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20. Minnesota Timberwolves
Biggest Adds: Jarrett Culver, Jordan Bell
Worst Losses: Dario Saric, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, Tyus Jones
Point guard will be thin with the loss of both Rose and Jones, and Shabazz Napier will now fill in behind 31-year-old Jeff Teague. Karl-Anthony Towns (24.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.6 blocks) is good enough to keep Minnesota competitive most nights, but the ceiling of the team will once again be decided by Andrew Wiggins.
After he shot just 42.5 percent over the past two years, the Wolves need a motivated and efficient Wiggins to even sniff the playoffs.
Culver will be a good defender in time, and Robert Covington remains one of the NBA’s most underrated players on both sides of the ball. Another 35-40-win season should be expected.
19. Detroit Pistons
Biggest Adds: Derrick Rose, Tony Snell, Sekou Doumbouya, Joe Johnson
Worst Losses: Wayne Ellington, Ish Smith
Detroit had the worst record (41-41) and net rating (minus-0.2) of any playoff team last season, and it should once again struggle to reach the postseason.
Rose, when healthy, is an upgrade as the team’s starting point guard over Reggie Jackson, and a previously weak group of wings is improved with Snell, Doumbouya and Johnson, fresh off his impressive showing in the BIG3.
The Pistons need a healthy Blake Griffin to have a chance, and his 75 games played last season were the most he’s logged in five years. Andre Drummond can become a free agent next summer by declining a $28.8 million player option and should only build on his 17.3-point and league-leading 15.6-rebound 2018-19 campaign.
With the Miami Heat improving, look for Detroit, Atlanta and the Orlando Magic to battle it out for the final playoff spot in the East.
18. Orlando Magic
Biggest Adds: Al-Farouq Aminu
Worst Losses: None
The Magic decided to run back a 42-40 playoff team, handing out $154 million to retain All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and small forward Terrence Ross over the next four years. The Aminu signing didn’t make a whole lot of sense given how loaded Orlando already was at power forward.
For Orlando to make any real jump in the standings, it’ll need Markelle Fultz to have some sort of impact. If the 21-year-old point guard can give Orlando’s lackluster backcourt a jolt, home-court advantage in the East if up for grabs.
In the end, the Magic may have to shake up this roster to maximize their talent. Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Vucevic, Mo Bamba and Aminu are all worthy of starting frontcourt jobs, and Gordon’s growth has already been stunted by playing on the wing instead of at his natural power forward position.
Unless Fultz can prove he’s healthy or some sort of major trade takes place, Orlando won’t be much better than its 42 wins last season.
17. Sacramento Kings
Biggest Adds: Trevor Ariza, Dewayne Dedmon, Cory Joseph
Worst Losses: Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks
The first team out of the West playoffs a season ago, Sacramento did the right thing by signing veterans to complement its young core.
Unfortunately, even that might not be enough in this West. Though the Thunder might fall out of the playoff picture, the Los Angeles Lakers look ready to take their place. The New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves could challenge, as well.
To reach the postseason, Sacramento needs star-level play from point guard De’Aaron Fox (17.3 points, 7.3 assists, 1.6 steals), power forward Marvin Bagley III (14.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.0 blocks) and shooting guard Buddy Hield (20.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 42.7 three-point percentage). Harrison Barnes, Bogdan Bogdanovic and the new free-agent signings will have to play big roles, as well.
The Kings will be good, but too many teams in the Western Conference will be better.
16. New Orleans Pelicans
Biggest Adds: Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, JJ Redick, Jaxson Hayes, Derrick Favors, Josh Hart, Nicolo Melli, Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Worst Losses: Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton
Go ahead and plug in the Pelicans as your must-watch team on League Pass this season.
Between Williamson likely winning Rookie of the Year, Ingram turning into a 20-points-per-game scorer and Jrue Holiday and Ball putting the clamps on opposing backcourts, the Pelicans will be as exciting as any team in the NBA.
Favors should finally thrive in a starting center role, and Hayes is coming off an impressive summer league in which he looked like a future All-Star. Add in a haul of draft picks from the Los Angeles Lakers and this is a team that could still be star-hunting (cough, Bradley Beal, cough) this season.
While the playoffs are a possibility, this is all about long-term success for executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin and Co. And that’s something they should enjoy plenty of.