Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell ranks the teams in the Eastern Conference based on potential regular-season results.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavaliers have a good thing going and owner Dan Gilbert recognized and acted on that when he paid big to re-sign power forwards Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. This revolves around LeBron James, and keeping him happy means retaining talent.
2. Chicago Bulls: New coach Fred Hoiberg inherited abundant talent. Jimmy Butler emerged as a star last season on a team that already had Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Paul Gasol. The trick is keeping everyone healthy; Rose started the season with an orbital fracture and always seems hurt.
3. Miami Heat: The Heat traded for point guard Goran Dragic, then stepped up with a major contract extension. Miami gets back Chris Bosh from a blood-clot issue and has developed Gastonia’s Hassan Whiteside into a viable starter at center. The big question is Dwyane Wade’s mileage.
4. Atlanta Hawks: Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver form the solid core of a team that had a great regular season a year ago. They lost small forward DeMarre Carroll in free-agency, and while the Toronto Raptors might have overpaid, that will be a hit.
5. Washington Wizards: John Wall and Bradley Beal form one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Marcin Gortat and Nene are both tough inside threats. The next step would be getting more out of former lottery pick Otto Porter at small forward.
6. Toronto Raptors: Shooting guard DeMar DeRozan has been a borderline All-Star talent, but the Raptors’ future success might hinge on the development of big man Jonas Valanciunas. This is a player who could average a double-double for several seasons.
7. Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks were bold in acquiring power forward Greg Monroe in the off-season. Small forward Jabari Parker missed most of last season after suffering a torn ACL in December. Bringing in Jason Kidd as coach has worked well.
8. Boston Celtics: Qualifying for the playoffs sped up the rebuilding plan under coach Brad Stevens. Acquiring explosive point guard Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline remade this team, as far as adding a scorer to finish tight games.
9. Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets signed or traded for seven new players to add shooting, ball-handling and size. Jeremy Lin looks like a bargain free-agent signing and Nicolas Batum is versatile. The question is how they compensate for the loss of defensive-minded Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (shoulder).
10. Indiana Pacers: This team went through significant change when David West opted out of his contract to sign with the San Antonio Spurs and Roy Hibbert was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. They experimented in the preseason with using Paul George at power forward.
11. Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Garnett and Deron Williams are gone, signaling the Nets are starting over. They are a younger, more athletic team now with center Brook Lopez as the primary holdover from the effort two years ago to reach the NBA Finals.
12. Detroit Pistons: Coach Stan Van Gundy has final say on basketball decisions. Center Andre Drummond was there before Van Gundy arrived and the Pistons traded for point guard Reggie Jackson and power forward Ersan Ilyasova. Rookie Stanley Johnson figures to play right away.
13. New York Knicks: Rookie Kristaps Porzingis will be good eventually, based on size and skill set. More immediately, shooting guard Arron Afflalo will offer small forward Carmelo Anthony support as a secondary scorer.
14. Orlando Magic: This franchise has patiently assembled young talent through the draft. Forward Aaron Gordon looked ready for a breakout season based on his performance in summer league. Rookie Mario Hezonja is highly skilled.
15. Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers could have an intriguing frontcourt if big men Nerlens Noel and rookie Jahlil Okafor can complement each other. Shooting guard Nik Stauskas gets a fresh start, having been traded following his rookie season by the Sacramento Kings.