ETA for Every NBA Team Realistically Contending for a Title

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 18, 2012

ETA for Every NBA Team Realistically Contending for a Title

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    In the world of the NBA, nothing is as satisfying as a title and a chance to proudly hold up the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

    Each team has an ETA for its next realistic shot at a championship, but not all of those ETAs lead to the title arriving on time. 

    So, what's a good estimated time of arrival for each of the 30 teams in the league? To answer the question, I've broken the league down into three tiers. 

    The first tier is comprised of the eight teams that could win a championship at the end of the 2012-13 season. They all have an ETA of just one year, as each squad is fully capable of realizing its dreams once the current regular season and subsequent postseason draw to a close. 

    Second is a tier comprised of 10 teams. These franchises won't have much of a shot at a championship in 2012-13, but each of them is uniquely qualified to take home the title in the two-to-three years following. They have a solid number of building blocks, but a few more pieces are necessary. 

    The third tier, which you don't really want your team to be in, is populated by 12 squads. Appropriately labeled "It's Going to Be a While," this grouping contains the franchises that won't be holding any hardware for at least four more seasons.

    These ETAs are optimistic for the most part. They just aren't too optimistic. 

    It's also important to note that no team has an ETA of more than five years. Of course, all 30 teams can't win titles in just five years, but it would be foolish to count any of the franchises in the Association out of the championship picture for a longer amount of time. 

    Five years is a long period. A lot can change. If the Boston Celtics can win a title just one year removed from a season-long stretch of futility in 2006-07 that left them with a 24-58 record, then anything can happen in five years. 

    To find out which tier your favorite team falls into, read on. 

    Note: All stats are current through Monday, Dec. 17. 

Tier 3: It's Going to Be a While

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    There are a number of teams in the NBA that don't really have a shot at a title during any of the next three seasons. 

    There are just too many pieces that need to be moved around and/or too many years under some stars' belts for these teams to have a realistic shot at the Larry O'Brien Trophy in the near future. 

    Let's find out which ones we're talking about. 

Charlotte Bobcats

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    The Charlotte Bobcats have a number of intriguing pieces to build around. Kemba Walker has the potential to be an All-Star guard, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has an insanely high ceiling, but he's more of a lockdown defender who does the little things on offense than a player who takes the game over. 

    It's hard to envision either of them leading an NBA team to the promised land, but they're clearly the most promising players on this roster. 

    Charlotte is a few stellar draft picks—and maybe a marquee free-agent signing—away from contending for a title. Even if the Bobcats hit the jackpot a few times, it still takes time to develop both skills and chemistry. 

    ETA: Five years

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Kyrie Irving is an unbelievable talent, but it's hard to envision the rest of the pieces around him ever evolving into a title-contending unit. While the dynamic point guard was sidelined by a finger injury, the Cavs could only manage a 2-9 record. 

    That's not a fluke. Anderson Varejao is a great player, and Dion Waiters has some great scoring ability, but they aren't true game-changers. Waiters could be at some point, but that time has not yet arrived. 

    Cleveland has a few pieces in place, but the rebuilding process of the post-LeBron James era is by no means nearing completion.

    ETA: Five Years 

Dallas Mavericks

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    The Dallas Mavericks are by no means as bad as the other teams that populate this tier. Right now, the Mavericks are true contenders for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but you'd have a tough time convincing anyone that this squad can win a playoff series. 

    That's true even when Dirk Nowitzki returns. 

    While Dallas is a solid team, it's one without an elite-level ceiling. And that won't change as Dirk—the centerpiece of the Mavericks, despite the acquisition of O.J. Mayo—continues to age and decline, no matter how slight that decline might be. 

    Dallas is going to need to go through a bit of rebuilding before there's any hope of a 2011 repeat. 

    ETA: Five years

Detroit Pistons

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    Greg Monroe has already established himself as a franchise player. Andre Drummond is disproving everyone who called him a potential draft bust and impressing as a rookie, giving every indication that he'll be a contributor for a long time. 

    Kyle Singler has also impressed during his rookie season. But Brandon Knight during his sophomore campaign? Not so much. 

    Unless Knight improves dramatically, it's going to be a long road for the Pistons. Even with the aforementioned players, they're a long way from a playoff spot, much less a title. 

    ETA: Five years

Orlando Magic

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    The Orlando Magic's five leading scorers during the 2012-13 season have been Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis, J.J. Redick, Jameer Nelson and Nikola Vucevic. 

    Does that sound like a team that's anywhere close to contending for a title?

    The Orlando Magic are the truest test of my willingness to stick to the five-year rule detailed in the opening slide. 

    ETA: Five years

Sacramento Kings

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    DeMarcus Cousins has incredible potential just waiting to be tapped into. Of course, that would require that the former Kentucky Wildcat get his head screwed on straight and stay suspension-free and willing to work hard for an entire season. 

    The problem is the rest of the roster. 

    Thomas Robinson hasn't lived up to the billing during the early portion of his rookie season, and that's a scary thought because Robinson was viewed as so NBA-ready coming out of Kansas. 

    All the other high-end talent resides in the Sacramento backcourt, and it's a logjam at best. 

    Five years is the best realistic expectation, and that's being generous. It's quite possible that the city of Sacramento never experiences an NBA title...

    ETA: Five years

Utah Jazz

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    The Utah Jazz are a low-level playoff contender in the Western Conference during the 2012-13 season, but that's the peak for the near future. This squad won't be able to win a playoff series during the current campaign, and it'll be losing one or more of its best players during the summer. 

    Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Mo Williams will all be unrestricted free agents once the 2012-13 season draws to a close, and it's hard to argue that any players on the roster are better than those three at the moment. 

    Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and others might get there one day, but losing any of the aforementioned trio will certainly hurt and push the Jazz firmly into rebuilding mode. 

    It's hard to imagine Utah paying all of them, especially with the young big men waiting in the wings. 

    ETA: Five years

Washington Wizards

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    Even John Wall isn't enough to immediately save this team. And that's assuming that the former No. 1 draft pick finally lives up to the hype and blossoms into an elite floor general. 

    The Washington Wizards might have a few keepers scattered across the rather inept roster, but they're more the role-player variety. Last I checked, you needed more than role players with one potential star (two if you believe in Bradley Beal) to win a title in a deep and talented NBA landscape. 

    Washington needs to win the lottery and land a few elite talents before it has any chance of even making the playoffs. 

    I have no choice but to give the Wizards the maximum ETA. 

    ETA: Five years

Houston Rockets

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    The Houston Rockets have a dynamic young trio and a boatload of supporting pieces, but chemistry and development can take quite some time. 

    I'm not ready to push the Rockets into the next group, although they do have the shortest timetable of any team in this tier of NBA franchises. 

    James Harden should continue to dominate offensively while Omer Asik cleans up on the boards and plays stellar defense for a long time. If Jeremy Lin finds his shot and learns to play comfortably when he's not dominating the ball, this team has upper-level potential in the near future. 

    However, a trio can't win a title unless it's comprised of Hall of Famers or surrounded by top-notch role players. Until Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Royce White, Scott Machado and Donatas Motiejunas develop, that's not going to happen. 

    ETA: Four years

New Orleans Hornets

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    The New Orleans Hornets have a roster capable of winning an NBA title, but it's going to take a lot. Everything has to go the right way, and the calendar will have to flip over a few times so that the young guns can develop. 

    If Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers—especially The Brow—live up to their respective draft-day hype, the future Pelicans will have quite the core to build around. Throw in Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon (if he can ever get healthy and decides to stay in the Bayou) and the potential is endless. 

    As any rookie players do, Davis and Rivers will take time to morph into stars that can dominate on a nightly basis when the competition is at its toughest. And as they're the ones that will put this team over the top, it's hard to imagine a title run in the immediate future. 

    ETA: Four years

Phoenix Suns

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    The Phoenix Suns have a balanced roster filled with a bunch of good players. They just struggle to find the truly great ones. 

    In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that the Suns have a single player capable of making an All-Star roster. Marcin Gortat might have looked like such a player last year, but his success can now be partially attributed to the excellence of Steve Nash in the pick-and-roll game. 

    Goran Dragic is the best player in the desert and the No. 1 shot at an All-Star berth, but he's an excellent point guard just falling short of elite status in a league filled with excellent players at his position. 

    The Suns need to get lucky in the draft a few times, which will be difficult to do when they're landing low-level lottery slots. And even after that, they'll need to properly develop the players while holding onto the good current ones. 

    ETA: Four years

Toronto Raptors

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    If the Toronto Raptors can turn Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani into a good deal by trading the two players to a contender, then the timetable will be accelerated north of the border. 

    The chemistry may not be there right now—injuries are certainly playing a part—but the talent is. 

    Kyle Lowry is one of the better point guards in the league when he's healthy, and he was playing like an MVP candidate before that pesky injury imp knocked him out of the lineup. DeMar DeRozan is improving, although his jumper still his a long way to go, and remains a potent scorer. 

    Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas have also displayed their potential quite often during their rookie seasons with the Raptors. 

    There's a lot of roster shuffling that needs to be done in Toronto, but there's a lot of talent present as well. 

    ETA: Four years

Tier 2: The Next 2-3 Years

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    These teams aren't capable of winning an NBA title this year, but the potential is there as soon as the 2013-14 season kicks off. Again, this is assuming that things go right for the 10 franchises in this tier. 

    The squads presented in the next 10 slides are all decent ones. Some more decent than others. You might even see a few of the fringe contenders for the present season in here. 

    So, let's see who we're talking about. 

Golden State Warriors

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    The Golden State Warriors have been one of the biggest—and most fun—surprises of the 2012-13 season, but Mark Jackson's squad needs one more key contributor before it's ready to win a title. 

    Ideally, that contributor can play up-tempo offense and still settle in as a lockdown defender. The Dubs have a number of offensive pieces, but none of them excel on the defensive end of the court. 

    Andrew Bogut might help with the less glamourous part of the game, but his immobility could also cause problems when the Warriors want to run. It's tough to believe that he's the piece that will push this squad over the top. 

    In all likelihood, the finishing piece of the puzzle isn't on the roster right now, even if Harrison Barnes continues to develop in a positive manner. 

    ETA: Three years

Indiana Pacers

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    The Indiana Pacers were supposed to be contenders during the 2012-13 season. Their scrappy, hard-nosed, talented roster almost guaranteed it. 

    Then Danny Granger had to go and get hurt, essentially flushing the hopes of a strong start down the drain. 

    The Pacers still have potential, but the lack of depth is a little bit scary. That's not something that Granger's eventual return can fix. 

    Indiana will still be a good team, but it isn't going to win a title until free agency or the draft results in another contributor or two. 

    ETA: Three years

Milwaukee Bucks

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    The Milwaukee Bucks have a few nice pieces to build around, but they don't have a sufficient number of elite players yet. 

    Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings certainly fit the billing, but the Bucks need help in the frontcourt before they can truly compete at the highest level. Larry Sanders appears to be on his way, although it's hard to believe that the young big man can rise much higher than the level he's currently at. 

    A return to the 2011-12 level from Ersan Ilyasova would be helpful, but the Bucks need to hang onto their two star guards and add a frontcourt piece or two in the next offseason. 

    ETA: Three years

Portland Trail Blazers

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    The Portland Trail Blazers have a starting five that is fully capable of winning an NBA title as soon as the 2013-14 season, but the complete lack of bench depth will prevent them from doing so. 

    As good as Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson may be, the reserves are that bad. You don't want to be going to war with Ronnie Price, Sasha Pavlovic, Victor Claver, Jared Jeffries, Meyers Leonard, Nolan Smith, Elliot Williams, Will Barton, Luke Babbitt and Joel Freeland on the bench. 

    Quite frankly, referring to the Blazers' depth chart isn't accurate. It's more of a shallow chart. 

    Until that changes—which it should over the next offseason—it's hard to imagine Portland winning a title. 

    ETA: Three years

Atlanta Hawks

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    The Atlanta Hawks aren't quite good enough to win a title this year, although they could put a serious scare into a number of true contenders with their suffocating defense and ability to light it up from downtown. 

    That could change next year, as general manager Danny Ferry did a masterful job of clearing out some cap space for a shot at some marquee free agents during his first full offseason in Atlanta. 

    As long as Josh Smith is retained and paired up with Al Horford in the post, this is going to be a good team. Add one more key guy and bring back the role players, and you could be looking at a trophy as soon as next season. 

    ETA: Two Years

Brooklyn Nets

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    The Brooklyn Nets now have a ton of talent, especially with Brook Lopez at least attempting to couple decent rebounding and defensive skills with his stellar offensive output, but it will take a year for this squad to fully mesh. 

    Deron Williams has been struggling to adjust to the star-studded lineup and barely resembles his Utah Jazz doppelgänger. Once everything clicks in his head and his shot starts falling, the result could be rather scary. 

    Brooklyn definitely has the potential to win a title with the current makeup of the roster, but it takes time for all the pieces to come together. 

    ETA: Two years

Denver Nuggets

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    With the exception of the player names, everything said about the Brooklyn Nets can apply to the Denver Nuggets as well. Just replace "Deron Williams" and "Utah Jazz" with "Andre Iguodala" and "Philadelphia 76ers" and we're just about golden. 

    The Nuggets—who played 18 of their first 25 games on the road during the 2012-13 season, which resulted in a deceivingly mediocre record—have a deep, talent-laden roster. It's just tough to imagine them overcoming the wealth of elite teams in the Western Conference during their first year with a new star player. 

    One more year of chemistry-bulding and growth for the younger and more inexperienced players will do wonders. 

    ETA: Two years

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Sorry, Los Angeles Lakers fans. A title just ain't happening this year. 

    Right now, you should be focusing on making the playoffs, not holding up a trophy at the end of the postseason. 

    That said, this squad still features a ridiculous amount of talent. Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash on one team? No matter how bad the chemistry and system might be, that's still an almost unfair amount of talent. 

    It's hard to believe that Kobe and Co. can turn things around quickly enough to hold up the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of the 2012-13 campaign, but a full offseason together and more experience under their collective belt will do wonders. 

    Of course, this is assuming that Dwight returns to the Staples Center. 

    ETA: Two years

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    These Minnesota Timberwolves are for real. 

    With Ricky Rubio back in the lineup, the Wolves could very well prove me wrong and earn a spot in the highest tier, but that's an unlikely scenario. As good as the Spanish point guard and Kevin Love might be, they could still use another year of development from a few key players. 

    The 2013-14 season is when Minnesota will be truly scary. 

    It's time for "KAAAAAAAAAHN" to take on a new meaning. 

    ETA: Two years

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Thanks to the advanced development of Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner, the Philadelphia 76ers are happily rolling along during the 2012-13 season. A 12-12 record is about the best that could have been expected without Andrew Bynum playing a single minute. 

    And that's the key. Andrew Bynum. 

    When the center, one of the league's best players at his position, returns to health, this team immediately becomes dangerous to the best that the NBA has to offer. Of course, it will also change the playing style rather dramatically. 

    If and only if Bynum recovers and remains healthy (and stays a Sixer, of course), Philly will be extremely threatening during the 2013-14 season. 

    ETA: Two years

Tier 1: Teams That Could Win This Year

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    Now we come to the final tier of teams. 

    It should come as no surprise that these eight squads are fully capable of winning a title during the 2012-13 season. As a result, they all have an ETA of just a single year. 

    Of course, only one team will actually emerge victoriously at the end of the postseason, but these are the teams with the best shot. 

Boston Celtics

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    The Boston Celtics haven't lived up to the lofty expectations during the early portion of the 2012-13 season, but it's tough to bet against them making some noise in the playoffs. 

    Paul Pierce is eventually going to remember how to shoot the basketball consistently, and Jeff Green, Jason Terry, Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee will eventually turn it on. Plus, the return of Avery Bradley will only help. 

    The C's might not be glamorous, but they'll hang around all year long. 

    ETA: One year

Chicago Bulls

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    The Chicago Bulls are leading the Central Division with a 13-10 record, and they haven't had the benefit of Derrick Rose's skills in the lineup yet. 

    If Rose is back to full strength at the end of the regular season, the Bulls won't just be contenders; they'll be one of the favorites in the entire NBA. Even if the dynamic floor general is playing at a sub-MVP level, the Bulls will still be incredibly potent. 

    ETA: One year

Los Angeles Clippers

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    The Los Angeles Clippers have won 10 games in a row, and Chris Paul hasn't topped the 20-point threshold in any of them. He hasn't needed to. 

    CP3 and Blake Griffin give the Clippers the star power necessary to be the best resident of the Staples Center during the 2012-13 season, but the Clips also have a significant amount of depth. Bringing Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe in off the bench is almost like cheating. 

    L.A. will continue to hang around the top of the standings throughout the year. 

    ETA: One year

Memphis Grizzlies

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    The starting five for the Memphis Grizzlies may be better than any other starting lineup in the NBA. That's just what happens when you can throw out Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol on a nightly basis. 

    Add in a little bit of depth and you have have a terrific title-contending recipe. 

    Of the Western Conference teams featured in this tier, the Grizz are easily the most surprising (if you're looking at this through a pair of glasses you bought before the start of the 2012-13 season). That doesn't mean they're any less likely to win. 

    ETA: One year

Miami Heat

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    Here's all the evidence you need in two words: LeBron James. 

    Fortunately for the Miami Heat, though, they have plenty more than just the best player in basketball. Dwyane Wade might not be playing at his typical level, but it's not like he's anything less than an All-Star. And let's not forget about this guy named Chris Bosh

    The reigning champions might not be winning games at the same rate we expected, but four of their six losses have come to teams in this tier. 

    ETA: One year

New York Knicks

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    The New York Knicks, thanks to the inspired play of Carmelo Anthony on both ends of the court, are already among the true elites in the NBA during the 2012-13 season. 

    Things will only get better after the return of a certain player to the lineup. 

    Once Iman Shumpert is back in the shooting guard rotation, the New York defense will be all the more potent, boasting the league's best interior defender and one of the premier perimeter stoppers. He might be in just his second season out of Georgia Tech, but Shumpert can already be a difference-maker for this title contender. 

    ETA: One year

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    The Oklahoma City Thunder made it to the NBA Finals at the conclusion of the 2011-12 campaign, and they may have gotten better during the offseason. 

    Trading James Harden for Kevin Martin (the other parts that changed hands to make the deal possible are important, but aren't quite worth explicitly diving into here) might have been seen as a strange move at the time, but we should have learned by now to always trust Sam Presti. 

    Martin has been more than capable as a primary scorer off the bench, and the move has allowed Serge Ibaka to truly blossom into an offensive force. His improvement on both ends of the court has been incredibly important for the Thunder. 

    Plus, OKC still has Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the roster. 

    ETA: One year

San Antonio Spurs

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    Haven't we learned by now to never count the San Antonio Spurs out? Could this finally be the year that Gregg Popovich's squad doesn't catch everyone by surprise at the end of the regular season? 

    Tim Duncan is a cyborg, completely unaffected by old age. Manu Ginobili continues to play well. Tony Parker might be having his best season yet. 

    And, of course, the Spurs have plenty of depth. The role players understand their jobs perfectly and thrive in Popovich's system, which is just as important as the star power atop the depth chart. 

    Just as has been the case for what seems like forever, the Spurs are a legitimate threat to win another title. 

    ETA: One year