By: Christopher Choe
Congratulations to the NBA! The 2020-21 season will mark the 75th anniversary of the NBA, and it is already looking to be an exciting year for basketball fans around the globe.
The Eastern Conference is stacked this year. There are so many teams in the East that are making a push for the NBA Finals nowadays, and it gets confusing when trying to determine what a team can actually accomplish.
The Western Conference still has a lot of teams that have the potential to advance to the NBA Finals. However, there are a couple of teams in the West who could surprisingly appear in the playoffs this season.
There are way too many possible ways for how the East and West could pan out. So before the NBA tips-off on Tuesday, here is a quick preview of the best and worst-case scenarios for the top 5 teams in the East and West that could make noise in the 2021-22 NBA season.
(Photo via NBA.com)
1. Brooklyn Nets
Best-case scenario: The three-headed monster in Brooklyn stays on the top of the mountain in the East. Kevin Durant and an injured James Harden, alone, have proved that they can be competitive with the top contenders in their conference. So with the Durant, Irving, and Harden trio together and healthy, the Nets can get their first championship in franchise history this year.
Worst-case scenario: Brooklyn is a favourite to make it out of the East in the eyes of fans. But, that is only the case when the three players are playing on the court together. Injuries and health concerns are prevalent with this team, and now Kyrie Irving’s vaccination situation complicates Brooklyn’s chances of winning it all this year. In a realistic worst-case scenario, the Nets could be looking at another second-round exit this postseason if Irving remains unvaccinated or if one of the stars gets hurt again.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Best-case scenario: Milwaukee did not make any notable moves during the offseason, but they did acquire some solid players to help their team. The addition of Grayson Allen, Rodney Hood, and George Hill helps add more dynamic lineups to the rotation, which only benefits a team that is just coming off of a championship run last season. As Giannis Antetokounpo continues to dominate the league, the Milwaukee Bucks can make another appearance in the NBA Finals this upcoming season as well.
Worst-case scenario: Since the Bucks did not make any big moves that would have improved their team, they could be looking at a season where they get exposed for it. The Bucks had problems getting past an injured Brooklyn Nets team and a fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks team last playoffs. Now, they lost P.J. Tucker to free agency, and they are going to be dealing with a restless Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton this year. The Bucks could have a disappointing season this year where they fall short in the second round.
3. Chicago Bulls
Best-case scenario: The Bulls had a major glow-up this offseason. The Bulls finished 11th in the Eastern Conference last season with Zach Lavine and Nikola Vucevic. Now, they are heading into the season with Lavine and Vucevic, along with Demar Derozan, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and Derrick Jones Jr. this time around. The new Chicago Bulls look to be competitive this year, and they have shown promise of becoming a real problem for the league in the preseason. It is reasonable to say that the Bulls could realistically end the season as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Worst-case scenario: This is a newly assembled team with a fair amount of uncertainty attached to them. Although the Bulls put together their most talented team in recent years, it is unclear whether or not this group can put up a decent fight against the NBA’s best teams. Most of the players on the team have not made it into the playoffs yet in their careers, and most of the veterans who do have playoff experience were only role players for their respective teams. So in the worst-case scenario, the Bulls would only sneak in the playoffs as the eighth seed in their conference.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
Best-case scenario: The 76ers had a weird offseason. They signed Andre Drummond, the former NBA all-star, as a backup for Joel Embiid, they resigned Embiid to a supermax extension, and they kept Danny Green for two years under a $20 million contract. Ben Simmons’ status with the team is questionable, but he can still play for the team until further notice. Regardless of whether Simmons stays or gets traded, the 76ers can get a lot out of him. With their current squad, the 76ers can finish as the fourth seed in the East this year.
Worst-case scenario: Speaking of Simmons, he is still on the 76ers roster. After trying to force himself out of Philadelphia, he remains on the team and with no signs of being traded anytime soon. With the drama of Simmons still being on the team and the fact that the team did not improve much during the summer, the 76ers could end up exiting out the first round as the seventh seed this year.
5. Miami Heat
Best-case scenario: Miami Heat made some moves this offseason that will help them improve upon a disappointing 2020-21 season. Acquiring players like Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker, and keeping Duncan Robinson under contract, helps the team a lot. Miami was able to surprise NBA fans and make it to the Finals in the 2020 postseason. So, the new and improved Heat could surprise fans again and make it to the Eastern Conference Finals this time around.
Worst-case scenario: The Heat are not a young team. They are pushing to win it all now, but it is questionable whether or not they can win it all with their current team. Lowry and Tucker are over the age of 35, and injuries played a big part in why the Heat was so disappointing last year, and that could linger on this year as well. We could see the Miami Heat exit out of the second round this year.
(Photo via NBA.com)
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Best-case scenario: The Lakers had one of the most eventful offseasons during this summer. They brought back some old faces like Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard, brought in some new and exciting role players like Carmelo Anthony and Malik Monk, and acquired Russell Westbrook via trade in a matter of a couple of months. The Lakers have another talented squad this year to go along with Lebron James and Anthony Davis. An NBA championship is the least to expect from this Lakers squad.
Worst-case scenario: The Lakers are dealing with ageing stars. The team has an average age of 31 years old. Not only that, James is entering his 19th season in the NBA and has become more injury-prone over the past couple of years. Davis has been injury-prone his whole career, and he missed 36 games last season. It is hard to determine whether this Lakers squad will succeed or not. But if they deal with injury problems again, the Lakers might be looking at another first-round exit this year.
2. Golden State Warriors
Best-case scenario: Golden State is looking very promising this season. Drafting young players like Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody will help them in the long run. Also, the Warriors will finally have Klay Thompson returning from injury sometime in January. With the splash brothers returning to action in 2022, the Warriors could get back into the playoff picture this season as the fifth seed in the West.
Worst-case scenario: Last season, the Warriors solely relied on Stephen Curry to carry them at the end of games. Not much has changed since last season, so that is something to worry about for Warrior fans as Curry gets older. Klay Thompson and James Wiseman could have a slow time recovering from their injuries as well. In the worst-case scenario for the Warriors, they could participate in the play-in tournament this year and sneak in as the eighth seed in the West.
3. Phoenix Suns
Best-case scenario: Phoenix fell short on a championship ring last season, but things still look promising for the young team. Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges are still under 25 years old and have a lot of room to grow, and Chris Paul has proved that he is still an all-star level point guard in the NBA at 36 years old. The Suns have a bright future ahead of them, and they could make an appearance in the Western Conference Finals this year.
Worst-case scenario: Like the Bucks, the Suns did not make any notable moves over the summer. Their most significant accomplishments over the offseason were signing Javale Mcgee and re-signing Paul. Phoenix is dependant on their young core to develop into NBA stars now. But if those young guys do not turn the corner in their development this year, the Suns could fall short and lose in the first round.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
Best-case scenario: The Timberwolves are back with another great young core, as the preseason has proven. Karl Anthony-Towns and D’Angelo Russell are both great players but have not played much together because of injuries. On top of that, however, Anthony Edwards has become one of the biggest upcoming stars in the NBA. Now that it is a fresh and new season, Towns and Russell are fully healthy, Edwards should continue to develop into an all-star, and Timberwolves could have their chance to land the eighth seed in the play-in tournament.
Worst-case scenario: Injuries and poor management are going to be the downfall of this team. Minnesota has a long history of wasting their young talent’s time with Kevin Garnett, which resembles Towns’ situation right now. If injuries continue to affect the team, or if the Timberwolves decide to trade away their immediate impact players during the season, Minnesota could finish their season as the 13th seed again in Western Conference.
5. Houston Rockets
Best-case scenario: Experiencing a rebuilding process can be entertaining as well, and that is the case for the Houston Rockets. Prospects like Jalen Green, Josh Christopher, and Alperen Şengün have shown their all-star level potential throughout the Summer League and the preseason, and we already have seen how talented Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood are from last season. So, the Rockets could have a season where they sneak into the play-in tournament while accumulating a lot of highlights as well.
Worst-case scenario: This team is very young and is beginning its rebuilding process. Last year, the Rockets finished with the worst record in the league, going 17-55 for the season. Now, the team is mostly waiting to see how good Porter Jr. and Green turn out to be in the next few years. Both of these players are going to have their first experience carrying the offensive load for an NBA team, so Houston may struggle to win most of their games throughout the season. The Rocket could end as the 14th seed in the Western Conference.