The NBA playoffs are one of the most exciting times of the year, and the world just enjoyed a very entertaining 2016 NBA playoffs. This postseason ended with a dramatic ending that saw the Cleveland Cavaliers overcome a three to one series deficit to win their first NBA title. The postseason was the most talked about topic in sports for a month. The Warriors themselves overcame a three to one deficit to advance past the Oklahoma City Thunder, and a Cinderella story in the Portland Trail Blazers advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Free agency is in full swing now and teams are shaping their rosters.
The offseason has seen many players switch teams, and some franchises have greatly improved their chances to make a deep run into the playoffs. Some teams that barely squeaked into the playoffs last season may find themselves on the outside looking in for 2017. Each team has 82 games to prove whether or not they are contenders or pretenders. If the playoffs are anything compared to as exciting as all the player movement over this free agent period, the fans are in store for a theatrical scene courtesy of the 16 teams that make it in.
Here are our way too early predictions for the 16 teams what will make the playoffs and what seed they will earn.
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18 Eastern Conference
17 New York Knicks
The New York Knicks have been the butt of a lot of jokes around the NBA in recent years, but they finally look like they may be headed in a somewhat positive direction. They now have a roster that can compete for a playoff spot. The two main pillars of this team are Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, but taking a chance on a popular NBA player in Derrick Rose is a low risk, high reward scenario. Rose was still a productive player for the Bulls last year. The Knicks have not really had great point guard play recently, and Rose gives the team another much needed scoring option.
The depth of the Knicks was also bolstered greatly over the offseason. Three point shooting is so important in today’s NBA, and the additions of Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings provide great shooting off the bench. Joakim Noah is a player in which the entire team should model their attitudes around due to his 110 percent effort given on every play.
16 Detroit Pistons
Detroit basketball was back in the playoffs last season for the first time in a very long time for this historically good franchise. The team has an excellent one two punch in Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, and this duo will try and once again carry their team into the playoffs. The Pistons have a lot of young talent on this team. Due to this lack of experience it is not a reach to say they probably won’t go too far if they make the playoffs in 2017.
This team is seemingly on the rise, and is in hopes that another player on the roster will become a star player in the near future. Stanley Johnson and Henry Ellenson are the young guns on this Pistons team who have the best chance to ascend to star level. If one or both of them do the Pistons could be a force in the East in a year or two.
15 Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls seemed to be headed into rebuilding mode, but the splashes that they ended up making in free agency suggest this team is not done trying to win now. The biggest signing the Bulls made was when they nabbed Dwyane Wade away from the Miami Heat. Wade gives the Bulls a nice complimentary scorer to play alongside Jimmy Butler on the wings. This team now has a great distributor, which is extremely vital to fully utilize the great scoring wings they have.
Rajon Rondo led the NBA in assists last season on a bad Sacremento Kings team, and should be able to set up his new teammates for success. Robin Lopez provides an upgrade at the center position. The Bulls also have a ton of young talent coming off the bench, and this young group is highlighted by incoming rookie Denzel Valentine who can help a team in a variety of different ways.
14 Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks were the top team in the east two years ago, but their roster has drastically changed since there magical season in 2014. The Hawks shipped away long time starting point guard Jeff Teague this offseason. Dennis Shroder has been handed the keys to drive this team to success, but the Hawks will also dearly miss Al Horford. To replace Al Horford the Hawks signed hometown kid Dwight Howard who will be an upgrade defensively. The Hawks have been known for playing sound team basketball under coach Mike Budenholzer, and some have labeled the Hawks in the past of being a starless team that plays the game the right way.
It is going to be difficult to replace the offensive production of Jeff Teague and Al Horford. The bench will need to be capable of beating opposing benches, and Dennis Schroder will need to be the real deal in order for the Hawks to have a chance in achieving the same type of success they have had in the recent past.
13 Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers have parted ways with their longtime starting point guard George Hill, but have drastically improved their roster in many ways over this offseason. The starting point guard position is now filled by former Atlanta Hawk Jeff Teague. The Pacers weren’t done building their roster, and also acquired the services of big man Al Jefferson and Thaddeus Young. With Paul George still the big dog on the team, The Pacers should be a threat to funnel their way towards the top of the eastern conference. They have many capable scorers on this team including starting shooting guard Monta Ellis, and second year big man Myles Turner will look to improve his game after an impressive rookie season.
The only questions surrounding this team are whether or not they can be a great team on the defensive side of the floor and if the depth on this team can be an above average second unit.
12 Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, and went six games in the series before being eliminated by the eventual NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The re-signing of DeMar DeRozan was huge for the Raptors. DeRozan is one of the premier shooting guards in the NBA, and the pairing of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan make up one of the best back court tandems in the league. The loss of Bismack Biyombo should not affect the Raptors' big man depth. The additions of Jakob Poeltl, Jared Sullinger, and Jason Thompson should help ease the pain of losing Biyombo, and the Raptors should be capable of advancing in the 2017 NBA playoffs once they get there. The all-stars on this team will need some help scoring the ball. If Jonas Valanciunas can continue to up his production like he has in past seasons, the Raptors will be contenders in the eastern conference yet again.
11 Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics could not convince Kevin Durant to join there squad, but they have still improved over the offseason. Danny Ainge has gotten the Celtics back into contention. Despite not being able to acquire the services of Durant, the Celtics did get a much needed front court presence in all-star Al Horford. The Celtics now have a reliable starting big and great depth in the front court coming off the bench. If Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder play at or above the levels that they played at last year the Celtics could be a dark horse to win the eastern conference. The Celtics started to ascend to contender status in the east last season, and in the NBA draft they were lucky enough to get Jaylen Brown courtesy of the Brooklyn Nets. This blend of young and veteran talent should give the Celtics the ammunition to shoot for 50 wins this upcoming season.
10 Clevaland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the defending NBA champions, and should not have much trouble getting back to the NBA Finals. LeBron James had led his teams to the NBA Finals in the east the last six years. The Cavaliers still have a very similar line up coming back for the 2016-17 NBA season. Of course LeBron James is the focal point of the team, but the starting lineup will also include Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and J.R. Smith pending his free agency status.
The Cavs also drafted an intriguing player in Kay Felder, who ranked towards the top in college basketball in points and assists. The bench is filled with depth with three point shooters in Channing Frye and Mike Dunleavy. LeBron’s old friend in Chris Andersen is also now on the team, and the Cavaliers should have another pretty easy road through the Eastern Conference to the NBA Finals.
9 Western Conference
8 Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz are a team that is on the upswing, and after being a playoff main stay during the 90s and early 2000s the team may finally be ready to make it back to the postseason. The young talent on this roster is still getting better, and Dante Exum can finally prove that he was worth taking in the lottery. Gordan Hayward can provide great shooting and scoring. On the other end of the floor Rudy Gobert is one of the best rim protectors in the NBA, and is an athletic freak that is capable of making highlight slam dunks on offense.
They now have steady point guard play with George Hill on the roster. Veteran newcomers Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson can help the team play good team basketball, and help the young players on the team easily get through the growing pains of the NBA.
7 Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks have thrown a lot of money at Harrison Barnes in hopes that he will be the superstar that can get them back to contending in the Western Conference. Unfortunately on paper this team does not look like a team challenging to represent the West in the NBA finals, and Dirk Nowitzki is starting to get up there in age. The Mavs are hopeful that someone else on this roster can emerge as a star player to help them contend sooner rather than later.
Seth Curry was recently signed but it would be unrealistic to think he can impersonate his brother Stephen Curry, and most of the other players on the roster have been in the league for a while and kind of have their roles carved out for them for the rest of their careers. This team should be great at rebounding and shooting the basketball, and should be in contention for a playoff spot in the west. They just won't last very long once they get there.
6 Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies shockingly still made the playoffs last season after a large portion of their team was plagued by injuries. The team is now healthy and ready to be a competitive team in the Western Conference again, and now have the highest paid player in the NBA in Mike Conley. Conley is a good floor leader who can score, play defense, and keep his team involved throughout the game. The Grizzlies still possess one of the best rebounding duos in the front court in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and the hope is that they can stay healthy for the 2016-17 NBA season.
The addition of Chandler Parsons should improve the team's three point efficiency. This team is not offensively scaring many teams, but players like Tony Allen and new comer Deyonta Davis make the Grizzlies one of the best teams in the NBA at the defensive end of the floor.
5 Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder were dealt a devastating blow when Kevin Durant chose to leave the team in free agency this summer, but they won’t fall as far down the ladder of the Western Conference as many think. Russell Westbrook has put himself in the conversation as one of the best players in the NBA today, and he will be determined to prove the doubters of this team wrong. His contract is also up at the end of the year, and the expiration of a contract usually leads to a breakout season. The Thunder did improve their back court by acquiring Victor Oladipo from the Orlando Magic.
Steven Adams and Enes Kanter give this team a good front court tandem, and their front court players on the bench are also very reliable. The depth in the back court is poor on this team. The Thunder will be looking to play above expectations, and they may even be able to win a round in the playoffs if this team is clicking on all cylinders.
4 Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers were the surprise team of the NBA last season, and then in the NBA playoffs they were able to upset the higher seeded Los Angeles Clippers. Management took care of its own by signing C.J. McCollum to an extension and resigning Allen Crabbe. They also bolstered their bench by adding Evan Turner who is a jack of all trades, and added depth at the center position by stealing away Festus Ezeli from the Golden State Warriors.
This team is led by superstar Damian Lillard. Lillard has become one of the elite players in the NBA, and if he can help C.J. McCollum better his career best year from last year the Trail Blazers will possess arguably the best point guard shooting guard combo in the entire league. Expectations are much higher this season, and it will be interesting to see if this team can replicate the magical season they had in 2015-16.
3 Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are extremely disappointed that they could not create a four star team by adding the likes of Kevin Durant. In spite of losing out on the Kevin Durant sweepstakes the Clippers are in line to improve their seeding from last season’s playoff debacle. The Clippers have not done much to improve over the offseason, but the dissension of the Oklahoma City Thunder due to losing Kevin Durant will help the Clippers surpass them. Blake Griffin is in a contract year and this should equate to big time production from the Clippers starting power forward.
The Clippers have a lot of depth at the four and five spots, and also have brought back reliable scoring options off the bench in Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford. The Clippers have a great mix of post presence and three point shooting. It also does not hurt to have one of the best point guards in the NBA in Chris Paul, but with him getting older he is going to want to will his team more than ever to a good playoff run this season.
2 San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs lost arguably the greatest player to ever wear a Spurs uniform this offseason in Tim Duncan, but still may have improved their roster from last year. The addition of Pau Gasol eases the burden of losing Duncan and Gasol's ability to get double doubles on a nightly basis will give the Spurs a great duo of big men including LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard are now the faces of the franchise. Leonard is ferocious on both ends of the floor, and Aldridge can rebound and hit jump shots at a high rate. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli are shadows of their old selves, but Gregg Popovich’s ability to instill a great brand of team basketball will make many teams in the NBA defenses scatter.
The Spurs were disappointingly ousted in the second round of last year’s playoffs. The Spurs will look to make it back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2014 when they won it all.
1 Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors had the best record in the west last season, and have frightened the entire NBA by acquiring the best free agent on the market this offseason in Kevin Durant. Not many are wondering whether the Warriors are going to have the top seed in the west. More are fathoming whether this team can surpass the NBA record in wins for a season just like they did last season. The team has a few different role players this upcoming season, but the star power of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green should make this team the scariest offensive juggernaut in the NBA.
The additions of veteran big men David West and Zaza Pachulia will give the Warriors much better depth at the four and five spot then they had last season, and with Shaun Livingston still leading the charge for the second unit the Warrior bench looks to be in great shape.
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