Giannis Antetokounmpo from the Milwaukee Bucks holds the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award, and the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.
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The Milwaukee Bucks were still reeling from last year’s playoff loss to Miami. Fast-forward a few short months—after avenging their loss to Miami, rallying back against the Brooklyn Nets and eventually taking down the Phoenix Suns in the NBA finals—and the same team was basking in the glory of its first championship in 40 years.
It’s amazing how quickly things can change in the NBA. And there’s no better time to look on the bright side than now, when every team is tied for first ahead of Tuesday’s opening night.
Here’s a look at what each NBA team could accomplish this season if everything goes right, with analysis from Forbes.com’s expert SportsMoney contributors.
Best-case scenario: With all of their key players returning, and with Cam Reddish or De’Andre Hunter blossoming into a star alongside Trae Young, the Hawks make the top Eastern Conference teams sweat once again. Read more on the Hawks’ outlook from Forbes contributor Ray Glier.
Best-case scenario:Jaylen brown and Jayson Tatum are motivated by the disappointment of last season to make another leap, bringing the Celtics back into the NBA finals for first time since the days Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce. Read more on the Celtics’ outlook from Forbes contributor Hunter Felt.
Best-case scenario: Kyrie Irving’s vaccination brouhaha fades to the background, and a healthy Big Three leads the Nets to the championship as Cam Thomas has a breakout rookie season for a team lacking in youth. Read more on the Nets’ outlook from Forbes contributor Marie Schulte-Bockum.
Best-case scenario:Miles Bridges takes a leap and becomes a borderline All-Star, helping to push for the playoffs. It also gives the Hornets a devastating one-two punch for the next decade with LaMelo ball. Read more on the Hornets’ outlook from Forbes contributor Morten Jensen.
Best-case scenario: A busy offseason produces an elite offense that gets Zach LaVine to the playoffs for the first time—and persuades him to re-sign next summer. Read more on the Bulls’ outlook from Forbes contributor Jason Patt.
Best-case scenario:The Cavaliers make a huge leap from the cellar to the play-in tournament. Darius Garland excels in a larger role, while Evan Mobley puts in a great rookie-of-the year performance. Read more on the Cavaliers’ outlook from Forbes contributor Chris Manning.
Best-case scenario: Jerami Grant proves his first half last season wasn’t a fluke, and a rookie-of-the-year performance by Cade Cunningham propels the Pistons into a play-in spot. Read more on the Pistons’ outlook from Forbes contributor Duncan Smith.
Best-case scenario: Rick Carlisle lives up to his reputation as a tactician, and subtle changes around the edge of the roster, coupled with better health luck, gets the Pacers back into the Eastern Conference’s top four. Read more on the Pacers’ outlook from Forbes contributor Tony East.
Best-case scenario: A healthy Victor Oladipo and an electric Kyle Lowry, plus some vintage coaching by Erik Spoelstra, reinvigorate the core of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, producing a top-three seed in the East and, eventually, the franchise’s fourth championship. Read more on the Heat’s outlook from Forbes contributor David Ramil.
Best-case scenario:Giannis Antetokounmpo is already a two time league MVP and he continues to improve as a shooter. The Bucks are again champions. Read more on the Bucks’ outlook from Forbes contributor Morten Jensen.
New York Knicks
Best-case scenario:The Knicks have an above-average offense thanks to Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker, and New York has 50 wins with home-court advantage for the second consecutive year. Read more on the Knicks’ outlook from Forbes contributor Tom Rende.
Best-case scenario:Jonathan Isaac is healthy and shows promise. Perhaps even more important, the Magic snag the top pick in next year’s draft. Read more on the Magic’s outlook from Forbes contributor Sean Deveney.
Best-case scenario: The Sixers, resisting the pressure to trade Ben Simmons right away and capitalizing on a rough season by the Trail Blazers, snag Damian Lillard in a trade, eventually winning the franchise’s first championship in nearly 30 years. Read more on the 76ers’ outlook from Forbes contributor Bryan Toporek.
Best-case scenario: Returning to their home floor in Toronto makes a difference for the Raptors right away, and the roster’s curious mix of talented veteran holdovers and tantalizing potential jells to produce a playoff berth. Read more on the Raptors’ outlook from Forbes contributor David Ramil.
Best-case scenario: Flanked by a more comfortable Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija, Bradley Beal leads the young Wizards to the play-in tournament—and then fetches a massive haul in a trade that elevates Washington into the middle of the pack in the East. Read more on the Wizards’ outlook from Forbes contributor Christopher Dodson.
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers, in a playoff match against the Phoenix Suns in may.
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Best-case scenario:Luka Doncic’s MVP season is a success, turning the Mavericks from a mere contender for the title to true champions. Read more on the Mavericks’ outlook from Forbes contributor Doyle Rader.
Best-case scenario:Jamal Murray returns in time to fully ramp up for the playoffs. Michal Porter Jr. is living up to his max contract, giving the Nuggets the power to win this season and beyond. Read more on the Nuggets’ outlook from Forbes contributor Joel Rush.
Golden State Warriors
Best-case scenario:Klay Thompson appears like himself when he returns to the court. And the rookies do enough to keep the veterans sharp. In a wide-open Western Conference, that’s good enough for home-court advantage for a round or maybe two—and perhaps even enough to get the Warriors back to the NBA finals. Read more on the Warriors’ outlook from Forbes contributor Patrick Murray.
Best-case scenario: Rookie Jalen Green finds chemistry with Kevin Porter Jr. and removes any doubts regarding the franchise’s future ahead of the 2022 draft, one of the franchise’s last shots at adding a major building block organically before it owes picks to Oklahoma City from the ill-fated Chris Paul trade. Read more on the Rockets’ outlook from Forbes contributor Rahat Huq.
Los Angeles Clippers
Best-case scenario:The Clippers score a lot of wins early behind a solid Paul George. Kawhi Leonard returns before playoffs to give Los Angeles enough dynamic scoring and lineup variety to be able to emerge from the West. Read more on the Clippers’ outlook from Forbes contributor Shane Young.
Los Angeles Lakers
Best-case scenario:Russell Westbrook shows that he can coexist with his star teammates LeBron and Anthony Davis. This aging rotation discovers the fountain of youth to inspire another championship run. Read more on the Lakers’ outlook from Forbes contributor DJ Siddiqi.
Best-case scenario: With Ja Morant installed as the face of their franchise and Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr. settling into secondary roles, the Grizzlies build on last season’s momentum by snagging a top-six playoff seed. Read more on the Grizzlies’ outlook from Forbes contributor Evan Sidery.
Best-case scenario:Anthony Edwards continues his scoring surge that he started in the second half last season. The Timberwolves were accepted into the play-in tournament. Karl-Anthony Towns was convinced that there might actually be a team worth supporting. Read more on the Timberwolves’ outlook from Forbes contributor Evan Sidery.
New Orleans Pelicans
Best-case scenario:Brandon Ingram moves from an end-of-the-bench All-Star into a bona-fide star in all-NBA discussions. Zion Williamson displays durability and a more balanced midrange game by leading the Pelicans in a first-round playoff series victory. Read more on the Pelicans’ outlook from Forbes contributor Christopher Dodson.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Best-case scenario: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey begin to blossom as one of the league’s best young backcourts in the league, and the Thunder land another high draft pick, expediting their rebuild. Read more on the Thunder’s outlook from Forbes contributor Nick Crain.
Best-case scenario: With plenty of depth around Chris Paul and Devin Booker, the Suns follow their magical run to the 2021 NBA finals with another conference championship—and maybe even more. Read more on the Suns’ outlook from Forbes contributor Evan Sidery.
Portland Trail Blazers
Best-case scenario:Damian Lillard decided to stay in Portland after finishing as the top four seed in the West. Damian Lillard was also a part of the Blazers’ conference finals. Read more on the Trail Blazers’ outlook from Forbes contributor Bryan Toporek.
Best-case scenario: Marvin Bagley stays healthy, coach Luke Walton figures out how to manage his guards, and disaster among some other teams in the West opens a path to the playoffs for a franchise that hasn’t been there for 15 years. Read more on the Kings’ outlook from Forbes contributor Sean Deveney.
San Antonio Spurs
Best-case scenario:Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson become franchise headliners. They offer long-term hope and a tournament berth. Read more on the Spurs’ outlook from Forbes contributor Rob Wolkenbrod.
Best-case scenario: The Jazz use last year’s embarrassing playoff loss as fuel and put together a top-four offense and a more versatile and switchable defense, soaring to the West’s top seed and an NBA finals appearance. Read more on the Jazz’s outlook from Forbes contributor Shane Young.