On October 26, the inaugural match between the Knicks and Cavaliers will produce the first doses of professional basketball, welcoming another drama-filled year across the courts of North America.
Sport360 dissects each conference side, detailing the most important snippets of information to discern their tenable objectives and possible outcomes as the new season unravels.
STAR PLAYER: Paul Millsap
LAST SEASON: 48-34, lost in conference semifinals
KEY INS: Dwight Howard (HOU), Jarrett Jack (BKN), DeAndre Bembry (R), Taurean Prince (R)
KEY OUTS: Al Horford (BOS), Jeff Teague (IND), Kirk Hinrich (FA)
STRENGTHS: Defensive cohesion should remain intact after all the offseason turnover.
WEAKNESSES: Offensive rating was a pedestrian 103.0 in 15/16 and is unlikely to improve.
VERDICT: They’re well-coached and always play as a team, but their brief window looks shut.
STAR PLAYER: Al Horford
COACH: Brad Stevens
LAST SEASON: 48-34, lost in first round
KEY INS: Al Horford (ATL), Jaylen Brown (R), Gerald Green (MIA), Demetrius Jackson (R)
KEY OUTS: Jared Sullinger (TOR), Evan Turner (POR)
STRENGTHS: Defence should rank near the very top of the league.
WEAKNESSES: Lack of offensive punch, especially outside shooting, could be a concern in playoffs.
VERDICT: Appear to be the second-best team in the East, but Cavs will stand in the way.
STAR PLAYER: Brook Lopez
COACH: Kenny Atkinson
LAST SEASON: 21-61
KEY INS: Jeremy Lin (CHA), Chase Budinger (PHX), Randy Foye (OKC), Greivis Vasquez (MIL), Luis Scola (TOR), Caris LeVert (R)
KEY OUTS: Jarrett Jack (ATL), Thaddeus Young (IND), Wayne Ellington (MIA)
STRENGTHS: Few and far between but low-post scoring through Lopez is at the top of the list.
WEAKNESSES: They’re just devoid of quality and how the pieces fit is very much in the air.
VERDICT: It’s possible they finish with the worst record.
STAR PLAYER: Kemba Walker
COACH: Steve Clifford
LAST SEASON: 48-34, lost in first round
KEY INS: Marco Belinelli (SAC), Roy Hibbert (LAL), Ramon Sessions (WAS)
KEY OUTS: Al Jefferson (IND), Courtney Lee (NYK), Jeremy Lin (BKN), Troy Daniels (MEM)
STRENGTHS: They don’t beat themselves and do the little things like avoid turnovers and rebound.
WEAKNESSES: Lost players who could create baskets on their own, leaving a void on offence.
VERDICT: Their solidness takes them far, but not far enough as another early playoff exit beckons.
STAR PLAYER: Jimmy Butler
COACH: Fred Hoiberg
LAST SEASON: 42-40
KEY INS: Dwyane Wade (MIA), Rajon Rondo (SAC), Denzel Valentine (R), Michael Carter Williams (MIL), Robin Lopez (NYK)
KEY OUTS: Pau Gasol (SAS), Joakim Noah (NYK), Derrick Rose (NYK), Aaron Brooks (IND), Tony Snell (MIL), Mike Dunleavy (CLE)
STRENGTHS: Boast a new, talented backcourt.
WEAKNESSES: Zero perimeter shooting.
VERDICT: A return to the playoffs is the target, which means they’re going to be in for a disappointment.
STAR PLAYER: LeBron James
COACH: Tyronn Lue
LAST SEASON: 57-25, won Finals
KEY INS: Mike Dunleavy (CHI), Chris Andersen (MIL), Kay Felder (R)
KEY OUTS: Matthew Dellavedova (MIL), Timofey Mozgov (LAL), Mo Williams (retired)
STRENGTHS: Offensive firepower is overflowing with the LeBron/Irving duo a near unstoppable one.
WEAKNESSES: Lack of rim protection.
VERDICT: It’s never smart to bet against LeBron and he loves a challenge, but Golden State have stacked the odds even more heavily against him.
STAR PLAYER: Dirk Nowitzki
COACH: Rick Carlisle
LAST SEASON: 42-40, lost in first round
KEY INS: Harrison Barnes (GSW), Andrew Bogut (GSW), Quincy Acy (SAC), Seth Curry (SAC)
KEY OUTS: Raymond Felton (LAC), David Lee (SAS), Zaza Pachulia (GSW), Chandler Parsons (MEM)
STRENGTHS: They’re always competent offensively under Carlisle, regardless of player turnover.
WEAKNESSES: Long in the tooth with aging veterans.
VERDICT: They’ll be in for more of the same as the roster is good enough for a low playoff seed, but nothing more.
STAR PLAYER: Danilo Gallinari
COACH: Mike Malone
LAST SEASON: 33-49
KEY INS: Jamal Murray (R), Juan Hernangomez (R), Malik Beasley (R)
KEY OUTS: D.J. Augustin (ORL), Joffrey Lauvergne (OKC)
STRENGTHS: Have an abundance of young, athletic and fast players.
WEAKNESSES: Struggled to defend last year, especially against perimeter shooting.
VERDICT: Playoffs are in reach, but the main focus will be continuing to develop youth.
STAR PLAYER: Andre Drummond
COACH: Stan Van Gundy
LAST SEASON: 44-38, lost in first round
KEY INS: Jon Leuer (PHX), Boban Marjanovic (SAS), Ish Smith (PHI), Henry Ellenson (R)
KEY OUTS: Jodie Meeks (ORL), Anthony Tolliver (SAC)
STRENGTHS: A beast of a rebounding team, thanks to dominant rebounder Drummond.
WEAKNESSES: Still don’t have enough outside shooting for Van Gundy’s liking.
VERDICT: For now, they’re stuck as a borderline playoff team in need of improvement from young players.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
STAR PLAYER: Stephen Curry
COACH: Steve Kerr
LAST SEASON: 73-9, lost in Finals
KEY INS: Kevin Durant (OKC), Zaza Pachulia (DAL), David West (SAS), Patrick McCaw (R)
KEY OUTS: Harrison Barnes (DAL), Andrew Bogut (DAL), Leandro Barbosa (PHX), Festus Ezeli (POR), Marreese Speights (LAC)
STRENGTHS: Star power is off the charts and they have arguably one of the best offence in history.
WEAKNESSES: Depth could become an issue.
VERDICT: They’re overwhelming favourites to win it all and even LeBron will have a hard time stopping it.
STAR PLAYER: James Harden
COACH: Mike D’Antoni
LAST SEASON: 41-41, lost in first round
KEY INS: Ryan Anderson (NOP), Eric Gordon (NOP), Nene (WAS), Tyler Ennis (MIL)
KEY OUTS: Dwight Howard (ATL), Terrence Jones (NOP), Jason Terry (MIL), Josh Smith (FA), Michael Beasley (MIL)
STRENGTHS: An already-potent offence will get juiced up with even more pace under D’Antoni.
WEAKNESSES: Will allow nearly as many points as they score.
VERDICT: Too unbalanced to truly contend.
STAR PLAYER: Paul George
COACH: Nate McMillan
LAST SEASON: 45-37, lost in first round
KEY INS: Jeff Teague (ATL), Thaddeus Young (BKN), Al Jefferson (CHA), Aaron Brooks (CHI), Kevin Seraphin (NYK), Georges Niang (R)
KEY OUTS: George Hill (UTA), Jordan Hill (MIN), Ty Lawson (SAC), Ian Mahinmi (WAS)
STRENGTHS: Improved depth and veteran presence.
WEAKNESSES: Their top-three ranked defensive rating is likely to take a step backwards.
VERDICT: Should be a well-balanced playoff team, but they’re still not at the top of the East’s pecking order.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
STAR PLAYER: Chris Paul
COACH: Doc Rivers
LAST SEASON: 53-29, lost in first round
KEY INS: Alan Anderson (WAS), Brandon Bass (LAL), Raymond Felton (DAL), Marreese Speights (GSW), Diamond Stone (R)
KEY OUTS: Jeff Green (ORL), Cole Aldrich (MIN)
STRENGTHS: One of the league’s best foursomes.
WEAKNESSES: Another year, another season in which they’ll be lacking at small forward and on the wing.
VERDICT: Could be the biggest challengers to the Warriors in the West, but ultimately don’t have enough.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
STAR PLAYER: D’Angelo Russell
COACH: Luke Walton
LAST SEASON: 17-65
KEY INS: Jose Calderon (NYK), Luol Deng (MIA), Timofey Mozgov (CLE), Brandon Ingram (R), Ivica Zubac (R)
KEY OUTS: Brandon Bass (LAC), Kobe Bryant (retired), Roy Hibbert (CHA)
STRENGTHS: A young, dynamic backcourt of Russell and Jordan Clarkson will anchor a fun offence.
WEAKNESSES: Had the worst defensive rating (109.3) last year and that won’t get better any time soon.
VERDICT: Not close to returning to the playoffs yet.
STAR PLAYER: Marc Gasol
COACH: David Fizdale
LAST SEASON: 42-40, lost in first round
KEY INS: Troy Daniels (CHA), Chandler Parsons (HOU), Deyonta Davis (R), Wade Baldwin (R), Andrew Harrison (R)
KEY OUTS: P.J. Hairston (HOU), Lance Stephenson (NOP), Chris Andersen (CLE), Matt Barnes (SAC)
STRENGTHS: Continuity and the ‘Grit ‘N Grind’ style that can wear down opposing teams.
WEAKNESSES: Relying on aging, often-injured veterans and shooting remains a question mark.
VERDICT: If healthy, the playoffs are a certainty.
STAR PLAYER: Hassan Whiteside
COACH: Erik Spoelstra
LAST SEASON: 48-34, lost in conf. semifinals
KEY INS: Dion Waiters (OKC), Luke Babbitt (NOP), Wayne Ellington (BKN), James Johnson (TOR)
KEY OUTS: Dwyane Wade (CHI), Luol Deng (LAL), Gerald Green (BOS), Joe Johnson (UTA), Chris Bosh (health)
STRENGTHS: Have the athleticism for a stout defence.
WEAKNESSES: A lot of experience left in the summer and the onus will be on the younger guys.
VERDICT: It’s a new era and even though another title isn’t coming soon, this can be a fresh start.
STAR PLAYER: Giannis Antetokounmpo
COACH: Jason Kidd
LAST SEASON: 33-49
KEY INS: Matthew Dellavedova (CLE), Tony Snell (CHI), Mirza Teletovic (PHX), Michael Beasley (HOU), Jason Terry (HOU), Thon Maker (R)
KEY OUTS: Jerryd Bayless (PHI), Michael Carter-Williams (CHI), Greivis Vasquez (BKN), Tyler Ennis (HOU)
STRENGTHS: Size and versatility should unlock their defensive potential.
WEAKNESSES: Spacing and shooting.
VERDICT: They’re a fun, but a still-developing team.
STAR PLAYER: Karl-Anthony Towns
COACH: Tom Thibodeau
LAST SEASON: 29-53
KEY INS: Cole Aldrich (LAC), Jordan Hill (IND), Kris Dunn (R)
KEY OUTS: Kevin Garnett (retired)
STRENGTHS: Brimming with young, athletic talent that is quickly getting better.
WEAKNESSES: Not much shooting to create spacing and unclog the paint.
VERDICT: They’re a fashionable dark horse to reach the playoffs, but that could be an unreasonable expectation, even as they continue to improve.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
STAR PLAYER: Anthony Davis
COACH: Alvin Gentry
LAST SEASON: 30-52
KEY INS: Lance Stephenson (MEM), Terrence Jones (HOU), Langston Galloway (NYK), Buddy Hield (R), Cheick Diallo (R)
KEY OUTS: Ryan Anderson (HOU), Luke Babbitt (MIA), Eric Gordon (HOU)
STRENGTHS: Size in the frontcourt, led by Davis.
WEAKNESSES: Lost a lot of shooting and will be hard-pressed to replace it.
VERDICT: Everything starts and ends with Davis, who should be better than last year’s disaster.
NEW YORK KNICKS
STAR PLAYER: Carmelo Anthony
COACH: Jeff Hornacek
LAST SEASON: 32-50
KEY INS: Brandon Jennings (MIL), Courtney Lee (CHA), Joakim Noah (CHI), Derrick Rose (CHI)
KEY OUTS: Arron Afflalo (SAC), Jose Calderon (LAL), Robin Lopez (CHI), Kevin Seraphin (IND)
STRENGTHS: A veteran-laden squad with plenty of experience and accomplishments under their belt.
WEAKNESSES: Their age can also be their downfall as they’re a team that would look much better if it was 2011.
VERDICT: It would be a disaster if they can’t reach the playoffs, but their ceiling is ultimately capped.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
STAR PLAYER: Russell Westbrook
COACH: Billy Donovan
LAST SEASON: 55-27, lost in conf. finals
KEY INS: Victor Oladipo (ORL), Ersan Ilyasova (ORL), Joffrey Lauvergne (DEN), Domantas Sabonis (R)
KEY OUTS: Kevin Durant (GSW), Randy Foye (BKN), Serge Ibaka (ORL), Dion Waiters (MIA)
STRENGTHS: Length, athleticism and rebounding.
WEAKNESSES: Loss of Durant leaves a big hole on the wing, which was already lacking depth.
VERDICT: As hard as Westbrook will try, their ceiling is no higher than a playoff team that can win a series.
STAR PLAYER: Serge Ibaka
COACH: Frank Vogel
LAST SEASON: 35-47
KEY INS: D.J. Augustin (DEN), Bismack Biyombo (TOR), Jeff Green (LAC), Serge Ibaka (OKC), Jodie Meeks (DET)
KEY OUTS: Brandon Jennings (NYK), Victor Oladipo (OKC), Ersan Ilyasova (OKC)
STRENGTHS: Front-court depth and an improved defence, only boosted by Vogel’s arrival.
WEAKNESSES: They’re going to struggle to score and space the floor consistently.
VERDICT: Pressure to get back to the playoffs but will need a lot to go right for that to happen.
STAR PLAYER: Joel Embiid
COACH: Brett Brown
LAST SEASON: 10-72
KEY INS: Joel Embiid (injury), Jerryd Bayless (MIL), Gerald Henderson (POR), Ben Simmons (R), Dario Saric (R), Timothe Luwawu (R)
KEY OUTS: Ish Smith (DET)
STRENGTHS: Loaded with talented, young big men (inc. Simmons) who bring different things to the table.
WEAKNESSES: How will all these front-court players be able to share the floor without compromising all spacing?
VERDICT: They’ll be exciting and have a chance to take a step forward and out of the league’s basement.
STAR PLAYER: Eric Bledsoe
COACH: Earl Watson
LAST SEASON: 23-59
KEY INS: Leandro Barbosa (GSW), Jared Dudley (WAS), Dragan Bender (R), Marquese Chriss (R)
KEY OUTS: Chase Budinger (BKN), Jon Leuer (DET), Mirza Teletovic (MIL)
STRENGTHS: Have quality young players in the backcourt, including Devin Booker who should break out.
WEAKNESSES: Don’t have much to work with at small forward, with their roster trending either small or big.
VERDICT: Are loaded with youth, but they still don’t have a star so development is the biggest key right.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
STAR PLAYER: Damian Lillard
COACH: Terry Stotts
LAST SEASON: 44-38, lost in Conf. semi-finals
KEY INS: Evan Turner (BOS), Festus Ezeli (GSW)
KEY OUTS: Gerald Henderson (PHI)
STRENGTHS: Lillard and C.J. McCollum form a devastating backcourt that can rain down 3-pointers.
WEAKNESSES: Ranked 21st (105.6) in defensive rating last season and Lillard and McCollum are turnstiles on that end.
VERDICT: They know who they are and while it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them take a step back, it won’t be out of the playoff picture.
STAR PLAYER: DeMarcus Cousins
COACH: David Joerger
LAST SEASON: 33-49
KEY INS: Arron Afflalo (NYK), Matt Barnes (MEM), Ty Lawson (IND), Anthony Tolliver (DET), Skal Labissiere (R)
KEY OUTS: Rajon Rondo (CHI), Marco Belinelli (CHA), Seth Curry (DAL)
STRENGTHS: Roster trends on the bigger side and Cousins anchors a good group of big men.
WEAKNESSES: Have been appalling defensively.
VERDICT: There are a lot of moving parts here and a situation that can very quickly turn toxic.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
STAR PLAYER: Kawhi Leonard
COACH: Gregg Popovich
LAST SEASON: 67-15, lost in Conf. semi-finals
KEY INS: Pau Gasol (CHI), David Lee (DAL), Dewayne Dedmon (ORL), Dejounte Murray (R)
KEY OUTS: Boris Diaw (UTA), Tim Duncan (retired), Boban Marjanovic (DET), David West (GSW)
STRENGTHS: Had a historically-good defence lastyear and it should once again be one of the very best
WEAKNESSES: Even with Duncan gone, age remains an issue for Gasol, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
VERDICT: They’re a lock for 55-60 wins and one of the top seeds in the West, but remain behind Golden State.
STAR PLAYER: Kyle Lowry
COACH: Dwane Casey
LAST SEASON: 56-26, lost in Conf. finals
KEY INS: Jared Sullinger (BOS), Jakob Poeltl (R)
KEY OUTS: Bismack Biyombo (ORL), James Johnson (MIA), Luis Scola (BKN)
STRENGTHS: An efficient offence that’s built around two free-throw hoarders in Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
WEAKNESSES: Their overall depth took a hit with the losses of reliable veteran big men in the offseason.
VERDICT: Could very well finish second in the East again, but they’ve yet to find the same success in the playoffs and that should only continue.
STAR PLAYER: Gordon Hayward
COACH: Quin Snyder
LAST SEASON: 40-42
KEY INS: Boris Diaw (SAS), George Hill (IND), Joe Johnson (MIA), Joel Bolomboy (R)
KEY OUTS: Trevor Booker (BKN), Trey Burke (WAS)
STRENGTHS: Will have one of the best defences that can suffocate opponents.
WEAKNESSES: They haven’t shown they can score consistently with their best players on the floor.
VERDICT: Hayward’s early injury will hurt 50-win hopes, but they should take another step forward.
STAR PLAYER: John Wall
COACH: Scott Brooks
LAST SEASON: 41-41
KEY INS: Trey Burke (UTA), Ian Mahinmi (IND), Andrew Nicholson (ORL), Tomas Satoransky (R)
KEY OUTS: Alan Anderson (LAC), Jared Dudley (PHX), Nene (HOU), Ramon Sessions (CHA)
STRENGTHS: Boast one of the league’s best guard duos when Bradley Beal can stay on the court.
WEAKNESSES: Struggled to rebound last year while opposing teams shot fairly high percentages against them.
VERDICT: They’re a bit of an enigma as they could either be a lot better or miss the playoffs again.