Less than a month now separates us from the start of the 2015-16 NBA regular season. While the Cleveland Cavaliers are again expected to be the class of the Eastern Conference, there are a number of teams that earned lottery picks a season ago, looking to be playing basketball in May. Here’s a look at which seven teams that missed the playoffs in the East last season are most likely to be in that field this year:
1. Indiana Pacers
Despite having superstar Paul George miss 76 games a year ago, the Pacers finished just one game short of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. This year, George will have a legitimate No. 2 scorer by his side in Monta Ellis. The team also made an emphasis to become more athletic in the frontcourt by replacing David West and Roy Hibbert with Jordan Hill and Lavoy Allen while drafting former Texas standout Myles Turner.
2. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat have a roster that would indicate it should be among the best teams in the East, but Miami woefully underachieved a season ago. Forwards Chris Bosh and Luol Deng did miss significant time, but if they can stay healthy, the Heat could have one of the conference’s best starting fives. Re-signing Goran Dragic will bring stability to the other guard position next to Dwyane Wade. Center Hassan Whiteside came on strong last year and the addition of swingman Gerald Green could do wonders for the team’s depth.
3. Orlando Magic
New head coach Scott Skiles will be looking to turn around a team that hasn’t won more than 25 games in any of the last three seasons, but the talent for Orlando is pretty good. The re-signing of forward Tobias Harris keeps a strong, young nucleus in place that includes center Nikola Vuecvic and guards Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton. The selection of Mario Hezonja and signing of C.J. Watson should help the Magic stretch the floor.
4. Detroit Pistons
The loss of Greg Monroe may have been the biggest headline surrounding the Pistons this offseason, but the personnel on the roster may be the best fit for head coach Stan Van Gundy’s system since he came to Detroit. The Pistons have a deep backcourt with Reggie Jackson, Brandon Jennings, Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Ersan Ilyasova can stretch the floor from his power forward position while center Andre Drummond remains one of the league’s most underrated big men. Rookie Stanley Johnson should be able to contribute right away, but Detroit still lacks a go-to scorer.
5. Charlotte Hornets
It’s safe to say that there’s at least a handful of fans in Charlotte that aren’t sad to see guard Lance Stephenson go, but finding scoring outside of guard Kemba Walker and center Al Jefferson may be difficult. Centers Spencer Hawes and rookie Frank Kaminsky are each capable of stretching the floor as is acquisition Nicolas Batum, but Charlotte still had a less than stellar offseason and could take a step back.
6. New York Knicks
Having forward Carmelo Anthony healthy will be key for the New York Knicks, but reaching the postseason is still a long shot. The additions of center Robin Lopez and guard Arron Afflalo are certainly upgrades for New York, but how NBA-ready sharp-shooting rookie and Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis is remains to be seen. The point guard position is also a major mystery at this point.
7. Philadelphia 76ers
There is reason for optimism in the City of Brotherly Love, but most of that optimism is in regard to the future. Third overall pick Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel give Philadelphia three pillars to build around inside. Guard Tony Wroten showed the potential to be a solid scorer at the NBA level in 30 games last season.