Which 2014 NBA Draft Lottery Team Is in Best Position for Quick Turnaround?
In 2013, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert swore his team wouldn't be returning to the draft lottery after winning the No. 1 overall pick. After striking gold and defying the odds two years in a row, it's all but certain that Gilbert's prediction will come true this time around.
Many of the teams that found themselves at the 2014 NBA draft lottery on Tuesday won't be so lucky, as they're more than just one piece away from contending for the playoffs. While adding a player like Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins or Dante Exum will help expedite the rebuilds of the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks, both squads appear destined for another lottery appearance in 2015.
However, some lottery squads didn't finish all that far outside the postseason in 2014. With a few minor tweaks during the offseason, they could be right back in the thick of the playoff race next year.
Here, based on their current roster construction, projected cap space and potential draft-pick selections, let's check out the five lottery teams best equipped for a quick turnaround in 2014-15, starting with the one team on everyone's lips as of late.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves (40-42, 10th in West)
The Minnesota Timberwolves only earn a tentative place on this list, as their decision about Kevin Love's future will determine their fate in 2014-15.
"Love plans to opt out of his contract in the summer of 2015 and leave Minnesota as a free agent," league sources told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, which ratchets up the pressure on the Timberwolves' front office. They could attempt to call his bluff and refuse to move him through next February's trade deadline, but doing so runs the risk of losing him for nothing next July.
Given the likely demand for Love's services—after all, how many elite-rebounding stretch 4s hit the market each year?—Minnesota would be insane not to take the best offer on the table this summer. As Bleacher Report's Dan Favale noted, a number of teams have legitimately enticing assets that could help facilitate a deal for the three-time All-Star.
If the Timberwolves accept a pu-pu platter from a team like the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers, their chances of challenging for a playoff bid in the highly competitive Western Conference are slim to none. However, moving Love to a team like the Chicago Bulls, Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets could help Minnesota reload rather quickly all things considered.
It's simply too early to tell what awaits this roster over the next few months, given the uncertainty around Love's long-term future. In all likelihood, the Timberwolves will wise up and move him before it's too late; what they get in return will help determine how competitive they'll be during the 2014-15 season.
Honorable Mentions: Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks
4. Orlando Magic (23-59, 13th in East)
On the surface, saying a 23-win team is better positioned than a 40-win team for a quick turnaround might sound crazy at best and stupid at worst. Then again, the 23-win team isn't sweating the status of its franchise player this offseason.
The Orlando Magic, entering Year 3 of the post-Dwight Howard era, need to make significant progress in 2014-15. They ranked second-to-last in the league in offensive rating this past season ahead of only the intentionally punchless Philadelphia 76ers, which marks the second straight year they've touted a bottom-five offense.
Their defense, on the other hand, did begin showing signs of life in 2013-14 after ranking 25th the previous season. Though they conceded 104.8 points per 100 possessions—or 5.5 points more per 100 possessions than they scored—that mark was tied for 17th in the league with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The pieces are there for Orlando to make major strides this season. Victor Oladipo and Arron Afflalo comprise a quality backcourt worth building around, while Tobias Harris, Moe Harkless, Kyle O'Quinn and Nikola Vucevic have each shown flashes of bright play amid inconsistency.
What Orlando does with its two top-12 picks will go a long way in determining how far this squad can jump in 2014-15. At No. 4, the Magic will presumably take whichever of the Andrew Wiggins-Joel Embiid-Jabari Parker-Dante Exum quartet falls to them, but there's far less certainty in terms of their late-lottery selection.
3. Detroit Pistons (29-53, 11th in East)
Like the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Detroit Pistons have their own personnel issues to sort through this summer.
Former Georgetown big man Greg Monroe is set to become a restricted free agent in July, and the Pistons' previous mistakes could complicate their efforts to retain him. Detroit signed Josh Smith to a four-year, $54 million deal last offseason, but the Smith-Monroe-Andre Drummond triumvirate flopped in its first year together.
Stan Van Gundy, the team's new coach and president of basketball operations, now has a choice to make with Monroe. Does he bite the bullet and match any offer for the talented 23-year-old big man, or does he allow Monroe to walk and build around the Smith-Drummond frontcourt?
Ideally, if Van Gundy decides to part with Monroe, he'll at least find a willing sign-and-trade partner to receive some assets in return. Even if he strikes out in that department, Detroit will have roughly $21 million in available cap space this summer (not including Monroe's cap hold).
Further complicating matters for Van Gundy: Cleveland winning the lottery pushed Detroit down a spot in the draft order, meaning its No. 9 pick will be headed to Charlotte thanks to the disastrous Ben Gordon trade.
Losing out on a lottery pick in this loaded draft undoubtedly hurts the Pistons' chances of making the playoffs, but Van Gundy's presence alone could help the squad add at least 10 victories to its 2013-14 win total next season.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (33-49, 10th in East)
Fresh off winning their third lottery in four years, the Cleveland Cavaliers have officially run out of excuses. It's playoffs or bust for this squad in 2015.
And frankly, despite their catastrophic early struggles, the Cavs weren't all that far away from contending for a 2014 playoff spot.
Cleveland belly-flopped at the start of the 2013-14 season, stumbling its way to a 10-21 record by New Year's Day, and never truly managed to recover. The backcourt pairing of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters failed to develop much legitimate chemistry until the waning weeks of the season, and even the midseason imports of Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes couldn't stem the bleeding.
Deng and Hawes are both set to become unrestricted free agents this summer, but winning the 2014 lottery certainly takes some of the sting out of their impending decisions. Cleveland could take a prospect like Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker as a cheaper (and better) replacement for Deng, or Joel Embiid to replace Hawes.
Even after factoring in the salary of their No. 1 pick, the Cavaliers will have roughly $11.5 million in available cap space if they allow both Deng and Hawes to walk this offseason. With a bit of creativity, they suddenly could become a prime option for major free agents who want to play alongside Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett and one of the Wiggins/Embiid/Parker trio.
No matter whom Cleveland chooses with its top overall selection, it should have a realistic shot at 40-plus wins in 2014-15. Given the beaten-down state of the Eastern Conference, that should be plenty to compete for one of the East's final few playoff spots.
1. New Orleans Pelicans (34-48, 12th in West)
Had the New Orleans Pelicans remained relatively healthy in 2013-14, they likely would have competed for a playoff spot. Sophomore forward Anthony Davis took a major step forward to superstardom, while new arrivals Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans showed flashes of greatness at points throughout the season.
However, a stress fracture in Holiday's right tibia limited him to only 34 games, while Ryan Anderson played just 22 games before missing the rest of the season due to a herniated disc. Add in a broken hand for Davis, lingering ankle troubles for Evans and tendinitis in Eric Gordon's left knee, and N.O. simply couldn't overcome its unceasing rash of injuries in 2013-14.
The Pelicans will enter the 2014 offseason with just under $5 million in available cap space, limiting the squad's ability to make major improvements via free agency. With New Orleans' No. 10 overall pick heading to Philadelphia as part of last summer's trade for Holiday, the Pelicans must rely on internal improvement as their main source of hope for 2014-15.
And to be fair, that's not entirely unreasonable. The Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Anderson-Davis lineup played only 91 minutes together this past season, averaging 123.5 points per 100 possessions. That sizzling offensive rating is likely an example of small-sample-size theater—that five-man lineup also conceded nearly 120 points per 100 possessions defensively—but on paper, it packs a major punch.
Assuming Davis continues his evolution into an unstoppable superfreak, he alone will make the Pelicans competitive on a nightly basis next season. Being in the West will hurt New Orleans' chances of making the 2015 playoffs, but avoiding a major spate of injuries next season should help the squad jump up to 45 or more wins.
Ineligible: Phoenix Suns (48-34, 9th in West)
Of all the 2014 lottery teams, the Phoenix Suns have the clearest road to the postseason in 2015. That's largely because until the final few days of the 2013-14 regular season, they were in the thick of a three-way battle for one of the Western Conference's final two playoff spots.
Though the Suns stumbled late against the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies, they're extraordinarily well-positioned to earn a playoff berth in 2015. They have three first-round picks—the 14th, 18th and 27th overall selections—in June's draft, at least one of which they could trade for a veteran contributor, per NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper.
Phoenix's biggest obstacle to building upon its surprising success is the impending restricted free agency of combo guard Eric Bledsoe. With 10 teams expected to have $15 million or more in available cap space this summer (before factoring in rookie contracts), the odds of one not attempting to pry Bledsoe away from the Suns with a max-contract offer appear slim.
The Phoenix front office swears that it plans on matching any offer Bledsoe receives in restricted free agency, but things may change when it's time to put its money where its mouth is. Failing to retain Bledsoe would all but guarantee the Suns will fall out of the Western Conference playoff race in 2014-15.
If they do re-sign Bledsoe, however, they're a virtual lock to contend for 50 wins for the second straight season. Their success this year makes them ineligible to be considered for a "quick turnaround," as finishing 14 games over .500 isn't the mark of a squad that requires a major 180.
Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics via Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com/stats and are current through the final day of the 2013-14 regular season. Salary information is via Spotrac.com and does not factor in unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents or 2014-15 rookie contracts unless otherwise noted.