NBA Season Preview Series – Part 2

As we mentioned in Part 1 of this series, we will be previewing the NBA season by ranking the clubs in reverse order and revealing those clubs two at a time. Here’s what those rankings look like at this point:
30. Atlanta Hawks
29. Sacramento Kings
Here are the next two clubs:

28. Orlando Magic

Last Season: 25-57 (0.305) (4th in Southeast Division, 14th in Eastern Conference)
Head Coach: Steve Clifford (1st season with team, 0-0 team; 196-214 overall)
Major Off-season Acquisitions: Mo Bamba (6th overall pick), Jerian Grant, Timofey Mozgov
Major Off-season Departures: Marreese Speights, Shelvin Mack, Mario Hezonja
Salary Cap Info: $110.6 million ($9.7M over cap, $11.5M luxury tax space available)
Narrative: With a new coach on the bench, and not much roster turnover, the biggest question facing the Magic this season will be if they can again finish ahead of the Hawks at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Beyond that, the team will also hope that a new contract for Aaron Gordon will finally unlock his full potential, and that Jonathan Isaac, picked in the same spot as Mo Bamba last year, can finally find his role on a team full of role players.
New coach Steve Clifford had moderate success with the Hornets, but this team is probably still a few years away from returning to the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-2012 season. Heck, after averaging 26 wins a season since that last playoff berth, the folks in Orlando would probably be pleased with a season approaching 30 wins, especially in the depleted East.

27. Phoenix Suns

Last Season: 21-61 (0.256) (5th in Pacific Division, 15th in Western Conference)
Head Coach: Igor Kokoskov (1st season with team, 0-0 team; 0-0 overall)
Major Off-season Acquisitions: Deandre Ayton (1st overall pick), Mikal Bridges (10th overall pick), Ryan Anderson (trade with Rockets), Trevor Ariza
Major Off-season Departures: Marquese Chriss, Alex Len, Elfrid Payton, Tyler Ulis
Salary Cap Info: $105.2 million ($3.3M over cap, $18.4M luxury tax space available)
Narrative: The Suns will probably be improved over last season, but in a very loaded Western Conference – 10 or 11 clubs could conceivably compete for the playoffs – finishing higher than last place should be considered a solid season. Devin Booker signed an extension this offseason, and though the big money doesn’t kick in until next season, I’m sure that he wants to prove that he is worth the money, while also improving the team’s performance on the court. He may be slowed in the early going of the season after recovering from offseason hand surgery, but I would expect him to return to his high level of play without much delay.
Like many bottom dwelling teams, Phoenix replaced their coach this offseason, opting to hire former Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov, perhaps in the hope that he can instill some of the same defensive intensity in his young Phoenix club. The team is five seasons removed from finishing with 48 wins – though they last made the playoffs during the 2009-2010 season – so like the Magic, winning 30 games this year would be an accomplishment, especially in the Western Conference.
Until next time… 
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