This article will discuss what new teams, who did not make the playoffs last season, will be in the playoffs this next season. Their will be two teams from each conference selected, and the teams, who I predict will lose their spot in the playoffs will be given a reason why.
After a good first week of free agency, power has shifted between teams in each conference. Injuries also played a huge role in why certain teams did not make the playoffs last season, and that is shown below by who is selected to make it next season.
Utah Jazz: This is a common pick among people looking for dark horse playoff teams. The Jazz really came together as a team after the All-Star break, as they posted one of the better records in the league. With continued development from their young core, and additions from the draft, the Jazz have the talent to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. Making the playoffs in the Western Conference is not an easy thing to do, but with LaMarcus Aldridge leaving the Portland Trailblazers, the Jazz will be able to fill their void, as I predict the Trailblazers to miss the playoffs next season. The Jazz will be competing with the New Orleans Pelicans for the last position in the Western Conference, and although I think Anthony Davis is the best player in the league now, unless his teammates, and himself can stay healthy for an entire season, it will be tough for them to make the playoffs again.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Last season was plagued by injuries to the Thunder’s star players. Westbrook began the year hurt, Durant was lost for the season, most of their role players missed a few games, and then the Reggie Jackson dilemma and his cancerous attitude towards the team. Come the trade deadline, the Thunder made a big move in acquiring Enes Kanter, D.J. Augustin, and Kyle Singler, while sending Reggie Jackson to Detroit. Getting rid of Jackson’s poor attitude was huge, and allowed for Westbrook’s historic streak of triple-doubles. Kanter was a double-double machine, the second half of the season, and the Thunder looked destined to make the playoffs, as long as they could beat the Pelicans. Although Westbrook put the team on his back, and if he had the same performances all year round, most experts thought he would have won MVP, this was sadly not enough, as the Pelicans stayed healthy and were able to beat out the Thunder for the final playoff spot. Not all is bad though, as this allowed for the Thunder to get a lottery pick, and add more talent to their roster. Cameron Payne should provide a great back-up for Westbrook, fully capable of giving the Thunder offense off the bench. Next season, we hope for no injuries to the star players, and with their two stars healthy, the Thunder have a great shot at being a top three team in the Western Conference.
Portland Trailblazers: When you lose your best player, it is hard to return to the playoffs. The Trailblazers do have Damian Lillard, but one star player is not enough in the Western Conference to make the playoffs. Losing Aldridge hurt, but the Trailblazers have been active this free agency in making good moves to solidify their team. With key role player signings, the Trailblazers should remain competitive next season, but as stated before without at least another star player, the chances of making the playoffs are extremely thin. One season missing the playoffs is not as bad as it sounds, for it allows for the Trailblazers to get a lottery pick, and the cap room they have allows for them to go after a star player in next year’s star packed free agent class.
New Orleans Pelicans: This is a hard decision for me to make, as a second team to fall out of the playoffs from the Western Conference will be a very hard to do. New Orleans will likely be battling with the Utah Jazz for the final spot in the playoffs. The Pelicans main concern for next season is their health. If they can stay healthy they are a top tier team in the league, but almost all their players have injury problems. Although we wish for no one to get hurt, as it ruins the competition of the league, we all know it is bound to happen. Moving past the dreaded injury talk, we both teams fully healthy, Utah and New Orleans will be one of the most intense battles for the final playoff spot.
Indiana Pacers: The Eastern Conference is quite a bit different from its Western counterpart. In the East all you need is a star player, and good role players to make the playoffs. However this is changing, as the competition is finally catching up to what it is in the West. Indiana gets back a healthy Paul George for a season, and have acquired Monta Ellis to ease the offensive load off of him. The Pacer’s did trade away Roy Hibbert, and lose David West to free agency, but Myles Turner has looked great in summer league, and even against weaker competition, it is nice to see his development. The Pacer’s do have a hole at the four, and could look to upgrade this position buy targeting a player such as Taj Gibson. Gibson could help keep the Pacer’s defensive mindset, as well as being an upgrade. The Pacer’s will have a surprising opponent for a playoff spot, and you will see who they are, in the dark horse playoff contention spot.
Miami Heat: Injuries killed this team last season. With Chris Bosh coming back, Wade healthy, Dragic for a whole season, Whiteside’s continued development, and an explosive rookie, this season is very bright for the Miami Heat. Miami also has a deeper bench this next season, which should help keep Wade healthy, as he could rest more during the season. Towards the end of last season, Miami was looked at as one of the scarier match-ups for the Cavaliers if they made the playoffs, and this should not change this season. Miami has the players to disrupt LeBron, as well at take advantage of the Cavalier’s weaknesses. Miami should be a top five team in the East this next season, as a few teams look to move down the standings with older teams getting healthy again.
Boston Celtics: The Celtics deserve a round of applause for their effort last season in making the playoffs. Brad Stevens is doing a great job getting every ounce of effort out of his players, and it has shown in some of their developments. Marcus Smart seems to be the point guard of the future, they have a great sixth man in Isiah Thomas, and a very deep bench. The Celtics even traded away Gerald Wallace, who did nothing, for David Lee, who can make a great contribution. These things are all really good, except when you look at the roster more closely. The 2015 draft was a rather bust for the Boston Celtics, who took best player available, but even those selections were questionable. Jordan Mickey is about the only player that has been impressive so far, and he was a second round steal. The Celtics have a logjam at the guard positions, have no proven rim protector, and their small forward position could be upgraded. The Celtics will be competitive next season, but not enough to make the playoffs, with the rise of talent on other teams, as well as injured teams such as, Indiana and Miami getting their stars back. The Celtics have all the ammo to pull off a blockbuster trade this season, and if they can get a star player, then the playoffs are an obtainable thought, but till then, another lottery selection looms.
Brooklyn Nets: The Nets were competitive in the first round of the playoffs with the Atlanta Hawks. Most people thought this was going to be a sweep, but the Nets came together to battle it out. Brooklyn has quite a few overpaid stars on the team, and they are looking to trade them, but have not gotten to far in those discussions. Being a veteran team will help season in battling for a playoff spot, but with the rising young talent in the East, the return of old powers in Miami and Indiana, I just do not see Brooklyn doing to well. I think the Nets fall in the standings between ten or eleven next season.
Dark Horse Playoff Contender:
Detroit Pistons: Detroit is an always looked over team in the league. The Pistons were able to address one of their biggest needs in the draft, Andre Drummond has lost weight, which allows for him to run the floor better, the young players are developing, and they have made their bench deeper. The lost of Greg Monroe hurts, but his play style was not a good fit next to Drummond. The Pistons do have a question mark at the point guard position with resigning Reggie Jackson, and having Brandon Jennings come back from injury. I have posted an article about what the Pistons should do with Jennings, but they have not expressed much interest in trading him yet. If the Piston’s plan is to use Jennings off the bench, this would greatly help their bench scoring. The Pistons would have to greatly increase their win total to make the playoffs, and need another playoff team to miss the playoffs, but that is always possible. The team two teams, who could miss the playoffs are the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta is a system team, which should help ease the loss of DeMarre Carroll, but little is known if Millsap, Horford, and Teague can lead the team back to the playoffs in a more competitive East. For Milwaukee it is about exceeding expectations again, well for this next season meeting those expectations. With the signing of Greg Monroe, a lot of people are predicting the Bucks to be a top five team in the Eastern Conference. This is very possibly for the Bucks, who return a healthy Jabari Parker, and added Greg Monroe, but we will have to see if the team can continue to develop chemistry and become a threat to consistently make the playoffs.
By: Mac Crowe, @Mac_Truck17