6 NBA Teams That Are One Piece Away from Competing for a Title
The talent level in the NBA is as high as it has been in over a decade and new superstars seem to be sprouting every season. Kyrie Irving was last season’s breakout star, and many expect Anthony Davis to take that crown this season.
Meanwhile, the NBA’s new luxury tax system begins next summer, which could put a financial restraint on how the league’s richest teams spend their money and limit how they acquire players.
While the league’s elite teams are likely set in stone for the next few seasons, there are a handful of teams that are one piece away from being in the discussion.
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Not only are the Denver Nuggets the deepest team in the league, but they can also put together one of the most compelling packages for a star player. However, they might not need to. George Karl’s lineup is legitimately 10-deep with size, speed and athleticism at every position—all on reasonable contracts to boot.
Additionally, Denver is only $4 million over the salary cap, which gives it plenty of flexibility to make a move before entering the luxury tax. Even if the Nuggets were to acquire another large salary, they could still stay below the tax threshold due to previous great salary cap management by Masai Ujiri.
Keep an eye on the trade deadline rumors because the Nuggets could be a major player if a star player becomes available.
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The addition of Andrew Bynum provides Doug Collins a player Eastern Conference teams cannot match up with—no disrespect to Roy Hibbert. Andre Iguodala was versatile and played extremely well under Doug Collins, but the team looks far more intriguing with Bynum’s scoring and defense in the middle.
The problem is that Philadelphia lacks a true second option. Thaddeus Young has shown he is not that type of player, despite his solid overall play. Jrue Holiday is developing into one of the better young point guards in the league, but he is not a reliable scorer. Evan Turner still has a ways to go before he can be counted on as a go-to scorer.
With a little more firepower they can absolutely win the East.
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The Utah Jazz are absolutely loaded with young talent and have a scoring machine in Al Jefferson. Derrick Favors looks ready for a breakout season, following his stellar second-half play. Gordon Hayward is a versatile wing that every team in the league would love to have. Oh yeah, and then there is Alec Burks, who looks like a 20-point-per-game scorer already.
Additionally, the Jazz have a plethora of trade pieces that could be packaged to bring in a quality lead guard, something the team desperately needs. If new general manager Dennis Lindsey, an ex-Spurs executive, acquires a talented point guard, the Jazz will be serious contenders in the Western Conference.
New York Knicks
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There's certainly no shortage of firepower on the New York Knicks, led by Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire; however, the roster has struggled to mesh together and might need another piece in order to keep up with the Eastern Conference’s best.
The problem is the Knicks are limited in ways to improve, due to being above the luxury tax for the foreseeable future, and lack assets to offer in trades. Expect James Dolan to target two-way veterans who are bought out before the playoff rosters are set.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on the recovery status of Iman Shumpert’s ACL. Shumpert was an absolute terror on defense last season. His return and the addition of a quality veteran near the trade deadline could definitely make the Knicks title contenders, especially if they can avoid playing the Miami Heat early in the playoffs.
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What is not to like about the Indiana Pacers? They have a good starting five, play strong defense, have talented young players and have a center that can cause matchup problems for nearly every team in the league. While they might not have the star quality of the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics, the Pacers have been one of the best-run organizations in the league over the past five years, and it shows.
Larry Bird and David Morway are no longer in charge but turned the keys over to Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard. Do not be surprised if the duo finds a way to acquire another quality player to put them over the top.
The Pacers only have $49 million in salary committed for next season, including Danny Granger’s expiring contract, leaving plenty of flexibility to make a significant move.
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Mikhail Prokhorov spent over $340 million this offseason, revamping the Brooklyn Nets into a playoff team as they complete their move to Brooklyn. Re-signing Deron Williams was vital to the Nets' future, but nobody expected them to trade for Joe Johnson and the remaining $89 million owed on his contract.
While the starting five is one of the best in the NBA, the bench is severely lacking. The Nets might not be ready to compete for a title this season, but they are an offseason away from acquiring a bench piece or two that can make them elite in the Eastern Conference.
Furthermore, the Brooklyn Nets’ best scenario to improve their roster is for Brook Lopez to develop into a 20-point, 10-rebound center. Lopez is the wild card in the Nets lineup, and reasonable development into one of the game’s better big men is undoubtedly the piece the Nets are missing.