8 Teams Already Dreaming About the 2013 NBA Draft
The Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers enter the 2012-13 season as the three NBA championship favorites, but roughly 20 other teams have realistic playoff aspirations heading into the season.
You've got the usual suspects, like the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets. You've got potential newcomers (aka, teams that didn't make the playoffs last season) like the New Jersey Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors or Golden State Warriors.
Of course, not every team can be as fortunate.
The eight teams featured in this slideshow won't be heading into 2012-13 thinking playoffs. Instead, they'll have their eyes locked on the 2013 NBA draft lottery, fully expecting to jockey for a top-10 pick this season.
These are the eight NBA teams thinking about the 2013 draft nine months in advance.
Once the Orlando Magic traded Dwight Howard this past summer for a handful of young players and draft picks, they virtually sealed up a top-five draft pick, if not top three.
The Magic have three main goals this season: 1) See how the rookies and sophomores (Moe Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Nikola Vucevic, Gustavo Ayon and Kyle O'Quinn) pan out; 2) See which players acclimate themselves best to new coach Jacque Vaughn; and 3) Scout next year's top lottery picks until there's no tomorrow.
Besides the aforementioned Noel, both Cody Zeller and Shabazz Muhammad should particularly intrigue Orlando, provided that both underclassmen head to the NBA draft after this upcoming season.
Realistically, besides maybe shooting guard, the Magic aren't set at any position for the long term. No matter where they land in the first 10 picks, the Magic should be able to find a genuine contributor next summer.
The Charlotte Bobcats aren't going to be 7-59 bad again this season. Let's make that clear right off the bat.
With the newly-drafted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist paired with the second-year lottery picks Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, the Bobcats are starting to resemble a real NBA team again.
Add in veterans like Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon and Brendan Haywood, and it's clear that if the Bobcats can largely avoid the injury bug, they'll be good for at least 20 wins this season.
Their ceiling isn't much higher, however. Even in a conference where a .500 record typically earns you a playoff berth, the Bobcats can't realistically expect to make the playoffs this upcoming season.
Instead, if they're truly following the "Thunder model," they'll be bottom-feeders for one more season to have the chance to draft Nerlens Noel or Cody Zeller. A Noel-Biyombo frontcourt could be the most dynamic shot-blocking duo in the league in a few years.
New Orleans Hornets
The New Orleans Hornets took a huge step forward in their post-Chris Paul rebuild this summer by winning the No. 1 draft pick and the rights to Anthony Davis.
Davis went right out and proved he belonged with the big boys by winning a gold medal with Team USA at the Olympic Games this summer, earning the respect of superstars like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in the process.
By re-signing fifth-year guard Eric Gordon and drafting Davis, the Hornets have at least two young potential stars that could form their own "Big Three" someday soon. Presumably, the Hornets hope that Austin Rivers, the No. 10 pick in the 2012 draft, can fill out that missing leg of the tripod.
Throw in Al-Farouq Aminu, the No. 8 pick from the 2010 draft, and the 24-year-old Ryan Anderson, a career 38.4 percent three-point shooter who the Hornets acquired this summer from the Orlando Magic in a sign-and-trade, and you've got the basis of a truly solid, young team.
Young teams need time to develop chemistry and take their lumps together, however, as the Oklahoma City Thunder discovered in the first two seasons of Kevin Durant's career.
The Hornets will be back as a true playoff contender sooner rather than later, but this season, they'll have one eye on the 2013 draft at all times.
Sooner or later, all of these lottery picks will start panning out for the Sacramento Kings... right?
They currently have on the roster: Tyreke Evans, the No. 4 pick from the 2009 draft; DeMarcus Cousins, the No. 5 pick from the 2010 draft; Jimmer Fredette, the No. 10 pick from the 2011 draft; and they just added Thomas Robinson, the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft.
If Evans can find his rookie-season groove again, where he became only the fourth rookie ever to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game (Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James being the other three), the Kings could be sneaky good this year. From the sound of things, he's been putting in the requisite work this summer.
The Robinson-Cousins frontcourt should be given plenty of time this season to learn each others' strengths, as the Kings presumably build around this core for the future.
All of that youth in a starting lineup will likely lead to at least 45-50 losses, though, which should be enough to keep the Kings out of the playoffs yet again.
If Evans doesn't pan out this season, it's not inconceivable that the Kings could trade him and start anew at the 3 with a high first-round draft pick.
Now that the Phoenix Suns have finally traded away Steve Nash, there's no telling how this next season goes for them, given the Frankenstein-esque lineup they've assembled.
The Suns re-acquired Goran Dragic this summer after trading him to Houston 18 months ago, signed former Minnesota Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley to a three-year, $18 million deal, then traded away Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick for Wesley Johnson and a first-round pick. The Suns also picked up Luis Scola after the Houston Rockets amnestied him this summer.
Phoenix largely lacks conventional froncourt depth, especially at the 5 behind Marcin Gortat, but could cause matchup problems with the small lineups they run out this season.
Unfortunately, in a beefed-up Western Conference where 10 teams host realistic playoff aspirations, the Suns likely won't be able to keep up this season.
Instead, they'll be focused on the 2013 draft, where they'll hope to find either a shooting guard to replace Johnson if he doesn't pan out, or some much-needed frontcourt depth.
The Houston Rockets went all-in on the gamble to trade for Dwight Howard this summer, but the L.A. Lakers caused that plan to crash-and-burn.
Now, the Rockets are stuck paying $50 million combined to Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin over the next three seasons, with no real hope of making the playoffs either this season or next.
To their credit, the Rockets are aplomb with young talent, after having finagled their way into three first-round 2012 draft picks (Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, Terrence Jones). Assuming shooting guard Kevin Martin leaves after this season once his contract expires, the Rockets have both Toney Douglas and Lamb ready to replace him.
At power forward, the trio of Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris and White give the Rockets some potential tradable assets down the line, too.
This may not be what general manager Daryl Morey had in mind at the beginning of the summer, but at least the Rockets have finally transitioned into the full "young players and draft picks" rebuild mode. Expect that to continue through next summer.
Of any teams on this list, the Detroit Pistons and the team on the next slide are the two I'd be least surprised by if they made the playoffs this season.
It all starts with Greg Monroe, who finished fifth last season in terms of Most Improved Player voting. The second-year center averaged 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in only 31.5 minutes per game last season, suggesting that the sky could be the limit for his potential.
Pairing him alongside the raw-but-talented Andre Drummond, the No. 9 pick from the 2012 draft, could soon give the Pistons a potential advantage over every team in the league not named the Los Angeles Lakers. A Monroe-Drummond frontcourt could be the class of the Eastern Conference within the next few years.
The Pistons have more questions in the backcourt, with Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey tentatively penciled in as starters at the 1 and 2, with longtime Piston Tayshaun Prince at the 3.
Detroit could very realistically scrape together a 35-40 win season if things break right, but here's guessing that Drummond needs one season to acclimate to the NBA before embarking on his world domination tour with Monroe.
Like the Detroit Pistons, the Washington Wizards aren't that far off from being legitimate playoff contenders.
The Wizards rocked the boat this summer by trading Rashard Lewis' massive expiring contract to the New Orleans Hornets for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, suddenly giving the Wizards a legitimate frontcourt.
With 2010 No. 1 pick John Wall at the point, the Wizards drafted shooting guard Bradley Beal from Florida with the No. 3 pick in this summer's draft, giving the team a young backcourt for the future.
A starting five of Wall-Beal-Ariza-Nene-Okafor is no slouch, to say the least. If the Wizards can largely avoid the injury bug and other Eastern Conference teams aren't so lucky, they could easily sneak into the playoffs as the No. 7 or No. 8 seed.
The Eastern Conference only got more top-heavy this summer, though. In all likelihood, the Wizards have one more season to go before returning to the realm of playoff contenders.