ESPN.com's Summer Forecast is predicting the 2017-18 standings for the Eastern and Western conferences. Which teams will outperform and which have our panel overrated? We're going 5-on-5 to debate our latest predictions:
1. Which East team will outperform its forecast?
Chris Forsberg, ESPN.com: Toronto Raptors (projection: 47-35). There will be some adjustments after trading DeMarre Carroll to the Brooklyn Nets and watching Patrick Patterson sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but Toronto has won 48-plus games in each of its past four seasons. As long as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are healthy, the Raptors have a chance for 50 or more wins in an underwhelming East.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Brooklyn Nets. All aboard the Nets' bandwagon! D'Angelo Russell's game far exceeds his reputation, and he's still just 21 years old. Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll came at a steep cost for the front office, but the actual basketball players will vastly improve the win column from just 20 wins last season. With the Nets' coaching staff and a healthy Jeremy Lin, this team should exceed the 30-win plateau. Prediction of the century, I know.
Chris Herring, FiveThirtyEight.com: Toronto Raptors. I don't think Toronto will be great by any stretch, as its offseason was relatively unremarkable. But unless injuries get in the way like they did last season -- when Lowry missed 22 games and DeRozan missed 12 -- it's hard to see how the Raptors don't approach, or eclipse, the 50-win mark yet again.
Baxter Holmes, ESPN.com: Philadelphia 76ers (projection: 37-45). Top Eastern Conference All-Stars have headed West, and who knows if Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony might soon join them. This feels like the year the Process starts to really pay off for all that promising young talent in Philly. Top pick Markelle Fultz should play with an especially large chip on his shoulder given all the attention No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball is grabbing.
Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN.com: The Sixers will win more than 40 games. As long as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will be able to play more than 50 games each -- hopefully the Philly injury hex is over -- the Sixers' process will finally see an uptick in wins. In a weakened East, the Sixers -- with Simmons and Fultz vying for rookie of the year -- will be a playoff team and they won't just squeak in.
2. Which West team will outperform its forecast?
Forsberg: San Antonio Spurs (projection: 54-28). A curious offseason, all while some of their rivals beefed up, should seemingly take the Spurs out of consideration for this spot. And yet you have to assume the Spurs are going to somehow win 60 games for the third straight season. Let's cling to Kevin Pelton's note about how San Antonio has the third-best RPM projection while acknowledging we considered San Antonio for question No. 4.
Haberstroh: Utah Jazz (projection: 44-38). No one is going to score on them. Losing Gordon Hayward and George Hill will hurt, but folks are sleeping on the Jazz next season. Elite defenders Ricky Rubio and Thabo Sefolosha join an already air-tight defense anchored by the league's premier rim protector, Rudy Gobert. Joe Johnson and Rodney Hood should soak up most of the scoring void, and perhaps a new medical staff will keep the roster healthier. I can see the Jazz winning 50 games.
Herring: San Antonio Spurs. I have a few things I'll be curious about with the Spurs, namely how Patty Mills handles a bigger role and minutes load with Tony Parker recovering from a quad injury, and how the club fares when it goes to a bench now without talented reserves Jonathon Simmons and Dewayne Dedmon. Still, it's hard for me to imagine the Spurs posting a low-50s win total with Kawhi Leonard still ascending the way he has.
Holmes: LA Clippers (projection: 45-37). Chris Paul's absence hurts, but the impressive haul they received in return will help, as will forward Danilo Gallinari (assuming he's healthy) and the exciting/savvy Euro star point guard Milos Teodosic. Plus, Doc Rivers is finally solely focused on coaching. Injuries could always derail them, but the ingredients for success are still there.
Youngmisuk: The Lakers may not win 40 games but Lonzo Ball's contagious pass-first mentality and the new blood and energy that Magic Johnson has brought in should push them over 32 wins, even in the ultra-competitive West. Ball will get the young Lakers to run and play with enthusiasm, showing superstars like LeBron James what he might be able to work with when free agency hits next summer.
3. Which East team will underperform its forecast?
Forsberg: Miami Heat (projection: 44-38). Miami made a fascinating late-season surge last year, going 30-11 in the second half of the season, but even in the watered-down East we're not sure we see this roster putting up 44 wins. Kelly Olynyk and his floor-stretching abilities will help -- particularly if he rocks a South Beach manbun -- and Miami's defense will keep it in games. But the Heat seem closer to a .500 team like last season.
Haberstroh: Philadelphia. I'm bullish about the future in Philly, but I'm curbing my enthusiasm for the now. Rookies almost never contribute to wins right away and this forecast is banking on big things from Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons and kinda-rookie Joel Embiid -- who all have injury concerns. This forecast is expecting about a 10-win improvement from last season, and that seems steep given the youth and injury concerns.
Herring: Philadelphia 76ers. I'd feel more confident about a 37-win, playoff-clinching projection if I knew definitively that Embiid would stay healthy. Without that, I see Philly as a team that is one serious Embiid ailment away from being a club with two primary ball handlers who've never played in a meaningful professional game. There will be growing pains, and I think Year 2 of this group might be more realistic for a playoff push than Year 1.
Holmes: Cleveland Cavaliers (projection: 52-30). To be clear, I still expect the Cavaliers to make the NBA Finals because ... LeBron James. But after a tumultuous offseason, with Kyrie Irving expected to be dealt at some point this season and with the fact that the Cavaliers might put it in cruise control during the regular season in order to save some juice for the postseason, I wouldn't be surprised if they win somewhere in the mid-40 range.
Youngmisuk: The Indiana Pacers (projection: 31-51) said goodbye to Paul George and hope that Victor Oladipo will shine like he did when he starred as a Hoosier. But life after PG-13 could feel like a gory R-rated horror flick for the Pacers this season.
4. Which West team will underperform its forecast?
Forsberg: Minnesota Timberwolves (projection: 48-34). It's not that Minnesota won't take a big leap forward -- it will -- but a 17-win improvement in an absurdly loaded West seems ambitious. Adding Jimmy Butler to that young core makes the Timberwolves a playoff team; but the win total comes in south of 48.
Haberstroh: Houston, for a couple reasons. In my eyes, the Rockets (projection: 57-25) still have the best shot at taking down the Warriors, but I think they'll try to maximize postseason wins instead of going all-out in the regular season like they did last season. My expectation is that they'll pull a Cavs and downshift in the regular season to preserve their energy for a championship hunt; Harden and Paul know the stakes. Also, it's a safe guess that the healthiest team in the NBA last season will revert back to the mean.
Herring: Minnesota Timberwolves. Butler is one of the best players in the league, but expecting near 50 wins -- after just 31 wins last season -- seems off, given all the questions facing this team. Aside from the club still needing another perimeter defender or two, it's fair to wonder whether there are almost too many scorers on this roster without enough guys to facilitate ball movement. Jeff Teague is fine as a setup man, but he, too, is a scorer. Minnesota will likely need a Rubio-type at times, just to keep all the scorers well-fed.
Holmes: Utah Jazz (projection: 44-38). On defense, the Jazz should still be a force, especially with Rudy Gobert guarding the paint and with rookie Donovan Mitchell and veteran Ricky Rubio. Offensively, losing Gordon Hayward and George Hill, their top two scorers from last season, really hurts, especially against so many powerhouse Western Conference foes that are loaded with elite scorers. Quin Snyder is an elite coach, but manufacturing buckets figures to be a challenge.
Youngmisuk: The Clippers are one Blake Griffin injury away from struggling to reach that 45-win forecast. Milos Teodosic comes from Europe with plenty of hype but he has monster shoes to fill with Chris Paul gone and there will be an adjustment period. Patrick Beverley brings grit and toughness and Lou Williams helps replace Jamal Crawford's scoring punch off the bench. But Griffin, who hasn't played more than 67 games in each of the past three seasons, has to stay healthy.
5. Give us one bold prediction for 2017-18.
Forsberg: The 76ers will win a playoff series. OK, so maybe the 76ers should just focus on, you know, staying healthy for a full season. And if we wanted to hedge our bet here, we'd simply suggest Philly will sneak into the playoffs. But if we're going to truly be bold then we'll throw out a scenario in which things come together by the end of the season and a healthy 76ers team emerges as a legitimate threat to one of the East's top four seeds.
Haberstroh: The Warriors will threaten the Lakers' 33-game winning streak record. The Warriors may not get to 73 wins because of rest strategies, but this team's peak is going to be sky-high. They basically ripped through the playoffs undefeated and everyone is healthy coming into the season. Top it off with a much more favorable schedule than in seasons past (zero back-to-backs on ABC games and 4,000 fewer miles traveled), and this team is going streaking like Will Ferrell in "Old School."
Herring: The Thunder solidify themselves as the best defense in the league, and find a rhythm with new acquisition Paul George much quicker than anyone thought they would. They make a strong push for the No. 2 seed in the regular season, and follow that up by meeting the Warriors in the Western Conference finals in their first season with this group.
Holmes: Clippers' summer acquisition Milos Teodosic will immediately establish himself as an exciting, must-watch attraction, as one of the savviest point guards not just in the West but throughout the league. And with high-flyers in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan at his disposal on the fast break, he'll keep Lob City alive and well.
Youngmisuk: Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to take massive strides forward, this time taking one giant Greek Freak Eurostep forward into MVP contention.