Turnaround Time: 6 NBA teams who are on the rise
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By ALAN GOLDSHER
Not only were the 2014-15 Boston Celtics expected to land in the NBA Draft Lottery, but it was widely believed they'd be one of the five worst teams in the league. Thanks to their hustling paradigm and a less-than-impressive Eastern Conference, they compiled a surprising 40-42 record to sneak into the playoffs. Who will be this upcoming season's Celtics? FanDuel Senior Writer Alan Goldsher believes there are 6 teams who might fit the bill.
2013-14 RECORD: 33-49
KEY ADDITIONS: Nicolas Batum (acquired from Portland in trade), Spencer Hawes (acquired from L.A. Clippers in trade), Jeremy Lin (free agent), Frank Kaminsky (first-round draft pick)
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Gerald Henderson, Lance Stephenson, Noah Vonleh
WHY THEY'LL MAKE THE LEAP: Last season, Charlotte's two primary studs, Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, missed a combined total of 37 games, but the team still managed to remain in the playoff race until the season's final two weeks. Jefferson and Walker head into training camp in good health, but even if they again land in the trainer's room, it's less of a concern, as Lin and Hawes are massive upgrades off the bench. And speaking of upgrades, Batum is an impact player on both ends of the floor, whereas Henderson, for all of his good qualities, isn't.
REALISTIC EXPCECTATION: Charlotte owner Michael Jordan et al should be thrilled if the Hornets approach the .500 mark and make a run for the final playoff spot in the East. If Jefferson and Walker remain in good health and return to peak form—especially Jefferson, who, last season, suffered through his worst as a Hornet—the eight-seed could be theirs.
2013-14 RECORD: 30-52
KEY ADDITIONS: Mike Malone (head coach), Emmanuel Mudiay (first-round draft pick)
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Ty Lawson
WHY THEY'LL MAKE THE LEAP: The Malone hiring may turn out to be one of the most noteworthy transactions of the offseason, because he's the kind of kick-ass personality and defensive tactician who's good for an additional five-plus wins a season all by his lonesome. And from the Department of Addition By Subtraction, jettisoning the troubled Lawson and giving legit Rookie of the Year candidate Mudiay the starting point guard spot was a stroke of genius. And look for a bounce-back year from Kenneth Faried, who should thrive in Malone's D-first system.
REALISTIC EXPCECTATION: As would be the case for three or four franchises in the Western Conference, if the Nuggets were in the East, they'd be a playoff team. But as it is, they're in the West, and will be happy when Malone's culture change helps add 7-10 victories to last year's disappointing win total.
2013-14 RECORD: 32-50
KEY ADDITIONS: Ersan Ilyasova (acquired from Milwaukee in trade), Brandon Jennings (return from injury), Stanley Johnson (first-round draft pick)
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Greg Monroe
WHY THEY'LL MAKE THE LEAP: If Brandon Jennings is indeed back to good health and Reggie Jackson continues to be a scarily obsessive scorer, the Pistons backcourt will be pesky as hell to guard. (Granted, they'll give up boatloads of points, but still.) And in this era of small-ball, losing Monroe and replacing him with a stretch four like Ilyasova isn't a horrible thing. Think about it: If Ilyasova pulls his defender out behind the arc, Andre Drummond, last season's league leader in offensive rebounds, willown his paint. If the dude was regularly grabbing 15-plus boards a night with Monroe clogging up the middle, imagine how frightening he'll be if he has the basket all to himself.
REALISTIC EXPCECTATION: If Johnson is as beastly as some expect, and Jennings and Jackson can find a way to blend their undeniable talents, a Celtics-esque playoff sneak-in isn't out of the realm of possibility. At the very worst, they'll sniff .500, a mark they haven't seen since the 2007-08 season.
2013-14 RECORD: 38-44
KEY ADDITIONS: Monta Ellis (free agent), Paul George (return from injury), Jordan Hill (free agent), Myles Turner (first-round draft pick)
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Roy Hibbert, Luis Scola, David West
WHY THEY'LL MAKE THE LEAP: San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers may have won the offseason, but Indy was a close second. Monta Ellis is a gunner the Pacers have been missing since the days of Reggie Miller (calm down, people, nobody's comparing Monta to Miller), and an Ellis/George Hill backcourt will be almost as irksome as Detroit's Jennings/Jackson duo. Most importantly, Paul George is healthy, and whether coach Frank Vogel moves him to power forward, or leaves him at the three, he'll automatically be one of the 10-15 best players in the Eastern Conference. As for the roster overhaul, in this case, change is key; what with David West getting old and Roy Hibbert getting disinterested, the Pacers team as previously constructed had run its course. It was time to move on, and they moved on quite well.
REALISTIC EXPCECTATION: Once they get comfortable with one another—which should be sometime around December—the Pacers will be good. Really good. Winning 45 games and capturing the sixth- or seventh-seed feels about right.
2013-14 RECORD: 16-66
KEY ADDITIONS: Karl-Anthony Towns (first-round draft pick), Tyus Jones (first-round draft pick)
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: None
WHY THEY'LL MAKE THE LEAP: Okay, don't get too excited, Minnesota, your boys aren't making the playoffs this year. Or next year. Or the next. But once Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine get a couple years on the court together—and once the West stops being so awesome from top to bottom—these guys could make some noise. This year, they'll just be a lot of fun.
REALISTIC EXPCECTATION: While 30ish wins may not seem particularly sexy to a San Antonio Spurs fan, but for a Wolves watcher who hasn't seen their team in the postseason in over a decade, a 15-plus victory improvement is cause for optimism, if not celebration.
2013-14 RECORD: 25-57
KEY ADDITIONS: Aaron Gordon (return from injury), Mario Hezonja (first-round draft pick), Scott Skiles (head coach)
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: None
WHY THEY'LL MAKE THE LEAP: It could be argued that Orlando has the best young core in the league: Victor Oladipo is a legitimate All-Star candidate, Elfrid Payton is a nightmare to score against, and Niko Vucevic is one of the top five centers in the league. If they continue their respective upward trajectories, five years from now, you're looking at an honest-to-goodness Big Three. In the Summer Leagues, the enigmatic Hezonja was better than advertised, and Gordon was stellar, and should have no problem snatching the starting power forward role from Channing Frye. The Skiles hire was ideal for a team whose roster is the third youngest in the league at 25.4 and in need of discipline...but not too much discipline, because the Magic are a cocky bunch who will win a handful of games on attitude alone.
REALISTIC EXPCECTATION: A playoff trip would require a 20-25 game improvement. In the East, that's realistic.