Forecast: 2016-17 East standings

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Welcome to our ninth annual Summer Forecast!

In the next couple of weeks, we'll share our early projections for every team, and predict the rookie of the year, MVP, best newcomers, NBA champion and much, much more.

Today, we kick things off with a look at the 2016-17 Eastern Conference standings. For our results, we surveyed our ESPN Forecast panel on each topic.

Let's go!

Projected East standings

1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Proj. record: 57-25
Last season: 57-25

The Cavaliers cruised to 57 wins last season and will face an even lighter challenge in the East this season, according to our forecast. While free agent LeBron James is expected to return, J.R. Smith could still sign elsewhere this summer. Smith led the Cavaliers with 204 3-pointers last season, 46 more than anyone else on the roster.

T-2. Boston Celtics
Proj. record: 51-31
Last season: 48-34

Our panel sees the Celtics improving their record for the third straight season and breaking the 50-win barrier. Does it shortchange Boston to suggest Al Horford and No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown are worth only three wins? Perhaps. But though accomplished, Horford has been a part of only two 50-win teams in his nine-year NBA career.

T-2. Toronto Raptors
Proj. record: 51-31
Last season: 56-26

The Raptors' frontcourt lost depth this offseason, as both Bismack Biyombo (82 games played last season) and Luis Scola (76 games) signed elsewhere, to be replaced by Jared Sullinger and rookie Jakob Poeltl. If the Raptors do win their projected 51 games next season, it would still be the second-most wins in a season in franchise history.

T-4. Detroit Pistons
Proj. record: 45-37
Last season: 44-38

The Pistons are bringing back virtually the same roster they fielded last postseason, which would explain an increase of only one win by our panel. Last season, the Pistons didn't have many peaks or valleys: They never finished a month more than three games above or below .500.

T-4. Indiana Pacers
Proj. record: 45-37
Last season: 45-37

Upon first glance, the 3-team trade that brought in Jeff Teague and shipped out George Hill might appear to be a win for the Pacers. Teague is two years younger and is coming off a 2015-16 season in which he averaged more points and assists per game than Hill. But ESPN's Real Plus-Minus (RPM) paints a different picture. In 2015-16, Hill ranked 17th among point guards while Teague ranked 29th. Hill had ranked ahead of Teague in RPM each of the past three seasons.

6. Atlanta Hawks
Proj. record: 44-38
Last season: 48-34

On the surface, Dwight Howard brings more rebounds, blocked shots and a better ability to finish at the hoop. However, according to RPM, which estimates on-court team performance, former Hawk Horford ranked 27th with a 2.97 rating last season, while Howard had a -0.04 rating. Atlanta still projects as a playoff team, but our forecast thinks it'll take a hit with Dwight.

7. Charlotte Hornets
Proj. record: 43-39
Last season: 48-34

Kemba Walker took a step forward last season, averaging a career-best 20.9 points per game. His potential has the Hornets still above .500 according to our projections, but the losses of Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee will make it hard for the Hornets to get back to such heights.

8. Washington Wizards
Proj. record: 41-41
Last season: 41-41

Having spent seven seasons with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, new Wizards coach Scott Brooks has experience winning with a pair of young stars. And while John Wall is a proven All-Star, there are still questions about Bradley Beal, who inked a max contract this summer. For Brooks to get the most out of them, Beal needs to be healthy. In four seasons, the now 23-year-old shooting guard has played in 65 or more games just once (179 players have appeared in more games than Beal in the past four seasons).

T-9. New York Knicks
Proj. record: 40-42
Last season: 32-50

The Knicks were the most improved team last season in terms of win-loss record, and now they've added former MVP Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to the fold. If healthy, our projections could short the Knicks. However, our panel knows that Rose has missed 244 games the past five seasons and Noah has missed 68 games the past two seasons.

T-9. Chicago Bulls
Proj. record: 40-42
Last season: 42-40

The Bulls made some of the biggest splashes of the offseason, trading Rose while bringing in assist machine Rajon Rondo and three-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade. But is this Bulls team built for the modern NBA? The Bulls' starting perimeter -- Rondo, Wade and Jimmy Butler -- combined to make 133 3-pointers last season on 31.7 percent shooting.

11. Milwaukee Bucks
Proj. record: 39-43
Last season: 33-49

The Bucks' size continues to intrigue and leads our panel to believe the team can improve despite Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic being the big offseason additions. But a starting lineup of five players all 6-foot-6 or taller, and the potential of more Giannis Antetokounmpo at the point, should get the Bucks closer to .500.

12. Miami Heat
Proj. record: 36-46
Last season: 48-34

The franchise leader in scoring and the guy who helped bring three titles to Miami is gone, as are Luol Deng and Joe Johnson. But our panel isn't totally crushing the Heat, because a youth movement built on Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson could keep Miami in the hunt.

13. Orlando Magic
Proj. record: 35-47
Last season: 35-47

Are the Magic any better or worse off for trading Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka? Both play great defense but struggle to get involved offensively. You could say the same for other Magic additions in Bismack Biyombo and Jeff Green.

T-14. Philadelphia 76ers
Proj. record: 20-62
Last season: 10-72

Our projections have the 76ers doubling their win total from last season thanks in part to No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons. While it's a projection of "only" 20 wins, for Philadelphia that would be the franchise's most since 2012-13 when the Sixers won 34 games.

T-14. Brooklyn Nets
Proj. record: 20-62
Last season: 21-61

Despite mainstay Brook Lopez and Linsanity hitting Brooklyn, the Nets are projected to drop a win, according to our panel. The Nets had the second-worst defensive efficiency last season, and offensive-minded additions like Lin, Luis Scola and Greivis Vasquez aren't going to help matters.

*Notes from John McTigue and Micah Adams of ESPN Stats & Information.