Orlando Magic (2013-14 record: 23-59)
I've secretly been following the Magic since Jacque Vaughn took over two years ago. He hasn't had such a great start to his head-coaching career (a dreadful 26.2% total win percentage), though he has never had much to work with in the post-Howard era. They have the fourth-youngest team, and a future core of Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Kyle O'Quinn, and Nikola Vucevic is bound to be a consistent threat to the NBA's finest in a year or two if someone can develop a jumper. This season will likely be another year of putting the pieces together, and players growing accustomed to NBA basketball.
Predicted record: 26-56
Atlanta Hawks (2013-14 record: 38-44)
Even with the racism notwithstanding, the Hawks had a rough summer. They weren't able to cash in on the monster free agency pool, and only managed to grab an aging Thabo Sefolosha and an underperforming Kent Bazemore. It will be interesting to see how things will play out if Al Horford can remain healthy, but I still see this team as a key piece or two away from being able to do any serious damage.
Predicted record: 44-38
Miami Heat (2013-14 record: 54-28)
Despite losing out on LeBron, the Heat had a relatively successful summer... by which I mean they didn't completely implode. Dwyane Wade chose to remain in Miami, and despite the thousands of reports indicating that he would sign with the Rockets, Chris Bosh followed suit shortly thereafter. Shabazz Napier may need to be an immediate impact player after Mario Chalmers crashed, burned, poured gasoline on himself, and burned some more during The Finals earlier this summer. Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts obviously won't be able to fill in LeBron's shoes, but they could be key role players for a team looking to go a round or two deep in the postseason.
Predicted record: 46-36
Charlotte Hornets (2013-14 record: 43-39)
The Charlotte Hornets were a solid team last season, but were hampered down by, among other reasons, mediocre 3-point shooting and inability to score (ranking 23rd in 3-point percentage and points per game). PJ Hairston may be that guy to provide some much-needed shooting, and Lance Stephenson, Noah Vonleh, and Marvin Williams will undoubtedly fill in the gap left behind by Josh McRoberts. A few seasons ago, I decided to pick a darkhorse that will far exceed expectations. Last year, I picked the Pelicans who were so ravaged by injuries they made Brandon Roy look like Iron Man. Charlotte, with the Hairston and Vonleh picks along with the Williams and Stephenson signings, should be chalked up as a darkhorse whose season could last far more than 82 games next year.
Predicted record: 47-35
Washington Wizards (2013-14 record: 44-38)
Last year, John Wall was one of the NBA's best point guards in the regular season. The postseason was a whole other story. In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Pacers encouraged Wall to try to beat them with his perimeter game, and that's exactly what he did... well the "try" part at least. He shot a mouth-gaping 36.8% from the field, and 19% from deep (with 3.5 attempts per game, too). Paul Pierce is probably an upgrade over non-contract year Trevor Ariza, and DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries provide great insurance for the inevitable Nene injury, but if Wall can't further develop his mid-range game or a floater, I can't picture the Wizards making it past the second round.
Predicted record: 50-32