6 blocks) is good enough to keep Minnesota competitive most nights, but the ceiling of the team will once again be decided by Andrew Wiggins.
After he shot just 42.5 percent over the past two years, the Wolves need a motivated and efficient Wiggins to even sniff the playoffs.
Culver will be a good defender in time, and Robert Covington remains one of the NBA’s most underrated players on both sides of the ball. Another 35-40-win season should be expected.
19. Detroit Pistons
Biggest Adds: Derrick Rose, Tony Snell, Sekou Doumbouya, Joe Johnson
Worst Losses: Wayne Ellington, Ish Smith
Detroit had the worst record (41-41) and net rating (minus-0.2) of any playoff team last season, and it should once again struggle to reach the postseason.
Rose, when healthy, is an upgrade as the team’s starting point guard over Reggie Jackson, and a previously weak group of wings is improved with Snell, Doumbouya and Johnson, fresh off his impressive showing in the BIG3.
The Pistons need a healthy Blake Griffin to have a chance, and his 75 games played last season were the most he’s logged in five years. Andre Drummond can become a free agent next summer by declining a $28.8 million player option and should only build on his 17.3-point and league-leading 15.6-rebound 2018-19 campaign.
With the Miami Heat improving, look for Detroit, Atlanta and the Orlando Magic to battle it out for the final playoff spot in the East.
18. Orlando Magic
Biggest Adds: Al-Farouq Aminu
Worst Losses: None
The Magic decided to run back a 42-40 playoff team, handing out $154 million to retain All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and small forward Terrence Ross over the next four years. The Aminu signing didn’t make a whole lot of sense given how loaded Orlando already was at power forward.
For Orlando to make any real jump in the standings, it’ll need Markelle Fultz to have some sort of impact. If the 21-year-old point guard can give Orlando’s lackluster backcourt a jolt, home-court advantage in the East if up for grabs.
In the end, the Magic may have to shake up this roster to maximize their talent. Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Vucevic, Mo Bamba and Aminu are all worthy of starting frontcourt jobs, and Gordon’s growth has already been stunted by playing on the wing instead of at his natural power forward position.
Unless Fultz can prove he’s healthy or some sort of major trade takes place, Orlando won’t be much better than its 42 wins last season.
17. Sacramento Kings
Biggest Adds: Trevor Ariza, Dewayne Dedmon, Cory Joseph
Worst Losses: Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks
The first team out of the West playoffs a season ago, Sacramento did the right thing by signing veterans to complement its young core.
Unfortunately, even that might not be enough in this West. Though the Thunder might fall out of the playoff picture, the Los Angeles Lakers look ready to take their place. The New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves could challenge, as well.
To reach the postseason, Sacramento needs star-level play from point guard De’Aaron Fox (17.3 points, 7.3 assists, 1.6 steals), power forward Marvin Bagley III (14.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.0 blocks) and shooting guard Buddy Hield (20.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 42.7 three-point percentage). Harrison Barnes, Bogdan Bogdanovic and the new free-agent signings will have to play big roles, as well.
The Kings will be good, but too many teams in the Western Conference will be better.
16. New Orleans Pelicans
Biggest Adds: Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, JJ Redick, Jaxson Hayes, Derrick Favors, Josh Hart, Nicolo Melli, Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Worst Losses: Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton
Go ahead and plug in the Pelicans as your must-watch team on League Pass this season.
Between Williamson likely winning Rookie of the Year, Ingram turning into a 20-points-per-game scorer and Jrue Holiday and Ball putting the clamps on opposing backcourts, the Pelicans will be as exciting as any team in the NBA.
Favors should finally thrive in a starting center role, and Hayes is coming off an impressive summer league in which he looked like a future All-Star. Add in a haul of draft picks from the Los Angeles Lakers and this is a team that could still be star-hunting (cough, Bradley Beal, cough) this season.
Max Morris Jersey Signed
While the playoffs are a possibility, this is all about long-term success for executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin and Co. And that’s something they should enjoy plenty of.