This is a very hard season to get a read on, because there are a few bread crumbs of optimism, balanced with a ton of unknowns.
The 3 biggest x-factors, for me are:
How healthy can Mike and Marc stay? At the beginning of last season, it looked like we were going to put the hammer down, and then Mike went down and POOF! Everything and I mean everything ended. So yes, Mike is a key, but he's not the key - Marc going down would be just about as devastating (although slightly less). Losing both, and you get what we got last year. It will be amazing if we go through this season without stretches of losing them. We can only hope they will be small stretches.
What will Jtrip's rookie campaign look like? This is on him, on our coaching staff, and on how harsh the referees come down on him for being a rookie. Deficiencies in any of those 3 areas will have a negative impact. And we need him to have a solid rookie year. Honestly, he needs to be as close to the ROY conversation as possible - we need to feel his contribution positively., Not just a "he's not hurting us".
How close to GnG can we return this season? We've added some intriguing parts that will help us play a more defensive style, but something I've continued to harp on over the years that I don't think everyone is willing to embrace is that without Tony Allen's transcendent defense, we can't be great, only very good. There were games he literally flipped from losers to winners single-handedly with his effort. Many times because he was the only guy on the floor giving a darn. Who is that player on this team? Answer: we don't have him. So everyone has to be locked in on defense, everyone has to have the I.Q. to pull it off as a unit. Can we be that right out of the gate with so many new faces and a newly-minted "official" head coach? History says this will take time. And if you're saying, "well, J.B. has been here for almost a year now", yeah, but under very different circumstances. Now he's expected to carry this franchise's burden of "we're getting back in the playoffs".
Those are a lot of ifs that have to fall just right, and history says not to expect that. Still the biggest one is Mike and Marc staying healthy, so I will only predict based on that - if they remain relatively healthy throughout the year, I see this team getting around .500, maybe 1-2 games over it - in other words, around the same record they achieved in their last non-playoff year as GnG was taking hold. And we'll just have to see if that's enough to get them the 8 seed. Because, right now, that's the key. If we find out we "won" our draft by getting Jtrip, and keep next year's 1st rounder and pick "right" again, then all of a sudden we have hope for the future while Mike and Marc hobble into the sunset.
And signs I'll be looking to for hope in the future:
1. J.B. shows he can coach up great defense.
2. Jtrip shows he has a bright future, Dillon shows he is going to continue to grow, and SloMo becomes our "do-it-all" everyman.
3. We make the playoffs, not because that means "we're back", but that it allows us to keep that draft pick we so desperately need to get another high-caliber player with.