Once upon a time, the weekly Hoops List was my primary contribution to Basketball Prospectus and I've decided to resurrect the feature for the 2012-13 season. The list is a bit of a time killer, but it serves as a weekly anchor that forces me to take a snapshot of every team in the league at seven-day intervals. It also serves as a kind of chronicle as the campaign unfolds, so what the heck ... let's bring it back.
Today's rankings are based on preseason projections from my system, NBAPET. A lot is changing with that system this year and tomorrow, I'll be posting an article explaining just what I'll be doing with NBAPET. For now, I'm just listing the projected wins for each team--to get them on record--along with the difference between that figure and last year's Pythagorean win total, per 82 games. I'll be implementing a couple of changes to my tried-and-tested power rating formula (POW) that will be used in future Hoops List pieces, which I'll outline next week. For now, let's just get to the rankings. For each team, I've taken note of the last few roster tweaks as opening night approaches. I've also touched on everyone's cap position 2012-13 and on other ways teams might be able to add pieces as the year progresses.
I am targeting Monday afternoons for the Hoops List to run each week, and it will be a free feature for all to read.
1. Miami Heat
63.7 wins, 5.8 games better
Even the most certain of projections can go awry, but if your system is forecasting a team other than the Heat to win the 2012-13 title, you should probably toss it in the nearest garbage bin. No worries on the Prospectus side, where our simulations give the Heat a 1.1 percent chance to win 68 or more games. Probably won't happen simply because Miami figures to win the East easily and will be able to rest their stars for a playoff run, but that's an impressive baseline. In camp, Josh Harrellson and Terel Harris emerged from the sizable roster of non-guaranteed camp invites to win opening night spots. Miami is way over the tax apron and has used its exceptions, so any further roster tweaks would be in the form of minimum salaried players, and apparently Juwan Howard is still hanging around.
2. L.A. Lakers
55.0 wins, 9.8 games better
The Lakers were already a consensus mainstream pick to come out of the West and Oklahoma City's trade of James Harden has made that overwhelmingly true. For all the attention generated when Denver turned up No. 1 after I ran SCHOENE's former baseline numbers through my simulation, my own system now has the Lakers comfortably ahead of the pack in the conference. (The actual projected win totals are virtually identical.) The attention on the Lakers during their lousy preseason was understandably focused on the stars at the top of the roster, but Mitch Kupchak made a couple of interesting decisions at the other end of the spectrum. He opted to keep second-rounder Darius Johnson-Odom over incumbent No. 3 point guard Andrew Goudelock, and will also keep Robert Sacre around as an extra big man. Both players will spend lots of time in the D-League and since the L.A. owns its affiliate and the D-Fenders are located nearby, Kupchak points out that they can actually practice with the Lakers and play in the D-League on the same day. Still, neither contract is guaranteed, so the statuses of Johnson-Odom and Sacre will remain tenuous. The Lakers actually still have around $1.5 million of their mini-midlevel exception remaining, but Kupchak says he's reluctant to use it. With the team on target to spend about $132 million on player salaries after the tax, why on Earth would he be shy now?
3. L.A. Clippers
51.6 wins, 3.1 games better
SCHOENE and NBAPET certainly agree on one thing: The top of the Western Conference looks like it's going to be tightly packed. NBAPET has the Clippers pegged for 1.2 more wins than SCHOENE, which is obviously pretty close. However that difference bumps up L.A. a full four seeds to the second slot out West. But the Clips project less than a win better than the Nuggets, Spurs or Thunder, so you might as well just pick them out of a hat. I'm really not crazy about the Clippers' bench, which potentially could turn out to be just a bunch of names. There's only one non-guaranteed contract among the 15 players who will apparently comprise the opening night lineup, the one belonging to second-year swing man Travis Leslie, whom I like as a potential defensive stopper. However, the Clippers are out of exceptions and sit just $0.4 million under the tax threshold, so their wiggle room is limited. And I'll write it again: Until I see a Don Sterling-owned team actually make it to the Finals, I just don't believe it can happen. The Clippers always find a way to screw it up. Find a new owner and put them back in Buffalo and I'll change my tune.
4. Denver Nuggets
51.4 wins, 2.5 games better
Ah, SCHOENE's darling, the Denver Nuggets, who have brought so much attention to the notion of projections this preseason. Guess what? George Karl seems to like his team as well. NBAPET also likes the Nuggets, though it has them behind the Lakers and Clippers in the West. For a lot of reasons, this will be a team that I personally will be following very closely. The Nuggets didn't do anything fancy with their preseason. Ben Uzoh and Anthony Carter were brought into camp as warm bodies. Andre Miller was being rested and Julyan Stone is out until January after having hip surgery. Carter was eventually offered a coaching job, though he's still looking to play for one more year. The Nuggets had 14 guaranteed contracts in camp, plus Stone who is partially-guaranteed for $100K. Karl likes Stone well enough to wait out his recovery, but if a rash of injuries hits a position, Denver may need his spot. Despite a deep, veteran roster, the Nuggets are sitting safely midway between the cap and the tax threshold.
5. San Antonio Spurs
51.0 wins, -9.0 games worse
The Spurs are on the short list of teams poised to take advantage of Oklahoma City's decision to trade James Harden, and NBAPET likes them to be right in the pack behind the Lakers in the West. Gregg Popovich gave look-sees to veterans Derrick Brown and Eddy Curry in camp. Both impressed, both were cut and Curry is starting in the middle for Dallas on opening night. The Spurs also have two days to make a decision on DeJuan Blair before his contract becomes fully guaranteed. As it stands, San Antonio will begin the season with 14 players and will have just $1.1 million under the luxury tax with which to play. That's a little tight for a franchise that values its flexibility.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
51.0 wins, -6.6 games worse
A lot of virtual ink has been spilled on Thunder projections the last few days. For what it's worth, the post-Harden projection from NBAPET has Oklahoma City slipping to 51 wins and a five-seed. I think they'll do better than that, but a serious chunk has been taken out of their championship probabilities. The roster stands at 13 players after the trade. The Thunder excised a couple of rosterable players in Daniel Orton and Hollis Thompson during camp, but as of this writing had made no move to bring back either player. Thompson in particular seems like he can help a team this season. After the trade, I've got the Thunder $3.4 million under the tax threshold and they have both part of the midlevel exception the biannual exception to add short-term help if Sam Presti should deem it necessary.
7. Atlanta Hawks
48.8 wins, -2.3 games worse
One of the most surprising and scrutinized projections generated this season was that of the Hawks finishing second in the Eastern Conference. Guess what? NBAPET agrees. The Hawks auditioned a number of wing candidates during camp, but after cutting both James Anderson and Damion James on Sunday, it appears Atlanta is content to go small at the three at the season's outset. My depth chart has Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and DeShawn Stevenson penciled into the position. Josh Smith will play there as well when Larry Drew wants size on the floor. Atlanta remains one of the more intriguing rosters in the league and from what I've been reading, Drew seems to be embracing the possibilities offered by his new mix of talent. It looks like the Hawks will break camp with 14 players and still have about $1 million under the luxury tax threshold to play with should roster stopgaps be needed. Of course Danny Ferry is in building mode, so the next roster shakeup may be lurking just around the corner.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves
48.5 wins, 13.8 games better
There's a 2.9 win disparity between NBAPET and the latest, greatest version of SCHOENE, so there is a gap between the systems. Either way, Minnesota is poised to take a big leap forward even with its two best players absent to start the season. I love the depth of this roster and have written more than once that it's the deepest Minnesota team in franchise history. Insofar as a "third unit" even exists, a full-strength Timberwolves squad could throw out a lineup of Will Conroy, Jose Barea, Malcolm Lee, Dante Cunningham and Lou Amundson that is pretty respectable. Minnesota opens the season with a full 15-man roster and with Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio missing at the season's outset, the bottom of the roster may be important. Conroy and Amundson have partially-guaranteed deals, and even after a busy offseason the Wolves are $9 million under the tax threshold. There aren't any exceptions left, but Minnesota has the roster flexibility to upgrade via a minimum-salaried veteran if the opportunity arises. They may not need to.
9. New York Knicks
48.4 wins, -2.0 games worse
I love to bag on the Knicks, but they do project third in the East in my system, so perhaps I should start paying closer attention to the short term. It's the long term that I don't like for this franchise, but this season could be the Knicks' best in a long time. Of course, now we find out that Amar'e Stoudemire will be out for six weeks and recently-dug up Rasheed Wallace may actually see rotation minutes. It's always something in New York. As you might guess, the Knicks are out of cap exceptions and are about $10 million over the tax threshold. The contracts of Pablo Prigioni, Chris Copeland, Wallace and James White are highly fungible, so New York could still add a minimum salary guy or two down the line if necessary.
10. Boston Celtics
47.0 wins, -1.8 games worseSCHOENE and NBAPET are very close in projected wins for the Celtics and both systems slot Boston fourth in the Eastern Conference. For what it's worth, I like the Celtics a bit better than that from a subjective standpoint. For one thing, there is the fact that Jason Terry hit 18-of-26 from three-point range during preseason. That may cloud my big-picture thinking. Also there is the fact that I have been trumpeting the potential impact of Jared Sullinger since he slid to the Celtics on draft night, and he shot 56 percent from the floor and led the team in rebounding during the preseason. I love it when an analysis comes together. In camp, it initially looked like Boston might go young at the end of its roster with Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith in camp after nice showings over the summer. Doc Rivers jettisoned both midway through October and the Celtics ended up signing veteran combo guard Leandro Barbosa to serve as the roster's fifth guard. It's a testament to how much deeper Boston is this season. There is a tiny amount of in-season maneuvering that could done as the Celtics are hard-capped at $74.3 million and right now I've got them about $1.9 million below that after Keyon Dooling's buyout, which almost matches the $1.957 biannual exception Danny Ainge still has available. However, Boston is opening the season with 15 players and its group is likely set for the near future.
11. Brooklyn Nets
44.6 wins, 20.4 games better
The Nets will be massively improved this season, though they might not crack the top tier of the Eastern Conference as some expect. NBAPET likes Brooklyn just a hair bit better than SCHOENE, though the former system bumps up the Nets two full seeds in the ordinal rankings. Either way, this is an awfully expensive 44-45 win roster. After all the luxury tax dollars are counted, only the Lakers and Heat project to spend more on payroll this season. Of course, it makes sense to go all-in with the Nets moving across the river and opening the Barclays Center. No team has more long-term payroll obligations on the books. Training camp was drama free, with invites Stephen Dennis, James Mays and Carleton Scott having collectively zero chance of making the opening night roster. On the eve of the season's lid-lifters, the only remaining question is whether the Nets will keep Josh Childress as a 15th man. Brooklyn also has non-guaranteed veterans Jerry Stackhouse and Andray Blatche slated to break camp with the team.
12. Indiana Pacers
44.0 wins, -6.6 games worse
The Pacers are a fashionable pick to win the Central and to meet the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. Neither of our systems are as excited, and you can read the reason why in Pro Basketball Prospectus 2012-13. Subjectively, I think the Pacers should be strong, but the news that Danny Granger's sore knee is going to sideline him indefinitely is troubling. Indiana can get through the regular season just fine with a diminished Granger, but he still represents their best hope for a go-to scorer in the advanced playoff rounds. In camp, the Pacers gave us one of the surprise roster choices of the week by keeping Ben Hansbrough over Sundiata Gains and Blake Ahearn as the third point guard and 15th player. That of course means that both Hansbrough brothers will open the season in Indiana. Ben Hansbrough led the Pacers in assists per 40 minutes, three-pointers per 40 and put up a .612 True Shooting Percentage in preseason. He also bears a non-guaranteed contract and in addition to George Hill and D.J. Augustin, Frank Vogel also has Lance Stephenson who can chip in at the point. It's a precarious existence for B-Hansbrough. Indiana has about $3.6 it can spend before hitting the tax threshold and has easily-jettisoned guaranteed contracts in Sam Young and Orlando Johnson also on the roster in addition to the younger Hansbrough. Indiana still has the room exception of $2.575 million available should someone pop up that they like, but the Pacers roster is chock full of depth as the season opens.
13. Chicago Bulls
43.5 wins, -20.2 games worse
I'd definitely bet the over on this projection, as NBAPET is pretty freaked out by the uncertainty surrounding Derrick Rose's eventual return. Perhaps if it watched "The Return" it would feel better about things. The Bulls open the season with the league's shortest roster, with just 13 players on hand for opening night, including Rose. Like Boston, the Bulls are hard-capped and in order to add a reinforcement, they have to wait until November when a veteran's prorated minimum will fit under the tax apron. That veteran could turn out to be either Marko Jaric or Kyrylo Fesenko, who both went to camp with Chicago, but there are still a number of decent veterans still floating around looking for work. As long as it's for the minimum. The crunch is the inevitable result of an iffy offseason for the Bulls.
14. Utah Jazz
43.2 wins, 0.4 games worse
This will a tough balancing act for new Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey. This is still a team that could make the playoffs, but with hard-charging youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter pushing for minutes, Lindsey will have to figure out how to deal with expiring veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. In the near term, he's got to work out a buyout agreement with Raja Bell, who didn't attend camp but remains on the roster. Reportedly, that process has re-started. The surprise from camp was Utah's apparent decision to keep undrafted rookie Kevin Murphy. Counting Bell, the Jazz begin the season with 15 players. Utah is about $4 million under the tax threshold and both half a midlevel exception a biannual exception with which to add players. So the amount of Bell's buyout will be important should Lindsey be trolling for upgrades. Murphy's deal is presumably non-guaranteed and according to Mark Deeks of ShamSports.com, so is the minimum salary daily of veteran Jamaal Tinsley.
15. Memphis Grizzlies
42.5 wins, -4.6 games worse
NBAPET is three wins more skeptical about the Grizzlies than SCHOENE, though both systems slot Memphis as the No. 8 team in the West. It's a surprisingly pessimistic forecast for a team still perceived to be on the rise and subjectively, I think the Grizzlies are better than these projections. However, there still appears to be a gap between Memphis and the top teams in its conference. Outgoing owner Michael Heisley was adamant about avoiding the luxury tax and it's unclear how new owner Robert Pera feels about the issue. One would think that he wants to make a splash and it's going to be awful difficult for a team with four sizable long-term contracts on the ledger to move up a tier without a significant tax bill. Memphis took 20 players to camp but really, the seven non-guaranteed players were just bodies for the practice floor. With every dollar precious, the Grizzlies open the season with the minimum of 13 players. They are about $3.8 million over the tax threshold and have largely burned through their exceptions. (I don't think Memphis is hard-capped, but I'm still trying to confirm this. It depends on how the Jerryd Bayless signing was structured.)
16. Philadelphia 76ers
42.2 wins, -11.7 games worse
NBAPET is more pessimistic about the Sixers than SCHOENE by far and with Andrew Bynum yet to take the floor, perhaps that's justified. Subjectively, I think the Sixers can be really good and contend for the Atlantic title -- health permitting. The camp saw invite Damien Wilkins apparently earn a spot, not a shocker given Doug Collins' sentimental spot for veterans. The other big news from camp was that an extension for Jrue Holiday became increasingly unlikely but that's a good thing. Holiday still hasn't proven that he's a top-flight NBA point guard, and if the Sixers don't lock into him, they'll be able to pursue a replacement to pair with Bynum for the long term. If Holiday breaks out, all the better. Of course, they've got to re-sign Bynum as well and his injury problems are complicating that process. The Sixers start the season with an open roster spot and the room exception available. There is more than $7 million to play with before Philly rubs up against the tax threshold.
17. Toronto Raptors
41.7 wins, 10.7 games better
The Raptors stand as one of my sleeper teams this year from a subjective standpoint, and NBAPET likes them as well. A lot of that depends on Jonas Valanciunas living up to a semblance of expectations, but there is plenty of reason to be excited about this deep roster. I take it as a great sign that the Raptors didn't deem it necessary to hang onto Jamaal Magloire for another year and now can transition him to a community relations role. The Raptors start the season with a full contingent of 15 players and are about $4.7 over the cap. They've burned through their cap exceptions.
18. Milwaukee Bucks
39.7 wins, -2.1 games worse
The Bucks are one of a few teams being touted as a borderline playoff contender and with a projection of nearly 40 wins, NBAPET places them on the fringe of that picture. However, this is still an unwieldy roster and Milwaukee's potential depth chart befuddles me. Add to that the possibility of Scott Skiles wearing out his welcome, Monta Ellis starting to chafe in a possible contract year and the borderline disastrous extension negotiations with Brandon Jennings and the potential for a collapse is surprisingly high for a team with so many nice, young pieces. That's perhaps alarmist, but that is the sense I get. No real surprises in camp as Milwaukee opens the season with 15 players, about 12 of which are power forwards. (Only a slight exaggeration.) The Bucks are about $7.7 million dollars under the tax threshold and have both a sizable midlevel exception left to use, as well as a biannual exception. And if all Jennings was seeking was $9-$10 million per year, you give it to him and smile.
19. Dallas Mavericks
37.3 wins, -6.6 games worse
Both of our projection systems slot the Mavericks ninth in the Western Conference, but NBAPET is nearly five wins more skeptical about Dallas. This is despite news that Eddy Curry will be on the roster. (Small touch of sarcasm that.) Dallas' offseason turnover continued right into preseason as the Mavericks auditioned castoffs from other camps like Curry, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Melvin Ely. Then there was the Delonte West saga, which ended on Monday when West was waived. That opened a roster spot for Curry, whose presence on the interior may be immediately available because of some injury problems for Chris Kaman. With Dirk Nowitzki out, the start of the season could be ugly for the Mavericks. Dallas projects to be a couple of million over the salary cap, but more than $10 million under the tax threshold. Stop the presses! The Mavericks have always been tax payers. West's departure leaves Rodrigue Beaubois as the only backup for Darren Collison at point guard, so some more tweaking may be in the offing.
20. Golden State Warriors
35.0 wins, 3.7 games better
The Warriors brought the maximum of 20 players to training camp, with Carlon Brown, Tarence Kinsey, Lance Goulbourne, Rick Jackson and Stefhon Hannah joining 13 players with guaranteed contracts plus Kent Bazemore and Charles Jenkins, who each have sizable partial guarantees. So the quintet of invites are gone and the Warriors hope that Jenkins and Jarrett Jack will be able to pick up the slack should Stephen Curry's ankle trouble persist. Curry may not land an extension by Wednesday's deadline because of the ankle problems, which is fairly shocking given Golden State's efforts to build around him. The Warriors will feature four rookies on this year's roster, with Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli joining Bazemore. Golden State has been a fashionable pick as a sleeper team this preseason, but while NBAPET likes the Warriors about four wins better than SCHONE, it doesn't project Mark Jackson's team as a playoff entrant. The Warriors' payroll is surprisingly high--right now we've got Golden State projected about $800K over the tax threshold.
21. Sacramento Kings
34.4 wins, 8.7 games better
The Kings have to get better some day, right? The only teams in the league that aren't paying eight figures to at least one player this season are the Kings, Cavaliers and Rockets. Sacramento's highest-paid player is John Salmons at $8.1 million. This season will be about what do with Tyreke Evans, who isn't going to get an early extension and may end up on the trade block. If so, that's a crushing blow to the Sacramento franchise, which desperately needed Evans to live up to the promise of his rookie season. The Kings open the season with 14 players on the roster, all with guaranteed contracts that total just $100K under the cap. Sacramento still has its room exception available and one would hope they will use it on an upside player cut loose this week. Hollis Thompson and JaJuan Johnson come to mind.
22. Cleveland Cavaliers
34.2 wins, 12.8 games better
The Cavaliers will better this season. Pretty much any system you look at tells you that. NBAPET likes the Cavs a bit better than SCHOENE for 2012-13, but the real fireworks will come down the line as Kyrie Irving and his young teammates mature. Cleveland projects to have the lowest payroll in the league and as of this writing, appear to be about $5.9 million shy of the salary floor mandated by the CBA, which for this year will be $49.3 million. Of course, Chris Grant has all season to get up to that level*. In the meantime, he can use all that flexibility in any number of ways. He could snag a young player unable to reach an extension agreement in the coming days, as the Rockets did with James Harden. He could also serve as a salary clearinghouse for expiring contracts as contending teams maneuver for position later in the campaign, while collecting more future assets in the process. Right now Cleveland has 15 players on its roster, but Jon Leuer, Samardo Samuels and Donald Sloan are non-guaranteed. Grant may use the next few days to upgrade the bottom of his roster with players waived across the league over the next 24 hours.
* In case you're wondering, the CBA states that any team that fails to pay up to the salary floor must pay the difference to the league, which will re-distribute the funds to the other teams. So one way or another, you're spending that money and if you don't, it's to the benefit of your competitors.
23. New Orleans Hornets
33.5 wins, 3.9 games better
NBAPET agrees with SCHOENE in that the leap the Hornets are poised to make in future seasons probably isn't going to happen in 2012-13. After waiving Solomon Alabi and the Georgetown flavor of Chris Wright, New Orleans has a 14-man opening night roster with four rookies and four other players with two or fewer years of experience. With youth comes flexibility, ordinarily, but New Orleans is actually $5.8 million over the cap. Don't worry, it's a one-year blip caused by the $13.7 million buyout Dell Demps shelled out to Rashard Lewis over the summer. It's just part of getting in position for New Orleans' next window of contention, which will open sooner rather than later. The Hornets to have the $2.575 million room exception to spend if an upside piece shakes loose on the market.
24. Houston Rockets
32.7 wins, -8.9 games worse
No team shook things up more than Rockets who, by the way, project much better in NBAPET than SCHOENE. That continued of course over the weekend, when Daryl Morey sent out two players and three draft picks and brought back James Harden and three other now former members of the Oklahoma City Thunder. No team had more of a roster crunch as after the trade, the Rockets not only had 20 players in camp, but all of them had full or partially-guaranteed contracts. So on Monday, Houston bid adieu to Lazar Hayward, Shaun Livingston, Gary Forbes, JaJuan Johnson and Jon Brockman. That quintet will cost about $5.8 million against Houston's cap this season without logging a minute for the team. The Rockets will also by paying off the last $644K of Derek Fisher's buyout from last season. It's a short-term bullet worth biting for the Rockets, who have an excellent financial prospectus for the seasons to come. Even this season, with all those unused players on the books, Houston projects to be $7.8 million under the cap despite essentially paying 21 different players this season.
25. Portland Trail Blazers
32.6 wins, -6.6 games worse
A retooling season is underway in Portland, which took the opportunity to look at undrafted rookies Dallas Lauderdale and Demonte Harper in camp, as well as last-chance veteran Adam Morrison. Alas none of them are breaking camp with the club. Portland has 15 guaranteed contracts on the books, but was given a disabled player exception by the league on Tuesday that would allow the Blazers to add a player if needed. I've got Portland $1.5 million under the cap, so if a young player is floating around out there that Neil Olshney likes, there's nothing to prevent him from being brought on board. (That amount is probably higher because of the disabled player thing, but I'm not sure yet how that works.)
26. Detroit Pistons
32.2 wins, 5.4 games better
When I write that I think the Pistons can be a sleeper playoff contender this season, it's strictly a subjective feeling as NBAPET really doesn't like Detroit any better than SCHOENE. The preseason saw Joe Dumars bring 15 guaranteed contracts to camp plus veterans Jonny Flynn and Terrence Williams. That latter pair likely were better than some of the roster locks around them, including five rookies. However, Dumars continues to take the long view in his rebuilding plan, so the 15 guaranteed guys will comprise the opening night roster. The Pistons start the season about $6 million over the cap, an amount that almost exactly amounts to the contract residual from last year's buyout of Richard Hamilton.
27. Washington Wizards
29.4 wins, 2.2 games better
The Wizards are another team being bandied about as a playoff sleeper, but our system thinks that notion is a year premature, at least. The biggest surprise in camp was the decision to give the No. 3 point guard spot to veteran Jannero Pargo instead of young Shelvin Mack, who was waived. That kept with the theme of Ernie Grunfeld's offseason, which featured the addition of veterans on the frontline who will eat up playing time better given to younger options. Grunfeld is trying to squeeze out that playoff spot to save his butt. It's not going to happen. Washington is a tiny bit under the cap and has $3.25 million of the midlevel exception plus the biannual exception with which to add players to aid Grunfeld's cause. Presumably, the minimum contracts of Pargo and Earl Barron aren't guaranteed, to the roster spots can be opened up for upgrades.
28. Orlando Magic
28.9 wins, -14.6 games worse
NBAPET thinks the first year of post-Dwight Howard rebuilding will be a smidge more palatable than SCHOENE, but either way a playoff berth is not in the offing for this year's Magic. The reconstruction will continue into the season as Rob Hennigan seeks a taker for veterans like Hedo Turkoglu, Al Harrington, Glen Davis and maybe even Jameer Nelson, who was just re-signed over the summer. Also J.J. Redick could be a candidate to go by virtue of his trade value and expiring contract. It will be a season of flux. In camp, Hennigan sent a clear message that performance will outweigh reputation or even contract, with Christian Eyenga, Justin Harper and Quentin Richardson all getting the ax despite guaranteed dollars. Richardson was due over $5.4 million for the next two seasons. His spot went to unheralded DeQuan Jones, whom we will delve into more deeply in the upcoming supplement to the Prospectus annual. Suffice to say, this is a time to experiment for the Orlando franchise. As far as cap position goes, I've got Orlando $6.3 million over the cap and Hennigan will seek to reduce that number over the course of the season.
29. Phoenix Suns
26.9 wins, -13.4 games worse
Both of our systems project the Suns as the worst team in the Western Conference and I'm not sure mainstream pundits realize just how iffy Phoenix's offseason was. In camp, the Suns opted to keep two undrafted rookies on the roster in Luke Zeller and Diante Garrett. Even if neither player pans out, it's a sensible use for the bottom of the roster. Phoenix also reportedly declined to pick up Wesley Johnson's team option for 2013-14, so suddenly the former Syracuse sharpshooter is playing for a new contract. The Suns could continue to add through the season, as I've got them $7.4 million under the cap, more than every team except Cleveland and Houston.
30. Charlotte Bobcats
16.9 wins, 7.8 games better
How bad are you when a projection of 17 wins is actually an improvement of nearly eight wins? That's the situation in Charlotte, where by far the most important storyline this season revolves around the development of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The statistical projections aren't impressive and there are some who think his lack of a jump shot will consign him to long-term status as a role player. After Charlotte waived Dajuan Summers and Josh Owens over the weekend, it looks like the Bobcats are going with 14 players. However, with a tiny bit of room under the salary cap and plenty of space under the tax threshold, Charlotte could pounce on the top players being released around the league. Houston is one team that is going to be releasing some pretty good young players. Given the Bobcats' situation, you'd hope that Rich Cho is pursuing buyouts with veterans entering the last year of their contracts, like Reggie Williams, Matt Carroll and DeSagana Diop. Those spots would be more appropriately given to some of the young, minimum-salaried talent that is going to be out there. And for goodness sake, there are hundreds of players on the market better than Corey Higgins, who is on a non-guaranteed deal but at last check is still the son of a Bobcats executive.
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