Expectations. Every team has them, whether you're the two-time defending champion Heat or the tanktastic 76ers. Sometimes, they make sense and are perfectly reasonable. Other times, you convince yourself that Kwame Brown is the missing piece.
The offseason is a time of unbridled optimism. You're absolutely sure that the oft-injured big man will stay healthy this time and you talk yourself into believing in that disappointing draft pick who has worked really hard on his game over the summer. Pounds upon pounds of muscle have been added. No one has lost faith in the coach. It will be glorious, I tell you. Freaking glorious. This is your best-case scenario.
Yet, somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of the brain where cynicism parties with doubt, there is an alternative reality. This is where ankles are twisted and long twos clang off the back rim. There will be long nights staring at blank League Pass screens as the fadeout music echoes through your ears turning you into a catatonic zombie. There will be bourbon. So much bourbon. This is your worst-case scenario.
As we leave the summer behind and embrace a new season, let's examine the yin and yang of offseason expectations.
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BEST CASE: Rajon Rondo returns from his ACL injury with a vengeance, providing on-court direction for this exceptionally random roster and inflating everyone's trade value, from Kris Humphries to Jared Sullinger.
WORST CASE: Rondo's too good and the Celtics inadvertently challenge for one of the last playoff spots in the East. Or, Rondo's return happens much too late to salvage anything of value and the Celtics are dreadfully mediocre, but not quite bad enough to land a good draft pick.
BEST CASE: Kevin Garnett stays in one piece, Paul Pierce slides into a role as the best supporting player in the league and Deron Williams Instagrams a rousing rendition of Kumbaya while reading comic books with Brook Lopez. Artisanal donuts and fair trade coffee for everyone!
WORST CASE: Things fall apart. And by things we mean limbs, tendons and ligaments, forcing Jason Kidd to rip off his suit and play the point again. The Prokhorov eventually trades everyone to CSKA Moscow.
BEST CASE: Melo pledges his allegiance, Bargs becomes an unlikely folk hero and J.R. Smith gets more backpage headlines than Page Six references.
WORST CASE: Tyson Chandler gets hurt, rendering all of this null and void, and prompting Melo to plot his escape. As the season slips away, James Dolan replaces Mike Woodson with Steve Alford, but all we know it's a different Hoosier who's really calling the shots.
BEST CASE: Rookies Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel play 2,000-plus minutes, James Anderson leads team in scoring and Tim Olbrecht becomes a double-double machine, leading the Sixers to 12-70 record and many, many ping-pong balls.
WORST CASE: It's so bad they challenge the 72-73 Sixers for worst record ever and the crowds rival an Ivy league doubleheader at the Palestra.
BEST CASE: Rudy Gay's clutch vision knocks the nerd glasses off true shooting percentage, and math is defeated once and for all. Jonas Valanciunas challenges for an All-Star spot, leading the Raptors to an unlikely -- yet entirely plausible -- berth in the playoffs.
WORST CASE: Math wins, the Raps tread water and Masai Ujiri has to conjure another magic spell on some unsuspecting GM. This isn't all that bad, actually. The Raptors are sort of playing with house money until Ujiri plots his next move. It's all upside from here.
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BEST CASE: Derrick Rose hears MVP chants all year and Joakim Noah and Luol Deng each play reasonable minutes, making the Bulls the team no one wants to face in the postseason. Jimmy Butler gets even better, Marquis Teague cracks the rotation and no one can hear Carlos Boozer's screams above the din.
WORST CASE: Last season. Let's never mention it again.
BEST CASE: Andrew Bynum plays 50 games, Anderson Varejao stays healthy for 75 and the defense improves to league average, allowing Kyrie Irving to lead the league in awesome. Jarrett Jack tutors Dion Waiters in the art of the nononoYES! last-second shot and Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett complement each other nicely.
WORST CASE: Jack and Waiters take turns dribbling aimlessly, while injuries force Thompson and/or Bennett to have to fill in at center, leading a bewildered Irving to issue ultimatums in Comic Sans.
BEST CASE: Josh Smith finds his true calling as a large three, Greg Monroe gets a jump shot and Brandon Jennings leads the league in assists by throwing a gazillion alley-oops to Andre Drummond. You heard it here first: Kentavious-Caldwell Pope for Rookie of the Year.
WORST CASE: The Pistons lead the league in long twos, somebody writes "Trade Me" on their sneakers and Coach Sheed leads the league in ejections. Wait, that last part would be kind of awesome.
BEST CASE: Hibbert wins Defensive Player of the Year, Danny Granger takes top Sixth Man honors and Paul George enters the superstar conversation for real. Fortified by a stronger bench, the Pacers shock the world and face the Thunder in the Finals, forcing weary scribes to figure out how to fly from Indianapolis to Oklahoma City in fewer than two layovers.
WORST CASE: The bench reinforcements don't mesh and the starters play too many minutes, leading to injuries and fatigue. Another slow start costs them playoff positioning, and the Bulls end their season in seven brutal playoff games.
BEST CASE: The Bucks win 38 games and face the Heat in the first round of the playoffs.
WORST CASE: The Bucks win 38 games and face the Heat in the first round of the playoffs.
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BEST CASE: People finally notice how great Al Horford and Paul Millsap are, Playoff Teague is a regular season meme and rookie point guard Dennis Schroeder becomes an Internet folk hero.
WORST CASE: All that happens and still no one cares.
BEST CASE: With Al Jefferson averaging 20 and 10, the Bobcats begin to resemble a functioning basketball team. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's range extends to 10 feet, Cody Zeller wins Rookie of the Year and the Cats finally get lucky in the lottery.
WORST CASE: Frustrated by his team's lack of progress, Michael Jordan replaces Rich Cho with one of his golfing buddies and challenges the entire team to games of one-on-one and knockout.
BEST CASE: LeBron wins another MVP, Dwyane Wade needs fewer than three halftime injections for his knees and Chris Bosh finally gets some respect. Shane Battier and Ray Allen take turns making clutch 3s en route to a three-peat. No one opts out.
WORST CASE: Injuries finally catch up to Miami and LeBron takes the next flight out to wherever.
BEST CASE: Victor Oladipo becomes a League Pass guilty pleasure, Tobias Harris is as good as he thinks he is and the Magic make incremental progress.
WORST CASE: Big Baby Davis leads the team in minutes and shot attempts, while Rob Hennigan continues to work on that buyout for Hedo Turkoglu.
BEST CASE: Emeka Okafor returns sooner rather than later, forming a potent 1-2 punch with a revitalized Nene on the interior. Bradley Beal takes off and John Wall makes his first All-Star team. Can you say, playoffs?
WORST CASE: Okafor is out longer than the government shutdown and an injured Nene is replaced by Jan Vesely in the starting lineup. Beal and Wall regress, allowing Kevin Seraphin to lead the team in scoring.
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BEST CASE: Blog posts hail the underappreciated contributions of Monta Ellis. Dirk Nowitzki enjoys a vintage Dirk! season and Mark Cuban trolls everyone at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference with a paper entitled, "Nah, nah, told you."
WORST CASE: See: Bucks, Milwaukee.
BEST CASE: James Harden is healthy and Dwight Howard gets back to being a really good basketball player as the networks begin readying their soft-focus Dwight redemption stories. Omer Asik and Donatas Motiejunas make yoga videos called OmDoMo that go viral.
WORST CASE: Dwight's back acts up and Harden's knee starts hurting from all that old-man basketball, leading Daryl Morey to petition the league to allow him to carry 22 players, 19 of whom are on non-guaranteed contracts.
BEST CASE: More ugly wins, steady progress from Mike Conley, fantastic Z-Bo gifs and random acts of Tony Allen. Plus, a whole lot more Ed Davis and even some Jon Leuer for the per-minute geeks.
WORST CASE: Ugly losses, sad Z-Bo gifs, too much Tony Allen and regression meets mean in a slow descent on the axis of life.
BEST CASE: Anthony Davis becomes a two-way force running sweet, sweet pick-and-rolls with Jrue Holiday, and Eric Gordon plays more than 60 games. Led by Sixth Man of the Year Tyreke Evans, the Pelicans make the playoffs, allowing visiting national writers to gorge on shrimp po'boys and Abita.
WORST CASE: After failing to make the playoffs, New Orleans finishes sixth in the lottery and no one can come up with an acceptable abbreviation for Pelicans.
BEST CASE: Everything that happened last season, plus a healthier Manu Ginobili and a full season of Kawhi Leonard playing 33 minutes a night. With a 48-12 record, Pop racks up $22 million in fines by listing starters as DNP-Make Me.
WORST CASE: Starters are listed as DNP-No Really He's Hurt as Pop is forced to go with Nando De Colo, Aron Baynes and Boris Diaw.
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BEST CASE: Danilo Gallinari gets his mojo back, JaVale McGee averages a triple-double in points, blocks and rebounds and Prof. Andre Miller, Ph.D. keeps schooling these young pups all the way to 50 wins and a fun, yet ultimately futile playoff appearance.
WORST CASE: Thirty-five wins and sympathy votes for George Karl as Coach of the Year.
BEST CASE: Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love finally get a full healthy season together, Derrick Williams finds a position and someone makes a jump shot. Pek eats a yak before a game and goes out and gets 22 and 14.
WORST CASE: Rick Adelman can't take it anymore and the Kevin Love Exit Watch begins in earnest.
BEST CASE: Dear NBA Gods, all we want is a healthy Russell Westbrook, and maybe better late-game strategy. Oh, and some Jeremy Lamb too. While we're at it, making Serge Ibaka a legit third option would be swell. But really, thanks for Kevin Durant. We shouldn't be greedy here.
WORST CASE: No Russ, too much Kendrick Perkins and trolly troll columns based on the premise that if Kevin Durant was really that good, he'd find a way to get it done like a true superstar.
BEST CASE: The league's most underrated offseason makeover transforms the bench from a weakness to a strength and LaMarcus Aldridge finds his happy place as the Blazers make the playoffs.
WORST CASE: Injuries, trade rumors and the inevitable Blazer's Edge expose.
BEST CASE: Derrick Favors finally breaks out. Enes Kanter finally breaks out. Alec Burks finally breaks out. Gordon Hayward finally breaks out.
WORST CASE: The young core isn't as good as hoped, leading to way too much Andris Biedrins in a desperate race to the bottom.
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BEST CASE: Andrew Bogut stays healthy, Andre Iguodala is appreciated, Oracle hums with energy every night and Stephen Curry's ankles are never mentioned again. KlayBarnes averages 30 a night and Kent Bazemore becomes a household name.
WORST CASE: Bogut and Curry get hurt, Iggy tries to carry the load playing all five positions at once and Don Nelson is lured out of retirement.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
BEST CASE: DeAndre Jordan earns fourth-quarter minutes, Blake Griffin gets some MVP love and Chris Paul finally gets a long playoff run. Doc Rivers wins Coach of the Year, turning Los Angeles into Clipper Town.
WORST CASE: CP3 visits a German doctor, Blake loses one too many staredowns and Doc contemplates trading Jordan for Big Baby. Everyone remembers that Donald Sterling still owns the team.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
BEST CASE: Opening night, a hush falls over Staples Center as a helicopter descends on center court. Out of the darkness steps Kobe Bryant, who drops 71 on the Clippers. Two nights later, Pau Gasol goes for 30 and 15 and tweets "Everything is great!" over and over again. Steve Nash turns Robert Sacre into an unlikely All-Star.
WORST CASE: After one too many contested jumpers, Kobe turns Nick Young to stone with a death stare from the bench while wearing street clothes. Nash breaks down. Pau becomes a nihilist.
BEST CASE: The Eric Bledsoe Chaos Machine is engaged for 36 minutes a night, which keeps the home fans entertained long enough for Ryan McDonough to find reinforcements in the draft and trade just about everyone else.
WORST CASE: A bad lottery pick.
BEST CASE: There's still a team in Sacramento and there's no Maloofs in sight. Seriously, everything else is gravy. For this year anyway. It would be kind of great if DeMarcus Cousins began living up to his potential.
WORST CASE: DMC and Mike Malone clash to the point where the big man pines for the days of Paul Westphal. Who cares? There's still a team! But yeah, big year for Cousins.