ATLANTA – A year ago, the Atlanta Hawks reset expectations for pro basketball in our city. During a season that saw a franchise-high 60 wins, a franchise-record 19 game win streak and a first-ever trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, the team gave fans a reason to wonder: could it be the HAWKS who snap Atlanta’s 20-year championship drought?

Tonight, the Hawks hit the court against the Detroit Pistons to open a new season – the third of the Mike Budenholzer era. Danny Ferry won’t be there. Neither will DeMarre Carroll. Bruce Levenson also, you would imagine, will be absent. But despite a plethora of offseason changes, this Hawks team enters the season with their eyes on the NBA Finals. Can they shock the NBA for a second straight year and continue to soar to new heights? Here are the five most likely scenarios for how the 2015-’16 season will play out at Philips Arena.

  1. Hawks Miss The Playoffs
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This is the least likely scenario, one that sees the Hawks take a big step backward and fall back into the lower echelon of Eastern Conference. If this were to happen, the reason would be two-fold: injuries and competition.

The Hawks played great basketball for much of last year, and – up until the end – they were very fortunate when it came to injuries. Al Horford’s torn both pectoral muscles. Paul Millsap’s battled shoulder issues. Thabo Sefolosha’s broken leg is a question mark. How does Kyle Korver – who turns 35 this season – deal with offseason surgery on his ankle and his shooting elbow? The Hawks’ training staff could be very busy this year.

The other part of the equation is a rapidly improving Eastern Conference. Teams like Milwaukee, Boston, Miami and Detroit should all be better. The Hornets were a sexy pick to make the leap before falling apart a year ago. The Bulls, Raptors and Wizards look like challengers again this year. That’s eight teams for eight playoff spots and we haven’t even talked about Cleveland.

  1. We Are The Champions!

This is also an unlikely scenario, but one more enjoyable to explore. Assuming good health, the Hawks really shouldn’t win fewer than 50 games this season. That puts them in the top four seeds of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Atlanta didn’t match up particularly well with Cleveland in last year’s playoffs, but say we get them again. And say they’re as banged up as they were in that Eastern Conference Final series. Or say somebody like Toronto does us a solid and upsets the Cavs before they get to us. Stranger things have happened.

Once you get out of the East, that’s when the hard work begins. I have a tough time imagining this Hawks team beating the Spurs, Warriors or Clippers in a best-of-seven series. But if you get the Thunder or the Rockets? Or how about our new, physical big men against the Grizzlies? There are legitimate ways this team could hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy next June. I just wouldn’t bet money on it.

  1. One-and-Done

A year ago at the trade deadline, all you heard from this team was “don’t mess with the chemistry”. That’s exactly what happened this offseason. Budenholzer and new GM Wes Wilcox had to choose between the team’s best leader in Carroll and the team’s best player in Millsap. They chose the player. Hopefully that pays off.

They also chose to trade for Tiago Splitter – a proven winner, who brings added rebounding and toughness. Splitter’s arrival means an adjustment. When he comes in off the bench, Splitter will likely push Al Horford to the four and Millsap to the three. That kind of transition will take time and let’s not forget the embarrassment that resulted from the last time Millsap was asked to guard at the small forward position (see: James, LeBron).

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There’s also a big question mark when it comes to the small forward combination of Sefolosha (broken leg), Kent Bazemore (energy guy) and Justin Holiday (complete unknown). Someone out of that trio will have to step up and replace what the team lost with Carroll’s departure.

A lot of Hawks fans would be disappointed to see their team return to the days of Mike Woodson and Larry Drew with a first round playoff exit, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

  1. Return to the Mountaintop

Well, the mountaintop technically would be a world championship, but here in Atlanta it’s all relative. Our mountaintop is the Eastern Conference Finals and we would do well to get back in 2016.

Getting through the first two rounds of the playoffs would require avoidance of the injury bug, but also growth from the two key players we haven’t mentioned so far – point guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. This Hawks offense runs so efficiently when the point guards are getting penetration and when they can stretch the defense with the three-point shot (not Schroder’s strength). More importantly, though, they’ll have to match up on the defensive end with guys like John Wall and Kyle Lowry in the playoffs. Win these key battles and the Hawks could be headed for a rematch with LeBron and the Cavs.

  1. Back In The Mix

This most-likely scenario sees the Hawks get back to the Eastern Conference Semifinals and lose a competitive series to the Cavs or one of the up-and-coming teams – perhaps Toronto or Milwaukee. It caps another successful, albeit unsatisfying season for the Hawks and leaves fans wondering if and when their team will ever compete for a world championship. GM Wilcox will face questions about what to do with free agent big man Horford, whether to finally hand the point guard reins over to Schroder and how much he’s willing to depend on a sharpshooter heading into his late-30’s in 2017. Make for an entertaining offseason, huh?

The reality of this entire season lies in the answer to this question: are we going to be more like the 2014 Atlanta Hawks or the 2015 Atlanta Hawks?

For all the attention surrounding last year’s win streak, the Philips Arena sellouts and putting four players in the All-Star Game, Coach Bud and company need a return to the less-heralded results of two years ago. That Hawks basketball team saved some of their best ball for April and May, when they pushed the top-seeded Indiana Pacers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

A year ago, the team lost its mojo at the end of the regular season and seemed a shell of itself in the playoffs. Yes, injuries were a major factor, but observers were right to wonder whether the players got too much rest down the stretch after clinching the top spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

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Did Coach Bud learn from his first two years in Atlanta? We’ll discover the answer next April… or May… or hopefully June.