10 NBA Teams with Brighter Futures Ahead
In today's NBA, building for the future is as important as competing for championships immediately. Through solid drafting and savvy roster shuffling, some teams have put themselves on the right path for the next few years.
This summer has the potential to swing the fortunes of a number of franchises. With a loaded draft that includes the likes of Duke's Jabari Parker, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart as well as Kansas' Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, this year's lottery could provide teams with superstars to build around.
Meanwhile, in free agency, names such as Luol Deng (Cleveland Cavaliers) and possibly Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks) could be finding new addresses. Even restricted free agents like Greg Monroe (Detroit Pistons) and Gordon Hayward (Utah Jazz) might be on the move.
To make this list, these teams must meet one or more of the following parameters:
- Have a potential star currently on the roster and the pieces to build around him
- Are set up well with cap space and/or future draft picks
- Have the potential to be better than they are right now
Now, some of these teams are contenders that can move up the ranks down the road, while the others are currently in the midst of a promising rebuild. Teams currently among the top spots were left out of consideration since they are already in a position these other teams aspire to be.
As always, reader participation is encouraged. If there are any teams you respectfully disagree with or if there is a franchise that was left off you'd like to make an argument for, feel free to let yourself be heard in the comments section.
New Orleans Pelicans
What They Have
The New Orleans Pelicans hit the jackpot in the 2012 draft when they won the lottery and were able to select Kentucky big man Anthony Davis. In his second season, "The Unibrow" has blossomed into a potential superstar.
He made his first All-Star appearance this year at just 20 years old and is averaging 20.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and a league-leading 2.9 blocks per game. Beyond The 'Brow, the Pellies also have point guard Jrue Holiday, talented yet grossly overpaid guard Eric Gordon and key reserve Tyreke Evans.
Sharpshooting big man Ryan Anderson is also on the roster, but his career has some uncertainty as he's dealing with a herniated disk in his back. Recently, Fox Sports' Jennifer Hale tweeted that Anderson is still experiencing tingling in his fingers.
There's the obvious health issues that could hinder the team's potential. Besides Anderson, Holiday and center Jason Smith have also had their seasons cut short by injuries. Surprisingly, Gordon is still going strong but has had a history of being fragile.
The team also has holes at center and small forward. Davis is capable of eventually being the team's starter at the 5 but seems to have found a comfort zone at power forward. Evans, who has been up and down in his first season in New Orleans, could play some small forward but is best used as a jack-of-all-trades with no set position.
New Orleans, as of right now, may have hurt itself by coming up on the short end of the Holiday trade. With a slim chance of landing in the top five of this year's draft, the team will lose out on adding another piece as well as ruining the possibility of Davis-Nerlens Noel tandem up front.
Time will tell whether that move turns out to be the right decision. The Pelicans also hurt their cap flexibility by giving big money to players who aren't perfect fits such as Gordon and Evans.
What They Have
The Wizards have one of the NBA's best young backcourts in John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall has blossomed into an All-Star and a sure-fire top-five point guard. He's currently averaging 19.9 points, 8.8 assists and two steals per game.
As for Beal, he's averaging 16.9 points per game while establishing himself as one of the league's deadliest shooters by shooting 41 percent from the three-point line. The team also has some quality role players such as Brazilian big man Nene and small forward Martell Webster.
The possibility looms that center Marcin Gortat and forward Trevor Ariza find greener pastures elsewhere this summer. If that happens, the team could use another big man up front to pair with Nene.
The Wizards also need this year's No. 3 overall pick, Otto Porter Jr., to play up to his potential. A top-three pick should average more than 1.7 points per game. Fellow rookie Glen Rice Jr. has battled injuries all season, and the team needs him to develop into a quality role player as well.
Beyond that, Washington could use a couple more pieces on its bench to give it the depth needed for lengthy playoff runs.
What They Have
Like Washington, Phoenix also possesses a dynamic guard tandem in Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Bledsoe was having a career year (18 points, 5.8 assists, 1.5 steals per game) before being sidelined with a knee injury.
When Bledsoe went down, Dragic used that opportunity to play at an All-Star level (even if he didn't get to play in the All-Star Game). He's averaging 20.5 points per game while shooting nearly 51 percent from the field and 41 percent from behind the arc. He's easily been one of the best guards in the NBA this season.
The team is also getting the most from some of its young role players. Miles Plumlee has done a fine job on defense and the glass, as he leads the team in blocks and rebounds. Well-traveled guard Gerald Green is having the best season of his career, averaging 15.6 points per game and shooting 44 percent from the field.
Phoenix also found a gem in hiring former Utah Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek to be its head coach. He's definitely put himself in the running for Coach of the Year and has turned around a team that looked like a tank-job candidate. Going forward, the Suns are set up well with a plethora of future draft picks.
The immediate answer to that question is Bledsoe. He hasn't been seen on the court since Dec. 30. According to Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic, Hornacek expects Bledsoe back next week and might ease him back into the lineup:
You don't know how they'll come back. We might bring Eric off the bench a little bit. We hope he's there at the end of the game. If you throw him right into the starting lineup, it might screw you up for a few games.
As for the future, the Suns are in an interesting yet enviable position. Do they continue to build through the draft with their bevy of picks and wait for the team to develop, or do they cash in now and turn those assets into someone who can help them improve right away?
As good as players like Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker have been, the Suns could use another big name on the wing. Someone like Luol Deng would be a nice addition at small forward. The team also needs Alex Len to continue developing into the franchise center he was drafted to be last summer.
Phoenix isn't missing very much, but it's a matter of how long it is willing to wait to fill those voids.
What They Have
Toronto has a solid one-two punch in All-Star DeMar DeRozan and budding center Jonas Valanciunas that could easily blossom into a good trio if guard Terrence Ross continues to develop. DeRozan's 22.7 points per game is ninth-best in the NBA.
Valanciunas, meanwhile, hasn't had the huge breakout some (myself included) projected before the season, but has still put up modest numbers (10.4 points, 8.5 rebounds a game) in his second season. Ross showed the world what he's capable of back on Jan. 25 when he dropped 51 points in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. He's certainly benefited from the departure of Rudy Gay.
Thanks to GM Masai Ujiri's meticulous reconstructing of the team, Toronto is currently the East's unlikely No. 3 seed at 34-26. With its youth and talent, it could make things interesting in a Eastern Conference that isn't particularly deep.
If point guard Kyle Lowry bolts in free agency this summer, the team will need to hunt for a new floor general. The Raptors must also decide if power forward Amir Johnson is worth picking up a $7 million option, per spotrac, for next season. Otherwise, they could spend that money on an alternative.
Thanks to its recent success, Toronto is out of the sweepstakes for Canadian hero Andrew Wiggins. That means Ujiri is going to have to find some value at the bottom of the first round. The team could also strengthen its second unit as well. The Raptors' bench currently averages 26.5 points per game (24th in the league).
Golden State Warriors
What They Have
How about one of the best starting rotations in the NBA? Stephen Curry is arguably the game's best shooter and a bona fide superstar. When he gets hot, it's must-see television. Fellow guard Klay Thompson continues to get better, and forward Andre Iguodala is the perimeter defender Golden State has been lacking in past seasons.
Up front, power forward David Lee is a double-double machine (tied for ninth with 31 double-doubles this season), and center Andrew Bogut (when healthy) is a factor on both ends of the court. Also, it speaks volumes about your depth when a promising former lottery pick is the sixth-best player on your team.
Harrison Barnes has been inconsistent as the team's sixth man, but he's only 21 years old and will continue to get better. If he sticks around past this season, new addition Steve Blake is a valuable third guard too.
The Warriors are in the top 10 in scoring (10th), rebounds per game (T-2nd), assists per game (10th) and points allowed per game (7th). They could be a very dangerous out in this year's playoffs as well as many postseasons to come.
The answer to that question will probably be exposed in the playoffs. Is the team better in a conventional lineup with Lee at the 4, or would it be better served going small with Barnes in the starting lineup and Lee as the sixth man?
Other than figuring out what rotation works best for them, the Warriors aren't missing much in their quest for an NBA title. Curry can swing a playoff series by himself if his jump shot is working, and now the team has the defense to go along with a dynamic offense.
The team could use another reserve big man, as Jermaine O'Neal is on his last legs. Beyond that, the team's future lies in the development of its core six players and whether head coach Mark Jackson can lead it to the promised land.
What They Have
For the second year in a row, the Bulls will be carried to the playoffs by franchise anchor Joakim Noah. After it seemed the team was determined to go back to the drawing board in the wake of the Luol Deng trade, Noah put the team on his back and has performed like a possible All-NBA first-team center.
It doesn't stop at Noah, however. Guard Jimmy Butler and Sixth Man of the Year favorite Taj Gibson will become bigger factors for Chicago down the road. Carlos Boozer, while overpaid and a little lackluster defensively, is still a capable post presence. Head coach Tom Thibodeau is also one of the league's best defensive masterminds.
Oh, and the team has a former league MVP on the mend as well. Some guy named Derrick Rose, one of the league's best point guards. Perhaps you've heard of him?
The future lies in the shaky of knees of D-Rose. After missing all of last season while recovering from a torn ACL, Rose's big comeback went up in flames after he tore his meniscus 10 games into the season.
If he can return to elite form and stay healthy, the Bulls could pose a serious threat to Miami and Indiana's reign at the top of the Eastern Conference. If not, the team will have to find a successor. Luckily, Chicago has its pick plus Charlotte's first-rounder in this year's draft.
There's also the buzz over the team's stars possibly recruiting New York Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony to join them in the Windy City this summer. ESPN's Chris Broussard has reported that Noah and Rose have been at the forefront of the attempt to lure 'Melo out of the Big Apple.
According to USA Today's Sam Amick, however, we might be getting carried away with all of this Carmelo-to-Chicago talk:
Yet one person with knowledge of the discussion told USA TODAY Sports that the extent of the talks were overblown and even intimated that Anthony's camp may have made a point to share their chat with the world as a way to remind the Knicks he is considering leaving that extra contract year and about $30 million behind by leaving New York this July.
Whether the Bulls land 'Melo or not, they are set up pretty good for the future with Noah, Gibson and Butler. However, a lot rides on Rose being able to bounce back yet again from his second serious knee injury in as many seasons.
What They Have
Boston has a top-five point guard and one of the league's best players overall in Rajon Rondo. It also has a number of first-round picks (including a couple of Brooklyn's, which could be major given the Nets' shrinking window of contention) as well as cap space.
If the team can somehow con a suitor into taking on Gerald Wallace's contract (owed a little over $20 million for the next two years), the skids will be greased for another Boston resurgence. Boston also has some promising pieces around Rondo.
Avery Bradley, when he can stay healthy, could be a solid two-way guard. Rookie Kelly Olynyk is a 7-footer who can stretch the floor with his outside shooting. Forward Jeff Green's contract may be a tough pill to swallow (due $9.2 million next season with a player option for the same in 2015-16), but there's no denying the kid can play.
The Celtics also have general manager Danny Ainge, who has proven capable of turning the team around, as well as a good young coach in Brad Stevens.
What They're Missing
The only real proven star on the roster is Rondo, and he's been the subject of trade talks for quite some time. The enigmatic ex-Kentucky guard is a free agent at the end of next season, and it will be interesting to see if he sticks around.
The rest of the team's future might as well be written in pencil. The team should add another building block with its high lottery pick this summer. It'll also have the cap space to be a player in free agency. Given their relationship during their Butler days, it would make sense for Boston to try to reunite restricted free agent Gordon Hayward with his old college coach.
Beyond that, everything is to be determined. The Celtics have the chips to be a factor in a couple of years. Even if Ainge decides to trade Rondo, history suggests it won't be for anything less than maximum value.
Things may look bleak now, but the franchise is in good hands.
What They Have
For starters, the Sixers have the heavy favorite for Rookie of the Year in point guard Michael Carter-Williams. The former Syracuse star is averaging 17 points, 6.2 assists, 5.4 rebounds and two steals per game.
Philadelphia also has fellow rookie Nerlens Noel, who hasn't played this season and seems like a long shot to debut this year while he recovers from a torn ACL. As a college freshman, Noel averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game.
There's also forward Thaddeus Young, who leads the team in scoring with 17.5 points per game. As the only proven member of the Sixers not to be traded at this year's deadline, Young looks like he'll be the franchise's anchor for at least the near future.
The Sixers are also expected to be big players in the draft this summer. They not only have their own pick (which you can expect to be high, given their 15-46 record), but they own New Orleans' pick as well (provided it falls out of the top five).
With the right bounce of the ping-pong balls, the Sixers could have a strong nucleus for years to come.
So much of the Sixers' future is based on uncertainty. Noel's troublesome knee is a huge question mark going forward. Even if he bounces back, there's the question of whether he has the bulk to be a franchise center as well as if can he develop a steady offensive game.
The team is also relying on unknown rookies to turn the team around. Beyond Young, there isn't anyone on the roster with a considerable amount of long-term success. Certainly, relying on building through the draft is a strategy that has worked out for other teams, but it is known to be a bit of a crapshoot.
If Philly finds a potential star this summer, it will be well on its way to being a possible playoff team in a weak Eastern Conference. If not, there isn't enough talent on the roster to keep it from staying in the NBA's basement.
Portland Trail Blazers
What They Have
Portland has an amazing All-Star inside-outside combo in forward LaMarcus Aldridge and point guard Damian Lillard. Fresh off winning top rookie honors last year, Lillard is back at it again in his second season. He's averaging 20.8 points and 5.6 assists per game.
Aldridge, meanwhile, looked like a potential MVP dark horse early in the season. He's currently averaging 23.6 points (tied with Golden State's Stephen Curry for seventh in the NBA) and 11.2 rebounds (also seventh best in the league) per game this season.
The team has also received notable contributions from guard Wesley Matthews (16.4 points per game) and center Robin Lopez (team-leading 1.7 blocks per game). It also has a potential stud waiting in the wings in rookie C.J. McCollum.
The Lillard-Aldridge tandem is good enough to keep Portland in the playoff mix for a while, but the Blazers could use a third wheel to put them over the edge. At one point, small forward Nicolas Batum could have been that person, but his numbers have declined this season.
The team could use another big to pair with Aldridge. Lopez has been a fine addition, but he's not a long-term solution. The concern is that the Blazers fall into that no-man's land where they are one player away. But they are too good to land one in the draft and don't have the cap space to acquire one elsewhere.
If someone like McCollum or Matthews breaks out though, that concern is moot.
What They Have
Houston is led by the three-headed monster of center Dwight Howard, forward Chandler Parsons and guard James Harden. Howard has returned to his dominant form in his first season in Houston. He's averaging 18.9 points, 12.4 rebounds (fourth in the NBA) and 1.8 blocks per game (ninth best in the league).
Harden has picked up where he left off after his first season as a starter last year. He's fifth in the NBA in scoring with an average of 24.6 points per game. As for Parsons, the presence of the other two hasn't hurt him any, as he's posting career highs in points (16.6), rebounds (5.6) and assists (3.9) per game.
The Rockets also found potential gems in power forward Terrence Jones and point guard Patrick Beverley. Jones wrestled away a starting spot from Omer Asik and played his way into the Rising Stars Challenge last month. Beverley, meanwhile, is establishing himself as one of the league's best defensive point guards.
There's also general manager Daryl Morey, one of the savviest team-builders in the league. His keen eye has discovered under-the-radar talents like Jones, Parsons and potential breakout star Robert Covington.
As a team, Houston is holding down the No. 3 spot at 43-19. It is currently undefeated at home against the Eastern Conference (14-0) and is coming off huge wins over Indiana and Miami in the last four days.
The Houston Rockets could be NBA champions if they can manage to both avoid Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers (combined 0-5) as well as keep their starting five on the floor at all times.
Houston's bench has been subpar for most of the season. A large part of that is a result of injuries. Key reserves such as Omer Asik, Greg Smith and Francisco Garcia have missed time with various ailments. Point guard Jeremy Lin has had his struggles as well.
The team is also desperately lacking a defensive presence on the perimeter beyond Patrick Beverley. For all of James Harden's excellence, he's practically a turnstile on the defensive end.
"The Beard" has shown flashes of competence as a defender but not enough to be the complete guard he's supposed to be.
Going forward, the futures of Asik and Lin are the biggest questions. Both are owed close to $15 million apiece for next season and neither have played well enough to deserve that kind of payday. Asik has asked for a trade on more than one occasion, but his huge price tag makes him tough to move.
The same goes for Lin, who is an adequate point guard but not one other teams are tripping over themselves to trade for. These two represent Houston's best trade chips, and if the team can't make good on its hopes to bring home a title soon, they will probably be on the move in the team's search for continued improvement.