For fans of teams languishing in the lottery, the NBA regular season can often seem like an exercise in masochism.
Every night you watch, hoping beyond hope that your ragtag group scrappers could somehow sneak into the playoffs. When they don't, you get angry and have armchair thoughts like, "Well, why the hell can't we have LeBron James?! Fire the general manager!"
Of course, we don't ever verbalize these irrational internal diatribes because we don't want to look like buffoons. But there is something fascinating about even the craziest ways your team could make "the leap."
But we'll try staying grounded in reality here. Follow along to see how all the lottery teams could find themselves in the 2013 NBA playoffs...
Pray for a Miracle
Barring a miracle on par with the polio vaccine, the Bobcats aren't making the playoffs next season. The roster is devoid of any transcendent talent and has $44.6 million in salary commitments for the 2012-13 season after trading for Ben Gordon.
Drafting small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the No. 2 pick was the first step in the team's new direction. He'll be able to step in right away and provide athleticism and lockdown defense while he develops a more consistent shot. But his ceiling is the second or third best player on a playoff team.
A good start for general manager Rich Cho, but this is just the beginning of a long rebuilding process.
The rest of the offseason should be pretty uneventful for the Wizards as they have $56.1 million in cap commitments after acquiring Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza from the New Orleans Hornets on June 20.
With Bradley Beal in place to fill the team's hole at shooting guard, the Wizards are one of the five best on-paper teams in the Eastern Conference.
The key is staying healthy. Okafor, Ariza and Nene all missed 20 or more games this past season with various injuries, and Washington doesn't have much bench depth.
But if point guard John Wall takes the leap we all expected from him in 2011-12, they should fit comfortably into the mid-tier.
Retain Eric Gordon and Keep Doing What You're Doing
No. 1 pick Anthony Davis is the type of championship-level star that only comes around every five or so years, so Hornets general manager Dell Demps should be in "finding pieces" mode now.
The team is willing to wade into the maximum-contract waters to retain shooting guard Eric Gordon and plans on transitioning No. 10 pick Austin Rivers into a NBA point guard. If Rivers makes that transition (and I'm skeptical about his ability to do so), that's 60 percent of the team's starting lineup locked in for the foreseeable future.
The best thing for New Orleans is sticking to the Oklahoma City blueprint. Don't make ill-fated bold splashes in free agency, keep building through the draft and hope that Davis becomes the star we all think he's destined to be.
Attempt to Sign Nicolas Batum
The Cavs are probably at least a year away from the playoffs regardless of who they sign in free agency, but Batum would make a great pairing with No. 4 pick Dion Waiters on the wing.
Waiters is a little undersized and isn't the most committed defender in the world. Batum is a long wing who defends the perimeter among the NBA's elite and doesn't dominate the ball. With point guard Kyrie Irving and Waiters both being ball dominators, Batum would be right out of central casting for Cleveland.
The rub on Batum is that he's a restricted free agent. It would probably take somewhere in the $10-12 million range to make Portland hesitate matching, and Batum isn't a $12 million player, but sometimes the fit begets overspending a little bit.
Trade Tyreke Evans for an Actual Small Forward
In the pre-draft phase, the Kings resisted shipping Evans along with the No. 5 pick (which turned out to be forward Thomas Robinson) to Houston for a package that included Kyle Lowry and at least two of the Rockets' three first-round picks.
While it's pretty obvious that the Rockets was trying to fleece Kings general manager Geoff Petrie, the fact remains that Sacramento is better off without their 2009 first-round draft choice. He's regressed in points, rebounds and assists the past two seasons and was even moved to small forward in the second half of this past season.
Evans excels with the ball in his hands and is basically useless in off-ball situations. He acclimated fine and said all the right things, but the Kings' backcourt is filled with similar players. Evans has the highest trade value of all of them and is seemingly the least happy.
With the plethora of small forwards on the trade market and dearth of them in free agency, it makes both basketball sense and practical sense to move Evans in a trade package
Offer Goran Dragic $10 Million Per Season and Hope He Takes It
It's widely assumed that the Rockets will ship out Lowry in order to give the full-time point guard reins to Dragic, who excelled in the 28 starts he received while Lowry was injured this past season.
But Dragic is an unrestricted free agent. If a team comes in and offers a four-year/$40 million contract, would Rockets general manager Daryl Morey strain his cap flexibility to slightly overpay his Slovenian point guard?
I say no, and he'd be the perfect fit to solve the whole "having a bunch of offensive black holes" thing.
Re-Sign Deron Williams
We already know that it's down to Brooklyn and Dallas. And I've already given you all the reasons why Deron will (and probably should) re-sign with the Nets. But that can't make Mikhail Prokhorov, Jay-Z and the Nets ownership consortium sleep any better at night.
Until Deron accepts Brooklyn's offer, the fate of the team's opening night hangs in the balance.
Don't Do Anything Desperate
You know, desperate as in giving Gerald Wallace $40 million when he would have taken $10 million less, bringing in a guy who shot 45.1 percent in Spain or taking Joe Johnson's nauseating contract off the Hawks' hands.
Yeah, that "OMG, we might not get Dwight Howard...WHO IS GOING TO BE ON OUR BILLBOARD?!?" panic.
I know it's easy to pontificate from the outside about not panicking, but that's a hypothetical combined $130 million for Johnson and Wallace. Let me say that again. One-hundred-thirty million minted United State dollar bills for Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace.
If that's the plan, they might as well set fire to the Barclays Center, collect the insurance money and go back to Newark.
If You Can Get Valuable Assets for Brook Lopez, Do It
Here's something I previously wrote about Lopez's impending free agency:
Can I interest anyone in a 24-year-old legitimate 7-footer who averages 17.4 points per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field and nearly 80 percent from the charity stripe?
What about one who was averaging 3.6 rebounds per game in a season where he missed 61 games due to chronic ankle issues? Or one whose -0.18 Wins Produced ranked him 373rd in his last full season?
Well, if you want the first guy, you're going to have to deal paying Brook Lopez the $12 million to $14 million per season he'll be commanding in the open market.
If I'm a Nets fan, my absolute worst case scenario is missing out on Dwight Howard, panicking and giving Lopez the max.
If I'm Nets general manager Billy King, I'm on the phone with every center-needy team in the league and trying to work a sign-and-trade. And if Lopez is on the Nets' opening night roster, you know something has gone horribly, horribly awry.
Make a Run at Signing Reggie Evans and Hasheem Thabeet
After having Harrison Barnes fall to them at the No. 7 spot in the NBA draft, the Warriors secured their spot on my "Top Five Most Used Teams in NBA 2K13" list. But that also secures the fact that four of Golden State's starting five play matador defense...and the team's defensive stopper will be Andrew Bogut.
Yeah, that's not going to cut it in the Western Conference. But with a little over $56 million in cap ties for next season, the Warriors don't have a metric ton of options in free agency. Their best-case scenario involves bringing in guys like Evans and Thabeet, who can give you 15-20 minutes of a sorely lacking defensive presence.
A two-year, $4 million million contract isn't out of the question for either player.
Golden State is another team standing on more than shaky health grounds. Stephen Curry missed 40 games this past season with a papier-meche ankle, and Bogut averages just 58.3 games per year for his career. Losing either player for any extended period of time is a death knell to the team's playoff aspirations.
Sign Steve Nash
I'm usually not on board for ill-advised attempts to pay a 38-year-old guard $12 million a season for the next three years. Guaranteeing a sixth or seventh seed for the next few years is almost never worth it.
This is the exception to that rule.
I LOVE this for Toronto for one reason: franchise relevancy. After the Raptors reached to take former Washington guard Terrence Ross at No. 8, the first words out of my mouth were "Wow, this is the most famous Terrance Ross will ever will be. Not one average fan will know this kid exists in three months."
That has nothing to do with Ross' ability (though I'm not sold on his ability to excel at the next level) and everything to do with the Raptors' abject irrelevance.
Nash changes everything. He's a great ambassador for the game of basketball in Canada and a fantastic teammate.
There's also the small fact that he still averaged nearly 11 assists this past season.
Pray Andre Drummond Makes an Immediate Impact
The Pistons are paying $61.7 million this season for about $30.7 million's worth of talent. The only way they improve enough to make the playoffs is if first-round pick Andre Drummond makes a swift, immediate impact.
An instant contribution from Drummond would give Detroit the best young frontcourt in the league, and point guard Brandon Knight should improve in his second year. But until they're out of the cap purgatory general manager Joe Dumars put the team in, the ceiling is pretty limited.
Sign Brandon Roy and Nicolas Batum
After renouncing their rights to forwards Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph, the Timberwolves are in a position to make at least one splash in free agency.
It seems like the No. 1 target for that splash is Batum. General manager David Kahn is reportedly preparing to offer the small forward a four-year $44 million contract, and all signs point to Batum accepting the offer. Portland may match in the end, but Batum is the type of player you take that risk on.
The second bullet point on Minnesota's offseason initiative is signing Roy, who recently announced a comeback following a one-year retirement due to a degenerative knee issue. Kahn is seemingly keen on Roy and is willing to offer him a two-year contract, according to ESPN Radio 1500 in Minneapolis.
With point guard Ricky Rubio probably out until at least November following a knee surgery in March, the Timberwolves probably won't be at full strength at the beginning of next season. But if they can add Roy and Batum, the team might be able to float around the .500 level until the second-year guard returns.
Do the Exact Opposite of What They're Doing Right Now
Let me get this straight: Portland takes Illinois center Myers Leonard No. 11 in the NBA draft and then agrees to a maximum-level contract with restricted free agent Roy Hibbert three days later.
Yeah, that makes total sense.
I hate the Leonard pick, but you can't take in and then sign a guy to play over him for the next four years. You just can't. The Trail Blazers should be more focused on retaining Nicolas Batum and attempting to sign free agents on the O.J. Mayo/Chris Kaman level.
Mayo and Kaman won't make Portland a playoff team, but neither will Hibbert. He's a back-half top-10 center. Healthy big bodies are always tough to come by, but a max deal for Hibbert would instantly be among the league's worst.
Move Brandon Jennings
Both sides are saying all the right things right now, but it's pretty apparent that things got ugly between the Bucks and Jennings during this past season.
First it was Jennings openly talking about going to a big market team in free agency. Then it was the Bucks working behind the scenes to trade Jennings before the trade deadline. And finally it was Bucks general manager John Hammond telling the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel that extending Jennings "isn't something we need to do."
With Jennings' trade value still pretty high, it's probably best for both sides for Milwaukee to trade their enigmatic point guard.
The gift and the curse for the Bucks is that there are so many holes on the roster that the trade possibilities are infinite. But that also means the playoffs are probably a longshot.
Do Nothing—It's Time to Rebuild
Following years of Steve Nash propping up an atrocious supporting cast, it's time for the Suns to end their arrested development and begin the rebuilding process.
If that means shipping Nash as part of a sign-and-trade to the Knicks or simply allowing him to walk up to the great white north, so be it. There's nothing positive outside of a touching jersey retirement that can come of Nash returning.
The team has just $30 million in salary cap commitments and hasn't been mentioned in talks with any of the top-flight free agents in this class. That may be another example of owner Robert Sarver's legendary, um, frugality or could be an organization recognizing their place in NBA circles.
Either way, it's time.
Make a Non-Vetoed Deal for Pau Gasol
With Houston's signing of center Omer Asik to an offer sheet comes the acknowledgement that the team is out of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.
That doesn't change the fact that the Rockets are superstar hungry and have the most assets of any NBA team by a significant margin.
We all know by now that Gasol is available and that the Rockets liked him enough seven months ago to give up Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a draft choice for the gifted power forward. The price will be significantly less now. A trade of Kyle Lowry, Scola and one of the team's three first-round picks this year should be enough to do the trick.
Re-Sign Goran Dragic and Be the Team that Signs Eric Gordon's Offer Sheet
We've mentioned Dragic's breakout last season during his time spelling Lowry and all signs point to a reunion. That should be good for both sides, even if the price sits somewhere in the $10 million per season range. Dragic is a fringe top-10 point guard and that's what those cost in today's NBA.
As for Gordon, there is very little chance he won't be back in New Orleans next year. But being the team to sign his offer sheet gives you that chance and establishes Houston as an attractive free-agent destination.
If the Gordon plan fails, make a late push for O.J. Mayo and see what you can get for Kevin Martin on the open market.