NBA Off-Season: Top Three Teams On The Rise


February 12, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) looks on during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Rockets defeated the Warriors 116-107. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

1. Houston Rockets – Last Season: 45-37

Prediction: 4th Seed in Western Conference – 54-28

Now before treason is called upon me for predicting the Rockets to finish 4th, let me explain. Houston is going to be good next year. I expect them to get better every season for years to come. They are a solid team led by the best shooting guard (yes James Harden, I said the best) in the league currently. But I’m from Los Angeles and I just sat through the most painful Lakers season I can ever remember. Until Dwight Howard proves again that he can be a leader, dominate and get rid of all the drama surrounding him, I’m going to be a little skeptical. Sure he’s got his buddy Chandler Parsons to hang out with. Sure he’s got Omer Asik who is a significant upgrade defensively from a certain Spaniard he left out in La La Land. But Jeremy Lin is not a top 3 point guard in the Western Conference. In fact, he’s not a top 10 point guard in the Western Conference. The Rockets still have room to grow and get better which makes me very excited to watch them but I don’t expect them to finish over the ever improving Oklahoma City Thunder, the steadfast San Antonio Spurs, or the re-vitalized, Doc Rivers-coached Clippers. Look to see improvement, but I see a 4th seed coming Houston’s way.

Jul 18, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; From left general manager Billy King , owner Mikhail Prokhorov , head coach Jason Kidd , Kevin Garnett , Paul Pierce , and Jason Terry during a press conference to introduce the newest members of the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

2. Brooklyn Nets – Last Season: 49-33

Prediction: 2nd Seed in Eastern Conference 56-26

The Brooklyn Nets made the trades to get exactly what they needed this off-season to move to the next level. The starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez is the most formidable starting lineup now in the NBA. I would have them finishing higher, but King James and crew have just won back-to-back NBA Titles so they deserve the right to be considered the top seed. Pierce and Garnett bring to Brooklyn what they’ve lacked since Williams arrived from the Utah Jazz: Leadership. I’m a big Williams fan and consider him a Top-3 point guard in the NBA when his head is in the game. Although reaching the end of their distinguished careers, the two former NBA champions that the Nets brought in will help guide Brooklyn to the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference. Also I’m still praying we see Jason Kidd has a player/coach halfway through the season.

Apr 14, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first quarter at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

3. Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Season: 24-58

Prediction: 8th Seed in Eastern Conference 38-44

How can a team that looked so dreadful at points during last season have any chance of making the playoffs this year? First of all, realize they play in the Eastern Conference, which is significantly less competitive than the Western Conference (No offense to the Miami Heat). But a few things need to happen in order for the Cavs to make the playoffs. For starters, Andrew Bynum needs to play most of the season. We are all one season removed from calling Bynum the second best center in the NBA. If he is at a healthy playing weight and can stay on the court, then the Cavs have already made significant improvements. Another thing that needs to happen is Anthony Bennett must play like the #1 overall draft pick that he is. I know lots of people are skeptical about this pick but I’m a believer in Bennett. He has the best chance out of all the players in the draft to be a 20-and-10 guy. Nerlens Noel and Victor Oladipo may have been good picks as well, but I like Bennett. But obviously a rookie and an injury-prone center won’t lead this team to the playoffs. This is Kyrie Irving’s team. Irving is already establishing himself among the elite point guards in the league and mark my words, in another 2 or 3 seasons, he will be considered the best point guard in the league. Now that Kyrie has some help, look to see the Cavaliers back in the playoffs.