The Celtics have enjoyed four straight winning seasons, with the trend likely continuing this season despite losing several key pieces. Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Morris all bolted for greener pastures. These may seem like a devastating losses, but opportunities are now present for young guns Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to step up and take their games to the next level. Gordon Hayward is another year removed from his gruesome injury and should be a bounce back candidate. Oh, and the additions of Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter don’t hurt either. The Celts did some addition by subtraction, and are primed to challenge for the Eastern Conference title yet again.

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A long-time mainstay on the NBA’s biggest stage, the LeBron-led Lakers failed to make the playoffs last season, although there was much excitement surrounding the team. A young core that was supposed to grow and thrive with LeBron running the show, failed to live up to expectations. Results like these don’t sit well with the King, so out with the youth and in with the veterans. The Lakers roster has seen a complete overhaul, as you can see by the above list. How this team adapts to such change is yet to be known, but one thing is for certain, LA is going to be fun to watch and be chock-full of fantasy goodness.  

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The Mavericks finished just above the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference last season. The future, however, is so bright that they need sunshades, as the roster now boasts two of the top young stars in the Association. ESPN has Luka Doncic listed as a SF and Kristaps Porzingis as a PF, but talk to any real basketball savant and they will tell you they both defy positional description. KP is built like a telephone pole but shoots like a shooting guard, while Doncic is built like a tight end but passes like a willow the wisp PG. Mark Cuban can’t wait to see how their skill sets merge on the court, and we can’t either. There is not enough talent around them to make the playoffs, but their development as a duo will be must-see TV.

Having given up this year’s first-rounder to move up to draft Luka, and having traded 2nd rounder Lithuanian Deividas Sirvydis to the Pistons, the Mavs have no drafted rookies in camp. But youth still abounds in developing players Justin Jackson, acquired in the Harrison Barnes trade, Delon Wright, acquired from Memphis in a sign-and-trade deal, and last year’s 2nd round rookie, Jalen Brunson.

It will definitely be a wait and see season for the Mavs. Wait and see how healthy KP is. Wait and see how all the pieces mesh. Wait and see if Rick Carlisle can meld these pieces into a reasonable team.

Will the Mavs better last year’s 33-49 record in a decidedly stronger Western conference? We will have to wait and see.

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Losing one of the best players in the NBA hurts, especially when he was considered the face of the franchise. Anthony Davis will surely be missed, as will Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton. Three of their five starters are now wearing new jerseys, Davis in LA and Randle and Payton in New York. After a massive trade with Los Angeles, the future in New Orleans is bright, but enough with the old, time for a new era of New Orleans basketball. This team is infused with youth, and it will more likely than not lead to some excellent fantasy production.

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KANGS No more!!!

Is Cory Joseph an upgrade over Frank Mason? Are Harrison Barnes and Trevor Ariza a better SF combo than Iman Shumpert and Ben McLemore? Is Dewayne Dedmon and Richaun Holmes a better big man combo than Willie Cauley-Stein and Kostas Koufas? Is Luke Walton an upgrade at coach over Dave Joerger?

If you answered yes to at least three of the above questions, then the Kings will improve on last year’s 9th place finish in the Western Conference.

The Kings were fast, exciting, competitive, and really fun to watch last season. With the development of the young core (De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley), and veteran additions, this team is poised to make a playoff run.

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Entering the second year of the David Fizdale Era, the New York Knicks have nowhere to go but up. They are clearly in the process of a rebuild, and development is the key word for this team. A lot of people will say they whiffed in free agency. I am one of those people. Just kidding! Kind of… They did make some under-the-radar signings of solid basketball players, who could become long-term pieces. Who’s going to step up and solidify themselves as a piece moving forward? That is what the Knicks will try to find out this year as they push towards relevancy in 2021.

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Terry Stott’s Dame Dolla-led team flourished in the second half going 29-12, finishing with the 3rd seed in the Western Conference. They dispatched the Thunder and the second-seeded Nuggets before succumbing to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals. This was accomplished with their best big man, Jusuf Nurkic, cheerleading from the bench due to a broken leg.

This year’s edition has an entirely new look and will be hard pressed to repeat that success. Both starting forwards, Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu are no longer on the roster, ditto for sharpshooter Seth Curry and playoff star Meyers Leonard. But don’t count out the squad from lumberjack territory too quickly, as Coach Stotts seems to successfully find ways to mesh enough spare parts around his high-scoring, backcourt duo.

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My beloved Wolves finished 36-46 last year, nowhere near what it took to get into the playoffs in the stacked Western Conference. Towns did his best and did what Towns does, but it wasn’t nearly enough.  This was largely due to the fact that Andrew Wiggins remained Andrew Wiggins, and Jimmy was shipped out of town. Teague being hurt for half the season didn’t help either.

The Wolves return this year not having made any real noise in the offseason. They did draft Jarrett Culver, so that’s something. Wiggins promised that he’d play more defense and work on his threes, while Towns should take yet another step forward. The stacked Western Conference just got a lot more stacked, so even with a healthy Teague and a bright young prospect, the Wolves will once again be golfing somewhere nice while the NBA playoffs are going on.

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The Hawks won 29 games last year, but were a much tougher opponent in the second half. 29-53 is 12 games under .500, but the Hawks were only three games under .500 over the last 41. That was due to the young’uns getting better as the season progressed. The Hawks brain trust is optimistic the growth spurt continues, as they have added even more youth to the mix.

De’Andre Hunter’s Final Four heroics moved him up the draft board, and the Hawks paid a ransom to acquire him, but leadership has earned the benefit of the doubt. Their picks, combined with the teaching style of coach Lloyd Pierce and his staff, have drawn visible dividends, but will the expected leaps turn into hops? Not paying Dewayne Dedmon, when they could afford to, may hurt more than they realize.

Most projections have the Hawks winning 30-ish games. That may be conservative, but I expect a minor flirtation with .500 and another round of ping pong balls, as youth continues to mature.

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The 2018-19 Brooklyn Nets exceeded expectations in many ways, from player development to overall record. Few pundits had them making the playoffs, myself included, but I guess I shouldn’t have underestimated Kenny Atkinson, who has established himself as one of the  upper-echelon coaches in the league. Sean Marks can also be credited for assembling a team with a good mix of youthful exuberance and veteran experience. Although, they were bounced in the first round by Philadelphia, hardly any Nets fans could feel disappointed with how the season turned out given the low expectations.

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