It's somewhat easy to handicap an NBA season because teams with superstars win. It's really that simple. But there's usually one team that disappoints mightily. With 2016 title odds out, let's project three teams that may fall into that group.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder began the 2014-15 season as the third-favorites to win the 2015 Finals behind Cleveland and San Antonio and they are third again in early 2016 Bovada odds at +700, behind the Cavaliers (+300) and champion Warriors (+500).
Oklahoma City was clearly the biggest bust of this past season but that was because of the fact that superstar Kevin Durant played only 27 games due to foot surgery and then complications from that surgery -- which forced another procedure. Foot problems are in many ways worse than ACL tears for basketball players. They have ended the careers of many good players, including the guy chosen No. 1 overall in the 2007 draft one spot ahead of Durant: Greg Oden. So the Thunder are a major wild-card with Durant now; plus Russell Westbrook hasn't exactly proven he can stay on the court. He missed 15 games in 2014-15, but was fabulous when he did play.
That's another question to ponder. Westbrook became perhaps the No. 1 alpha male in the NBA and a triple-double machine from about the All-Star break on this past season with Durant out. How will that dynamic work now? Will Westbrook accept being the No. 2 option behind Durant again? Or might we have a Kobe Bryant/Shaquille O'Neal situation that tore apart a Lakers dynasty? New Thunder coach Billy Donovan was one of the best in college basketball, but he has zero NBA coaching experience. That could be an adjustment. And it's not like the Western Conference will be getting any easier. The Pelicans, who edged out the Thunder for the final playoff spot, and Jazz, for example, are clearly on the rise. The Lakers should be much better.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are +1000 to win the 2016 Finals on the NBA odds. It's been a marvelous run in the Tim Duncan Era, but I believe that age finally catches up to this team and the championship window is closed.
It does appear that future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will return for one more year. But Duncan is 39, although he certainly didn't show his age in that great first-round playoff series loss to the Clippers. Ginobili will be 38 next month, regressed a lot this season and was pretty lousy at times in that Clippers' loss. Tony Parker is an old 33 and is coming off his worst year since his rookie season. He can't stay healthy.
There's no way the Spurs let restricted free agent Kawhi Leonard get away, but is he ready to be the No. 1 guy on a team? He also struggled against the Clippers (but was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year). Leonard is going to get a monster extension. Danny Green is an unrestricted free agent. There is some talk that the team might be able to sign Blazers free agent LaMarcus Aldridge, a Texas native, to be Duncan's long-term replacement but I'm not confident that will happen.
The Hawks are +2500 to win the 2016 Finals, which means oddsmakers clearly have no respect for a team that won a franchise-best and Eastern Conference-leading 60 games this past season. I think the oddsmakers are right.
Atlanta morphed into San Antonio East offensively under head coach Mike Budenholzer, a former Spurs assistant. But the Hawks were exposed in the playoffs and were not much competition for the Cavaliers in being swept in the East Finals. Frankly, I believe the Hawks would have lost to Washington the round prior if not for John Wall's injury. Two of Atlanta's key players, forwards Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll are free agents. If both are re-signed, there goes all of Atlanta's cap room.
About the only good thing for the Hawks is they remain in the weak East, but I'd say they finish only third in their own division behind the Wizards and Miami Heat (assuming Dwyane Wade is back, Goran Dragic re-signs and Chris Bosh is healthy -- all of which should happen). The Cavaliers, Bulls and Pacers (full season of Paul George) also should be better than Atlanta.