7 Contenders That Will Be Afterthoughts Within 3 Years

Sebastian LenaAnalyst ISeptember 12, 2013

7 Contenders That Will Be Afterthoughts Within 3 Years

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    Becoming a NBA contender is no easy feat.

    Some teams choose to reach that plateau by building up through the draft. Others opt to stack up the roster through free agency and via trades. Regardless of the method, it takes consistency to compete year in and year out.

    Without it, you’ve got yourself a one-way ticket to obscurity.

    For these seven current contenders, the future doesn’t look too bright.

Dallas Mavericks

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    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    Dirk Nowitzki (2014)
    Vince Carter (2014)
    Shawn Marion (2014)
    Monta Ellis (2015; Player option)
    Brandan Wright (2015)

     

    The Lowdown

    Sure, Dwight Howard may have been the Mavericks' top target this offseason. However, Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon aren’t that bad of a consolation prize.

    In fact, Dallas should be a significantly better team in 2013-14 than they were last year.

    It’s beyond that when the future starts to get murky.

    Next summer, the Mavericks’ top-three scorers will all be free agents. That means Dirk Nowitzki (17.3 PPG), Vince Carter (13.4) and Shawn Marion (12.1) could all be walking out the door.

    But at 36, 37 and 36 respectively, would the team really want them back?

    OK, a case could be made for Nowitzki’s return. But even still, his production has been on a down slope since 2009. In fact, his scoring output last season was his lowest total since his rookie campaign.

    With that said, Calderon and a crop of young potential talent will likely not be enough to persuade Ellis to stay on past the 2014-15 season. He’ll be 29 by that point. Ellis didn’t leave the Milwaukee Bucks only to go through another rebuild.

    This may be Dallas’ last shot.

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    Zach Randolph (2014; Player option)
    Marc Gasol (2015)
    Mike Conley (2016)

     

    The Lowdown

    The Grizzlies recorded the best season in franchise history last year, posting a record of 56-26. It all culminated in the team’s first-ever trip to the Western Conference Finals.

    But don’t expect that success to repeat itself in 2013-14.

    Sure, Memphis finished last season as the best defense in the league, limiting opponents to just 89.3 points per game. However, the team’s offense was just as ineffective, averaging only 93.4 points a night—27th in the NBA.

    Defense may win championships, but it takes an offense to get you there in the first place.

    Then there’s the matter of Zach Randolph.

    He’s 32 and set to make $18.2 million this year. The only problem is, Randolph doesn’t deserve it.

    After averaging 17 or more points from 2003-11, the 12-year veteran’s production has dipped off. The 15.4 points per game he averaged last season was his second-lowest output since 2002-03.

    The other occurrence? 2011-12, when Randolph averaged 11.6 points per night in an injury-shortened campaign.

    He has a player option of $16.9 million for next season. It’s a contract the Grizzlies hope Randolph opts out of. The team could seriously use that money to bring in some more perimeter shooters.

    Without them, Memphis will have to settle for simply being that team that always comes up just short of the ultimate prize.

Brooklyn Nets

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    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    Andrei Kirilenko (2014; Player option)
    Paul Pierce (2014)
    Kevin Garnett (2015)
    Joe Johnson (2016)
    Deron Williams (2016; Early termination offer)

     

    The Lowdown

    If the Nets don’t win now, who knows when the team will have another shot at the title.

    As it stands, Brooklyn has the highest payroll in the NBA at $102.2 million. That’s more than $30 million higher than the luxury tax threshold for 2013-14 ($71.7 million).

    Basically, the team has little to no room to maneuver around the cap over the next couple of seasons. So while the rest of the competition is adding new players and improving, the Nets will just sit around and watch as their old roster gets even older.

    In fact, Brooklyn has the league’s second-oldest roster in the league with an average age of 29.1. The starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez has an average age of 31.6.

    Throw in the fact that the Nets traded away their second-round picks in four of the next five drafts and the future is starting to look very bleak.

    This is a franchise that is down to its final out.

New York Knicks

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    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    Carmelo Anthony (2014; Early termination offer)
    Andrea Bargnani (2014; Early termination offer)
    Amar'e Stoudemire (2014; Early termination offer)
    Metta World Peace (2014; Player option)
    J.R. Smith (2015; Player option)
    Raymond Felton (2015; Player option)

     

    The Lowdown

    Much like the Brooklyn Nets, the Knicks are in a bit of a financial crisis.

    Entering this season, the team has a payroll of $78.4 million. That number is set to shoot up to $80.8 million the following year. That leaves New York paying the luxury tax for the next two seasons.

    Again, just like the Nets, the Knicks have also dealt with an aging roster.

    Last year, the team only trailed the Los Angeles Lakers with an effective age of 31. In fact, second-year guard Iman Shumpert was the only heavily utilized player under the age of 27.

    Then that brings us to the uncertainty of next summer’s free agency.

    New York could lose several key players after this season. The most notable of that bunch is Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.

    Anthony has long been considered one of the elite players in the NBA. However, the fact that he has never won a ring has hurt his credentials.

    Unless a big-name free agent decides to call the Knicks home—which is highly unlikely given the team’s financial situation—there’s a good chance this could be Anthony’s final season with New York.

    Regardless if he stays or go, there’s not much to be optimistic about this franchise’s future.

Indiana Pacers

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    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    Danny Granger (2014)
    Paul George (2014; Qualifying offer)
    Roy Hibbert (2015; Player option)
    David West (2015; Player option)

    The Lowdown

    The Pacers came oh so close to reaching the NBA Finals, pushing the eventual-champion Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

    That may be as close as Indiana will get to an NBA title for quite some time. Sure, the team boasted the second-best defense in the league, holding opponents to just 90.7 points per game. However, the Pacers only scored 94.7 per night—23rd in the NBA.

    The only player on the team who could possibly change that—Danny Granger—might soon be on his way out.

    Not to mention, Indiana’s bench production was downright embarrassing last season. According to Hoopsstats.com, the team ranked 29th in the league in the category, receiving an average of 23.5 points per game from its reserves.

    Then there’s the matter of the summer of 2015, when both David West and Roy Hibbert have player options.

    What if the Pacers underperform over the next two years? What would be the incentive for Hibbert and a 35-year-old West to return?

    That’s the difficulty that comes with the territory of being a small-market team.

San Antonio Spurs

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    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    Tony Parker (2014; Non-guaranteed)
    Tim Duncan (2014; Player option)
    Manu Ginobili (2015)
    Danny Green (2015)

     

    The Lowdown

    If only the Spurs came down with one final defensive rebound in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. San Antonio would be champions for the fifth time since 1999 and this offseason would be completely different.

    Instead, the team looks set to make one final run at the trophy before ushering in a new era.

    Although Tim Duncan put together one of the better performances of his 16-year career last season—17.8 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.7 BLKPG—he’s still set to turn 38 in April. With a player option coming up next summer, the chances of him coming back are pretty slim.

    Not to mention, the Spurs will also have to decide whether they want to guarantee the $12.5 million of Tony Parker’s contract for 2013-14. If Duncan leaves, the answer would likely be no.

    Add to that the struggles of Manu Ginobili, who had one of the worst years of his career, averaging his lowest scoring output (11.8 PPG) since his rookie season. He may be signed for two more years, but San Antonio shouldn’t expect too much out of him.

    There’s a good chance that by the 2015-16 season, the Spurs could be without the Big Three that kept them relevant year in and year out.

    It’ll be tough to bounce back from that.

Miami Heat

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    Notable Upcoming Free Agents

    LeBron James (2014; Early termination offer)
    Dwyane Wade (2014; Early termination offer)
    Chris Bosh (2014; Early termination offer)
    Ray Allen (2014)
    Mario Chalmers (2014)

    The Lowdown

    Unless the Heat win their third straight NBA title this season, it’s the end of the road for LeBron James in Miami. And if James leaves, expect a domino effect to ensue.

    Not only will Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh likely leave, but head coach Erik Spoelstra—his contract is up after 2013-14—might bolt as well.

    Having won two championships with the Heat, James will feel as if he’s accomplished all he can with this team. Not to mention, Wade—who looked nothing like his former self for much of last year’s postseason—and Bosh aren’t the same players they were in 2010.

    There’s a good chance James will seek out a new cast of characters elsewhere to further build his legacy. A return to the Cleveland Cavaliers is even possible.

    But where does that leave Miami when the dust settles?

    The best guess is that the Heat will be a team in shambles. With a roster lacking much youth—the team led the league in average roster age at 30.4—Miami will be lacking players to build around. It doesn’t help that the team has no first-rounder in 2015.

    It’s back to the drawing board for Heat president Pat Riley.

     

    All salary information is courtesy of Hoopsworld.com

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