One Reason for Every NBA Team to Believe Future Is Bright
Your favorite NBA team not doing so hot? Haven't made the playoffs since your senior year of high school, you say? Your star player bolted in free agency, calling a one-hour special to rip the city's heart out?
I feel you.
Such is the life of the sports fan, where we continually watch others win while our team continually lets us down. It can be tough sometimes, things can get bad, hopes can be shattered and positives are hard to come by.
Fear not, faithful fans, as there is always some light at the end of your team's tunnel.
In the NBA, hope abounds for every basketball team. You just have to know where to look.
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Reason to Believe: Cap space galore
No one in the NBA stands to have more cap space heading into the 2013-14 season than the Atlanta Hawks, according to HoopsHype.com.
With just $18 million in committed salaries thanks to the Joe Johnson trade, Atlanta can be a major player in free agency this summer and next. Players like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Al Jefferson and their own Josh Smith will hit the market, with Atlanta looking more and more like an attractive destination.
Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Lou Williams and John Jenkins will all still be under contract, forming a nice young core to build around.
With all the talent the Hawks have, their greatest asset may be their cap space.
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Reason to Believe: Doc Rivers
No matter what the Celtics roster may look like in a season or two, if Rivers is still roaming the sidelines, you can bet Boston will still be good,
Rivers is one of the few elite coaches currently in the NBA, and he has been at the helm of the Celtics for the past nine seasons.
His career has already included an NBA Coach of the Year award, NBA Championship and two 60-plus win seasons.
Sporting a lifetime winning percentage of 55.6 despite coaching some bad Celtics teams in the early-to-mid 2000's, Rivers will always give whatever team he coaches hope.
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Reason to Believe: Retained talent
The Nets have done an excellent job of first securing talent, then locking it up for the next several years.
Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks and Joe Johnson are all under contract until 2016, and Deron Williams' deal won't run out until 2017.
Brooklyn is a team that has enough talent to make a deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs. With a brewing rivalry against the New York Knicks, the Nets are once again an exciting ticket in the USA's largest market.
With so much uncertainty in the NBA, it's nice for Nets fans to know their team should be very good for a very long time.
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Reason to Believe: Kemba Walker's improvement
Walker spent a lot of his offseason just working on his shooting, and it's shown.
Coming off a rookie season that saw him convert just 36.6 percent of his shots from the field, it was clear Walker had a lot of work to do offensively.
To his credit, he's responded nicely this season. Walker's shooting has jumped from 36.6 percent to 42.9, with his points per game increasing from 12.1 to 17.8 a game.
His assists, steals and three-point shooting have all seen improvements as well. Coming from a relatively weak 2011 draft class, Walker looks to have been a great pick for the Cats.
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Reason to Believe: The return of Derrick Rose
In his quest to return from an ACL injury, Rose has been making significant progress in his rehab lately.
The latest report from the Chicago Sun-Times is that Rose is back at practice, taking some contact and even dunking basketballs once again.
This is fantastic news for the Bulls and their fans, as they've been staying in playoff contention even without their star player.
If Chicago can stay afloat for a few more weeks to let Rose make a more complete recovery, they could be a very, very dangerous team come playoff time.
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Reason to Believe: The fantastic four first-rounders
OK, so maybe they haven't gone by that name just yet, but they definitely should.
Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller are all first-round picks of the Cavaliers the past two seasons and offer the franchise plenty of promise.
Irving (23.5 points, 5.6 assists) could make the All-Star team in just his second pro season, and backcourt mate Waiters (14.1 points, 3.2 assists) is helping to carry the scoring load as well.
Tristan Thompson is thriving with Anderson Varejao out and is close to averaging a double-double for the season at 9.7 points and 9.1 rebounds a night.
Zeller has worked his way into the starting lineup and continues to develop his game.
The Cavs are way ahead of where they were two seasons ago, even if their record doesn't reflect it yet.
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Reason to Believe: Mark Cuban has a plan! Right?
OK, so the plan to lure Deron Williams to Dallas didn't work out, but surely Cuban and company have other moves up their sleeves.
With ample cap space coming up this summer and some big names hitting the market, one can't help but think the Mavericks will throw big money at somebody, anybody, to help Dirk Nowitzki attempt to win another championship in Dallas.
Chris Paul or Dwight Howard would certainly help turn things around in Big D, as they've struggled to a 13-23 record to begin the season.
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Reason to Believe: Youth and speed
The Nuggets are one of the most exciting teams to watch in all of basketball.
Whether it be a Danilo Gallinari three-pointer, a Kenneth Faried power dunk or a JaVale McGee anything, there's never a dull moment while watching a Nuggets game.
While they may have young and fast, they're also very balanced as well. Denver has six players that average over 10 points per game, meaning opponents can't focus on just one or two players to try to shut down.
Nuggets fans have to be excited about their young team as they continue to get better every day.
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Reason to Believe: Twin towers forming
The Pistons have had a lot of questionable drafts in the past, but it appears they've hit on two big ones recently.
Greg Monroe was the Pistons' first-round pick in 2010 out of Georgetown University. The power forward/center is quietly becoming one of the game's best young big men. In this, just his third pro season, Monroe is averaging 15.3 points and 9.1 rebounds while registering a PER of 18.73.
The second part of the towers is Andre Drummond, the ninth overall pick by the Pistons in last June's draft.
Drummond is averaging 7.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just under 20 minutes per game. Stretch these numbers out over a typical starter's 36 minutes, and these averages become 12.9 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. Not too bad for a rookie.
Detroit still needs better play from their wings and point guard, but the future in the paint is looking bright.
Golden State Warriors
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Reason to Believe: The best is yet to come
While the Warriors have sent out a pretty consistent starting lineup this season, there's been one major piece missing.
Center Andrew Bogut, brought over in a trade for Monta Ellis, has played just four games this season due to microfracture surgery.
Despite Bogut being out, the Dubs are off to a 22-12 start, far exceeding most experts' predictions for them. It's scary to imagine what they would be with a healthy Bogut in the starting lineup instead of rookie Festus Ezeli.
While fans should be happy with the team thus far, the best team is definitely yet to come.
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Reason to Believe: James Harden becoming NBA's best shooting guard
While Kobe Bryant has been at the top of the 2-guard list for what seems like forever, Harden has begun nipping at his heels.
Bryant is having a phenomenal season despite the Los Angeles Lakers' struggles, but at 34 years of age could soon be giving up his crown.
In steps Harden for Houston, who at 23 is having a season most retired players can only dream of.
For the year, Harden is averaging 26.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game to go along with a 23.6 PER.
He's not there yet, but before his contract is up with the Rockets, Harden will be the NBA's best at shooting guard.
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Reason to Believe: Paul George and Roy Hibbert
The future of the Pacers relies heavily on two players.
While Hibbert has taken a step back offensively this season, he remains a big man with elite potential. At 7'2", Hibbert is still averaging 8.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. He played very well against the Miami Heat in last year's playoffs and should only get better as he matures.
George is probably the Pacers' best overall player right now, given all that he brings to the table.
At 6'8" and 220 pounds, George can play three positions and is a very good defender on the wing. His points (16.7), rebounds (7.4) and assists (3.7) are all career highs.
Los Angeles Clippers
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Reason to Believe: The rebuilding plan has worked faster than expected
While no one doubted that the Clippers would be a playoff team this season, few could have seen a 28-8 start and the top seed in the Western Conference.
This is exactly what L.A. has done, however, flexing their muscles and beating teams in a variety of ways.
The Clippers are a team that was built on the drafting of Blake Griffin and the trade for Chris Paul. Both have propelled the Clips to such an amazing start, one they don't show any sign of slowing down from.
One has to feel that the future, like the present for L.A., is going to be very, very good.
Los Angeles Lakers
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Reason to Believe: Things can only get better, right?
While a 15-20 start isn't exactly what the Lakers may have had in mind, they are by no means out of playoff or even title contention this season.
With all their health and chemistry problems this year, there are still plenty of games to be played and wounds to heal.
The Lakers simply have too much talent to keep this dismal record for long. What they need, besides healthy players, is a nice winning streak to bring teammates together and bonds to form.
A team like this, given some time and a little momentum, is still a force to be reckoned with.
Don't count the Lakers out yet, as there's still a lot of basketball that needs to be played.
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Reason to Believe: Core talent is locked up
Like the Brooklyn Nets, the Grizzlies have done a great job obtaining and now securing their talent.
Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are all under contract until 2015, and Mike Conley will see his deal run until 2016.
With a 23-10 start to the season, the Grizzlies could make a serious run at a top seed in the Western Conference, thanks in part to the chemistry they've developed over years of playing together.
While trade rumors around Rudy Gay continue to swirl, Memphis has set themselves up to be a great team out West for years to come.
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Reason to Believe: The East is still weak
Miami remains the cream of the Eastern Conference crop, even if they're not playing their best basketball right now.
The Heat have a lot going for them, but maybe nothing is as valuable as playing in the Eastern and not the Western Conference.
In the West, teams No. 1-8 are usually loaded with talent, whereas teams with losing records can still sneak into the playoffs in the East. Miami could play a first-round series while resting either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade and still come out on top.
Their title window is wide open, and it should be another easy rise through the Eastern Conference playoffs for the Heat.
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Reason to Believe: Finding the next Andrew Bogut
When Milwaukee traded oft-injured franchise center Andrew Bogut to the Golden State Warriors last season, it was unclear who would step up in his absence.
The Bucks drafted John Henson out of North Carolina as a rebounder and shot-blocker, but it's been another player who's stepped up and filled that role for them.
Larry Sanders, now in his third pro season, has been huge for Milwaukee while filling Bogut's defensive shoes.
Through 33 games Sanders is averaging 8.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game. His block total is good for first overall in the entire NBA.
While he's not a household name yet, Sanders has been huge in keeping Milwaukee at and above .500 this season.
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Reason to Believe: Winning without their best players
The Wolves have been hard-pressed to field a healthy team all season, yet they still keep winning.
At 16-16 as of January 10th, Minnesota has seen their two star players, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, combine to play in 25 of a possible 64 games.
Brandon Roy, brought in to be the starting shooting guard, lasted just five games before suffering more knee problems.
Minnesota has gotten strong play out of players like Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved that have kept them in playoff contention thus far.
If they can get Rubio and Love together on the court with those already strong players, Minnesota could be one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
New Orleans Hornets
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Reason to Believe: Anthony Davis, Anthony Davis and Anthony Davis
Let's not get cute here, Davis is the future of the New Orleans Hornets.
While Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers can be part of the picture, the Hornets' success moving forward will be entirely up to how far Davis can carry them.
The first overall pick of the 2012 NBA draft, Davis is putting up rookie averages of 13.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
In a few years, there may not be a more complete big man in the game. Davis can score, rebound, pass, block, defend, cook a casserole and whatever else coaches may ask of him.
Davis is the real deal, and he will be an All-Star very soon.
New York Knicks
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Reason to Believe: Amar'e Stoudemire back, scoring off bench
The whole Carmelo Anthony-Amar'e Stoudemire in the same starting lineup thing didn't work out so hot last season, as there was seemingly not enough basketball to go around.
With Stoudemire recently returning to the Knicks lineup from offseason surgery , New York has wisely begun working him back in slowly.
They've also been bringing the star forward off the bench, a move they could very well stick with for the rest of the season. If his ego can take it, the team should do much better with Stoudemire in his new role.
A bench with Stoudemire and J.R. Smith is certainly one loaded with offensive power, and could be tough to deal with in the playoffs.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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Reason to Believe: Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka are all 24 or younger
At the age most of us are just heading into our careers, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka seem to have quite a handle on theirs.
While they lost in the NBA Finals last season to the Miami Heat, one has to remember that they were in middle school when they Heat stars were drafted into the NBA.
As good as OKC is, they still have plenty of room to get better.
With such a young core, one that's under contract for the next four years, the Thunder could feasibly win multiple championships before most even hit the age of 30
Reason to Believe: The 2013 draft
Orlando, while in the process of going through a tough rebuilding year, should have their eyes set on the 2013 NBA draft.
Not only will they have a very high pick, but Orlando will once again have the opportunity to land an elite prospect who can grow to be the face of their franchise.
While players like Nikola Vucevic and Arron Afflalo are nice, neither are going to fill the arena or excite season ticket holders.
The Magic once again need someone to build the team around. They'll likely have to wait until June to find him.
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Reason to Believe: Holiday, Turner taking big steps
Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner may have been the happiest people in Philadelphia the day Andre Iguodala was traded.
The two have seemed to progress greatly in his absence with increased playing time and shot opportunities. Holiday is leading the team in scoring as the starting point guard while Turner has been much improved at both wing positions.
For the season, Holiday is averaging a career-high 18.3 points and 8.8 assists per game while Turner has put up 13.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists a game.
If only a certain big man could get healthy, Philadelphia would have a very balanced, dangerous lineup to compete against.
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Reason to Believe: Strong play at home
The Suns may be having a down year, but season ticket holders are still getting to see good basketball.
As of January 10th, Phoenix had an overall record 12-25, last in the Pacific Division. On the road, the Suns have been even worse statistically with a record of 2-16.
At home, however, the Suns look like a pretty decent team.
Despite being 12-25 overall, Phoenix is 10-9 in their home arena and getting solid play from players like Goran Dragic, Luis Scola and Jared Dudley.
Hopefully this provides some hope for Suns fans going forward, that their team is capable of being a winning ball club if they could improve their play on the road.
Portland Trail Blazers
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Reason to Believe: Lillard and LaMarcus
The next great NBA duo could be making their home in the Pacific Northwest.
In Portland, the Trail Blazers have rookie sensation Damian Lillard leading what has been a very successful 19-15 start to the season.
His 18.2 points are good for second on the team, while his 6.5 assists per game lead Portland.
LaMarcus Aldridge is having another great season, putting up a team-high 20.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
Together, the two form a great inside-outside combination that could even lead to a playoff spot, far surpassing what most experts predicted for the Blazers this season.
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Reason to Believe: DeMarcus Cousins will inevitably get older, and hopefully more mature
Like him or not, Cousins is the best player on the Kings' team.
He leads Sacramento in both scoring (17.2) and rebounding (10.2) while playing less than 31 minutes per night. Few big men are as talented, and few are as immature.
At some point something has to change for Cousins and the Kings.
Either Sacramento has to realize he's not going to change and deal him or force him to change with threat of suspension.
Cousins is too good to be this immature, and at some point a line has to be drawn on his behavior.
San Antonio Spurs
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Reason to Believe: Depth
There may only be three big names associated with the Spurs roster, but their team is certainly deeper than that.
San Antonio is a staple for how a team should be run and managed. They have their share of stars, yes, but what makes this team great now and in the future is their depth at every position.
Players like Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter help round out the Spurs roster and can help carry the load in many statistical categories.
The Spurs are very well constructed from top to bottom and should continue to compete for NBA titles for years.
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Reason to Believe: Kyle Lowry running the show
Lowry's name often goes unmentioned when discussing great NBA point guards.
Expect this to change very soon.
Brought over in a trade from the Houston Rockets last offseason, Lowry is the real deal when it comes to point guard talent.
In his first 22 games as a Raptor, Lowry has averaged 14.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists. Thanks to his strong play, Toronto has risen to 14th overall in points per game (96.7) and 11th overall in assists (22.2).
The Raptors have some other nice young pieces, but none are more valuable to the future than Lowry.
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Reason to Believe: Next wave of bigs
The Jazz have had great big men for the past 20 years, and the tradition looks to live on with their next group of young talent.
From Karl Malone and Carlos Boozer to their current tandem of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, Utah has proved to be quite mountainous when it comes to low-post threats.
With Jefferson and Millsap in the last year of their contracts, the Jazz should feel comfortable knowing they have two great young players in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter ready to step in.
Former top-five draft picks, both are ready for an expanded role and have shown flashes of brilliance in their young careers. Jefferson and Millsap may both move on, and the Jazz could not even blink.
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Reason to Believe: Wins over the NBA's best
While wins in Washington have mostly come from the Redskins lately, the Wizards have had a few significant ones to begin the season.
Washington, just 5-28 as of January 9th, has surprisingly taken down some of the behemoths of the league. The first time was on December 4th, as the Wizards defeated the reigning champion Miami Heat 105-101 to improve to 2-13 at the time.
While this appeared to just be a fluke, Washington shocked the NBA world again as they defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder on January 7th by a score of 101-99.
Wins like this have to give Wizards fans hope, as the team is clearly not giving up despite their less than ideal record.