NBA season preview 2022-23: Contenders, stars and big questions

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Monday, October 17, 2022

What will the 2022-23 NBA season be remembered for? Some teams will look very similar, but the landscape of the league is never exactly the same two years in a row.

An offseason full of big trades and a handful of star players returning from injury is bound to shake up the NBA standings.

Utah's deals that sent Rudy Gobert to Minnesota and Donovan Mitchell to Cleveland will likely drop the Jazz out of the playoff race, while the Timberwolves and Cavaliers will seek to take another step toward serious contention.

The Nets will look to reestablish themselves as title contenders. Kyrie Irving's vaccination status won't hold him out of any home games this season, and Brooklyn will see how Ben Simmons fits into the lineup for the first time since trading for him in February.

And all eyes will be on LeBron James and the Lakers in another storyline-filled season in Los Angeles. James is projected to break the NBA scoring record and, alongside Russell Westbrook, will try to help the Lakers bounce back from a disappointing campaign.

Here's a look at every team's outlook for the upcoming season, including the most important offseason moves, big questions and which players could be facing a make-or-break 2022-23.

Note: Rankings are based on where members of our panel (ESPN's Kendra Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin, Kevin Pelton and Ohm Youngmisuk) think teams belong heading into this season. Title odds and win totals for 2022-23 by Caesars Sportsbook.

Jump to a team:






When we last saw them ... the Warriors were hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy at center court inside Boston's TD Garden. It was Golden State's fourth title in eight years, and the sixth trip to the NBA Finals in that span.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 55-27
  • FiveThirtyEight: 49-33
  • Caesars: 52.5 wins | Title odds: +575

Warriors in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Losing Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr.

The Warriors' offseason saw more departures than they expected after winning the championship. The two biggest were Payton and Porter, who left for bigger paydays in Portland and Toronto, respectively, massively shrinking the champs' veteran depth. Payton became the player the Warriors stuck on opponents' best guard. He would take on assignments such as All-Stars Devin Booker, Luka Doncic and Ja Morantand do well against them. (Among players to appear in at least half the Warriors' games last season, Payton led them all in defensive rating.)

Porter provided the Warriors with a floor-spacer who Golden State felt comfortable playing at either forward spot and sometimes a stretch-5. Porter shot 37% from beyond the arc in 2021-22.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

James Wiseman. It's hard to imagine that this is Wiseman's third year in the league but will be the first time he sees consistent playing time since his rookie year. And that season, he played just 39 games before a meniscus injury sidelined him in April 2021.

Numerous setbacks have kept Wiseman from the court until now. But with the emergence of Kevon Looney as an ironman last season, the Warriors have the luxury of being able to ease Wiseman back into their system. Wiseman proving he can be a helpful contributor for the Warriors' title defense becomes more important because of his contract situation. The Warriors have until Oct. 31 to pick up his fourth-year team option, and he becomes extension-eligible next summer. If no extension is agreed upon, he will become a restricted free agent in 2024.

Quote that will define their season:

"This is the biggest crisis that we've had since I've been the coach here. It's really serious stuff. We're not perfect. ... But we're going to lean on the experience that we have together and trust that this is the best decision for our team. We have a lot of work to do. All of us." -- Warriors coach Steve Kerr

There were a handful of quotes to come out of the altercation between Draymond Green and Jordan Poole that could define the Warriors' task ahead, but Steve Kerr calling it the largest crisis in his tenure is hard to gloss over.

How long will it take for the Warriors to move past Green punching Poole during practice? Green said the incident is in the team's past and everyone is ready to move forward, but it's hard to imagine the issue repairing itself in one week.

When asked how long it will take to build back the trust he lost from his team, Green told ESPN the issue wasn't about trust but camaraderie: "If you have that, you can build through anything," he said Wednesday. But trust was a major talking point for Kerr during Green's time away from the team.

Perhaps there doesn't need to be full trust in a teammate to play basketball with one another, as Green tried to explain; but if the best teams are built upon a united locker room, the Warriors are surely fractured on that front.

-- Kendra Andrews

When we last saw them ... the Bucks lost in Game 7 of the conference semifinals to the eventual East champion Celtics. But Milwaukee is still wondering if the outcome would be different with a healthy Khris Middleton.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 54-28
  • FiveThirtyEight: 49-33
  • Caesars: 52.5 wins | Title odds: +700

Bucks in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Adding Joe Ingles

The Bucks brought back nearly their entire roster; 16 of the 20 players in training camp were on the team last year and their top nine players in minutes played last season are once again on the roster. However, the Bucks have faith that Ingles, who signed a one-year, $6.5 million contract this offseason, can provide a midseason boost after he recovers from a torn ACL. Ingles has the toughness, experience, size and shooting ability off the bench, but he also just turned 35 years old and is coming off a major injury.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Grayson Allen. The Bucks have been thrilled with Allen's fit, both in the locker room and on the court, but the playoff series against the Celtics exposed some of his limitations. He struggled defensively and Boston swarmed him from beyond the arc, holding him to 20.8% from 3 in the series.

Quote that will define their season:

"Talking to Giannis, he loves that, when things are harder for him and he can learn and grow from those moments. And you just feel like he's going to take it to this season and he's going to continue to improve and get better and be even more prepared for the playoffs when they come this season." -- Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer

The Bucks are going to go as far as Antetokounmpo takes them. As long as he's healthy, they will have a chance to compete for another championship. Milwaukee's faith in keeping its roster together for another run is centered on a belief they have the best players around Antetokounmpo, whose prime years are just getting started as he approaches his age-28 season.

-- Jamal Collier

When we last saw them ... the Clippers were bounced out of the play-in after losing to Minnesota -- and former Clipper Patrick Beverley -- and falling to New Orleans at home. Outside of some historic comebacks, it was a season to forget. Kawhi Leonard missed the entire season with an ACL injury, and Paul George sat out a large chunk of it with an elbow injury and missed the final play-in game due to COVID-19.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 50-32
  • FiveThirtyEight: 47-35
  • Caesars: 51.5 wins | Title odds: +650

Clippers in NBArank

  • Kawhi Leonard (12)
  • Paul George (15)

Most impactful offseason move: Adding John Wall

The Clippers hope to address two weaknesses with the offseason signing of John Wall. Reggie Jackson had to shoulder the load at point guard last season and wore down as it progressed. Wall not only gives them depth at the position, but the former No. 1 overall pick has averaged 9.1 assists per game for his career. While Jackson emerged as an important scorer who has hit big shots in the past two seasons, the Clippers have needed a facilitator who can get Leonard and George easier looks when defenses clamp down.

Wall also gives Ty Lue's team some much-needed speed. The Clippers ranked 19th in pace of play last season. According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Clippers also led the league in catch-and-shoot 3-pointers the past two seasons, which could get even more efficient with Wall's passing. Wall is a career 19.1 PPG scorer, but will be looking to bounce back after injuries -- and sitting out the entire 2021-22 season with the Rockets -- have kept him to just 40 games over the past three seasons.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Marcus Morris Sr. Make-or-break is too strong of a statement, but the 33-year-old forward will be needed this season to shoot, rebound and defend better. Morris saw his 3-point shooting dip from 47.3% in 2020-21 to 36.7% last season. As one of the Clippers' true big men alongside Ivica Zubac, Morris will need to help the Clippers rebound while defending other bigs. There will be nights when Lue plays the 6-foot-8 Morris at the center spot in small-ball lineups. Availability will be key after Morris dealt with a knee issue last season and played in just 54 games, but he came into camp looking leaner.

"This is the best I've felt in a long time," Morris said. "I'm just excited. I'm going to be the best 3-point shooter in the league this year, one of the best leaders, and just excited to help the team."

Quote that will define their season:

"Both of us kind of internally had a promise. I know I did for myself, to bring a championship here. Then when you look at how close we were two years back [going to the Western Conference finals], the year Kawhi got hurt, I didn't want to leave anything on the table ... This core has kind of been here for years now, and when you look at the teams that win and are very successful, it's teams that have been together, jell and connect." -- Paul George

There's a reason George helped organize two offseason workout retreats in San Diego and Santa Barbara. The Clippers saw the first season of the Kawhi-PG era fall apart in the bubble when the team's chemistry disintegrated. Leonard, George and the Clippers enter their fourth year together feeling urgency to get to the NBA Finals. They have the star duo, perhaps the deepest team in the NBA with veteran experience and a master tactician in Lue. Intangibles such as health, sacrificing with such a deep roster and chemistry could be the difference for the Clippers this season.

-- Ohm Youngmisuk

When we last saw them ... the Celtics completed one of the most remarkable midseason turnarounds in NBA history, surging from under .500 in late January to the second seed in the East and advancing to the Finals for the first time in 12 years.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 54-28
  • FiveThirtyEight: 57-25
  • Caesars: 53.5 wins | Title odds: +575

Celtics in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: The suspension of coach Ime Udoka

Up until the final days of the offseason, this would have been the trade for Malcolm Brogdon, who averaged 19.1 points and 5.9 assists last season for Indiana and will provide a boost to an offense that fell flat at times during Boston's Finals run. But now it is the season-long suspension of Udoka, with the coach who helmed Boston's remarkable turnaround now being replaced by 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla, the league's youngest coach, who has two years of head-coaching experience ... in Division II college hoops.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Brogdon. The former Rookie of the Year was a leader for the Pacers over the past two years, but the acquisition by Boston for a protected first-round pick and spare parts is a sign his star has fallen significantly. Now he will come off the bench behind starting point guard Marcus Smart -- last year's Defensive Player of the Year.

Quote that will define their season:

"It's not about carrying on from one person. It's about carrying on the identity of our players. We had our struggles early last season, but at our best, we knew what our identity was. It was our defense, it was our buy-in from a defensive standpoint and then it was sharing the ball and moving quickly on the offensive end. So as much as we can stick to the things we were great at last year, and then find areas to improve along the way, I think is the right way to go." -- Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla

The Udoka situation is going to linger all season in Boston. But, as Mazzulla pointed out on Celtics media day, it will take a collective effort to recapture what sent the Celtics to the Finals last season and to live up to expectations. It won't be easy after not only what happened to Udoka but also losing Robert Williams for at least the first two to three months of the season following knee surgery and Danilo Gallinari for what likely will be the entire 2022-23 campaign after he tore his ACL during EuroBasket in early September.

-- Tim Bontemps

When we last saw them ... the 76ers saw their season end in the second round for the fourth time in five years. A full season of the Joel Embiid-James Harden partnership, however, has Philly eyeing a much deeper run.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 50-32
  • FiveThirtyEight: 50-32
  • Caesars: 51.5 wins | Title odds: +1300

76ers in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Adding PJ Tucker

Getting Tucker directly weakened the Heat, the team that knocked Philadelphia out of the playoffs last season, and Embiid delivered a soliloquy about how he had never played with someone like Tucker following Philadelphia's season-ending Game 6 loss.

Through the opening days of 76ers training camp, Tucker's booming voice has already become a staple in the gym, and he provides a level of toughness and intensity this team has lacked in recent seasons. That Tucker is a career 36% 3-point shooter, and hit 41.5% of his triples last season -- is a nice secondary benefit.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

James Harden. After years of criticism of Harden's postseason play and a rough end to his first playoffs in Philadelphia, Harden threw himself into a rigorous offseason program and arrived at camp in tremendous shape.

No matter what happens during the regular season, success will be defined by his postseason performance. If something close to the MVP version of Harden shows up, perhaps he becomes a first-time NBA champion. If it doesn't, the reputation he has earned of failing under the spotlight might never fade.

Quote that will define their season:

"If we're the best defensive team, then we'll be the best team in the league." -- P.J. Tucker

Last season, Philadelphia did not have the requisite athleticism and defensive prowess on the perimeter to keep up with the other elite teams in the league. But after adding Tucker, De'Anthony Melton and Danuel House in the offseason, that is no longer the case. Last season, the 76ers were 12th in defense even with substandard defensive talent.

-- Bontemps

When we last saw them ... The Grizzlies matched the franchise record with 56 wins and put up a fight against the eventual champion Warriors in the West semifinals. The Grizzlies' arrow is pointing up thanks to a spectacular young core, led by ascending superstar Ja Morant and backcourt sidekick Desmond Bane.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 51-31
  • FiveThirtyEight: 52-30
  • Caesars: 48.5 wins | Title odds: +2200

Grizzlies in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: TradingDe'Anthony Melton

Melton was a big part of the Grizzlies' bench, but Memphis decided to move on from him, sending him to Philadelphia for injured veteran Danny Green and the No. 23 overall pick, which was used to select combo forward David Roddy. It remains to be seen whether the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Roddy can be a regular contributor as a rookie, but Memphis' front office likes his potential as a smart, skilled, physical complement to their explosive backcourt. This move, as well as allowing small forward Kyle Anderson to leave via free agency, was a vote of confidence in the continued development of second-year swingman Ziaire Williams.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Dillon Brooks. Brooks deserves credit for giving the Grizzlies toughness and tenacity, critical elements of this team's personality. He's an elite defender, willing and able to guard stars at four positions. He has a chance to be part of Memphis' core for years to come, if Brooks accepts his role as the fourth or sometimes fifth offensive option and adapts his often poor shot selection. Brooks, who is in the final season of his contract, can't continue to be a low-efficiency shooter; he shot a career-worst 30.9 from deep last season. If he does, he might be on another team after the trade deadline.

Quote that will define their season:

"A lot of guys, they love to do social media, the TikToks, the tweets. ... We love to have fun, but the basketball gods will turn on you if you celebrate too early." -- Danny Green

There were questions about whether Green would be part of the Grizzlies' plans after he arrived in Memphis essentially as salary filler in a trade for a first-round pick this summer. (He won't be ready to return from a torn ACL until late in the regular season at best and is in the final season of his contract.) But the franchise values the 35-year-old Green, a three-time champion, as an extension of the coaching staff. The hope is he can provide guidance to a brash and fun young core.

-- Tim MacMahon

When we last saw them ... the Nuggets were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the future champion Warriors. Short-handed Denver wasn't favored to win that series, but the 2022-23 season will be accompanied by different expectations, as two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic welcomes back two of his star teammates.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 53-29
  • FiveThirtyEight: 54-28
  • Caesars: 52.5 wins | Title odds: +1600

Nuggets in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Adding Bruce Brown

On paper, Brown signing at the midlevel exception is the perfect fit. Despite being listed at 6-foot-4, his ability to play guard or slide up to power forward provides Denver with a new level of versatility. Brown is a strong defender and has bumped his perimeter shooting from 28.8% two seasons ago to 40% in 2022-23. Brown can fill the scoring and playmaking voids lost when they traded Will Barton and Monte Morris to Washington this summer.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Michael Porter Jr. Since he was drafted in 2018, Porter has played in just 129 games due to injury. He missed his entire rookie season with a back injury and missed all but nine games last season with another.

Porter signed a five-year, $207 million max extension in 2021, so his future with the Nuggets is set from a contract standpoint. But just how important he will be for the Nuggets, and his role with the team, still needs to be proved on the court.

As the Nuggets look to make the jump from perennial playoff team to true title contender -- and take advantage of what could be another MVP-type season from Nikola Jokic -- Porter should be their third star behind Jokic and the returning Jamal Murray.

Quote that will define their season:

"The team we're going to be in October, November is not the team that we're going to be come April." -- Nuggets coach Michael Malone

The Nuggets are not only reintegrating Jamal Murray back into their team, but Michael Porter Jr. too. It will take a moment for Murray and Porter to get back into midseason form, but by spring, the Nuggets are confident that they will be a competitive playoff team that can make a deep run.

-- Andrews

When we last saw them ... the Suns went from having the best record in the league to being absolutely demolished by the Mavericks on their home court in Game 7 of the conference semifinals, trailing by as many as 46 points. Just like after their 2020 Finals loss after being up 2-0, Phoenix will attempt to pick up the pieces with off-court storylines swirling around the franchise.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 56-26
  • FiveThirtyEight: 49-33
  • Caesars: 52.5 | Title odds: +1300

Suns in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Signing Deandre Ayton to an extension

Phoenix attempted to be the beneficiary of Kevin Durant's trade request out of Brooklyn, putting together a package centered on Ayton and Mikal Bridges. When Brooklyn made it clear it wouldn't be dealing Durant, the Suns worked out a four-year, $133 million extension with Ayton.

The move was fascinating on a few levels. The extension meant the Suns would be keeping their former No. 1 pick and not trading him to Indiana or Detroit -- two teams that had shown interest in the 24-year-old big man, with the Pacers even signing him to an offer sheet and putting the Suns on the clock. Also, by the Suns dragging their feet and waiting until mid-July to reach the agreement, Ayton was no longer eligible for the full five-year, $179.6 million extension.

That decision saved Phoenix $43 million in guaranteed money to Ayton, but it came at a price: Ayton can block any potential trade that involves him for a full year. And the Ayton saga is still playing out; during training camp he told reporters he and coach Monty Williams did not talk all offseason after Ayton was benched in Game 7 against Dallas.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

The entire Suns organization. After the league's investigation into Robert Sarver's workplace conduct led to a one-year ban and a $10 million fine, the longtime Suns owner reluctantly agreed to sell the team. The pending sale will determine Phoenix's fate long-term, but in the short-term, the players and coaches will have to weather the fallout while trying to push past disappointing finishes to their past two seasons.

Training camp was already compromised by Jae Crowder's refusal to accept a bench role after Williams decided to elevate Cam Johnson to the starting lineup, leaving the team with an unexpected hole in its rotation while Crowder is away from the team as they field trade offers. And the West only got tougher in the offseason, setting up what could be an arduous season in Phoenix.

Quote that will define their season:

"There was a bit of shock -- a moment where I was in disbelief. When you see the bullet points and then when you go through it, you start to think about how these things impacted people, how is it going to impact our team, the organization, the community?" -- Suns coach Monty Williams

The Suns are still navigating an extremely difficult situation stemming from Sarver's misdeeds, and Williams' statement on the subject during media day certainly won't be the last time they come up. Phoenix doesn't just have the challenges of extending the prime of a 37-year-old point guard in Chris Paul or getting All-Star Devin Booker and their Defensive Player of the Year candidate Bridges to the next level. The foundation of their franchise has been shaken to its core.

-- Dave McMenamin

When we last saw them ... Miami was a Jimmy Butler 3-pointer late in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals from going to The Finals for the second time in three seasons. There was speculation that Kevin Durant or Donovan Mitchell might ultimately land in South Beach -- but it wasn't meant to be. The Heat also lost popular veteran P.J. Tucker, who signed with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 51-31
  • FiveThirtyEight: 51-31
  • Caesars: 48.5 wins | Title odds: +2400

Heat in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Extending Tyler Herro

After failing to land Durant or Mitchell, the Heat gave Herro a four-year $130 million extension less than a week into training camp. Herro said after the season that he was hoping to start moving forward, but now Herro is going to have a lot more responsibility on his shoulders to deliver each night.

Herro's ability to knock down shots from the outside is solid, but at 22, he has plenty of room to grow. After averaging 20.7 points a game in the regular season while winning the Sixth Man of the year award, Herro averaged just 12.6 points over 15 postseason games last year.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Kyle Lowry. Lowry didn't have the season the Heat were hoping he would after signing him to a three-year $90 million deal last offseason. Heat president Pat Riley said he was hopeful that Lowry would be in better shape this year after a lackluster first season in Miami. Lowry, 36, also has to be concerned about some of the lingering injuries that plagued him last year, including a hamstring injury that hampered him in the postseason.

Quote that will define their season:

"I think that's why I play this game -- to win a championship ... I really, really love what I get the opportunity to do every single day." -- Jimmy Butler

Butler's singular public focus since signing with the Heat three years ago has been to deliver Miami another championship. It's why he spends so much time working on his game and it's why he remains so confident about being able to cross the threshold and win a title.

This season will arguably be the toughest challenge Butler has faced. The Heat didn't land another star, and Tucker -- a player he really respected -- is gone. Butler needs to be able to lift the rest of his teammates up more than he has in the past.

-- Nick Friedell

When we last saw them ... The Mavs exceeded expectations in coach Jason Kidd's first year by marching to the West finals, thanks in large part to Luka Doncic's dominance. But Doncic still doesn't have a co-star.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 49-33
  • FiveThirtyEight: 50-32
  • Caesars: 48.5 wins | Title odds: +2700

Mavericks in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Losing Jalen Brunson

The Mavs made it clear that keeping Brunson, their second-best player, was the top summer priority, but they ended up losing him for nothing. It was the result of a massive miscalculation of the market for Brunson. Dallas hesitated to offer Brunson the four-year, $56 million extension he would have eagerly signed at one point, and Mavs governor Mark Cuban wasn't willing to match the $104 million offer Brunson got from the Knicks. Dallas hopes the return of Tim Hardaway Jr.and the addition of Christian Wood can replace Brunson's scoring, but it's a huge blow for a franchise with championship aspirations to lose its homegrown point guard.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Christian Wood. Wood believes he can be an All-Star but will begin his Mavs tenure by coming off the bench. Whether he embraces that role -- Wood is entering a contract year -- will be a major factor in determining the length of his stay in Dallas. Wood brings an impressive skill set as a big who is capable of scoring as a 3-point shooter, lob threat and off the dribble. His critics (who include a large number of NBA scouts) will say all he has proved is he can put up numbers on bad teams.

Quote that will define their season:

"We're going to talk about defense. We're going to talk about helping each other. We talked about that last year. I know a lot of people didn't believe that we were going to play defense, but we did. And it starts with our best player, Luka. I think he's up for the challenge." -- Mavericks coach Jason Kidd

The Mavs soared to seventh in defensive efficiency last season, 14 spots higher than in Rick Carlisle's final campaign as Dallas coach. They'll need to remain in that range to have any hope of being a real threat in the West. That will require "participation" from Doncic, to borrow a term from Kidd. It's his way of saying Doncic can't take plays off on defense, demanding his star do his part in a scheme designed to protect the Mavs' MVP candidate as much as possible.

-- MacMahon

When we last saw them ... The Nets underwent a tumultuous offseason after getting swept by the Boston Celtics in the East quarterfinals. Star forward Kevin Durant asked for a trade, reportedly asked for coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks to be fired and then decided to come back. The Nets arguably had the most up-and-down summer in the sport.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 40-42
  • FiveThirtyEight: 45-37
  • Caesars: 50.5 wins | Title odds: +700

Nets in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Not dealing Kevin Durant

The organization has revolved around Durant since he signed with Brooklyn three years ago, but now it must find a way to reestablish itself with Durant after his trade request. Durant recently explained his decision, saying, in part, that he was disappointed in how he felt players weren't being held accountable last season. Durant, Nash and Marks all seem confident that they can keep moving forward together -- but the ultimate test will come whenever the Nets hit adversity this season.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Ben Simmons. After almost a year and a half off the court while demanding a trade out of Philadelphia, dealing with his mental health and back surgery, Simmons must prove to the league that he can still play at a high level each night. The Nets are confident that Simmons will find his rhythm again quickly. If they want to rise back up to the top of the East, they need Simmons to click with Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Quote that will define their season:

"I think they'll have a certain element of cohesion out of the gates because they're all really good basketball players, but hopefully it's something that evolves. And they can continue to find ways to make each other better. I think that's the beauty, that they actually fit really well together, but it may take time. But out of the gates, they're still three great basketball players who I think are excited to play together and will make things happen immediately. But let's hope that there's a constant growth as well." -- Nets coach Steve Nash

The Nets' biggest key to success this year is simple: Can Durant, Irving and Simmons all find a rhythm together? If they can, the Nets figure to be one of the better and most interesting teams in the league. If the three stars play well -- and Nash can keep all the egos in check -- Brooklyn might finally start to look like the type of strong team it has been hoping to see since Durant and Irving decided to sign over three years ago.

-- Friedell

When we last saw them ... After making the playoffs through the play-in tournament, the young Timberwolves gave the Memphis Grizzlies a test in the first round, stretching the series to six games -- the longest Minnesota postseason run since 2004.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 49-33
  • FiveThirtyEight: 47-35
  • Caesars: 48.5 wins | Title odds: +3000

Timberwolves in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Trading for Rudy Gobert

Weeks after taking the job as the Timberwolves' president of basketball operations, Tim Connelly boldly dealt four first-round picks -- three of them unprotected -- five players (including No. 22 pick Walker Kessler) and a pick swap to the Utah Jazz for Gobert.

There's no doubt adding the three-time Defensive Player of the Year will upgrade a defense that ranked 13th in defensive rating but declined to 18th from December onward. Minnesota particularly struggled to protect the paint, allowing the league's sixth-highest percentage at the rim, according to Second Spectrum tracking on NBA Advanced Stats. (Opponents hit 49% of such shots against Gobert, third-lowest among players who defended at least 200 attempts.)

Still, to justify the expense in both draft picks and salary (Gobert will make $170 million over the next four seasons), the Timberwolves will need to go deep into the playoffs.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

D'Angelo Russell. Once upon a time, Russell was Minnesota's big addition via trade at the 2020 deadline to team up with friend Karl-Anthony Towns. Although the Timberwolves got to the playoffs and were far better with Russell on the court last season, he hasn't developed into the playmaker the team hoped for after Russell made the 2019 All-Star Game with the Nets.

Now, Russell is entering the final season of the contract he signed in the summer of 2019, and his place in Minnesota's future is uncertain. If Russell can pair his career-best shooting inside the arc last season (49%) with the 39% he shot on 3s in 2020-21, he could play his way into an extension given the Timberwolves forfeited their chance at meaningful cap space with the Gobert trade.

If Russell struggles, however, he could be on the move again as an expiring salary at the deadline.

Quote that will define their season:

"I've always loved to play with another dominant big, because I've always thought that I could pass." -- Rudy Gobert

Even more than Russell's performance and the development of point guard Anthony Edwards, the pairing of Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns in the frontcourt will define the ceiling for Minnesota this season.

At media day, Gobert expressed excitement about playing alongside another powerful frontcourt player, something he noted the Jazz successfully transitioned away from the past three seasons, pairing Gobert with stretch 4 Bojan Bogdanovic. Gobert has continued to play in more traditional frontcourts with the French national team, which won silver in EuroBasket last month.

If Gobert is able to make plays for teammates in addition to benefiting from the gravity provided by Towns' dangerous outside shooting, the Timberwolves could benefit almost as much offensively from the trade as on defense.

-- Kevin Pelton

When we last saw them ... Cleveland went 13-3 from mid-January to mid-February to climb into the top four in the Eastern Conference standings. Injuries then caught up to the Cavs, and they lost two play-in games to Brooklyn and Atlanta before shocking the basketball world with the biggest trade of the summer.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 45-37
  • FiveThirtyEight: 44-38
  • Caesars: 47.5 wins | Title odds: +3000

Cavaliers in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Trading for Donovan Mitchell

After the New York Knicks were the presumed favorite to land Mitchell for months, Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman swooped in with a deal the Utah Jazz couldn't say no to: three unprotected first-round picks, two pick swaps, plus Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen and Ochai Agbaji.

In Mitchell, Cleveland now has a 26-year-old three-time All-Star to mesh with last season's first-time All-Stars, Darius Garland (22) and Jarrett Allen (24), along with Rookie of the Year runner-up Evan Mobley (21). Mitchell is known for his penchant for scoring, having averaged north of 20 points in each of his five NBA seasons. Now he will be tasked with meshing defensively with a Cavs team that jumped from 25th in defensive rating in 2020-21 all the way to No. 5 last season under coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Caris LeVert.It will be an interesting season for LeVert. Once a foundational player for a young Brooklyn team on the rise, his career arc has become murkier in stops in Indiana and Cleveland. After undergoing surgery for kidney cancer and making a full recovery, LeVert finds himself as a potent scorer on a Cavs team with big expectations.

However, entering the season on an expiring $18.8 million deal, he has the type of contract that could be valuable for Altman if he is looking to make tweaks to the roster by the trade deadline. On one hand, having a full training camp to learn Bickerstaff's system after being acquired via trade in the middle of last season should allow the 28-year-old LeVert to clearly define his role. On the other hand, it would be understandable if he puts pressure on himself in a contract year to resume his ascendant track.

Quote that will define their season:

"When I first found out I was golfing. I was running around crazy, mainly in fact, when I found out who we kept in the deal. Because I didn't know who was in the trade, I just knew I was traded. When I found out we kept DG and JA and Ev and Caris, I was like, 'Wow. We got a talented group.' A team that was third in the East and then obviously injuries came about. That was before I got here and now we can only look to do more and better and just continue to win and build. ... We're young, but we're hungry and we're ready." --DonovanMitchell, at his introductory news conference in Cleveland

It's not often a team can have this level of unbridled optimism heading into a season without it coming off sounding unrealistic, but the joy just might be justified for this Cavs group.

-- McMenamin

When we last saw them ... The Pelicans bowed out in six games in the first round to the top-seeded Suns. The Pelicans had stormed back from a 3-16 start to make the play-in tournament and defeated the Spurs and Clippers to advance as the eighth seed.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 43-39
  • FiveThirtyEight: 42-40
  • Caesars: 45.5 wins | Title odds: +3000

Pelicans in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Extending Zion Williamson

With so many guaranteed contracts on the roster, the Pelicans didn't make many moves this offseason. They signed CJ McCollum and Larry Nance to extensions this fall, but the most impactful extension came in July, when Zion Williamson agreed to a five-year rookie max contract extension without a player option. Williamson's extension continued the wave of good vibes that has washed over the team since the McCollum trade. Williamson, McCollum and Brandon Ingram are all under contract for at least the next three years.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ... Devonte' Graham

When the Pelicans acquired Graham from the Hornets in a sign-and-trade, many looked at him as a replacement for Lonzo Ball, who had been sent from New Orleans to Chicago. But the original plan for Graham was to be more of a spot-up shooter around Williamson rather than the team's point guard. But in that time, the Pelicans traded for CJ McCollum to play the point guard position with their starters, and defensive star Jose Alvarado evolved from a two-way player to getting major minutes in the playoffs.

If Graham is going to carve out a role, he'll have to hit shots. Graham shot 39.8% on catch-and-shoot 3s last season compared to just 25.7% on pull-up 3s.

Quote that will define their season:

"I think this is the first time the external expectations have reached what our own internal expectations have been. And, and that's, that's a big deal." -- Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin

Griffin, who is in his fourth season in New Orleans, is right. There haven't been many high outside expectations prior to this season. The Pelicans have suffered three straight losing seasons with disappointing ends to the first two, but last year's finish gave the team life.

Despite a 36-46 finish, the Pelicans went 33-30 after a horrid start. But they played better than .500 basketball with McCollum in the lineup through the final 26 games of the season and the two play-in games (15-13).

The Pelicans have a number of options with their offensive firepower. Ingram, McCollum and a healthy Williamson have all averaged at least 23 points per game in their careers. If the defense can come around, those great expectations could be met.

-- Lopez

When we last saw them ... the injury-ravaged Raptors fell against the 76ers in the first round, where they won Games 4 and 5 after falling down 3-0 in the series before losing a lopsided Game 6. Still, it was an impressive season for Toronto, which saw Pascal Siakam return to All-NBA status and Scottie Barnes win Rookie of the Year.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 47-35
  • FiveThirtyEight: 50-32
  • Caesars: 47.5 wins | Title odds: +4000

Raptors in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Adding Otto Porter Jr.

By default, the only move to change the makeup of the roster this offseason was the signing of Porter from the defending champion Warriors, adding another 6-foot-8 wing to a team virtually only made up of them at this point. While they were thrown into the mix in discussions about every big-name player available -- most notably Kevin Durant -- Toronto remained quiet this summer. The Raptors do have a decision on Fred VanVleet, who is a year away from free agency, though both he and the Raptors have said they want their partnership to continue.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

OG Anunoby. It's been an odd couple of seasons for Anunoby, who has only played a combined 91 games the past two years due to various injuries. His offensive production has increased every season of his career and he remains an elite wing defender, but injuries have raised questions about his future in Toronto. Anunoby turned 25 in July and should just be entering his prime, making his situation one of the NBA's most intriguing.

Quote that will define their season:

"I think in this organization we've always wanted to preach patience. We want to win. We're expecting to win. Honestly, we can't react to what's going on in the league. Yeah, we see other teams. We study all of that. But in terms of our plan, it's to grow our young players and continue to develop and see [where] that takes us." -- Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri

The Raptors are stuck in the in-between, which is why ESPN's "all-in" tiers determined Toronto was all-in on, well, "nothing."

Toronto does have the luxury of going in any direction, including just letting young players like Barnes grow. The question for this season is whether the Raptors will prove they have enough to compete now in a rapidly improving East, or if they will have to start looking at shifting their timeline.

-- Tim Bontemps

When we last saw them ... The Hawks made it back to the postseason via the play-in tournament and big wins against Charlotte and Cleveland to advance as the eighth seed. Atlanta then fell to the top-seeded Heat in the first round.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 46-36
  • FiveThirtyEight: 51-31
  • Caesars: 46.5 wins | Title odds: +5000

Hawks in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Trading for Dejounte Murray

The Hawks paid a hefty price for their new star guard, dealing three first-round picks and a pick swap to San Antonio for Murray. Last season with San Antonio, Murray earned his first All-Star selection and finished the season averaging 21.1 points, 9.2 assists, 8.3 rebounds and a league-leading 2.0 steals per game.

Atlanta brought Murray on board to improve its defense. (The Hawks finished 26th in the league last season with a 113.7 defensive rating.) If Murray can help shore up the defensive end, it'll help Atlanta's No. 2 rated offense (115.4 offensive rating) shine even more.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Clint Capela.Capela has been one of the NBA premier rebounders for quite a few seasons -- including leading the league with 14.9 boards a game in 2021-22 -- but the double-double machine has some competition behind him in former No. 6 overall pick Onyeka Okongwu. Capela, who is owed over $61.5 million over the next three seasons, saw his scoring dip to 11.1 points per game -- the lowest in his career as a full-time starter. His minutes dropped to 27.6 per game -- his lowest in four seasons. Okongwu, still on his rookie deal at $14.5 million over the next two seasons, made a push for playing time throughout last season.

Quote that will define their season:

"Miami showed us that we have to improve and get better and it showed Trae that you have to learn to play a different style of ball. What you did was great but you can do more, and Trae is up for that. He understands that." -- Hawks coach Nate McMillan

For all the offseason hype around the Murray trade, the Hawks' success will depend on Trae Young taking them to the next level. When they made the East finals in 2020-21, Young carved his way through the Knicks and 76ers before Atlanta ran out of steam against the champion Bucks.

Last year's first-round exit against Miami was a wake-up call in the organization, hence why they felt they needed to go out and make a trade for someone like Murray. Young took a big step forward last year in his efficiency: He hit career highs in field goal rate (46.0%), 3-point rate (38.2%) and free throw rate (90.4%).

-- Andrew Lopez

When we last saw them ... The Bulls returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 in the first year with the All-Star trio of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, but Chicago was quickly ousted by Milwaukee in the first round.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 44-38
  • FiveThirtyEight: 35-47
  • Caesars: 42.5 wins | Title odds: +6500

Bulls in NBArank

  • Zach LaVine (27)
  • DeMar DeRozan (28)
  • Nikola Vucevic (57)
  • Lonzo Ball (78)

Most impactful offseason "move": Lonzo Ball's knee surgery

Injuries derailed a promising first half for Chicago and are already threatening to jeopardize this season. Ball underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee at the start of training camp, his second since January, and neither he, nor the Bulls, have much clarity on when he'll return.

Chicago was not the same team without Ball last year (27-13 before the injury; 19-23 after). The trio of Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu and veteran Goran Dragic, whom the Bulls signed in free agency, will try to fill the playmaking void.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Nikola Vucevic. The Bulls' move to acquire Vucevic from the Magic at the 2021 trade deadline has provided the jolt the franchise had envisioned. Chicago didn't make the play-in tournament in 2020-21 -- ceding the No. 8 overall pick to Orlando, which turned into breakout candidate Franz Wagner -- and although they got back to the playoffs last year, Vucevic struggled as the third option alongside DeRozan and LaVine. Vucevic shot 47.3% from the field 31.4% from 3, his lowest totals since 2017-18.

The Bulls are counting on Vucevic to have a bounce-back season in the final year of his contract.

Quote that will define their season:

"Last year, we were not surprised we made the playoffs. A lot of people were surprised. Nor should we be surprised to make the playoffs this year, but what we want to see is improvement. Once you get to the playoffs and you have healthy bodies a lot of things can happen; we have to do better than last year." -- Bulls vice president Arturas Karnisovas

Despite some large question marks entering the season, especially surrounding Ball's health, the Bulls have their sights set not just on getting to the postseason again, but advancing in the playoffs as well. It's a natural progression to build on from last season, but also high internal expectations for a team with more than a few unknowns -- at point guard, whether Vucevic will bounce back and the growth of young players such as Patrick Williams and Dosunmu. Chicago led the East for most of last season's first half, but injuries to Ball, Caruso and LaVine kept the Bulls from playing at full strength down the stretch and in the postseason.

-- Collier

When we last saw them ... the Knicks failed to build on their surprising surge to fourth place in the East two seasons ago. Last year's 11th-place finish was headlined by a steep regression from Julius Randle following his All-NBA performance in 2020-21.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 39-43
  • FiveThirtyEight: 40-42
  • Caesars: 38.5 wins | Title odds: +10000

Knicks in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Adding Jalen Brunson

The signing of Brunson gives the Knicks desperately needed stability at point guard. Yes, there are plenty of ties between Brunson and the Knicks' front office and coaching staff. But that can, at times, overshadow the fact that Brunson is an excellent point guard coming off a career season with the Mavericks. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has found success with small guards, and Brunson could be the next player to benefit.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Julius Randle. What a difference a year makes. During the 2020-21 season, Randle was making an All-NBA team for the first time, leading the Knicks to the playoffs and becoming the new franchise player in New York. Last year, his production cratered, the Knicks struggled and Randle got into an unwinnable feud with the team's fans. After going from 41.1% on 3-pointers in his All-NBA campaign to 30% last season, Randle's success will likely be tied to whether he can regain his form as a reliable 3-point shooter.

Quote that will define their season:

"People think you should make this huge leap out of nowhere, and it's like, if you just add one or two things to your game and just get better every year steadily, you're going to get to where you want to go, whether it comes right away or comes later." -- RJ Barrett

This summer, Barrett became the first Knicks first-round pick to sign a multiyear contract extension with the franchise since Charlie Ward in 1999. To put that stat nugget into context: Only three players on the current Knicks roster were even born when Ward was selected by New York in the first round of the 1994 draft.

Barrett is one of the few players -- especially considering his draft pedigree as the third overall pick in 2019 -- to become the kind of star the Knicks have lacked since Carmelo Anthony left the franchise. If Barrett takes another step in that direction, it would be a huge development for New York's present and future.

-- Bontemps

When we last saw them ... In a word, the Los Angeles Lakers' 2021-22 season was disastrous. L.A. traded for Russell Westbrook to get back to championship status but ended up taking a step backward. The Lakers missed the playoffs, fired their coach and turned over more than half their roster.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 42-40
  • FiveThirtyEight: 32-50
  • Caesars: 44.5 wins | Title odds: +1800

Lakers in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Not trading Russell Westbrook

The Lakers engaged the Jazz and Indiana Pacers in various trade discussions centered on the 15-year veteran but balked at any demands for the inclusion of both their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks. Now, Darvin Ham will begin his tenure as Lakers coach tasked with getting more out of the 2017 league MVP. Westbrook said that "trusting and sacrificing" will be the key to the Lakers building the chemistry that eluded their team in 2021-22. Westbrook and Ham apparently have the trust part down, staying in constant communication since Ham got the job in June.

Sacrificing could be the tricky part. Westbrook made it clear last season that he preferred the ball in his hands more often. His usage rate clocked in at 27.3, which was behind LeBron James' 32.3 but ahead of Anthony Davis's 27.0. However, his individual output made it hard to justify giving him the keys over James. If he can't fit in better under Ham, the whole season could be compromised until a trade partner is found.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ... Anthony Davis

Davis has missed more games than he has played in the past two seasons, making his dominant play in the NBA bubble in Orlando seem like a distant memory. The 29-year-old big man is aware the injuries have hurt both his team and his reputation, vowing to treat this season with a "chip on our shoulder" and repeatedly stating his intent to play in all 82 games.

The eight-time All-Star has already commented on how Ham's defense requires him to position himself further back in pick-and-roll coverage than he is accustomed to playing -- hoping to force teams into floaters that he has the capability of rejecting (he has led the league in blocks three times). But he must also fight those instincts because that can leave the rim unprotected when the offensive player fakes a floater and makes a dump-off pass to a big lurking on the baseline.

Quote that will define their season:

"We should be able to be one of the elite defensive teams. We're going to put the work in. We're going to do the breakdowns. We have the personnel for it. And now it's just all about activating and making it come to fruition." -- Lakers coach Darvin Ham

A top-three defensive team in the league in each of Frank Vogel's first two years coaching L.A., the Lakers slipped into the 20s last season. Ham expects defense to be what allows L.A. to climb back up the standings.

-- McMenamin

When we last saw them ... The playoff drought continues as the Sacramento Kings failed to make the postseason for the 16th straight season -- the longest active drought in the NBA/MLB/NFL/NHL and the longest drought in NBA history. The Kings fired Luke Walton, replaced him with Alvin Gentry, traded the popular Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield to Indiana for Domantas Sabonis and still failed to win more than 30 games.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 34-48
  • FiveThirtyEight: 33-49
  • Caesars: 34.5 wins | Title odds: +35000

Kings in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Hiring coach Mike Brown

The Kings are hoping that Brown can bring some of that Golden State championship touch with him up north to Sacramento. If Brown is going to break the playoff drought, he might get a big helping hand from heralded rookie Keegan Murray. Murray, the fourth overall pick in this year's draft, is one of the favorites to win Rookie of the Year. The Las Vegas Summer League MVP impressed in his preseason debut with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals in 20 minutes. Yes, it's preseason, but the Kings might be onto something with Murray.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

De'Aaron Fox. It is definitely not make or break, but this is Fox's fifth season, and it would be nice to see perhaps the league's fastest player with the ball in the postseason for once. Fox hasn't had a ton of stability in Sacramento. Brown will be Fox's fourth coach in five years including Gentry, who took over for Walton last season. The Kings seem to have balanced out the roster, and with a new coach, this just might be the season Fox reaches the playoffs. "I'm 24," Fox said. "I would still be considered a young guy in every facet, every way of life ... if you can't get better at 24 years old for however long you play, then there's a problem."

Quote that will define their season:

"We've got a lot of athleticism. We have a lot of guys that can shoot the ball. That is something that can be big for us this year. Obviously defensively, Mike is already on us." -- De'Aaron Fox

For all the offensive talent on the roster, the Kings will have to play Brown's brand of defense in order for them to succeed in his system. Sacramento ranked 27th in defensive efficiency last season and last in 2020-21. The Kings have not finished even in the top half of the league in defensive efficiency since Rick Adelman's final season in 2005-06. Brown led the Warriors to second in defensive efficiency last season. Getting the players, including his stars Fox and Sabonis, to buy in and lead defensively will determine whether or not the Kings can contend for a playoff spot this season.

-- Youngmisuk

When we last saw them ... With nearly all its key players sidelined, Portland went through one of the most miserable conclusions to a season in NBA history, going 2-21 after the All-Star break with 11 of the losses by at least 25 points -- more such losses than the Blazers ever had previously suffered in an entire season.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 35-47
  • FiveThirtyEight: 38-44
  • Caesars: 40.5 wins | Title odds: +12500

Trail Blazers in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Trading for Jerami Grant

In addition to getting starters back from injury, Portland dealt the 2025 Milwaukee first-round pick received in the CJ McCollum trade to the Detroit Pistons for Grant, reuniting him with Damian Lillard after they won gold together for the USA in the Tokyo Olympics.

Grant demonstrated he could shoulder a larger offensive role in two seasons in Detroit, averaging a career-high 22.3 PPG in 2020-21 after being a role player earlier in his career. Now he's headed to more of a hybrid role, handling the ball more frequently than he did in his first three stops but with more proven talent around him than with the Pistons.

The Blazers are also counting on Grant to be the kind of wing stopper he was during the Denver Nuggets' run to the 2020 conference finals, upgrading a defense that was the league's second worst last season.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Nassir Little.I'm not sure any Portland player truly qualifies, but this will be an important season for Little if he and the Blazers are unable to agree on an extension to his rookie contract by the Oct. 17 deadline.

Little doesn't need to look far to see an example of a bet on restricted free agency paying off. Anfernee Simons did not extend his contract last October and parlayed a breakout campaign into a four-year, $100 million contract over the summer.

After starting 23 games during his third season, the 22-year-old Little will compete with Josh Hart and perhaps newcomer Gary Payton II for the open spot in the Portland starting lineup alongside Lillard, Grant, Simons and holdover Jusuf Nurkic. Little could boost his chances by improving on last season's 33% accuracy from 3-point range to go along with his high-percentage finishing and defensive versatility.

Quote that will define their season:

"Seeing Golden State have a few down seasons and a few bad seasons, and then show that they were still connected and have some young guys come in and step up, [they went] out there and [did] what nobody expected them to do." -- Damian Lillard

The most important decision of the Blazers' offseason was the recommitment of the team and Lillard to each other with a two-year extension worth a minimum of $106 million starting in 2025-26. That deal reflected Lillard's optimism that Portland can return to playoff contention after a year in the lottery and the organization's choice of that path instead of a full rebuild with the young talent on hand.

A Warriors-level bounce-back isn't realistic given the Blazers weren't legitimate championship contenders before, but they could get back to the playoffs if the newcomers complement Lillard as hoped.

-- Pelton

When we last saw them ... The Wizards opened the season with hope, after trading Russell Westbrook away for key contributors like Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell. They jumped out to a 10-3 start and were 22-20 before the wheels fell off. Washington lost six straight and went into a tailspin. The Wizards lost Bradley Beal to a wrist injury that required season-ending surgery. But they traded for Kristaps Porzingis and used the end of the season to look forward to this season.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 34-48
  • FiveThirtyEight: 32-50
  • Caesars: 35.5 wins | Title odds: +30000

Wizards in NBArank

  • Bradley Beal (19)
  • Kristaps Porzingis (86)

Most impactful offseason move: Trading for Monte Morris

The Wizards hope that they have found a steady point guard in Morris. They traded Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith for Morris and veteran wing Will Barton. Morris started last season in Denver in place of the injured Jamal Murray and averaged 12.6 points and 4.4 assists. He also is steady and rarely turns the ball over, ranking fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio among qualified players, trailing only Tyus Jones, Tre Jones and Chris Paul last season.

Morris already is familiar with Kuzma as the two are childhood friends from Michigan. Barton, a Baltimore native, also gets a fresh start after seven-plus seasons in Denver and provides the Wizards with more veteran scoring from the wing position.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Kristaps Porzingis. It's his first full season in Washington so it's not really make-or-break, but it is time for Porzingis to show that he can stay healthy and consistent. This will be his seventh season, but Porzingis has averaged about 50 games a season over the past four seasons. He flashed his massive potential in 17 games with the Wizards after the trade, averaging 22.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. But now Washington will get to see what Porzingis can do alongside Beal. With a fresh start, Porzingis will have to show that he can thrive alongside another high-scoring guard and that he can still do unicorn-like things and win.

Quote that will define their season:

"I think the biggest thing for me is the fit. The talent is one thing, and I think there's a better fit, and that does help that competitive spirit, the connectivity that we talk about. When it fits and guys get 'big picture,' what is the most important thing? That's winning. That mindset seems to be more of a collective within the group than I think we've seen in the past." -- Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr.

Unseld saw a promising start to his first year as a head coach fizzle as some of the veterans on the team were more concerned about roles and minutes. There was bickering, including Caldwell-Pope and Harrell shouting at each other as they walked into the tunnel at halftime of a game before having to be separated in the locker room. The Wizards don't have to worry about Beal potentially leaving after the franchise guard signed a five-year max contract for $251 million. But Washington can't keep wasting Beal's prime years. The Wizards have made the playoffs just once in the past four years and that required a torrid tear at the end of the 2020-21 season with Westbrook just to get in.

Washington hopes that the chemistry of this group will be significantly better than it was last season. Its playoff hopes will rest on whether Beal and Porzingis can thrive together.

-- Youngmisuk

When we last saw them ...The Pistons found themselves picking in the top five of the draft for the second consecutive season, but brighter days could be ahead for Detroit after adding a pair of lottery picks in Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 28-54
  • FiveThirtyEight: 23-59
  • Caesars: 29.5 wins | Title odds: +40000

Pistons in NBArank

Cade Cunningham (35)

Most impactful offseason move: Trading for Bojan Bogdanovic

The Pistons did not have to give up much to acquire him, but bringing in Bogdanovic before training camp in a deal with the rebuilding Jazz could be a huge boost for Detroit. Bogdanovic brings positional size on the wing and adds experience to what will be one of the youngest rosters in the league. He's a career 39% 3-point shooter, which addresses a direct need -- Detroit was 29th in 3-point percentage and 26th in 3-pointers made last season.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Killian Hayes. Hayes was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2020 draft, but this season might be his last chance to secure a spot with this franchise. The Pistons' core is now centered around Cunningham, Ivey, Duren, Saddiq Bey andIsaiah Stewart, but Hayes should have a chance to find his place in this rotation this season.

He vowed to be more aggressive offensively and says he has tweaked his shot -- Hayes is a career 37.4% shooter and 26.8% from beyond the arc -- but if he continues to struggle, the Pistons could look to move on from a player they once believed to be a big part of their rebuild.

Quote that will define their season:

"We're still in the growth mode, but we're ready to compete at a higher level than we did last year. ... We're definitely going in the right direction with that group." -- Pistons coach Dwane Casey

While optimism grows, the Pistons have been careful in placing expectations on this season. They won 23 games in 2021-22, and their best players are still under 25 years old, so even with a double-digit jump in wins, they likely would still find themselves outside of the play-in picture.

Detroit does expect to see progress, especially from former No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham. The roster around him is better and more talented, and the Pistons believe Cunningham can continue to develop into a star. The cupboard isn't bare anymore on this roster, but the Pistons won't skip steps.

-- Collier

When we last saw them ... Charlotte got knocked out of the play-in tournament for the second straight year. Then they fired coach James Borrego and brought back Steve Clifford, the Hornets' coach from 2013 to 2018, to lead a team with some strong young players. LaMelo Ball took a major step in his development, averaging 20.1 points, 7.6 assists and 6.7 rebounds a game last season.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 38-44
  • FiveThirtyEight: 41-41
  • Caesars: 33.5 wins | Title odds: +20000

Hornets in NBArank

  • LaMelo Ball (41)

Most impactful offseason move: The Miles Bridges situation

Aside from Clifford's reemergence, the news that might have affected the Hornets most is Miles Bridges being charged with three counts of domestic violence. Bridges, who was in line for a major payday this summer, is now in limbo as his legal situation unfolds. Bridges averaged 20.2 points and seven rebounds a game last season.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Gordon Hayward. Hayward signed a four-year, $120 million deal prior to the 2020-21 season, but he has been able to play in just 93 out of a possible 154 games over the first two years of the deal. At 32 years old, Hayward can still be a solid veteran presence on a young team that needs a lift. But if the Hornets actually want to go to the playoffs, they need Hayward to stay on the floor and produce. His 15.9 points per game last season was his lowest average since the 2018-19 campaign when he was still recovering from a gruesome leg injury.

Quote that will define their season:

"We are going to play offensively with a very similar emphasis that they have played with the last couple of years. Offense starts with playing through the strengths of your best players, and Ball is a great talent with a passion for the game and a flair for playing in the open court -- and we want to take advantage of that." -- Hornets coach Steve Clifford, during his introductory news conference

After getting hired for the second time, Clifford made sure to note he didn't want to take away the exciting, up-tempo offense that Ball has sparked in his first two seasons. Clifford is one of the most universally respected coaches -- and teachers -- in the game. He should be able to help lift a Hornets defense that finished with 113.1 defensive rating -- good for 22nd last year.

-- Friedell

When we last saw them ... The Magic finished an East-worst 22-60. They got the No.1 pick in the NBA draft Lottery and took Duke star Paolo Banchero. There is optimism within the organization that they finally have a solid core of young players to build around and earn relevance in the league.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 23-59
  • FiveThirtyEight: 23-59
  • Caesars: 27.5 wins | Title odds: +50000

Magic in NBArank

  • Paolo Banchero (82)

Most impactful offseason move: DraftingPaoloBanchero

There was a lot of speculation regarding what the Magic might do with the top pick, but ultimately, they took the 19-year-old Banchero. And they hope he can be the type of franchise player they haven't had since Dwight Howard left town a decade ago. Banchero has generated a lot of hope that brighter days are ahead for a struggling team that desperately needs to reenergize a dormant fan base.

2022-23 is a make-or-breakseasonfor ...

Jonathan Isaac.There are plenty of different options in this category from the Magic, but Isaac fits the bill because of just how much time he has missed. He hasn't played in over two years since injuring his knee in the NBA bubble in August 2020. At 25, Isaac still has plenty of time to jump-start his career again, but it remains to be seen what kind of player he will be after missing that much time.

Quote that will define their season:

"I really believe that we're going to do it by committee, honestly. Look at the Warriors. Look at Milwaukee; you look at Memphis. There's something about the committee in which they do it. One person will speak at times, but there's other guys holding each one accountable. There's one guy that will speak up and do it a different way, work in a different way. That's the way this team is shaping up; each guy's going to have a different type of voice on a different night." -- Magic coach Jamahl Mosley

Mosley wants to do anything he can to take pressure off of Banchero in his rookie season, but the rise or ongoing fall of the Magic will depend considerably on how Banchero adapts in his first NBA year. For his part, Banchero seems confident he'll be able to handle all the extra scrutiny coming his way, but Mosley wants to make sure that all his young players, including guys like former first-rounders Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Cole Anthony and Wendell Carter Jr., are doing their part alongside Markelle Fultz and Isaac.

-- Friedell

When we last saw them ... The Pacers officially began to move on from their previous core and shift into rebuild mode, trading Domantas Sabonis to the Kings for Tyrese Haliburton and dealing Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics over the summer.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 23-59
  • FiveThirtyEight: 35-47
  • Caesars: 22.5 wins | Title odds: +100000

Pacers in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Drafting Bennedict Mathurin

Fans in Indiana seem almost certain to endure some down years before the team is ready to compete again, but Mathurin's development could make a young Pacers team fun and watchable this season. Mathurin, the No. 6 overall pick, is a versatile forward who can shoot (38% from 3 in college), and he joins a squad filled with former lottery picks in Haliburton, Jalen Smith and Chris Duarte.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Myles Turner. Turner has been rumored in trade talks for some time, and it might be a matter of time before his tenure with the Pacers comes to an end. Turner also has to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season after playing a combined 89 games over the past two campaigns. But Turner remains one of the best paint defenders in the NBA -- he has led the league in blocks twice over the past four seasons -- and could provide an important boost to a contender.

Quote that will define their season:

"This is a new era, an official new era of Pacers basketball. It's certainly a direction of youth. It's a direction of going all-in on a group of guys that are young, talented, of extremely high character and tremendous upside." -- Pacers coach Rick Carlisle

The Pacers are not shy about their rebuild. At the center of their roster overhaul will be Haliburton, who they acquired from the Kings at the 2022 trade deadline. Indiana is ready to make Haliburton -- the No. 12 pick in the 2020 draft -- one of its core players after he averaged 15 points and eight assists while shooting 41% from 3 in his second season in the NBA.

-- Collier

When we last saw them ... The Spurs stumbled into the play-in scenario last season, finishing 10th in the West primarily because a few teams below them were tanking and two were incompetent. San Antonio's focus now is clearly on the future.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 24-58
  • FiveThirtyEight: 30-52
  • Caesars: 22.5 wins | Title odds: +100000

Spurs in NBArank

  • None

Most impactful offseason move: Trading Dejounte Murray

The Murray deal signaled the Spurs are fully committed to a long-term rebuild. Murray, an All-Star last season who is just entering his prime, was too good to remain on the Spurs' roster if San Antonio was going to be bad enough to serve its best interests.

Since-waived Danilo Gallinari was the only player in the return from the Hawks, who also sent the Spurs a stockpile of draft capital, including three first-round picks. San Antonio now owns five extra first-round picks through 2028 -- plus all of their own -- and will likely add to that total before the trade deadline in a Thunder-esque rebuild.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Zach Collins. Make-or-break is a bit dramatic for any player on a team that is expected to finish at or near the bottom of the standings, but Collins is certainly trying to resuscitate his career after injuries limited the former lottery pick to 39 games over the past three seasons.

Collins, whose $7.7 million salary for 2023-24 is non-guaranteed, is only 24, so he could convince the Spurs that he fits in their long-term vision. He played well down the stretch last season, averaging an efficient 10.9 points and 6.4 rebounds in 20.8 minutes in the final 11 games.

Quote that will define their season:

"I probably shouldn't say this, but I'll say it anyway. What the hell? Nobody here should go to Vegas with the thought of betting on us to win a championship. And I know somebody will say, 'Gosh, what a Debbie downer. There's a chance. What if they work really hard?' It's probably not going to happen." -- Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, tongue planted firmly in cheek

Leave it to Pop to state the obvious with such a sarcastic sense of humor. The Spurs have no ambitions of adding to their championship trophy collection this season. But betting on the Spurs to win the lottery again -- giving them the rights to draft a generational prospect in Victor Wembanyama -- might not be a bad idea.

-- MacMahon

When we last saw them ... A disappointing first-round exit wrapped up a joyless season, and it convinced the Jazz's brass to blow up a perennial playoff team and begin a rebuilding process.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 26-56
  • FiveThirtyEight: 39-43
  • Caesars: 23.5 wins | Title odds: +100000

Jazz in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move: Trading Rudy Gobert

The Gobert trade, sending the franchise cornerstone to Minnesota for a package headlined by a haul of first-round picks, eliminated any doubt about whether the Jazz were ready to rebuild. Regardless of the signals the Jazz's front office tried to send, it was only a matter of time before Donovan Mitchell would be moved too. Jazz CEO Danny Ainge and GM Justin Zanik ended up trading every starter except guard Mike Conley, accumulating a stockpile of first-round picks that Utah hopes can be the building blocks of a contender.

Those moves also make it extremely likely that the Jazz net a high lottery pick next year as the league's bottom tier prepares for the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Malik Beasley. Beasley, who arrived in the Gobert deal, declared on media day that he is "about to be an All-Star." He needs to first prove he can be a quality, dependable starter. He will get that opportunity in Utah, but it wouldn't be surprising if Beasley doesn't spend an entire season with the Jazz. His $15.6 million salary could be useful in a trade, and he essentially has an expiring contract with a $16.5 million team option for 2023-24. Beasley, 25, showed some promise during his six seasons in Denver and Minnesota, but his career has been hampered by inconsistency and off-court issues.

Quote that will define their season:

"We just felt like when we looked at the roster that we had tapped out from a potential standpoint. We felt like we needed to go ahead and reset that." -- Jazz GM Justin Zanik

Well, the Jazz certainly accomplished that mission. As a result, their fan base will focus on draft prospects Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson as much as Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson,Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanenor any other player who is currently on the Jazz roster.

-- MacMahon

When we last saw them ... Oklahoma City was completing its second year of a deep rebuild, culminating in a 24-58 record -- the Thunder's worst since their inaugural season in OKC back in 2008-09.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 25-57
  • FiveThirtyEight: 24-58
  • Caesars: 24.5 wins | Title odds: +100000

Thunder in NBArank

Most impactful offseason move:Drafting Chet Holmgren

We won't see the No. 2 overall pick on the court this season after a tantalizing debut in summer league. While participating in a star-studded game at the CrawsOver Pro-Am in Seattle, Holmgren stepped wrong and suffered a Lisfranc injury to his right foot that required season-ending surgery.

In the long term, Holmgren spending this campaign on the sidelines shouldn't affect the outlook for his career much. We've seen other top draft picks return from similar injuries that cost their first season to achieve stardom, and Holmgren's much-discussed thin frame puts less weight on his extremities than most 7-footers.

For now, injuries to Holmgren and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (missing preseason due to an MCL sprain) increase the likelihood the Thunder add another high lottery pick in June.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Darius Bazley and Aleksej Pokusevski. One of the challenges of Oklahoma City's stockpile of future draft picks is that the roster limit will squeeze Thunder players heading toward the conclusion of their rookie contracts.

Already, we've seen Oklahoma City jettison Theo Maledon, the No. 34 overall pick in 2020. Now it's former first-rounders Bazley and Pokusevski who need to justify their roster spots.

Bazley is entering the final season of his rookie deal after starting 108 games the past two seasons. Coach Mark Daigneault has praised Bazley's defense, but another year of sub-30% 3-point shooting would challenge hope for his ability to stretch the floor.

Still not yet 21, Pokusevski has a longer runway, and he improved his 2-point rate dramatically from 40% as a rookie to 50% in year two. Still, Pokusevski's erratic shot selection left him one of the league's least efficient scorers (.485 true shooting percentage).

Quote that will define their season:

"I think Chip is a really special talent and a special person. He, like anyone that is highly skilled, sees things for what they can be and not for what they are. I think he does an excellent job of building relationships that allow people to improve." -- Thunder general manager Sam Presti, on new assistant coach Chip Engelland

After 17 seasons on the Spurs' coaching staff, Engelland headed north up Interstate 35 to join the Thunder. Renowned for his work developing players as shooters in San Antonio, Engelland could be an ideal fit for a team that likes to draft long athletes and develop their skill level.

The list of successful Spurs development projects, headlined by Kawhi Leonard, is NBA legend. In recent years, however, San Antonio prospects haven't made the same kind of shooting leaps.

-- Pelton

When we last saw them ... The Rockets were remarkably pleased after ending the season with a seven-game losing streak, locking up the best lottery odds. That's primarily because Jalen Green, their prize from the previous lottery, looked like a blossoming star while scoring at least 30 points in six of those games. The rebuild enters year three, now with No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr.joining Houston's young and unproven core.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 22-60
  • FiveThirtyEight: 19-63
  • Caesars: 23.5 wins | Title odds: +100000

Rockets in NBArank

  • Jalen Green (62)

Most impactful offseason move: Trading Christian Wood

The Rockets pounced once a team offered a first-round pick for Wood, moving him to the Mavericks for No. 26 overall and roster flotsam. The biggest benefit from the deal was opening up the starting center job for Alperen Sengun, who showed significant promise as a rookie last season, averaging 12.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 13 starts.

The Rockets aren't certain Sengun projects as a long-term starter due to his defensive limitations, but they are eager for him to have the opportunity to prove himself in that role. Sengun is a skilled, creative low-post scorer and facilitator whom Houston considers a core player for the future. His development is one of the Rockets' top priorities.

2022-23 is a make-or-break season for ...

Kevin Porter Jr., whocontinues to try to prove he's Houston's long-term solution as a starting point guard. He agreed to a four-year, $82.5 million extension before Monday's deadline, but only the first season is fully guaranteed, sources said. He's still going through growing pains at the position, and there are questions about whether he can be a good enough decision-maker to quarterback a team. Porter has shown flashes of brilliance, and he improved significantly as a defender and a catch-and-shoot threat last season.

However, his angry halftime departure during a January loss served as a harsh reminder of the concerns regarding Porter's reliability, which is why the Rockets were able to acquire him from the Cavaliers for essentially nothing. Porter made repeated references to "my mistakes" during media day and declared he is in "a beautiful space" entering the season, regardless of his contract status.

Quote that will define their season:

"There has to be a level of improvement. Having some level of patience, obviously, but there has to be steady and marked improvement as the season goes along." -- Rockets coach Stephen Silas

Rockets general manager Rafael Stone has made it clear he won't necessarily measure success this season by whether the Rockets shoot up the standings after Houston had the worst record in the league the past two campaigns. A high lottery pick in what is perceived to be a star-laden draft would certainly be beneficial in the rebuild. But Houston wants to make strides in other indicators of improvement, especially regarding the individual development of young players, which gets stunted if a team is consistently on the wrong end of routs.

-- MacMahon

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