There’s no more optimistic period for NBA fans than the summer, when draft picks, free agency additions, trades, coaching hires, and other maneuvers boost expectations around the league. Of course, there are no shortage of teams that have deflated those expectations as previous seasons have unfolded. Just last season, the return of Derrick Rose to the Bulls was cut short just 10 games in, the Knicks and Cavs disappointed at the bottom of the standings, the Bucks fell from a postseason appearance to owning the league’s very worst record, and the Nets’ ballooning blockbuster roster started the season 10-21, although Brooklyn managed to mostly salvage the year with a second-round playoff run.
This poll isn’t so much about individual performance as it is team expectations that might go unmet. While teams like the Rockets, Pacers, and Heat appear vulnerable to severe dropoffs this year, their summers have been marked by offseason setbacks. I’ve rounded up some of the teams that are setting their sights higher for 2014/15 than they did last season thanks to offseason successes, with some factors that could potentially cause trouble for each.
- Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James‘ arrival was the NBA’s biggest move since he jumped to Miami four years ago, but the arrival of Kevin Love via trade set expectations in Cleveland even higher. While James, Love, and Kyrie Irving should form a deadly offensive foundation, whether first-year NBA coach David Blatt can manage a newly stirred cocktail of superstar personalities and coax strong defense out of the bunch remains to be seen. Missing the Finals would be a disappointment, and anything short of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance would be considered a massive flop for the star-laden team in the weaker conference.
- Chicago Bulls. They made a slew of additions in place of the amnestied Carlos Boozer, bringing in Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, and Doug McDermott, while a hopeful full season from Rose is a virtual star addition. Mirotic and McDermott are unproven, and some are concerned that Gasol’s production has begun tapering off for good. The team still lacks much offensive pop on the wing or backcourt rotation, continuing the team’s annual need to lean on coach Tom Thibodeau‘s elite defensive guidance to overcome its struggles on the other end of the court. If the team remains a middle-of-the-pack team in the East, fans will be let down to say the least.
- Dallas Mavericks. The team won a lot of headlines this summer, acquiring Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler by outbidding the Rockets and trading with the Knicks, respectively. The team has also lost substantial talent, however, with Jose Calderon, Vince Carter, and Shawn Marion all signing elsewhere. Some think the Mavs could ascend to the upper echelon of the Western Conference, but if either Chandler fails to bring his full projected impact, the team could spend another season fighting for one of the final playoff spots.
- Golden State Warriors. The team’s brass wasn’t satisfied with the job former coach Mark Jackson had done through 2013/14, which concluded with a 51-31 record and a first-round exit from the playoffs. The team pursued Stan Van Gundy before signing Steve Kerr to coach the team to reach the next level. The most notable move from the offseason is the one that Golden State didn’t make: declining to deal for Love so they could hang on to Klay Thompson. While Kerr is expected to bring a more sophisticated offense to the team, the team’s defense might dwindle without Jackson on the sideline. Whether Harrison Barnes makes a developmental leap, Andrew Bogut stays healthy, and new addition Shaun Livingston can fit in will be paramount to the team moving up in the standings, rather than slipping under loftier expectations.