Guaranteed to make me look foolish, but I can’t resist. What follows is a few sentences of explanation/speculation on each NBA team and the number of games they may or more likely may not win this season. Counting from the bottom to the top, since that will be the lens through which the Boston Celtics and Boston Celtics fans view the Association this year.
Andrew Wiggins Ping-Pong Tournament, also known as the 2014 Draft Lottery Participants
30. Philadelphia 76ers
Motivated by the 2014 draft more than any other team, the Sixers consciously pulled the plug on the season when they traded Jrue Holiday on draft night and picked the currently injured high-risk/high-reward shot-blocker Nerlens Noel. New GM Sam Hinkie will ask new coach Brett Brown to experiment throughout the season, attempting to find the best combinations and develop the youngest team (average age: 23.9) in the league. Michael Carter-Williams’ jump-shot will be project #1.
The line says 16.5 wins. Darko Index Predicts 15-67.
29. Phoenix Suns
Gerald Green once made Celtics fans drool with his spectacular dunking. That was 2005. Now nearing his 28th birthday, Green is now an elder statesman on a team that hopes to lose upwards of 60 games. Can Eric Bledsoe run a team? How fast can lottery pick Alex Len make good on his potential? Marcin Gortat got out just in time. Emeka Okafor’s neck pain got him traded to a warm weather city with a cold season ahead. Warm up the heating pad, Emeka.
The line says 21.5 wins. Darko Index Predicts 19-63.
28. Utah Jazz
Goodbye, Big Al. Hello, Little Trey. When Trey Burke returns from his injury, the starting backcourt will be Burke and Burks. I like that. Especially because of a certain Red Sox center-fielder who debuted in 1987. All Golden State Warriors fans owe Utah GM Dennis Lindsey a fruit basket after the Jazz took on two horrendous, but expiring contracts (Jefferson and Biedrins) in order to tank this season and allowed the Warriors to trade for Iguodala the GSW-Utah-Denver swap this offseason. The Jazz hope to develop the big Turk Enes Kanter and the least-talked about potential-big-man-in-the-league Derrick Favors. With Big Al and Millsap gone, the Jazz will give them each more minutes than they can handle and see what sticks. Will Biedrins play a single minute? Amazing how the once-useful rebounder has descended. Also amazing that he got that contract by showing one skill: rebounding.
The line says 24.5 wins. Darko Index Predicts 22-60.
27. Orlando Magic
Victor Oladipo will be a fascinating lock-down wing defender throughout his NBA career, but will his offensive game come around? Unfortunately, his Magic team is still in its infancy, so it may take a while to tell. Three young bigs and the year in which they were born: Vucevic (’90), the uber-thin Moe Harkless (’93) and the other Canadian, Andrew Nicholson (’89). Tobias Harris was an under-the-radar addition from Milwaukee in the Redick trade. This year will be equally important for him. Magic fans will wish to go back to 1993 until the lottery comes. Big Baby, now Glen Davis, is an elder baby on this team on toddlers.
The line says 24.5 wins. Darko Index Predicts 24-58.
26. Boston Celtics
Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens are looking at two distinct seasons within the one 82-gamer that they will be forced to play. The first season will be without PG Rajon Rondo. The second season will start when Rondo returns. The first season, in which Avery Bradley and Phil Pressey will attempt to run the point, yes attempt, should be about highlighting their useful assets (Humphries and his expiring contract; Gerald Wallace and his three-year contract; Brandon Bass and his reasonable two-year contract) and then hoping to trade a few of those players right at about the time when Rondo returns.
Ideal scenario: the Celtics go 1-24 without Rondo, but Humphries averages 11 rebounds per game and Gerald Wallace finds some sort of offensive balance to go with his undeniable defensive energ– then with Rondo, the Celtics go 24-33, and surprise with a few unexpected wins over playoff-bound teams toward the end of the year. Rondo establishes himself as a leader and motivator, and continues to be one of the best passing and rebounding point guards in the league. The Celtics would probably be looking at the 5th pick in the draft, and an 8.8% chance at Andrew Wiggins.
The line says 27.5 wins. Darko Index Predicts 25-57.
25. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks drafted 18 year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo. Try saying his name five times really fast. Or don’t. You may hurt yourself. Seven syllables. The Sports Illustrated NBA Preview chose not to include his name in their Bucks forecast. Were they afraid that Microsoft Word would explode with red lines? Giannis will team with perhaps the most exciting interior defender in the league not named Hibbert, Sanders! and Giannis, who has a 7’3″ wingspan despite his 6’9″ frame (Ibaka-like) will prompt nightmares from opponents on a nightly basis in the soon-to-be-defunct Bradley Center. Should the Bucks trade for Avery Bradley and become a defensive-only juggernaut? Also, Brandon Knight is not an actual point guard. He’s a small shooting guard without a jumper, but with good open court instincts. Out with Monta, out with Mr. BJ, Brandon Jennings. In with a defensive philosophy, plus a little Mayo on top.
The line says 28.5 wins. Darko Index Predicts 29-53.
Fewer Ping-Pong Balls, But Still Lottery-Bound, also known as the “We’re Not Tanking,” We’re Attempting to Move Forward Division
24. Sacramento Kings Former Warriors assistant and defensive whiz Michael Malone gets his first coaching gig. And he’s instantly pegged as the next Sissyphus (the guy who was forever pushing the enormous boulder up the mountain only to have it come crashing back down every time). How long will it take to transform a volatile locker room culture and constantly mediocre defense?
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Carl Landry are two good places to start. Two physical, relentless energy guys will certainly help. Greivis Vasquez (14 ppg, 9 apg, 4 rpg) was a revelation in New Orleans last year. A point guard who looks to pass is something Cousins, Salmons and the rest of the Kings haven’t seen before. The Kings second-half record will be more indicative of their development this year than their overall mark.
The line says 31.5 wins. Darko Index Predicts 33-49.
23. Charlotte Bobcats (still the Bobcats for one more year)
For the first time in the history of the Bobcats (2004-2014), they will be a team that hopes to challenge for a playoff spot, or at least hopes to finish ahead of a half-dozen teams in the league. After this year, they will be changing their name back to the Hornets, which reminds me of 1993. Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson (Granmama), Kendall Gill and Muggsy. Man, I loved Muggsy. It’s a shame we can’t watch a 5’3″ player in the NBA anymore. Nate Robinson towers over Muggsy. Earl Boykins, who stands at 5’5″ was the torchbearer for tiny NBA players after Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues and Anthony “Spud” Webb retired. Boykins has been on the league’s periphery, playing 8 games with Houston last year. Back to the Bobcats. Cody Zeller will pair nicely with Al Jefferson in the front court. Zeller may even take Rookie of the Year Honors. The talents of Kidd-Gilchrist on the defensive end, mixed with Gerald Henderson’s long-range accuracy all lead up to this point: Kemba Walker, for all his skills, is not a pure point guard. Can new coach Steve Clifford (a Stan Van Gundy disciple with perhaps a calmer temperament) unify this talented group? I’d imagine they’ll be much better than most realize.
The line says 27.5 wins. Darko Index Predicts 34-48.
22. Los Angeles Lakers
The only thing keeping Celtics fans from reeling in despair to open this season might be the state of the Lakers. When will Kobe return? What will he look like? When will Pau get traded? What will they get in return? When will Nash retire? What will he do with himself? These are the burning questions in Laker-land. Xavier Henry’s opening night explosion and Nick Young’s best Gilbert Arenas imitation (anywhere inside half-court feels about right to jack up one up) will only go so far. The Lakers’ season hinges on the health of their aging trio, and it would make sense for them to get something back before Gasol’s contract is up. Chris Kaman can still rebound, but he’s lost the mojo that his mullet once brought.
The line says 35 wins. Darko Index Predicts 37-45.
21. Toronto Raptors
The line says 36.5 wins. Darko Index Predicts 38-44.
20. Portland Trailblazers
The Blazers have a solid young offensive core in LaMarcus Aldridge, Damion Lillard, and Nic Batum. They’ve added some much-needed depth off the bench in Mo Williams and Dorrell Wright. Portland’s reserves were undeniably useless last season, posting the biggest splits between starters/reserves in the league. Robin Lopez is an pesky center who will give them something physical down low. The main issue for Portland will be defense. As in, will they figure out a way to be decent. For all of Lillard’s offensive exploits, he cannot remain a sieve defensively. Like Steph Curry, he needs to add weight and learn to minimize his weaknesses. A year of seasoning can’t hurt. Batum and Mathews are capable defenders, but the Blazers will need Lopez to take a giant leap to inch up from “disaster area” to “decent.”
The line says 38.5 wins. Darko Index Predicts 40-42.
19. Atlanta Hawks
Placing them out of the playoff bubble may be a stretch. They will certainly be in contention for the 6th/7th/8th spots with Detroit, Washington, and Cleveland. The Hawks could win 47 games and enjoy their new core of Horford/Millsap/Korver/Teague. I worry about Horford’s long-term health and the burden he will face now that Smith is gone. While Teague can be electrifying, I’m not sure he knows how to run an offense or make his teammates better. Millsap will be a big plus, but the bench lacks depth outside of Lou Williams, who is coming off a season-ending knee injury. New coach Mike Budenholzer will attempt to bring the Spurs principles to Atlanta. Easier said than done.
The line says 40 wins. Darko Index Predicts 41-41.
18. New Orleans Pelicans
I really hope I’m wrong in predicting the newly coined Pelicans will get edged out of the 8th seed in the West by the Mavericks and the Wolves. A young team with a ton of potential, the first two months of the season will be something of a getting-to-know-you time. With the arrivals of PG Jrue Holiday and combo-guard Tyreke Evans, to go with the smooth-shooting but somewhat hobbled Eric Gordon, the Pelicans could become an offensive juggernaut. Add in the range of stretch-power forward Ryan Anderson and the lane presence of Anthony Davis, the Pelicans will be squawking and playing happily in the mud. Or…Eric Gordon gets reinjured, Evans doesn’t work well without the ball in his hands, and former-Celtic superstar center Greg Steimsma is needed more than coach Monty Williams hopes, because Anderson can’t defend power forwards. A team to watch for the next few years, New Orleanians have a lot to look forward to.
The line says 40 wins. Darko Index Predicts 42-40.
17. Denver Nuggets
Who knows what will happen in Denver. A 57-win season under now departed coach George Karl may turn into a non-playoff team one year later. After losing a fantastically entertaining series to Golden State in the first round of last year’s playoffs, Denver lost their entire front office and their best all-around player (Iguodala). They still have the impressive Ty Lawson speeding them down the floor and the court-running big men (Faried, McGee) to keep up. Gallinari will miss a significant chunk of the season as well, as he rehabs from a torn ACL. Assuming Minnesota and Dallas stay healthy, the Nuggets will need to rely on Wilson Chandler’s scoring and some serious maturation on the defensive end from their big men.
The line says 46.5 wins. Darko Index Predicts 42-40.
Coming soon (despite the fact the season started Tuesday night): predictions for the top half.