In both conferences, there are teams that are going to be in the 2016 playoffs that weren’t in the 2015 postseason. Most of the focus is on the teams that’ll “break out” and get into the next level, but for every team that makes the jump, there will be one that falls. And there lies the other half of the discussion.
Which teams are going to drop out of the playoff hunt.
There are at least three teams we have a reasonable degree of assurance will reenter the postseason battles this year:
- The Oklahoma City Thunder: With Kevin Durant back, this is a no-brainer.
- Indiana Pacers: They traded away Roy Hibbert, but with Paul George healed and last year’s finish, there’s not much question they can make it in the weak Eastern Conference.
- Miami Heat: Some expect them to not just get to the playoffs but contend for the Eastern Conference Finals.
In addition to those three teams, the Utah Jazz finished last season strong, and in spite of the injury to Dante Exum, could break out this year. The Orlando Magic are a team poised to break out as well. Stan Van Gundy has reshaped the Detroit Pistons in his image. So certainly more teams could compete, but it’s hard to see that much shakeup in the playoffs.
In all likelihood, only three new teams will be in the playoffs this year, but the East will be much stronger than it was last year, though, still weaker than the West.
And for each of those teams that break back into the playoffs, by default, one of these teams will start fishing early.
The Mavs would make the playoffs in owner Mark Cuban’s imagined, realigned league, but unfortunately for them, that hasn’t happened yet. And their chances of getting to the playoffs this year are almost directly proportional with them being better than the Oklahoma City Thunder — which are close to zero.
That has a lot to do with the weirdness of their offseason fiasco, where DeAndre Jordan played “Lucy” to Cuban’s proverbial “Charlie Brown kicking the football.” Jordan first agreed to sign with the Mavericks until a comedic series of events ended with him essentially declaring, “Psyche!!!” and heading back to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Now, the Mavericks have almost no one in the middle. Zaza Pachulia isn’t a starting-caliber center anymore, but he’s better than Samuel Dalembert and JaVale McGee. Arguably, no team with postseason aspirations is weaker at one position than the Mavs are at the 5, and Dirk Nowitzki is hardly the player to help compensate.
The Brooklyn Nets have pretty much decided, whether they admit openly or not, to go into rebuilding mode. Jarrett Jack, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez isn’t a postseason starting five.
Even in the East, that’s a problematic starting five. Two of their “starters” (Jack and Bogdanovic) would be backups on half the teams in the NBA — and that’s being generous to Johnson, who had a below-average Player Efficiency Rating of 14.1 last season. Johnson might not survive to the end of the season on the team anyway.
His gargantuan $24.9 million contract makes him very hard to trade, but don’t be surprised if he’s waived shortly after the trade deadline.
Things won’t get any better next year. With no money, no assets and no players, the Nets won’t just miss this year, they won’t be back to the dance for the foreseeable future.
The Celtics have the Nets’ first-round pick in 2016 and in 2018, and they have the rights to swap picks in 2017, so Brooklyn’s misery will be Boston’s gain. But the general upshot is that the Nets are going to be more like the Nots until next decade.
The Celtics are going to be battling for the No. 8 seed, but they’ll come just short. But being fair, they were just kind of in the playoffs by default last year. If the Pacers and Heat hadn’t been hurt, they wouldn’t have gotten there.
But that gives Boston a pretty undersized backcourt with one defensive guy and one offensive guy. Neither is much of a “two-way” player.
At small forward, Evan Turner is still trying to figure out what position he is after five years in the league. At times, he can be almost brilliant, but at other times he’s likely been responsible for a shattered TV set or two. The interior defense of David Lee and Tyler Zeller isn’t striking fear in the hearts of anyone.
They do have good depth and should be competitive under a great head coach in Brad Stevens, but it’s just hard to see them surviving enough games down the stretch as the competition gets tougher.
Unlike the other two teams on this list, though, the Celtics should be back soon. Because, as previously alluded to, Brooklyn’s suckiness is going to be their gain.