It is going to be tough on teams that don’t expect to win much in the NBA Eastern Conference. There will be a lot of competition for last place and the best odds at a top lottery pick. All the teams in the bottom 5 have good reasons to focus on developing players and looking towards the future.
As usual injuries, hidden agendas and plain old fashioned luck will impact the final standings.
Ranking The Bottom 5
11. Indiana Pacers – Projected 33-49, last season 56-26
The Pacers took a chance by not tying up last season’s triple-double leader Lance Stephenson and letting the restricted free agent walk for a very modest contract to the Hornets, but there was no way they could have known at the time that they wouldn’t have leading scorer Paul George for the upcoming season. Of last year’s playoff teams, only Chicago and Memphis had a tougher time making baskets and without Stephenson’s playmaking and George’s ability to finish, the Pacers are missing over 36 percent of last season’s offense. They also have a gaping hole through both wing positions on defense.
It’s going to be a very uncomfortable season in Indiana and if they do the logical thing, the Pacers will be looking to trade David West, Luis Scola and/or Roy Hibbert for some young up-and-coming talent they can develop as they tank for a better draft pick.
Finishing worse than 11th in the East would represent success this season. The Pacers are in stall mode until George returns.
12. Milwaukee Bucks – Projected 33-49, last season 15-67
The Bucks are going to surprise a few teams. Last year injuries crushed a team’s hopes that believed they had a chance to sneak into the playoffs again. In fact the chance was real, but everything that could have gone wrong happened in Milwaukee.
New Head Coach Jason Kidd will get a clean slate and low expectations, but this roster is a lot better than that of a 15-win team. Don’t be surprised if the Knicks, Nets and Pistons can feel Milwaukee breathing down their necks in April.
13. Boston Celtics – Projected 29-53, last season 25-57
Boston has created maximum training camp flexibility with players on expiring contracts and non-guaranteed deals. Will Rajon Rondo be traded? How does Gerald Wallace fit on this team? With too many point guards, forwards and big men, what President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge does in October and/or during the season will determine if the Celtics win over or under 30 games.
Pegging a win total for Boston now is basically a Wild-Ass-Guess.
14. Orlando Magic – Projected 25-57, last season 23-59
The Magic took a significant hit to their expected win total by moving out Arron Afflalo and then got some it back by signing Channing Frye. Orlando will be a fun team to follow with lots of young potential future stars worth watching and they could be marginally better in Victor Oladipo’s sophomore season.
Player development will take precedence over winning, as it should.
15. Philadelphia 76ers – Projected 19-63, last season 19-63
The game plan in Philadelphia has been obvious for a while now and they would have taken last place in 2013-14 if only the Bucks could have won a few more times. It is really hard to win fewer than 20 games, but the 76ers should be able to do it again with ease.
President and General Manager Sam Hinkie is taking the long view and searching for a superstar to build around through the draft. He may have found one already in Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid or Dario Saric, but it will likely take more than a couple of years to find out.
Risks and Obstacles
Tanking a season, developing players and/or rebuilding through the draft are not guarantees for success, but it is one of the very few ways many teams have of getting a superstar. Each of the teams in the bottom 5 have the ability to go for a top lottery pick in next year’s draft, but it isn’t easy and sometimes your own players and coaches don’t cooperate. Nobody likes to lose.
Who do you think finishes last in the East? Which one of the teams in the bottom 5 will be first to overtly start tanking the season? Can any of these teams exceed expectations and make the playoffs? Let us know in the comments below.