5 NBA Lottery Teams That Will Make the Playoffs Next Season
The 2013 NBA Playoffs have nearly run their course, as the NBA Finals are approaching. However, once the Finals begin, that leaves 28 other teams that fell short of their dreams of winning a championship.
Several teams have been eliminated for a while now, and they are already looking ahead to the NBA Draft and free agency.
Some teams missed out on the playoffs this season but are in prime position to make a run next year. These are the five teams that showed enough promise late last season and have the assets to become serious playoff contenders in 2014.
Let's Start with the Losers
If five new teams are going to make the playoffs, then that means five teams who made the playoffs this year will have to miss out next year. Unfortunately, it does not look good for the city of Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Lakers had a nightmarish season but still sneaked into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.
Next year will probably be even worse. Kobe Bryant is out with a torn Achilles' heel, and his return has more questions than answers. Dwight Howard is a free agent and is likely on his way out, according to Ryan Rosenblatt of SB Nation. Also, the future of Pau Gasol remains unknown.
The other team that calls the Staples Center its home also has a future full of uncertainty. ESPN's Chris Broussard reported that Clippers guard Chris Paul is unhappy with the Clippers' organization. If Paul bolts L.A. for a new team, the Clippers will be left without their facilitator and will struggle mightily next season.
The Boston Celtics are yet another team with many decisions to make pertaining to their future. They have tried to squeeze out run after run from this core group of players, but this is finally the year they'll break it up and rebuild. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett could be on the move, and the Celts will build around Rondo, but it will be a couple years before they return to the postseason.
The Milwaukee Bucks did in fact make the playoffs this year, even though it was only a brief stint against the defending champions, Miami Heat. Monta Ellis is a free agent this summer and most likely will not be wearing green and red next season. The Bucks have some nice pieces but probably will not have enough firepower to make it to the playoffs, especially if Brandon Jennings wants out as well.
The Atlanta Hawks had a surprisingly good season after losing Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets. This season, they could lose another superstar in Josh Smith. They will have plenty of cap space to sign multiple impact players; however, it is uncertain who they will land in free agency.
If they cannot obtain a top-notch star, they will likely miss out on the playoffs next year. With the hiring of Mike Budenholzer—longtime San Antonio Spurs assistant coach—as the new head coach, as reported by ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the Hawks shouldn't struggle for too long, but they might skip a beat or two.
This season for the Washington Wizards was another disappointing one in the nation's capital. John Wall and Co. missed out on the playoffs once again, finishing 12th place in the Eastern Conference at just 29-53.
The Wizards have not made the playoffs since 2008, but next season could be their return. According to Zach Buckley from Bleacher Report, the Wizards began the season 5-28 without Wall but were 24-20 with him. They also had a 22-16 record when both Wall and Nene were on the court.
The Wizards ranked eighth overall in points allowed per game as well as in ninth in rebounds. If they can continue to defend and crash the boards, they will have a much better year.
With the third overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Washington is projected to take Otto Porter, a dynamic small forward from Georgetown. Porter and last year's third overall pick, Bradley Beal, are both young, talented players who can take on an impact role.
The Wizards cannot really afford any new impact players heading into this season, but they have plenty of young players who are still developing.
If the Wizards can stay healthy, they have a legitimate shot at making a playoff run in the weak Eastern Conference. Even if the playoff appearance is a short one hindered by a top seed, it is still a step in the right direction for this young team.
For the first time in 12 years, the Dallas Mavericks missed out on the playoffs in 2013. The champions from only two seasons ago, the Mavericks had a rough year, especially due to Dirk Nowitzki's knee injury early in the season.
The Mavs finished the year at .500, good for 10th place in a tough Western Conference. Dallas struggled particularly during the beginning of the year when Dirk was sidelined but played much better when he returned to the court.
With the 13th pick in the draft, the Mavs are projected to select Dario Saric, a power forward from Croatia.
With a healthy Dirk and some new, big-impact free agents, the Mavericks' playoff drought shouldn't last for more than a year, and they can begin a new streak of consecutive playoff appearances.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were a trendy pick before this season to make the playoffs. Things did not exactly work out that way, as Minnesota finished 12th place in the West at 31-51.
The Wolves struggled mightily, mostly because of injuries. Their true star in Kevin Love was sidelined in all but 18 games this year. The year before that, flashy point guard Ricky Rubio went down with an ACL tear.
Minnesota has a lot of great pieces in place: a top-tier PG in Rubio, a superstar and Olympic gold medalist in Kevin Love and a proven, Hall of Fame coach in Rick Adelman.
The Wolves have the No. 9 pick in the draft and are projected to take Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a great athlete and terrific shooter out of Georgia. They also have the 26th pick.
Minnesota does not have a ton of financial flexibility, but it does have a little room to bring in some new players as well as bring back some key pieces for the future.
If Minnesota can stay healthy all year long, it can finally burst its way onto the playoff scene—something it hasn't done in 10 seasons. It all depends on if Love and Rubio can stay on the court and perform at their best.
The Toronto Raptors haven't been to the postseason since 2008, but there's a good possibility that next year they can change that. Toronto finished this season as the 10th seed in the East, at 14 games below .500.
Midseason, Toronto traded for star Rudy Gay from Memphis. Gay gives the Raptors a go-to guy in the final minutes of close games. Gay, alongside a quick point guard Kyle Lowry and a talented big man in Andrea Bargnani, gives Toronto enough talent to make a push for the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference.
As Tyler Conway reported, the Raptors signed reigning Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri from Denver as their new General Manager. Ujiri has proven himself to be a quality GM and can add more pieces to an already promising core group of players.
The Raptors do not have any first-round picks (the rights have been traded to Oklahoma City), but Ujiri can still make some moves on draft day to surround his players with more talent. They also do not have much to spend in free agency, which is why they will need Ujiri's creativity to make some good moves for cheap.
If Gay can perform at a star level and can get consistent contributions from his supporting cast, especially Bargnani, then Toronto can sneak into the playoff picture and snag a seventh or eighth seed next season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have not made the playoffs since the departure of MVP LeBron James. They struggled this season, finishing 13th in the East with a record of 24-58.
Despite such a bad year in the standings, Cleveland has a lot of promise for future seasons. It already has a budding superstar in guard Kyrie Irving, who was unable to stay healthy throughout the year.
The Cavaliers had four different players compete in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend, including Irving, as well as forward Tristan Thompson, center Tyler Zeller and guard Dion Waiters. The Cavs also have forward Anderson Varejao and guard C.J. Miles, who can both play some quality minutes. With this core, the future is bright in Cleveland.
Not to mention, Cleveland miraculously won the lottery yet again—the first time being the pick used on Kyrie Irving in 2011 (and don't forget about LeBron James in 2003). The Cavs are projected to take star center Nerlens Noel from Kentucky with the first overall pick.
Another positive for this Cleveland organization is its ability to spend this offseason. Cleveland has plenty of cap space to bring in a big name to join this already talented roster with a No. 1 pick on the way. A max-contract player on this team will make it that much better.
The Cavaliers should be able to clinch a low playoff seed next season. Even if they don't, Cavs fans should be excited because the sky is the limit for this young team, and it will be a powerhouse in the NBA in the near future.
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