The shifting NBA landscape Team by Team
As of July 3rd, 2019
The free agent frenzy was like a school of sharks feeding on a drifting whale carcass and the “Great White” of the NBA, Brooklyn, ate up Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. This team is an immediate contender a year from now when Durant is back, depending on the level he returns at. The other big winners were the Lakers, even if they don’t land Kawhi, as Anthony Davis is as big a catch as Durant. Philadelphia lost Jimmy Butler but reeled in Josh Richardson, Al Horford and retained Tobias Harris. The other big winners in our opinion are Milwaukee, who resigned Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton, then signed Wes Matthews and Robin Lopez. The other big winners were the Utah Jazz, who added Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic and Indiana who got a huge addition with Malcolm Brogdon. Lastly, don’t feel sorry for the Celtics as Boston remained relevant by adding Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter.
But let’s face it, the biggest winner here is the NBA and jersey sales. NBA free agency news was dominating ESPN and the rest of the media outlets and the popularity of the league continues to grow. I’m not a fan of players dictating where they will go and join forces but it sure is working in terms of building the NBA brand. The Western Conference is absolutely loaded right now, and the top of East is equally as good as anyone in the West.
As of this writing the last big chip to fall is Kawhi Leonard who is deciding between the Lakers, Clippers and Raptors. I personally would love to see him in a Clippers uniform as I respect Doc Rivers and feel the Clippers roster would be a perfect fit for him. From a basketball perspective, if his goal is to win Championships, then he should stay in Toronto as that gives him the best shot to win another Ship.
There are a lot of other quality free agents that have yet to sign with teams that can have an impact but for the most part all the big-name players are set. Keep reading for our early projections for the playoffs next year and a few win total bets.
Western Conference – Who’s in and Who’s out
The “in” teams of the West
- Houston Rockets: 2018-19 wins 53 / 2019-20 Win Totals # 52.5 / ASA projection 53 (Future bet NBA Champs at 15-1) – There was a lot of noise in Houston going into free agency as they were rumored to be interested in gutting the team for Jimmy Butler. Someone in the front office made the logical decision to stand pat with a team that took Golden State to the wire two straight years in the playoffs. IF this team doesn’t implode with the mega-personalities of Chris Paul and James Harden, they could certainly win the West this year. Nobody seems interested in betting the one team in the West that returns their team intact and could be considered the second-best team in the NBA the past two years. Key free agent signing was bringing back Austin Rivers and Danuel House.
- Utah Jazz: 2018-19 wins 50 / 2019-20 Win Totals # 53.5 / ASA projection 55 – The additions of Mike Conley from Memphis and Bojan Bogdanovic make this team a serious contender in the West. Conley is a vet point guard coming off a 21.1PPG and 6.4APG season and gives the Jazz a go-to guy to pair with Donovan Mitchell. Bogdanovic shot 42.5% from beyond the arc in Indiana last season while averaging 18PPG. Those two key additions along with defensive player of the year Gobert, and sniper Joe Ingles along with Derrick Favors make this a dynamic starting five. The Jazz did lose Jae Crowder in the trade to Memphis for Conley.
- Denver Nuggets: 2018-19 wins 54 / 2019-20 Win Totals # 50.5 / ASA projection 52 – This team won 54 games a year ago and everyone is back. Center Nikola “Joker” Jokic was unstoppable in the playoffs and is clearly one of the best offensive centers in the NBA. The Nuggets locked up Jamal Murray to a long-term contract and solidified themselves as a contender for years to come. Michael Porter Jr will make his NBA debut this season after missing last year with an injury and could have an impact on this teams success.
- Oklahoma City Thunder: 2018-19 wins 49 / 2019-20 Win Totals # 46.5 / ASA projections 49 (NBA Champs longshot 30-1) The Thunder have TWO potential MVP candidates on their roster in Paul George (one of three finalists this year) and Russell Westbrook who averaged a triple-double AGAIN last season. Dennis Schroder, Steven Adams and a host of solid roll players make this team very dangerous and a sleeper in the West. The Thunders weren’t able to make a splash in the free agent market.
- Portland Trailblazers: 2018-19 wins 53 / 2019-20 Win Total # 45.5 / ASA projection 45 – Another team that hasn’t been overly active in the free agent market, yet return a core of players that finished 3rd in the West last year with 53 wins. Portland inked Damian Lillard to a longterm deal which was #1 on their priority list for free agents. They brought in Kent Bazemore who could be a sneaky great fit for the Blazers who needed a stretch wing. They traded for Hassan Whiteside of the Heat, who at times can be good, and at others doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. Jusuf Nurkic was injured last year, and his return is crucial, or this team could slide out of the top eight.
- LA Lakers: 2018-19 wins 37 / 2019-20 Win Total # 52.5 / ASA projection N/A Yes, it’s taken us this long to talk about the Lakers but there is still too much unknown as of this writing to accurately predict where this team falls in the West. Yes, they added Anthony Davis who I would rank as a top 5 player in the entire league. Yes, they have LeBron, who fractured this team last season with his off and on court antics, and even though he’s aging, can still be one of the best in the NBA. In my opinion, a key for the Lakers will be Kyle Kuzma and his development this season. Kuzma scored 30+ points seven times last year and had 41 against the Pistons. If the Lakers land Kawhi Leonard they’re the favorite in the West and overall to win the Championship. Leonard proved in the playoffs he’s currently the best two-way player in the NBA and IF he joins this Los Angeles team that makes the Lakers third best player LeBron (gulp). If the Lakers can’t entice Leonard to join them, they will round out their roster with some cheaper vets and still have a “Big 3” in place to make the post-season.
- Golden State Warriors: 2018-19 wins 57 / 2019-20 Win Total # 47.5 / ASA projection 45 – I’m in limbo on this Warriors team and the impact of free agency that saw them lose Kevin Durant. I’m sorry to say this but this type of injury (Achilles) is one that NBA players just don’t bounce back from. It can be argued KD was one of the top three players in the NBA, if not the best the past few seasons. But how does this injury impact his game and what version of him do you get two years from now? We won’t know for awhile on the impact of this loss in Golden State, but I do think they salvaged a bad situation by signing Klay Thompson to a Max deal and finagled a sign and trade with the Nets to get D’Angelo Russell. Russell had a fantastic season with Brooklyn last year by averaging 21.1PPG and 7APG and helped carry that team to the playoffs. He plugs an immediate hole for Golden State with Klay out until at least the All-Star break next season. This team still has Steph Curry, Draymond Green and a roster of players that have all been involved in big playoff games. The signing of Kevon Looney was key along with a quiet signing of Willie Cauley-Stein who played 81 games for the Kings last season and averaged 11.9PPG and 8.4RPG. This team takes a small step back but is still a playoff team and will be dangerous in the post season.
- Dallas Mavericks: 2018-19 wins 33 / 2019-20 Win Total # 41.5 / ASA projection 44 – IF Kristaps Porzingis returns to his “unicorn” form of 2017-18 when he averaged 22.7PPG, 6.6RPG and 2.4BPG, and Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic can produce numbers as he did a year ago, this Mavs team is playoff bound. Let’s not forget they have Tim Hardaway Jr, an up-and-coming point guard in Jalen Brunson and they added a key veteran 3-point specialist in Seth Curry. Owner Mark Cuban has patiently put together another quality product in Dallas.
On the outside looking in:
LA Clippers: Again, the Clippers are not a known entity right now as they are in the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes, so there are too many questions to be answered before we make a final judgement. With Kawhi they become one of the favorites in the West, but without him they are just a playoff contender again. The Clippers did resign Patrick Beverley which was a key and have an up-and-coming star in PG Gilgeous-Alexander. Lou Williams provides scoring off the bench while Montrezl Harrell provides rebounding and toughness.
San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs were the 7 seed in the West last year with 48 wins and add a key piece in Dejounte Murray who missed last year with a knee injury. They have a solid veteran core with Aldridge, Gay, Patty Mills and DeMar DeRozan along with one of the best all-time coaches in the NBA with Gregg Popovich. The one free agent the Spurs added this offseason was DeMarre Carrol who gives them added depth.
Sacramento Kings: I was a big fan of betting on the Kings last season and they rewarded me handsomely at the betting window. The Kings didn’t make any huge big-name free agent signing but they did bring in Trevor Ariza and resigned Harrison Barnes. The young nucleus of talent with De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles III are the driving force in Sacramento. Depending on their growth from last year to next will decide the Kings playoff fate going forward.
Out but teams that can beat the best in the West any given night:
New Orleans Pelicans: Let’s not anoint Zion Williamson the greatest of all time or even one of the best in the NBA next year just yet. He’s an uber talent athletically, but so are a lot of guys in the NBA. If Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram can take another step forward, along with Jrue Holiday, this Pelicans team will be a dangerous team to face night in and night out. Adding a sniper like JJ Redick and center like Derrick Favors certainly helps this team be a playoff contender, but it will take another year before we give them serious consideration. The Pels did lose Julius Randle to the Knicks.
Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies finally accepted the new NBA and decided to adapt to the current theme of spreading the floor, playing faster and shooting threes. The Jazz cut ties with Conley and drafted their point guard of the future in Ja Morant. This will be a fun team to watch with Morant, Avery Bradley, Jaren Jackson and Kyle Anderson and center Valanciunas. As this team currently stands, they added depth with veterans Kyle Korver and Jae Crowder and could win as many as 30 games.
These teams have chance and we won’t waste a lot of time talking about them:
Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns. The Suns brought in Ricky Rubio, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky. Along with current Suns Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton there still isn’t enough talent on this roster to make the playoffs. Minnesota traded up to get Jarrett Culver from Texas Tech which is a nice addition but there isn’t much else to talk about concerning free agent signings (Jordan Bell from Golden State) or a playoff spot for the Wolves.
Who’s makes the Eastern Conference playoffs and who’s golfing early
In are the…
- Milwaukee Bucks: 2018-19 wins 60 / 2019-20 Win Totals # 55.5 / ASA projections 54 – The Bucks produced the best record in the NBA last season and lost in the Conference Finals to Kawhi and the Raptors. Milwaukee lost one key piece in Malcom Brogdon but retained most of their talent and even added the ‘other’ Lopez (Robin) along with Wes Matthews. The reigning MVP, Giannis, will only get better and this young team will be back in the mix at the end of the season. Expect a slight drop off in total wins but they’ll still be one of the top, if not the top team in the East.
- Philadelphia 76ers: 2018-19 wins 51 / 2019-20 Win Totals # 52.5 / ASA projections 52 – The Sixers were at the hub of the free agent frenzy with Jimmy Butler going to Miami and JJ Redick to New Orleans. Philly managed to retain Tobias Harris, added Al Horford and inked Josh Richardson in the deal with Miami for Butler, which makes them a contender in the East again. This team was a rim-rattling, last second, game winning shot by Kawhi away from potentially advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. If Ben Simmons learns to shoot in the offseason, then lookout.
- Indiana Pacers: 2018-19 wins 48 / 2019-20 Win Totals # 48.5 / ASA projections 51 (NBA Champs longshot 35-1) This team was playing awfully well last season prior to Victor Oladipo getting hurt and made a significant free agent pick up in Malcolm Brogdon from Milwaukee. Want to teach your kid to be a good shooter? Make a goal of being a “180 shooter” like Brogdon who combined to shoot over 180 percent when you add up his field goal, free throw line and 3-pointer percentage. A sneaky signing was Jeremy Lamb from Charlotte who immediately adds to a potent roster along with Sabonis and Turner. This team will defend the 3-point line and has a scorer in Oladipo and shooter in Brogdon.
- Boston Celtics: 2018-19 wins 49 / 2019-20 Win Totals # 49 / ASA projection 49 – The Celtics suffered two huge free agent losses in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, but they signed Kemba Walker from Charlotte and Enes Kanter from Portland to fill those voids. Walker is a borderline Super Star in this league and will now be paired with the best talent he’s had on his roster in his NBA career. Boston has Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward left on their roster which is a great core of players to work with. Everyone is down on Hayward, but I predict a trend back towards his All-Star form after a full year removed from his horrific injury. Remember how it took Paul George two full seasons to regain his full range of movement and confidence? This team will be a tough out in the playoffs.
- Toronto Raptors: 2018-19 wins 58 / 2019-20 Win Totals # 52.5 / ASA projection N/A – Without Kawhi Leonard this team falls back to the middle of the pack in the East but still has enough talent in place to be a playoff team. The Raptors are currently in a wait-and-see holding pattern (as are the Clippers and Lakers) until Kawhi decides where he will play next season. The Raptors haven’t added any other key free agents but haven’t lost anyone (yet) from last year’s Championship roster. As we all witnessed, Pascal Siakam has a huge upside and Fred VanVleet can knock down big shots in big moments. Toronto will also lose Danny Green if Kawhi decides to bolt from the North. In our opinion, Leonard would be making a bad basketball decision to leave the weaker East for the West, if his aspirations are to win Championships? If he stays this team vaults to top two in the Eastern Conference with Milwaukee.
- Brooklyn Nets: 2018-19 wins 42 / 2019-20 Win Totals # 47.5 / ASA projection 47 – The biggest free agent winners this year were the Brooklyn Nets (unless the Lakers get Kawhi) as they added Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and to a lesser extent DeAndre Jordan. Durant will obviously miss this upcoming season, but they do add the best shot-creating guard in the NBA in Kyrie Irving and a defensive center in Jordan. When you break down the numbers the replacement of D’Angelo Russell for Kyrie isn’t as dramatic as you might think. Russell averaged 21.1PPG, 7APG and 3.9RPG compared to Irving’s 23.8PPG, 6.9APG and 5RPG so the numbers are eerily similar. The Nets do have some promising young talent in LeVert, Dinwiddie and Joe Harris so we expect a few more wins this season.
- Orlando Magic: 2018-19 wins 42 / 2019-20 Win Totals # 37.5 / ASA projection 42 – The Magic resigned center Vucevic which was HUGE in keeping this team as a playoff contender in the East. Vucevic as an All-Star last season and he finished the year averaging 20.8PPG, 12RPG and 1.1 blocks per game to help Orlando reach the post-season. To give you an idea of just how good the Magic center is, he had the 8th best Real Plus-Minus in the league, ahead of LeBron James (9th). Orlando also resigned Terrence Ross who had a career-year last season of 15.1PPG and 3.5RPG. The Magic also added Al-Farouq Amino from the Blazers who averaged 9.4PPG and 7.5RPG last year. Plenty of young talent on the roster for this team to make it into the playoffs this upcoming season.
- Miami Heat: 2018-19 wins 39 / 2019-20 Win Totals # 39.5 / ASA projection 41 – The Heat get our 8th and final spot in the East almost by default. Just look at the rest of the East and you’ll know why. The big addition for the Heat was Jimmy Butler coming from Philly. Butler was one of the top free agents and the Heat pulled off a 4-team deal to land the Super Star. Miami also traded for Meyers Leonard who gives them depth at the center position. The Heat won 39 games this year with Dwyane Wade and Butler at this stage of his career is better than Wade was at 37 years of age.
Let’s not waste too much of your time with the rest of the East
We won’t waste a lot of time on the rest of the Eastern Conference other than the Detroit Pistons who could be a playoff contender, but age and an injury prone roster (Rose and Griffin) will have a tough time making post-season. Derrick Rose did have a nice season for the Wolves last season by averaging 18PPG and 4.3APG and will be an upgrade for the Pistons, but can he remain healthy? Tony Snell came over from Milwaukee and will add depth, but this team will have a tough time being .500. The New York Knicks have been extremely active in free agency but have totally blown it by not landing a Max player. The money the Knicks spent has gone too: Julius Randle, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock, Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson. Insert laughing, crying emoji here as the Knicks are the worst run organization in the NBA. The Charlotte Hornets lost Kemba Walker to the Celtics but picked up Terry Rozier from Boston. This team relied heavily on Walker and may not win MJ’s number of 23 games this season. The Cleveland Cavaliers were quite in free agency and are clearly in rebuilding mode. If Kevin Love is healthy and productive, he’ll be an attractive trade chip by the All-Star break. The Atlanta Hawks traded for Evan Turner who gives them an upgrade at shooting guard and brought in Allen Crabbe from Brooklyn. Crabbe saw his numbers dip last season but did average double-digits for three straight years prior to last. The Chicago Bulls lost Bobby Portis Jr but added Thaddeus Young (career averages of: 13.4PPG, 6RPG, 1.7APG and 1.5 steals per game) from the Pacers and Satoransky from the Wizards in a sign and trade deal. Last and least are the Washington Wizards. Washington added free agents Isaiah Thomas from Denver who moves likes he’s 50 and clearly isn’t the player he was prior to his hip injury. They also added Jonathon Simmons from Philly and Moritz Wagner from the Lakers but did lose Satoransky to the Bulls.
There is plenty of moves to be made by teams yet but for the most part the big pieces are already in place. We can’t wait for November to get here!