Stuff to ponder while we wait for camps to start ...
With the exception of the never-ending Carmelo Anthony drama -- we're waiting to see if he will join James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston -- most of this offseason's major questions have been answered. With an eye toward the 2017-18 season, here's one major question facing each of the NBA's 30 teams.
Teams will be listed by conference, and in SportsLine's projected order of finish.Credit: Getty Images
They may all be fighting to finish second to the Warriors out West, but in the interim one main question: Have the Boston Celtics given Isaiah Thomas enough help to get past LeBron James and the Cavaliers?
Teams will be listed in SportsLine's projected order of finish.Credit: USATSI
Cleveland Cavaliers: Can they do right by James?
The less said about Cleveland's summer, the better. The good news is that the Cavaliers are not obligated to make all their moves by mid-July. They still have their taxpayer midlevel exception and two small trade exceptions at their disposal, and over the past few seasons, they have upgraded their roster at midseason. With James' 2018 free agency hanging over the franchise, there is pressure for the organization to give him a supporting cast capable of defeating the Golden State Warriors, should they meet in the NBA Finals again. Whoever takes over the front office will know this.
SportsLine projection: First in East (54.6 wins, 14.2 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: Getty Images
Boston Celtics: Will versatility translate into stops?
Boston was 12th in defensive rating last season, a significant step back from the previous season. The roster is different, and the hope is increased versatility will lead to an improvement at that end -- newcomers Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris should be capable of switching onto bigger or smaller players. The trouble is Avery Bradley and Amir Johnson are gone, and while Aron Baynes is a bully, he's not necessarily the rim protector Boston was seeking. If the Celtics are going to become true contenders, they'll need to be sharp and connected defensively.
SportsLine projection: Second in East (53.9 wins, 6.3 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: USATSI
Toronto Raptors: Who is going to step up?
With the departures of Patrick Patterson, P.J. Tucker, Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll, there will be opportunities for Toronto's young players to take bigger roles. Norman Powell, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby won't all be in the rotation, but most of them will at least have a chance to earn a spot.
SportsLine projection: Third in East (48.9 wins, 1.2 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: USATSI
Washington Wizards: Will the bench be better?
This club's biggest issue hasn't changed. John Wall and Bradley Beal headline a stellar starting five, but the bench is a totally different story. Offseason additions Tim Frazier and Jodie Meeks should help, but the Wizards also need development from Kelly Oubre and Tomas Satoransky, especially after Bojan Bogdanovic walked.
SportsLine projection: Fourth in East (44.5 wins, 0.2 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: Getty Images
Detroit Pistons: Can Jackson bounce back?
Lots of things went wrong for the Pistons last season, but Reggie Jackson's struggles were the biggest storyline. He got hurt in training camp, wasn't himself when he returned and never really found his rhythm with the rest of the team. They need him to return his 2015-16 self if they're going to get back on the right track.
SportsLine projection: Fifth in East (43.2 wins, 0.3 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: USATSI
Milwaukee Bucks: Will they be great on defense again?
It has been incredibly difficult to predict how the Bucks will do the past few seasons, largely because of their inconsistency on defense. In Jason Kidd's first season as coach, they went from the league's second-worst defensive team to its second-best. Milwaukee regressed to 22nd in 2015-16 and finished 19th last season. If the Bucks are going to become elite again at that end, they need to execute their hyper-aggressive scheme better or consider changing it.
SportsLine projection: Sixth in East (41.8 wins, 76.7 percent chance of making playoffs)Credit: USATSI
Charlotte Hornets: How will Dwight Howard fit?
In theory, acquiring Howard acquisition makes a lot of sense for the Hornets. The price tag wasn't high, and they were inconsistent on defense last season. Howard is a vexing player, though, and Atlanta found his defense and rebounding came at a cost. Charlotte can't afford to let him eat up possessions with post-ups, cramp its spacing or hurt its ball movement.
SportsLine projection: Seventh in East (41.3 wins, 0.1 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: Getty Images
Philadelphia 76ers: Are they ready to win now?
There is a growing expectation that the 76ers will make the playoffs, and that's not crazy based on their talent and the way their pieces fit together. After drafting Markelle Fultz No. 1 overall to go with Joel Embiid and their other pieces, you can't ask for two better vets than J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson on this roster. But the Sixers will still have to prove that they can live up to the hype. They look good to do it, but many young teams cannot.
SportsLine projection: Eighth in East (41.3 wins, 0.1 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: Getty Images
Miami Heat: What's up with Justise Winslow?
It's always a bit awkward when a team goes on a massive run without one of its core players. Winslow was sidelined when the Heat turned things around last season, and his absence appeared to help their spacing and simplify role definition. He still has a world of potential, and presumably will be their starting small forward. If his shooting improves, fitting him back in will be much easier.
SportsLine projection: Ninth in East (38.8 wins, 50.7 percent chance to make playoffs)Credit: USATSI
N.Y. Knicks: Can they fix the Porzingis situation?
Kristaps Porzingis is by far the most important Knick, and the organization has to do whatever it can to repair its relationship with him. Of all of its mistakes the past couple of seasons, New York's most significant on-court problem was failing to surround Porzingis with players who make him better. Every decision the team makes, from the Carmelo Anthony trade to the offensive system and the starting five, should be about putting him in the position to succeed.
SportsLine projection: 10th in East (36.9 wins, 32.5 percent chance to make playoffs)Credit: USATSI
Atlanta Hawks: Will they go full tank?
Before the signings of Dewayne Dedmon and Ersan Ilyasova, it looked like the Hawks may just punt the season. They dumped Dwight Howard, never made an offer to Paul Millsap and seemed like they were set up to be one of the league's very worst teams. But if the goal was chasing lottery balls, why bother signing anybody? Mike Budenholzer is the kind of coach who could make this team more than the sum of its parts, and he could make Atlanta a little too good to get a great pick in next year's draft. Mind you, the Phoenix Suns had veterans last season, and that didn't stop them from shamelessly tanking after the All-Star break.
SportsLine projection: 11th in East (33.4 wins, 10.8 percent chance at playoffs)Credit: USATSI
Chicago Bulls: Can the young guys contribute?
Say what you will about the way the Bulls started their rebuild; they have at least picked a direction. They're going to be bad, and there are going to be a ton of minutes up for grabs. The young players on the roster -- Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine, Jerian Grant, Cameron Payne and David Nwaba -- will all at least have an opportunity to show what they can do. Who will separate himself?
SportsLine projection: 12th in East (31.5 wins, 4.7 percent chance to make playoffs)Credit: Getty Images
Indiana Pacers: What kind of player is Oladipo, really?
Victor Oladipo wasn't quite himself next to Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, but the Pacers should give him a chance to be much more of a playmaker. If he can do that and sustain his improved efficiency, then his much-discussed contract extension will look a whole lot better. If Oladipo regresses in more of a featured role, Indiana will be in trouble.
SportsLine projection: 13th in East (31.3 wins, 4.1 percent chance to make playoffs)Credit: Getty Images
Orlando Magic: Is this Aaron Gordon's time?
We could go a dozen directions with Orlando, but let's focus on Gordon. With the possible exception of rookie Jonathan Isaac, no one on the roster has more potential than Gordon. The ill-fated small forward experiment set him back a bit last season, but Year Four seems like a good time for him to break out and show how special he can be on both ends.
SportsLine projection: 14th in East (26.3 wins, 0.2 percent chance of making playoffs)Credit: USATSI
Brooklyn Nets: Can Russell and Lin work together?
Jeremy Lin was quietly excellent for the Nets last season when healthy, and D'Angelo Russell remains underrated based on pure production in his first couple of seasons. Brooklyn intends to start both, and everybody knows the challenges that will come with this arrangement. They need to figure out how to make each other better rather than simply taking turns being in control of the offense, and they're both going to have to compete on the defensive end.
SportsLine projection: 15th in East (17.6 wins, 0.1 percent chance of making playoffs)Credit: Getty Images
Unless there is some major movement, SportsLine -- and most everyone who predicts such things -- says we can expect another scene like this after next season: the Golden State Warriors and their fans celebrating what would be a third NBA title in four seasons.
Did Houston, OKC, San Antonio, or even Minnesota, do enough to at least slow down the Warriors express?
Teams will be listed in SportsLine's projected order of finish.Credit: Getty Images
Golden State Warriors: How much better can they be?
Last season's Warriors seemed dismissive of the idea of chasing history, but what happens if they just fall into a record-breaking season again? All signs point to them being even better than they were in Kevin Durant's first season in the Bay Area, with no adjustment period this time and even better depth. Them getting Jordan Bell, Nick Young and Omri Casspi in the summer felt almost unfair.
SportsLine projection: First in West (65.8 wins, 68.7 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: Getty Images
San Antonio Spurs: Will Gay be healthy enough to help?
They signed Gay at a discount and their system could be exactly what he needs at this point in his career. He is coming back from a torn Achilles, and that's the kind of injury that can limit players for a long time. San Antonio doesn't need him to be at the top of his game at the beginning of the season, but it will need him when the playoffs start.
SportsLine projection: Second in West (55.1 wins, 3.6 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: USATSI
Houston Rockets: How will CP3 adapt to H-town?
No one should doubt Chris Paul's ability to figure anything out on the basketball court. The Rockets should be a great team, and he and James Harden should play spectacularly well together. The unclear part is what this will look like, exactly. Under Mike D'Antoni, will Paul play at a faster pace than ever? Will it take him time to be comfortable playing off the ball more than he's used to? He should thrive in Houston, but it will be interesting to see how his game changes, if at all.
SportsLine projection: Third in West (54.5 wins, 4.5 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: Getty Images
OKC Thunder: How will Westbrook, George coexist?
Next season will be one long recruiting pitch to Paul George, who has the talent to make Oklahoma City a force again. After Russell Westbrook's historic season, the guard will be expected to take a bit of a step back to accommodate George. It's hard to imagine this not working pretty well, but it might need to work extremely well if George is going to be convinced to stick around long-term.
SportsLine projection: Fourth in West (47.3 wins, 0.3 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: Getty Images
Minnesota Timberwolves: How will the offense work?
Minnesota finished 10th in offensive rating last season and, with Jimmy Butler aboard, has the potential to be much better than that. There is no guarantee that will happen, because the Wolves need to figure out a system that allows Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague to operate in space and stay in rhythm. There isn't a ton of shooting on this team, and there aren't a lot of gifted passers. Coach Tom Thibodeau needs to run a system that forces them to operate as a cohesive unit.
SportsLine projection: Fifth in West (47 wins, 0.4 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: Getty Images
Denver Nuggets: Will the defense be terrible again?
Denver has been hopeless on defense the past few seasons. The addition of Paul Millsap definitely helps, but he can't solve all the issues on his own. As great as the Nuggets project to be offensively, if they're going to be significantly better and perhaps make the postseason, they're going to need some of their young players to make strides in terms of getting stops.
SportsLine projection: Sixth in West (43.4 wins, 0.1 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: Getty Images
L.A. Clippers: Can Point Blake energize club?
Things had grown stale for the Clippers, and now it's largely up to Blake Griffin to make them fun again. He's going to have the ball much more than he did next to Chris Paul, and he'll finally be able to showcase his playmaking ability on a nightly basis. If this goes as well as the organization hopes, then Los Angeles won't have to take much of a step back in the crowded Western Conference.
SportsLine projection: Seventh in West (42.4 wins, 0.1 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: Getty Images
New Orleans Pelicans: Can they maximize Boogie & Brow?
Much like Minnesota, New Orleans has a couple of stars but might need more shooting. If the Pelicans start slowly, there will be pressure on the front office to make more moves in order to get Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins the support they need. Signing Rajon Rondo was a major risk -- does his passing and basketball IQ outweigh the fact that defenders are happy to help off him?
SportsLine projection: Eighth in West (40.4 wins, 0.1 percent chance at NBA title)Credit: USATSI
Portland Trail Blazers: Which part of last year meant more?
The Blazers were a drag for a large portion of 2016-17, and they only really found a rhythm after acquiring Jusuf Nurkic in February. Nurkic was fantastic for 20 games, but it's hard to know whether or not those 20 games were a true reflection of this team's ability.
SportsLine projection: Ninth in West (40.1 wins, 40.6 percent chance to make playoffs)Credit: USATSI
Dallas Mavericks: Can Dennis Smith win ROY?
He was arguably the single most impressive player at summer league, and he is set up to make a run at Rookie of the Year in Dallas. No one expects the Mavs to make a run for the playoffs, but if they are just competitive and Smith puts up big numbers in Rick Carlisle's system, then they'll start looking like a more attractive destination as the post-Dirk Nowitzki era approaches.
SportsLine projection: 10th in West (39 wins, 31.6 percent chance to make playoffs)Credit: Getty Images
Memphis Grizzlies: How much can Parsons contribute?
It didn't exactly shock anybody that Chandler Parsons only played 34 games last season and never got fully healthy. The Grizzlies signed him to a four-year deal, though, and there are still three years for him to show why they were willing to pay him max money. In theory, he's an ideal complementary player next to Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, and his availability and effectiveness will go a long way toward determining how far Memphis goes.
SportsLine projection: 11th in West (38.8 wins, 29.5 percent chance to make playoffs)Credit: USATSI
Utah Jazz: Can they make up Hayward's offense?
No one is worried about Utah's defense. With Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh in the fold, it could actually be better despite the loss of Gordon Hayward. In order for the Jazz to be a real threat in the West, they need to avoid taking a step back offensively. They'll try to solve that problem collectively, but Rodney Hood seems like the player most ready to take on more playmaking responsibility.
SportsLine projection: 12th in West (37.6 wins, 21.4 percent chance to make playoffs)Credit: Getty Images
Sacramento Kings: Can they build on post-trade play?
Sacramento has received rave reviews for its work in the offseason, but it's not all about the new guys. Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere played well after the All-Star break last season, and they need to keep making progress now that they have some more vets around them.
SportsLine projection: 13th in West (35.1 wins, 8.6 percent chance to make playoffs)Credit: Getty Images
L.A. Lakers: Can KCP, Ingram, Randle make a leap?
Optimistic Lakers fans can point to Lonzo Ball's vision and Brook Lopez's shooting as transformational for coach Luke Walton's offense. The ball is going to move, the floor is going to be spaced and, for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle, the game should be relatively easy. This starting lineup fits well together on paper, but the three of them need to take advantage of this situation and show real improvement for Los Angeles to be taken seriously.
SportsLine Projection: 14th in West (34.5 wins, 6.3 percent chance to make playoffs)Credit: Getty Images
Phoenix Suns: Is Booker about to become a star?
Devin Booker doesn't turn 21 until late October, but he has earned a reputation as a future star. In his first two seasons, though, his shot has been streaky and he has struggled defensively. He'll solidify his status as a franchise player if he becomes more efficient with the ball in his hands and more focused on the other end.
SportsLine projection: 15th in West (23.5 wins, 0.1 percent chance to make playoffs)Credit: Getty Images