21. Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers have basically thrown in the towel on this season. They are looking ahead to this coming off-season when they’ll only be committed to $10 million in salaries, and haven’t been shy about doing so. Kobe Bryant is still on the mend after rupturing his Achilles tendon last year, but if he can even come back at 80% he’ll be a welcome addition alongside Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Chris Kaman. The Lakers are bad, but it’s hard to fathom Kobe going down without a fight.
22. Toronto Raptors: Canada is excited about the product its Raptors have a chance to put on the court this season. Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and up-and-comer Jonas Valanciunas make a very nice starting five, but questions remain of whether they have the bench to get over the hump.
23. Orlando Magic: First-round draft pick Victor Oladipo looks to be the Real McCoy, and could very well end up taking home this year’s Rookie of the Year Award, but the young cast around him is impressive as well. Center Nikola Vucevic was third in the league in double-doubles last season (46), and budding talents Tobias Harris and Moe Harkless are giving Central Florida residents something to look forward to in the years to come.
24. Sacramento Kings: The signs are there – bad boy DeMarcus Cousins seems to be turning over a brand new leaf. I won’t get too far ahead of myself, but a new regime in Sacramento has somehow changed his attitude towards the game. A focused Cousins, along with the talented backcourt of Isaiah Thomas, Grevis Vasquez and Ben McLemore, could spark a franchise desperate to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
25. Utah Jazz: They say you can’t have too much of a good thing, but in Utah’s case last year, that’s exactly what happened. The situation remedied itself, as Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap have left the Beehive State in search of greener pastures, leaving talented big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to take on all the minutes they can handle down low. Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and rookie Trey Burke are solid pieces to a rebuilding unit in Salt Lake.
26. Boston Celtics: Just like their eternal counterparts, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics are also in a transition period. KG and Pierce are gone, and Rajon Rondo is still recovering from ACL surgery, but rookie Kelly Olynyk has impressed this summer and he is one of many talents that are sure to find their way to Boston with all the draft picks GM Danny Ainge has acquired.
27. Milwaukee Bucks: Larry Sanders is a defensive freak, finishing second in the league last year with 2.8 blocks-per-game. He is one of the few bright spots on a stripped down Bucks team. O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight will man an all-new backcourt, and Ersan Ilyasova is the talented, yet erratic small forward. Milwaukee will be in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes for sure.
28. Charlotte Bobcats: This team never seems to turn the corner. Since entering the league in 2004, the franchise is an abominable 250-472, and has made the playoffs only once. This off-season’s signing of Al Jefferson is step in the right direction, but Big Al, Kemba and Gerald Henderson still need a lot of help. Top draft pick Cody Zeller really has a chance to shine this year.
29. Phoenix Suns: The Suns are forsaking this year, but in doing so have made their future a whole lot brighter. Last week they traded away Marcin Gortat, Kendall Marshall and Shannon Brown, and in return received the Wizards 1st-round draft pick next year. That pick will be one of four first-rounders for Phoenix, which will allow them to continue to build around breakout candidate Eric Bledsoe and their picks from this year, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin. Goran Dragic’s name has been mentioned in numerous trade scenarios, so it’s possible the Suns aren’t done dealing.
30. Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers are in the forefront in the race to draft Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, and they haven’t been shy about that. They’ve traded and released players in the hopes of pairing Wiggins with prized, young rookie Nerlens Noel for many years to come. All Philly fans can look forward to is next year’s draft, because they are going to be horrible this year.