NBA Sleeper Teams to Watch Out for in 2012-13

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 12, 2012

NBA Sleeper Teams to Watch Out for in 2012-13

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    As NBA stars continue to align as though commissioner David Stern were beckoning Captain Planet, basketball's greatest stage continues to shift toward becoming the world's most exclusive club.

    The league's disparity hasn't quite yet inspired an "Occupy NBA" movement, but it's clearly become a league of a few teams that have "it" and a lot teams still searching for "it."

    At the same time, it would be incorrect to say that there is no upward mobility for the lesser franchises. Just last season, the playoffs included two teams that missed the not-so-exclusive dance (16 of the league's 30 franchises qualify for the playoffs) the previous year.

    Here's a look at three clubs that, via this summer's draft and free-agency activity, are positioned to add their names to the 2012-13 playoff guest list.

Washington Wizards

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    2011-12 Record: 20-46

    Key Additions: Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor

    Key Losses: Rashard Lewis

     

    The last time the artists formerly known as the Bullets were relevant, there was literally firepower in the team's locker room.

    But Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld started his "Occupy Wizards locker room" movement this past March when he sent the frustrating JaVale McGee to Denver for the overpriced, but still productive veteran Nene.

    Grunfeld has since filled the roster with more playoff-tested veterans (Ariza and Okafor) along with the double-browed player with the highest potential in the 2012 NBA draft class (Beal).

    With a nice blend of veterans and high-energy youngsters (John Wall, Jordan Crawford, Trevor Booker and Jan Vesely), Grunfeld's roster has evolved into a melting pot befitting of its home in the nation's capital.

Golden State Warriors

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    2011-12 Record: 23-43

    Key Additions: Harrison Barnes, Jarrett Jack, Festus Ezeli, Draymond Green

    Key Losses: Dorell Wright

     

    The Warriors do not have the tragic history of the Chicago Cubs, but they do have a recent history that makes them the NBA's lovable losers.

    With one playoff berth since 1994 and zero All-Star appearances since Bill Clinton's presidency, the franchise's fight for significance has been far more relevant than any recent "successes."

    But there's a clear light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, even if that journey will be made on surgically repaired body parts (Stephen Curry's and Andrew Bogut's ankles along with David Lee's abdomen). 

    Warriors GM Bob Myers could be Ivy League-bound with his (first-ever) draft grades. Barnes slid to the seventh pick and could step into the starting small forward spot. Ezeli (30th) and Green (35th) should add depth to the Warriors' frontcourt.

    It's also laudable the way Myers was able to turn a reported salary dump trade into the versatile veteran Jack, who brings toughness to the second unit and insurance for Curry's ankle (per The Washington Post).

Toronto Raptors

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    2011-12 Record: 23-43

    Key Additions: Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross

    Key Losses: Gary Forbes

     

    The Raptors may have missed out on their top free-agent target (Canadian native Steve Nash), but there are plenty of reasons to expect Toronto's first postseason appearance A.C.B. (after Chris Bosh).

    Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo was more than ready to provide a protected future first-round pick and reserve forward Forbes for Lowry, a rising star at the point guard position.

    While Lowry's acquisition dominated the headlines, though, Toronto's biggest addition this offseason could be the fifth overall pick of the 2011 draft: the 7'0", 245-pound Valanciunas (who spent the past two seasons with BC Lietuvos Rytas of the Lithuanian Basketball League).

    The reigning FIBA European Young Player of the Year, the 20-year-old Valanciunas will not only bring a dominant, physical presence to the Raptors' front line, but he will also allow former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani to move to his natural power forward position.

    And now with ESPN.com's Marc Stein reporting that Jose Calderon is seeking a trade, Colangelo has yet another opportunity to add to this youthful, talented roster.