Ian Thomsen: 7. The Nets are going to be a tremendous regular-season team, with Garnett and new coach Kidd generating energy and helping to restore Williams' status as an elite point guard. But it's asking too much of Garnett, Pierce, Terry and Johnson (along with Kirilenko, who has missed double-digit games his last eight NBA seasons) to survive the long regular season with enough energy to beat the younger Heat, Bulls and Pacers.
Thomsen: Bobcats.The Cavaliers and Wizards have positioned themselves for playoff contention, but I'm going to take this opportunity to give rare credit to the Bobcats, who added a major post presence in Jefferson and an athletic rookie big man in Cody Zeller and moved toward a smart contract with restricted free agent Gerald Henderson. The Bobcats are going to be a professional outfit next season under new coach Steve Clifford.
Thomsen: 76ers.The Celtics and Bucks are likely to miss the playoffs after qualifying last season, but the Sixers will suffer the biggest drop. They could finish last in the East after sending Holiday to New Orleans in a trade meant to benefit them after next season. Hinkie has yet to hire a coach or make moves in free agency, but he has already committed to rebuilding from a new point of view. The reliance on rookie point guard Carter-Williams ensures that the Sixers will be in the sweepstakes for Andrew Wiggins next June.
Thomsen: Two or three. The Bulls and Pacers should cause problems for Miami throughout the season and into the playoffs by creating mismatches and matching up to the Heat's energy. Rose is going to be hungry after missing the last two postseasons (he sustained his knee injury in the 2012 playoff opener), while the Pacers strengthened their advantages up front by adding Scola and the three-point shooting of Copeland while keeping a spot open for Granger to return from knee surgery. The Nets and Knicks figure to contend for 50 or more wins as well, though I don't see them keeping up with the three top teams in the playoffs.