Media day is done, training camp has arrived and another NBA season is just around the corner, which means two things. One, the NBA season is here, and two, hope springs eternal. The standings are all 0-0 right now. Everyone's in the best shape of their careers, every team is going to push the pace and shoot more threes, while focusing on defense more, and after all, the most important question for every team is "Why not us?"
(The answer to "Why not us?" is "The Warriors.")
Of course, it's then that you realize the trap of thinking about a team's "ceiling." Say right now you expect a team to win 47 games. You think they have the talent, coaching and chemistry to get themselves above .500 and into a mid-to-high seeding. It's at that point, however, that you're not considering the things that naturally drag teams down. Injuries happen to every team, to various degrees. Slumps. A team enjoys a visiting city's nightlife for a little too long one night. An illness, which always circulates through locker rooms like wildfire, brings down execution for a week.
Players are human, and subject to human ups and downs. So that 47 wins? It's not the real answer, it's always a bit lower. The game, life itself drags teams down a bit. But still, there's that hope that everything goes right, or as right as it can.
Sure, there are teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping that everything goes right with their new trio of stars after trading for Carmelo Anthony this past weekend. But there's hope for teams like the Hornets that got lost in the fray last season. The Nuggets nearly made the playoffs despite injuries and being literally unable to play defense any worse. Even teams like the Hawks and Pacers, who will likely struggle to win more than 30 games, can imagine a world where things go just right.
Before the injuries, before the panic trades, before the locker room turmoil and players-only meetings, there's the hope of preseason, where everything's going to go right for everyone's team.
Here are your preseason Power Rankings:
|They were already way ahead of the field -- yes, "light years" ahead -- and then they got better. They continued their quest to provide the most questionable talent from the late 2000's Wizards with titles when they added Nick Young. The Warriors are superior to any and all challengers.||--||38-36|
|Choosing the second-best team in the league is brutal, but it does reside in the West, with Isaiah Thomas out for however long. The Rockets hold this spot because they carry over success from last season, and they added upgrades in Chris Paul and P.J. Tucker. The Spurs carry over success but didn't add major weapons, the Thunder revamped their team but weren't as good last season. So Houston takes this spot for now in what is an incredibly tough trio of challengers to Golden State.||2||18-55|
|The one thing you can't say about Sam Presti is he's gun shy. With a team that exceedeed expectations last year, the assumption was that if OKC made changes, it would be slight augmentations, tweaks and improvements. Instead, he added two multi-time All-Star players in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, and did not surrender a single first-round pick in either transaction. Presti is a near-lock for Executive of the Year, despite the fact that OKC could lose all three of its stars next summer.||3||36-37|
|The Spurs slip to fourth here, as if they had spent the summer daring me to finally underrate them, and eventually wore me down. This team is winning 55-plus games, because that's what it's done in 16 out of the past 18 seasons. However, the West is about firepower, and after losing key players this summer and only adding Rudy Gay, there's just not enough to keep them in the 2-spot. Still, don't be surprised in the slightest if the Spurs still finish second in the West, because Death, Taxes, Spurs.||1||19-54|
|They have LeBron James, and any team with LeBron James will be top-five, period. There are a lot of questions with their point guard situation due to Isaiah Thomas' hip injury, and the roster is still older and slower, but there's talent here, in droves. If things break right, they could be, dare I say, better than last year given their defensive capacity. They need a lot to go their way to get there, though. Even then, it doesn't matter much ... they play in the East.||3||47-28|
|Here's the reason for hope with the Raptors: They have more continuity than any other team in the East with their key players, a system that's proven to win regular-season games and their young talent has the potential to make leaps and reinvent the team. Toronto is preaching that it's committed to changing the way it plays. If that's the case, people are going to be surprised when the Raptors show up at the top of the standings, again, when they've been pretty easy to spot coming down the street. Turns out dinosaurs are hard to miss.||1||35-38|
|In Brad We Trust. That's the reason to think this will all come together for the Celtics, because otherwise, while they're loaded with terrific talent, the questions about fit, continuity and adapting to changing personnel are valid. Brad Stevens has to make it all come together. That said, if they get a leap from Jaylen Brown or a strong rookie campaign from Jayson Tatum, there's too much talent to keep them from the ranks of the elite, at least by the end of the season.||2||50-23|
|The Markieff Morris injury hurts, big time. He balances the floor and brings physicality. However, their versatility is notable for the options it provides them in just this kind of situation. They can adapt with Jason Smith at the 4 in a traditional mold, or go small with Kelly Oubre on the wing and Otto Porter at power forward. There are solutions available, but they have to figure out how to make it work. For what the Wizards want to accomplish this season, they can't afford to spend a lot of time solving that puzzle.||--||32-41|
|Lot of expectations here. Last year, a Tom Thibodeau-coached team was terrible defensively and great offensively, which was weird, honestly. So now with Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson on board, you expect the defense to improve, but will the offense maintain?||--||37-37|
|The Bucks are more of a sure thing than the teams behind them, which says a lot about the uncertainty this year. Giannis Antetokounmpo has some quiet MVP buzz, the team has shooters, athletes and playmakers. They check the boxes, but they're young. Can they play consistently enough to win the 5th seed (or better)?||--||52-20|
|I'm (perhaps irrationally) high on Charlotte, just as I was last year. I keep coming back to how the Hornets finished 0-9 in games decided by three points or less. They have solid NBA players at every position, great coaching and some upside. There's a pretty easy formula for a playoff team here.||2||23-51|
|I'm basically cycling through the Pelicans, Clippers, Jazz, Nuggets and Blazers, with a different team being the one I'm high on every week. It's the Pels' turn on the merry-go-round this week. DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are just so good, Jrue Holiday is underrated, so is Rajon Rondo at this point, as is E'Twaun Moore, Tony Allen and Ian Clark. Call me crazy, but I think it's a good time to buy Pelican stock. (I will completely regret this decision within a month.)||5||36-37|
|The Nuggets have an exceptional amount of depth ... and yet one key injury to Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic, Wilson Chandler or Gary Harris could create a doom spiral. The concerns here are about how the offense is likely to fall off just because it was so exceptional last year, and if the defense doesn't improve, they're sunk. On the other hand, they just have so many weapons and their fit is exceptional. It's a high-wire act Mile High.||2||49-24|
|The Clippers are loaded with guys with playoff experience, and that will go under the radar. Even if a lot of them weren't the stars, they contributed to playoff teams. That matters. The Clippers are gaining my confidence as we approach the season.||2||39-35|
|JaMychal Green is the last remaining key restricted free agent to not sign, and the holdout is going to be a problem. The Grizzlies honestly need what he brings to the table and without him, that's going to make them worse, especially with guys like Tony Alen and Zach Randolph moving on. Memphis is undervalued (as it almost always is due to market) but there are reasons to sell right now.||4||45-27|
|The Heat are very much a swarm. They are really low on guys who would grade out as a "9" or "10" on a 10-point scale, but they have a whole horde of "6" guys. You just never catch a break with them, and that's a strength on their own.||2||40-34|
|In the past 14 months of regular-season play, the Blazers have finished over .500 in just five of those months, and that includes several over-.500 months with less than six games in October and April. My point is that this has been a bad team, overall, the past two years. Here is the single question you have to ask to figure out if Portland's going to be good: Do you believe in Nurkic fever?||1||32-40|
|The Jazz lost a lot of talent, but they still have it in droves. They don't have many rotation players you can single out as weaknesses, and great coaching. However, this team's offense with this core has been very unstable. Utah's either going to wildly exceed expectations or fall into muck; it's not likely it simply goes .500 and finishes somewhere in the middle.||--||35-37|
|Skepticism is smart with Detroit after how badly everything went last season, but with a weak East to beat up on, they could find their way to a good season very easily. Andre Drummond remains the bellwether.||3||16-57|
|Joel Embiid isn't cleared for full basketball activities, and the rest of the team is extremely young. There's a lot of potential there, but there is good reason to maybe sell some of the stock that was picked up over the summer.||1||49-23|
|Last year they were strong defensively thanks to their scheme, but it's still hard to figure out what this team's identities or strengths will be this season. Hard to believe this is probably Dirk Nowitzki's last season.||1||36-37|
|The Kings will probably be a bad team, because they're the Kings and eventually you have to deal with a team's identity until they disprove it. However, there's more reason for optimism than in previous years. The weight of Cousins is gone, they have a strong mix of capable veterans and talented young guys, and good coaching. There's reason to think this team might lose a lot of games, again ... but also might not be so bad to watch.||1||43-29|
|Put this roster in any small market across the league and no one's talking about them as a playoff team or as one of the most exciting squads in the league. Julius Randle needs to make a jump, Brandon Ingram has to thrive from the get-go and Lonzo Ball must be a revelation. That's a lot of prerequisites for a team short on established talent.||--||36-37|
|The Hawks are expected to be truly terrible, but it seems more likely that they'll just be generic bad. The Hawks still have good coaching, veterans who have won games and play in the East. There's an opportunity for this team to be decent.||6||36-37|
|Orlando has just never really put it together. Good talent like Tobias Harris have come and gone through there, but they've never put it together. It's unlikely the Magic put it together this year, but once again, guys like Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon are worth watching for what they could be.||3||31-43|
|Can Devin Booker anchor a team in his third year? Is Josh Jackson for real? Will Eric Bledsoe be traded? The questions about this Suns team will probably be more interesting than their games.||1||38-34|
|The Nets will be pesky. They are well coached and splash 3's by the gallon. There's absolutely zero pressure on this team, which is always a good thing.||1||39-34|
|The Melo Era in New York ends, messy, complicated and a bit disappointing. Now the next era of basketball in New York begins with a season that will be ... messy, complicated, and probably a bit disappointing.||4||42-33|
|The Pacers may honestly set new records for low attendance this season, even if they wind up in the mediocre 30's for wins, which does nothing to help their future.||2||33-40|
|The Bulls are the worst team in the league, talent wise, and there's real concern with their coaching and front office going into the season. It's hard to find reasons for optimism short or long-term. But hey, at least they saved some money on Dwyane Wade's buyout.||1||34-38|