1. Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks have had an interesting offseason to say the least. After losing Jeff Teague (Pacers) and Al Horford (Celtics) in free agency, there’s a lot of questions surrounding how Atlanta will fare this season. The main one being, how will Dwight Howard perform in a Hawks uniform?
Since Dwight left Orlando, he hasn’t looked even close to his old self—the Hawks are hoping that changes. Dwight can come in and give the Hawks help on the glass, which they’ve been lacking the past couple of seasons, and anchor their defense. That, along with a solid season from new starting point guard Dennis Schroder, could lead to the Hawks once again being in the playoff race.
2. Miami Heat – Miami is in disarray. When you lose two hall of famers, Dwyane Wade (Bulls) and Chris Bosh (blood clots,) it’s hard to say you had a great offseason. Goran Dragic could end up being the team’s leading scorer as his workload is about to increase dramatically. Second year forward Justice Winslow will also have to have a big year if the Heat want to be anywhere near contention for the playoffs.
Other than that, expect a big year from Hassan Whiteside. If he can stay healthy and keep his head in the right place, he should be one of the best big men in the league, if not the best. He can bring it defensively every night and also help out in the paint on the offensive end. Averaging a double-double should be no problem.
3. Washington Wizards – With one of the best backcourts in the NBA in John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards could really go either way this season. The main issue they have with those two is injuries, especially when it comes to Beal.
Beal is expected to need a minutes restriction for the rest of his career, which to say the least could pose a problem. No big changes were made this offseason to the Wizards, other than bringing in Ian Mahinmi, who will be a solid backup center to Marcin Gortat.
4. Charlotte Hornets – After the teams best season in franchise history since the 99-00 season, the Hornets look to build on that. With the departure of Al Jefferson (Pacers) and Jeremy Lin (Nets), the team restocked their roster with Ramon Sessions, Marco Bellaneli, and Roy Hibbert.
Having played without Al Jefferson for nearly half of last season, the Hornets shouldn’t have a hard time improving off of last season, and with the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to the team, things should continue to be on the rise in Charlotte.
5. Orlando Magic – The Orlando Magic lost arguably one of their best players this offseason in Victor Oladipo (Thunder) because the team didn’t see him as a key player to build around. In return, they got Serge Ibaka, the defensive stretch-4 that’s been key to the Thunder’s defensive prowess in recent years.
Also making his way to Orlando is big man Bismarck Biyombo. He should give the Magic plenty of defensive assets to help them possibly make the playoff jump this season that they haven’t quite been able to do in the past. Bringing back one of the team’s leading scorers in Evan Fournier also gives them a go to scoring gaurd. All of these things will help a young core of players try to make that leap into playoff contention.