The start of another NBA season is the time for hope to spring eternal — even if we're all seemingly counting the days until we crown an inevitable champion. But seasoned sports fans know a new season also brings the potential for everything to fall apart. With opening night upon us, we dived deep into each team's wildest dreams and worst nightmares this season.
For both the best-case scenario and worst nightmare, we (mostly) tried to be realistic. Even in your favorite team's wildest dreams, we won't go so far as to assume the Warriors or Cavaliers get eliminated early. Conversely, it would be boring to boil every nightmare scenario down to a superstar's health — although for some squads, we couldn't avoid talking about injuries.
As for the order of the list below, we used season win total projections from Bovada.com, from worst to first, just to give it that extra "season preview" feel. Enjoy.
Best-case scenario: Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin are entertaining enough to make Nets fans ignore the pain until 2019, when Brooklyn finally has its own first-round pick once more.
Worst nightmare: Former GM Billy King breaks into the team's front office and makes another trade like the one that cost the Nets all those draft picks in the first place; Lin has more unique hairstyles this season than Brooklyn has competitive games.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY SportsTom Szczerbowski
Best-case scenario: Joel Embiid wins Rookie of the Year, the Sixers trade one of their other big men, Ben Simmons comes back around the All-Star break and shows off a surprising jump shot, and Philly wins the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft.
Worst nightmare: "The Process" turns out to be a never-ending loop from which Philly can't escape. Ever. Embiid gets injured again, Simmons sits out the entire season, and the Sixers post the worst record in NBA history yet end up with the No. 4 pick.
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Los Angeles Lakers
Best-case scenario: The post-Kobe, post-Byron Scott era results in fun, exciting basketball and plenty of growth from D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Larry Nance — you know, the Lakers really have a lot of talent here.
The icing on the cake would be Nick Young playing well for two months and allowing the Lakers to turn him into something of value on the trade market.
Worst nightmare: Scott ends up right about Russell's maturity, Luke Walton doesn't know what he's doing, Brandon Ingram is too thin and Julius Randle isn't any good.
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Best-case scenario: I could go for Devin Booker winning the 3-point contest. A Brandon Knight trade would be great, too, in my book. Short of that, though, maybe the backup PG can win Sixth Man of the Year while the young guys in Phoenix get plenty of minutes and start to grow together.
Worst nightmare: Egos could sink things pretty quickly in Phoenix, and it's still kind of hard to trust ownership to do the right thing on a consistent basis.
Best-case scenario: DeMarcus Cousins achieves his final form and wins MVP. The Kings get through this season without a single instance of off-court drama.
What? Let me dream!
Worst nightmare: The Kings are the Kings.
Best-case scenario: Chris Bosh gets healthy.
You want more? Fine. Hassan Whiteside tricks voters into believing that blocks are the most important thing in the world, resulting in his unanimous selection as Defensive Player of the Year. Pat Riley reveals he's the devil, allowing him to circumvent the salary cap by trafficking in souls. Dwyane Wade goes 20-62 in Chicago, realizing he made a huge mistake by leaving Miami.
Worst nightmare: Even Erik Spoelstra (an underrated coach) isn't able to shape this roster into a playoff contender, causing Riley to decide it's time to call it a career. The Whiteside deal ends up an albatross, and the Heat are reminded by every Goran Dragic turnover of the picks they traded to the Suns for the point guard.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
Best-case scenario: Greg Monroe gets traded. Everything else is gravy for Milwaukee, although an All-Star appearance for Giannis Antetokounmpo would be pretty awesome.
Worst nightmare: Greg Monroe leads the team in scoring. That might seem promising, but I assure you: Monroe as Milwaukee's leading scorer means things went horribly awry.
New Orleans Pelicans
Best-case scenario: Anthony Davis defeats Karl-Anthony Towns in one-on-one combat at center court during a game and devours his soul like Mortal Kombat's Shang Tsung, reclaiming his former place as the game's fastest rising young big man. Viewer discretion is advised.
Worst nightmare: Davis plays on opening night, injures himself, and misses the next 81 games. He in turn decides that he's cursed in New Orleans and resolves to sign elsewhere when he becomes a free agent.
Best-case scenario: People remember that there's an NBA team in Denver — because Nikola Jokic, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and the rest of the Nuggets force them to pay attention.
Worst nightmare: The Broncos win another Super Bowl, followed by Von Miller trying out for the Nuggets — which the team embraces in a desperate bid for attention. Jusuf Nurkic fights the large football man, resulting in both players missing their respective seasons.
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY SportsChris Humphreys
Best-case scenario: The Magic have a nice collection of young players who could take a step forward together this season, but Nikola Vucevic and Serge Ibaka are the real X-factors here. If they can fit together, and if Ibaka rediscovers his pre-injury form, the Magic could be one of the NBA's most entertaining young teams.
Worst nightmare: Aaron Gordon mauls himself trying some ridiculous, never-before-seen dunk during the dunk contest.
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Best-case scenario: Dirk carries this team to the playoffs once more, and Harrison Barnes has one epic revenge game against the Warriors in the first round to steal a game and avoid a sweep.
Worst nightmare: Dirk finally begins his regression toward retirement, and Rick Carlisle can't do anything to stop it. The less we say about Harrison Barnes, meanwhile, the better.
NBAE/Getty ImagesGlenn James
New York Knicks
Best-case scenario: The Knicks jumpstart a new offensive revolution with a hybridized Triangle offense and threaten for homecourt advantage in the first round. Carmelo Anthony wins his first MVP award. Kristaps Porzingis finishes second in the voting.
Worst nightmare: The only thing this supposed superteam is super at is taking precious touches away from Kristaps.
Best-case scenario: Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler learn how to shoot 3s, turning the Bulls into an Eastern Conference finals contender. Rajon Rondo has a nice, relaxing year for the first time in what seems like forever.
Worst nightmare: This whole experiment where no one can shoot and everyone wants the ball in their hands falls apart by the second week of the season, while poor Robin Lopez wonders where he went so wrong.
Best-case scenario: Karl-Anthony Towns makes the All-NBA first team, Tom Thibodeau shows that he's learned his lesson when it comes to resting players, and the Wolves make their long-awaited return to the playoffs.
Worst nightmare: We're all overrating Towns, Ricky Rubio gets traded for nickels on the dollar, and Thibodeau's worst inclination to overwork his players begins the long process of physically destroying a young team.
Best-case scenario: Remember Roy Hibbert? Not the sad Lakers version, but the good Pacers version? What if he rediscovers his old defensive form with the Hornets and they end up the best defensive team in the league? Wouldn't that be ... fun? Exciting? Effective? Yeah, let's go with "effective."
Worst nightmare: Michael Jordan decides the time has come to take a more active role in personnel and day-to-day decision-making.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY SportDerick E. Hingle
Best-case scenario: Imagine if John Wall channels all the angst and drama of this offseason into destroying opposing defenses. Imagine if Scott Brooks spent his time away from coaching adjusting his offensive approach. Dare to dream in America's capital, friends.
Worst nightmare: Kevin Durant drops 70 in his lone game in Washington — while Wall and Bradley Beal literally fight at halfcourt.
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Best-case scenario: Chandler Parsons stays healthy, Zach Randolph wins Sixth Man of the Year, and the Grizzlies make it to the second round of the playoffs with their modernized version of Grit 'N' Grind.
Worst nightmare: This is one team where injuries are the only real answer. Seemingly every player either has major health issues or is flat-out old. If one guy falls apart, the rest could follow as they try to make up for the absence of their teammates.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY SportsNelson Chenault
Best-case scenario: Dwight Howard is a better center than Al Horford — and the missing piece that helps the Hawks finally challenge LeBron James in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Worst nightmare: Mike Budenholzer is in over his head as coach and personnel guru, Kyle Korver is on the downslope of his career, Kent Bazemore is due for regression, Dennis Schroder can't step up as the full-time starting point guard. There's a lot that could go wrong in Atlanta, and that uncertainty is the biggest headache of them all.
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Best-case scenario: In their darkest nightmares, the Warriors see Rudy Gobert's incredible length. He haunts the rim and frees his teammates to hound shooters on the perimeter. Quin Snyder looms over it all, cackling.
This Jazz team could be really, really good, is what I'm saying. In a year or two, they might even be able to go toe-to-toe with Golden State. For now, hosting a first-round playoff series seems more than reasonable.
Worst nightmare: All of the good, "young" players have already peaked or are fringe guys at best. Gordon Hayward's injury prevents him from taking the next step as a go-to scorer.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Best-case scenario: Russell Westbrook actually averages a triple-double this season. The Thunder bludgeon their way to the Western Conference finals. Ratings explode. Westbrook's iguana is named MVP.
Worst nightmare: Westbrook's revenge tour results in a ton of missed shots and close losses as the Thunder fall into the lottery.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY SportsBill Streicher
Best-case scenario: James Harden evolves into a basketball-Charizard under Mike D'Antoni, spitting fire everywhere and roasting defenses. On one out of every four possessions, Houston gets a defensive stop.
Worst nightmare: Harden uses D'Antoni's offense as an excuse to fire away from 3 without probing the defense, the Rockets finish last in defense in their own right, and they miss the playoffs entirely.
Best-case scenario: Paul George wins MVP and carries a physical list of the people he dunks on with him from game to game like the NBA's Chris Jericho. Myles Turner surpasses the rest of his peers as the second-best big man in his draft class. (KAT is No. 1, of course.)
Worst nightmare: I don't want to think about Paul George and worst-case scenarios. Let's just move on.
Best-case scenario: Stan Van Gundy finally gets his long-awaited breakthrough with Andre Drummond as a rim-protector, and Reggie Jackson comes back strong from his knee injury to lead the Pistons to a surprising berth in the second round of the playoffs.
Worst nightmare: Drummond looks so lost on defense that Van Gundy the GM fires Van Gundy the coach in the middle of a game, just for his own peace of mind.
Portland Trail Blazers
Best-case scenario: Damian Lillard forces Stephen Curry to miss the remainder of the regular season after crossing the reigning MVP so badly before a game-winner that Curry needs emergency ankle surgery. Meyers Leonard and Mason Plumlee run into each other so hard during practice that they fuse into one person who becomes the NBA's best center.
Worst nightmare: The Blazers need Lillard to bail them out of 20+ games with last-second heroics. That would be great for general NBA fans, but not so much for Portland.
Best-case scenario: In a wide-open MVP race, Lowry somehow emerges as the winner and powers the Raptors to a hard-fought seven-game series loss against the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals. Drake dons the Raptors mascot's costume for the duration of the playoffs.
Worst nightmare: DeMar DeRozan is the next Kobe Bryant — the version of the Lakers star that we saw last year.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY SportTom Szczerbowski
Best-case scenario: Asking for Boston to vanquish the Cavs seems like a pipe dream, so I won't go quite that far. Pushing Cleveland to seven games isn't completely out of the question, though, right?
Worst nightmare: The addition of Horford makes little difference. Boston loses in the second round of the playoffs, then fails to turn all of its stockpiled assets into another star.
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY SportsMark L. Baer
Los Angeles Clippers
Best-case scenario: No one punches anyone, for starters. Beyond that, the Clippers could fire on all cylinders this season and knock off the Warriors in the playoffs. It's not at all likely, but anything is possible.
Worst nightmare: Either Chris Paul or Blake Griffin (or both!) ends up traded after all of the simmering tension boils over. DeAndre Jordan shoots under 30 percent from the free throw line.
Getty ImagesKevork Djansezian
Best-case scenario: Kyrie Irving starts the season hot, riding that early momentum to his first MVP award as the Warriors win 74 games in the regular season before losing to the Cavs in the Finals. The world laughs. LeBron emphatically states his case as the greatest of all-time.
Worst nightmare: Trying to rest through the regular season turns into resting on laurels, leading to a shocking Eastern Conference finals exit at the hands of the Celtics.
That, or a Finals sweep at the hands of the Warriors.
David Richard-USA TODAY SportsDavid Richard
San Antonio Spurs
Best-case scenario: LaMarcus Aldridge channeling Tim Duncan's soul to morph into one of the game's best defensive players would be a good start. Add a Kawhi Leonard MVP award and a shocking playoff upset of the Warriors and then the Cavs, and you have a dream season for the Spurs.
Worst nightmare: The Spurs crater without Duncan, especially on the defensive end, getting swept in the first round and leaving big questions about where the team goes from here.
Golden State Warriors
Best-case scenario: 82-0 in the regular season. 16-0 in the playoffs. I'm not kidding.
Worst nightmare: Hooooo, boy.
Draymond Green detonates the team's chemistry, becoming such a problem that coach Steve Kerr legitimately has to consider a trade with three stars on the team to pick up the slack in Green's absence. Curry and Durant have the same "your turn, my turn" issues KD had with Westbrook, giving both second thoughts about signing their next contracts in Golden State.
Klay Thompson guns for his own buckets, all other outcomes be damned. Andre Iguodala shows his age, and his regression renders the Wariors' best lineup inoperable. Kerr never quite finds the right rotation once he realizes that Iguodala needs to be on the bench in the clutch.
The Warriors overcome all of those issues anyway to make the Finals, only for Green to get suspended yet again against the Cavs as Golden State blows another 3-1 lead to LeBron James. Kyrie Irving steps on Curry's face after hitting the game winner in Game 7. A potentially-not-sober Charles Barkley repeatedly screams "JUMPSHOOTING TEAMS CAN'T WIN TITLES" as he gives Michael Jordan a piggyback ride; MJ personally annoints LeBron the NBA's GOAT.