The ride involved different twists and turns, but the result remained the same. The Washington Wizards finished fifth in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. They were also among the last four playoff teams left in the East, the often mocked half of the NBA.
Considering the continued promise with John Wall and Bradley Beal, the frontcourt depth headlined by Marcin Gortat and Nene plus the wing options with Otto Porter and - assuming he stays - Paul Pierce, there's good reason to believe the Wizards maintain that status if not improve.
However, any forecast for next season can't just focus on Washington. They also can't overlook what should be a deeper crop of viable teams. Here's a super duper early look at the entire Eastern Conference including key decisions coming up this offseason.
Atlanta - The Hawks dominated the regular season and reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. They also have starting forwards - and Wizards killers - Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll entering free agency this summer. Losing Millsap in particular likely knocks Atlanta down a rung. Keeping the core and adding a first rounder (15th overall from the Nets) keeps them at very high perch.
Cleveland - The NBA offseason story involves the decision of one Kevin Love. Does the power forward 1) opt into the final year of his contract and wait for a big pay day when the salary cap jumps in 2016 or 2) bolt immediately do to frustration over his limited role alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving as relentless rumors have suggested. The Cavaliers have eight players in various stages of free agency, including James. He's not going anywhere and ultimately that's all that matters. Love might.
Chicago - Nobody seems to believe Tom Thibodeau returns. Despite his defensive coaching prowess, perhaps change is for the best considering the Bulls' recent postseason flameouts. Jimmy Butler is a restricted free agent, but the Bulls will match any offer. Forward Mike Dunleavy and backup point guard/Derrick Rose injury Aaron Brooks are the main unrestricted free agents. There is more than enough talent here. We'll see if a new coach can put them over the top.
Toronto - Talk of blowing of the Raptors popped up immediately after the Wizards blew them out in the postseason. Rotation options Tyler Hansbrough, Amir Johnson and Lou Williams, the NBA's sixth man of the year, are free agents. The DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry backcourt is one of the best in the league. Now the Raptors need to find scoring punch up front.
Milwaukee - The Bucks went from cellar dwellers to sixth in the East in just one season under coach Jason Kidd and that was largely without injured rookie forward Jabari Parker. The forecast is nothing but sunshine considering the young roster headlined by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Parker and Michael Carter-Williams. Khris Middleton might be the NBA' most underrated players, but the swingman will draw plenty of interest as a restricted free agent.
Boston - The roster lacks high-end building blocks, but the Celtics have some interesting pieces - Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart -, an absurd amount of future draft picks and a coaching star in Brad Stevens. Impressive they made the playoffs considering a general rebuild theme. Now we'll see if general manager Danny Ainge remains in that mode of turns cap space and some of those picks into immediate help.
Brooklyn - Brook Lopez holds a massive player option for next season. Even if the scoring big man stays put, the Nets are headed the wrong way and with no clear way out. This is the most likely playoff team not to be one next season. Forward Thaddeus Young might also leave in free agency.
Part two: Lottery teams on the rise?
[RELATED: Wizards regroup with eye to future]