Projecting Every NBA Team's Win-Loss Record for Next 5 Seasons

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJune 15, 2017

Projecting Every NBA Team's Win-Loss Record for Next 5 Seasons

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    Where will Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz and the other top prospects of the 2017 NBA draft wind up? What will happen to this year's crop of marquee free agents? How long can aging stars maintain their on-court prowess? 

    All these questions matter when trying to predict records for 2017-18, but they become even more vital when looking far into the future. Then, cap space and the ability to minimize detrimental contracts grow substantially more important. So too does the aging curve of NBA players—we used this look from NBA Math as a baseline. 

    Five years from now, where will your favorite team stand? What will happen between now and then? 

    To answer those inquires, we looked into every piece of the puzzle for all 30 NBA teams, poring over cap situations, aging curves, front office history and plenty more to be as accurate as possible. But predictions a short way into the future are tough enough; accurately guessing at 2021-22 records is downright impossible. 

    With that in mind, don't view these as gospel. We're trying to be in the right ballpark well into the future, but the expected margin of error will admittedly grow as we move further from the present, if only because incorrectly predicting one big free-agency move or failing to account for a single blockbuster trade can have far-reaching implications. 

Atlanta Hawks

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 35-47

    2018-19 Projected Record: 37-45

    2019-20 Projected Record: 34-48

    2020-21 Projected Record: 34-48

    2021-22 Projected Record: 35-47

    All good things must eventually come to an end. 

    The Atlanta Hawks haven't missed the playoffs since 2006-07, back when Joe Johnson and Josh Smith were leading the charge. Tyronn Lue, now the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach, was even the team's sixth-highest producer of points per game. But that streak won't last forever, and our projections have it coming to a close in 2017-18, shortly after Paul Millsap leaves in free agency. 

    From there, rebuilding is tough. 

    The Hawks have made a habit out of staying on the fringes of competitiveness, sometimes exceeding expectations and winning a substantial number of games but usually emerging as little more than first- or second-round fodder for true contenders. They've struggled to sign top-tier free agents in their primes, and the persistent mediocrity has made finding draft-day studs a difficult endeavor. There's simply no way to replace Millsap, either now or in the relatively distant future. 

    Unless Atlanta shows a new proclivity for tanking, the next few years will most likely contain slight regression, coupled with some mid-level free-agency overpays that allow it to remain on the fringes of .500. Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard (even as he moves deeper into his 30s) can keep the team in the playoff picture, but there's not enough upside or draft equity to do anything more. 

Boston Celtics

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 57-25

    2018-19 Projected Record: 59-23

    2019-20 Projected Record: 57-25

    2020-21 Projected Record: 53-29

    2021-22 Projected Record: 54-28

    How high can the Boston Celtics rise? 

    Plenty depends on this offseason. The team has the luxury of utilizing the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, thanks to the Brooklyn Nets' prior ineptitudes, and will likely add Markelle Fultz to the mix. It can also use its assets to make a play for another established star, whether by trading for Jimmy Butler or attempting to lure Gordon Hayward into a reunion with Brad Stevens. 

    But even if it's unsuccessful in its external pursuits—and, based on general manager Danny Ainge's recent history, a blockbuster trade feels unlikely—it can still expect substantial improvement. The Celtics have enough youthful pieces (Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, etc.) and cap space to keep trending toward 60 wins for the next few years. 

    It's only after a peak in 2018-19 that aging will start to matter.

    Al Horford is already 31 years old, and regression is inevitable as he moves further from his athletic prime, even if his style of play isn't predicated entirely on physical prowess. Jae Crowder, assuming he isn't moved in a massive deal, will turn 27 before the start of 2017-18, and his style runs counter to Horford's. 

    That, coupled with the lack of an established two-way star, caps the Celtics' ceiling just shy of 60 wins. But there's no reason to be disappointed with a half-decade of chases after the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed and remaining competitive in the postseason each and every year. 

Brooklyn Nets

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

    2017-18 Projected Record: 22-60

    2018-19 Projected Record: 26-56

    2019-20 Projected Record: 35-47

    2020-21 Projected Record: 36-46

    2021-22 Projected Record: 34-48

    How in the world are the Brooklyn Nets expected to improve enough to regain status as a postseason contender—not a championship contender, but a threat to earn the Eastern Conference's No. 8 seed? 

    They don't have any free-agency appeal while pulling themselves out of the perpetual rebuild, which forces them to drastically overpay for potential. Thus far, their offer sheets have been matched, but they should eventually land someone who can join Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin as high-quality players for the downtrodden organization. 

    Other than that, they're left relying on the draft. 

    They have two picks late in the first round of the 2017 proceedings, but that shouldn't make 2017-18 anything more than another season to forget. The talent just isn't there, and the Nets should again be a threat to post the league's worst record. Optimism won't take over in 2018, even as youthful pieces like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Sean Kilpatrick begin hitting their peak years. Giving their only first-round selection to the Boston Celtics in unprotected fashion won't help.

    But the misery will pay off in 2019. 

    Finally, the Nets will boast a lottery pick. And given the futility of the years preceding that offseason, it'll likely be a top-five selection, granting the Nets a chance to land a bona fide superstar who can drag the franchise out of the basement. 

Charlotte Hornets

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 42-40

    2018-19 Projected Record: 42-40

    2019-20 Projected Record: 40-42

    2020-21 Projected Record: 35-47

    2021-22 Projected Record: 34-48

    There are worse places to be stuck. The Charlotte Hornets might not be thrilled that it'll be tough for them to break through, given their roster construction, but they have to at least be pleased they won't be competing for one of the league's most vomit-inducing records anytime soon. 

    First, the good news. 

    Charlotte's core is locked up throughout the foreseeable future. Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller, who used 2016-17 to become a tremendously underrated center, have deals that runs through 2020-21. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams are both controlled until the conclusion of the 2019-20 campaign. Kemba Walker is the key piece who becomes a free agent soonest, but it's highly unlikely he'll depart for another location in summer 2019. 

    The bad news, however, is the age of this core.

    It works right now and should continue to for the next few years, especially because Batum (28) and Kidd-Gilchrist (23) are younger than their wealth of experience in the NBA might lead you to believe. But declines will come eventually from the frontcourt pieces, and the same is true for the 27-year-old point guard who relies so heavily on his speed. 

    Five years from now, the Hornets may well be regretting the decision to maintain the status quo, even if it produces palatable results in the immediate future. 

Chicago Bulls

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 32-50

    2018-19 Projected Record: 35-47

    2019-20 Projected Record: 40-42

    2020-21 Projected Record: 42-40

    2021-22 Projected Record: 43-39

    Even if Jimmy Butler remains with the Chicago Bulls for the next few years, regression is unavoidable. They may have staved off an in-season decline throughout 2016-17, then performed admirably in the playoffs, but the dearth of shooting threats will eventually matter in a league so focused on perimeter exploits. 

    Pythagorean records show the Bulls' success wasn't fluky, indicating they actually should have won an additional game, but that calculation is based purely on points scored and allowed. It doesn't dive into how those points were manufactured. NBA Math's FATS calculator does, and it shows Chicago played like a 35.5-win squad. 

    That's the baseline we're using here, and it doesn't bode well for the Bulls that the front office is trying to figure out so many different things. What should it do with Rajon Rondo? What will Dwyane Wade decide regarding his player option? Is Fred Hoiberg the right coach for the future? Should Butler stay in town? 

    As they figure out the answers, the next few seasons will be rough. But cap space opens up in 2018 when Wade and Rondo are assuredly off the books, and that should be the start of the franchise tapping into its free-agency appeal and beginning the upward climb toward respectability. 

    Hang tough, Chicago fans. The current squad might be difficult to cheer for, but it'll get better before too long, even if it gets worse first. 

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

    2017-18 Projected Record: 53-29

    2018-19 Projected Record: 51-31

    2019-20 Projected Record: 49-33

    2020-21 Projected Record: 47-35

    2021-22 Projected Record: 46-36

    How much longer can LeBron James continue playing like the NBA's premier talent? 

    He's already defying the typical aging curve by flat-out dominating during his age-32 campaign, but the accomplishments become even more ridiculous when you include the massive amounts of minutes he's racked up during his yearly runs to the Finals. Then again, it's James we're talking about; he could probably average an efficient 20 points, six rebounds and eight assists when he's 45. 

    If we assume a bit of decline, though, it's tough to see how the Cavaliers keep winning 50 games every year—and that's pretending there's zero chance James jets for another organization as he moves deeper into his 30s and closer to the end of his legendary career. Cleveland has enough money wrapped up in the trio comprised of him, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love that it can't improve the roster too much around them, and it's highly unlikely it lands a young stud while constantly picking at the back end of the first round. 

    Still, a dip to 46 wins five years into the future, during what would be James' age-37 season, might seem too steep. But that's only before you realize just how dependent the Cavs have become on the four-time MVP. Love and Irving are big names, but neither leads to the same type of success when they're on the floor. 

    With James on the bench and the other members of the Big Three logging minutes this past regular season, Cleveland was actually outscored by 0.7 points per 100 possessions, per They're thoroughly mediocre without the leading star, and that doesn't figure to change anytime soon. 

Dallas Mavericks

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 36-46

    2018-19 Projected Record: 38-44

    2019-20 Projected Record: 38-44

    2020-21 Projected Record: 40-42

    2021-22 Projected Record: 40-42

    Just look at the men in the Dallas Mavericks' core. 

    Dirk Nowitzki is about to celebrate his 39th birthday, even if he can continue to post big offensive numbers. Wesley Matthews will turn 31 before the start of 2017-18, and he's an old 31 since he's already fought back from an Achilles rupture. Harrison Barnes and Seth Curry are far from complete commodities, and they're already 25 and 26, respectively. 

    Even if/when the Mavericks bring back Nerlens Noel and look to add more young talent in the 2017 offseason, their upside is limited. Breakthroughs aren't coming, which leaves Dallas ready to chase after the Western Conference's No. 8 seed in fruitless fashion once again. 

    But more concerning is the organization's consistent inability to land big-name free agents. They've swung and missed plenty of times in the last few years before resigning themselves to picking up lesser players who may be past their prime. That, in conjunction with an aging core, isn't a combination that bodes well for the future, and the upside is further mitigated by the strength of the coaching staff. 

    In some ways, head coach Rick Carlisle is too good at his job. He can take nearly any mix of players and have them push their way toward a .500 record, and that will prevent the Mavericks from falling down to a lottery pick they desperately need. Sometimes, being bad is the only way to move out of the mediocrity cycle, and it's just as tough to see Dallas plunging into the Western depths as it is to see it competing for a championship anytime soon. 

Denver Nuggets

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 44-38

    2018-19 Projected Record: 46-36

    2019-20 Projected Record: 50-32

    2020-21 Projected Record: 48-34

    2021-22 Projected Record: 46-36

    From Dec. 15, when Nikola Jokic re-entered the starting five, through the end of the regular season, the Denver Nuggets scored a whopping 113.3 points per 100 possessions. That led the Association, narrowly edging out the Golden State Warriors (112.9) and Houston Rockets (111.9). 

    This isn't a fluke. 

    Jokic has already become one of the sport's 20 best players, and the synergy he shows alongside Gary Harris is remarkable. Throw in all the other young talents on the Denver roster—Jamal Murray, Juan Hernangomez, Emmanuel Mudiay, Malik Beasley and whoever's added during the 2017 NBA draft—and you have a recipe for success that won't spoil anytime soon. 

    There's just one issue: defense. 

    Especially if Danilo Gallinari leaves in free agency and as Wilson Chandler continues to age, the Nuggets don't have the veteran presences needed to counteract the porosity of the youngsters. They're woefully poor at preventing dribble penetration, and that should curtail the growth of the franchise until it builds up the free-agency appeal necessary to land success-chasing contributors with plenty of wear on their tires. 

    To be clear, the Nuggets will keep getting better; they're too talented to do anything else. But a 50-win peak may still be a bit generous, given the organization's unfortunate inability to land free-agent studs and the defensive weakness that pervades the roster. 

Detroit Pistons

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 34-48

    2018-19 Projected Record: 32-50

    2019-20 Projected Record: 33-49

    2020-21 Projected Record: 36-46

    2021-22 Projected Record: 38-44

    The Detroit Pistons aren't going to make progress until they abandon their current strategy. Reggie Jackson, barring a miraculous recovery over the offseason prior to his age-27 season, no longer performs like a starting-caliber point guard. Andre Drummond's development has stagnated, to the point that he's not a wholly positive presence on the court. 

    And yet, Detroit has tons of money tied up in that duo. 

    Drummond is under contract through 2020-21, while Jackson's deal expires only one year earlier. And when you throw in the ridiculous amount of cash Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is about to make, even though he's yet to prove he can carry a team on either end of the floor, the financial struggles could only be compounded. 

    In theory, head coach Stan Van Gundy's plans made sense.

    He wanted to surround Drummond with capable shooters, just as he did with Dwight Howard while he was leading the Orlando Magic. But that strategy can't work when Drummond doesn't have the post moves necessary to draw defenders in around him, and it certainly can't succeed when the Pistons' shooters can't, well, shoot. Beyond that, Drummond as a defensive centerpiece has proved problematic. 

    Detroit has too much invested in its core to abandon the strategy entirely, but the upside is also more limited than ever. That leaves the franchise in a holding pattern, and it may only start to escape when it finally has more money to spend during the 2020 offseason. 

    Buckle up, Pistons fans. It's going to be a long ride. 

Golden State Warriors

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 62-20

    2018-19 Projected Record: 61-21

    2019-20 Projected Record: 55-27

    2020-21 Projected Record: 53-29

    2021-22 Projected Record: 50-32

    The Golden State Warriors aren't sinking down the Western Conference standings in the immediate future. They should re-sign Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant without a second thought this offseason, then still have enough appeal/cash to land a few more veterans seeking rings. The stars may even sacrifice a bit of money to bring back Andre Iguodala seamlessly, as Tim Kawakami hinted at for the Mercury News

    In 2017-18, the squad should be every bit as good as it was while winning the 2017 title. And the same should hold true in 2018-19, since the key figures are all young enough to avoid substantial regression and are each under contract. 

    But that's when it gets a bit tougher to maintain the overwhelming level of excellence. 

    Let's assume Curry and Durant are both controlled by the Warriors, whether they sign massive contracts in 2017 or ink two-year deals with opt-out clauses so they can complete lengthy extensions in 2018. Can they re-sign Klay Thompson in 2019 when he's an unrestricted free agent? If they do, how can they afford the same quality pieces to build a strong second unit? 

    Now, let's assume they decide re-signing Thompson is a good investment. What happens when Draymond Green is an unrestricted free agent one year later? 

    Keeping this core together for the entirety of the next few years will be difficult, and doing so will almost assuredly require sacrifices elsewhere. That financial impracticality is the reason for the slight declines each and every year, even if we can reasonably expect the four key players to keep performing at All-Star and All-NBA levels. 

    Lest we forget, Durant will only be in his age-33 season for 2021-22, and he has a well-rounded game that should age well. Ditto for Curry's incredible shooting prowess, and the point guard will also be playing out his age-33 campaign at the end of this five-year stretch. Thompson (31 in 2021-22) and Green (also 31) are even younger, and there's no telling what a draft-day gem like Patrick McCaw could turn into. 

Houston Rockets

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 50-32

    2018-19 Projected Record: 42-40

    2019-20 Projected Record: 42-40

    2020-21 Projected Record: 41-41

    2021-22 Projected Record: 40-42

    According to NBA Math's total points added (TPA) metric, two members of the Houston Rockets provided the following value during the 2016-17 campaign: 

    PlayerOffensive Points AddedDefensive Points Saved
    Player X48.40minus-116.15
    Player Y79.35minus-114.62

    Both men were offensive threats, even if Player X couldn't maintain his scorching start to the season. But each negated their offensive ability with woeful defense, and that's not likely to change as they continue to age. The former is already 28 years old with a lengthy injury history, and the latter recently turned 29.

    By now, you might have guessed these players are Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, respectively. And the objective analysis of their impact is troubling, considering they both enjoy sizable contracts that run through 2019-20. Houston has already committed to them, to the point that it'll be perilously difficult to roster both shooters, employ James Harden at a max salary and continue to build around that nucleus. 

    Plus, the Rockets' current core is already starting to find some gray hairs. Nene (if he's re-signed this summer), Patrick Beverley and Trevor Ariza aren't exactly youthful, which means 2016-17 may well be the best we see from this organization in the near future. 

    Harden alone is too good for the Rockets to fall out of postseason contention, but continuing to pair him with the right talents will be an increasingly tough task for general manager Daryl Morey. 

Indiana Pacers

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 41-41

    2018-19 Projected Record: 30-52

    2019-20 Projected Record: 31-51

    2020-21 Projected Record: 33-49

    2021-22 Projected Record: 35-47

    The Indiana Pacers should enjoy one more season of competitiveness after they re-sign Jeff Teague and essentially run back the same core for the 2017-18 campaign. 

    Then, Paul George leaves for the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    That's by no means a guarantee. But it's hardly the best-kept secret, since the Pacers don't have the assets necessary to upgrade around George. He's been bound for L.A. since the moment he entered the league out of Fresno State and became a star, even if he's still getting around to the eventual transition. And when that happens, the Pacers will be left without a paddle. 

    Myles Turner may well become a star. But who else is youthful and in possession of enough upside to be relevant here? Joseph Young, Glenn Robinson III or Georges Niang? 

    Plus, Indiana—for the time being, at least—has exactly zero players under contract beyond 2018-19. There are no long-term deals in place, and the men on the books through that date are George (with an opt-out clause), Thaddeus Young, Turner, Monta Ellis, Al Jefferson, Lance Stephenson, Rakeem Christmas, Young and Niang. 

    That's hardly a championship core. It instead reads more like a collection of players who will be losing relevance by the time their contracts are expiring, and that doesn't bode well for the team in question. 

Los Angeles Clippers

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 38-44

    2018-19 Projected Record: 37-45

    2019-20 Projected Record: 34-48

    2020-21 Projected Record: 34-48

    2021-22 Projected Record: 30-52

    With Chris Paul on the floor in 2016-17, the Los Angeles Clippers outscored opponents by 14.9 points per 100 possessions. Without the resident point god, they were on the wrong end of a minus-5.3 net rating. 

    That's a gigantic difference, and NBA Math's FATS calculator helps underscore the level at which the team truly performs when he's not there. Without Paul, the Clippers functioned like a 35.1-win team, proving there's no skirting around his importance to the organization.

    So when he leaves this summer—here, we're predicting he joins the San Antonio Spurs to chase his first ring—there's not much Los Angeles can do. The internal options (Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers) are uninspiring, and it won't have the cap space to pursue Kyle Lowry, George Hill, Jeff Teague or Jrue Holiday after bringing back Blake Griffin

    When the Clippers finally do have enough money to pursue bigger names on the open market, it'll be too late. Age will force DeAndre Jordan and Griffin, both of whom are reliant on their athletic ability, into moderate declines, which curtails any upside this franchise might possess. 

    It won't happen in 2017-18. But before too long, the Clippers will once again be on the wrong end of their intra-city rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    Time is a flat circle, or something. 

Los Angeles Lakers

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 30-52

    2018-19 Projected Record: 40-42

    2019-20 Projected Record: 43-39

    2020-21 Projected Record: 46-36

    2021-22 Projected Record: 47-35

    Thus begins the revitalization of the Los Angeles Lakers.

    They should improve upon 2015-16's 26-56 record organically, simply by relying on internal growth. Brandon Ingram, D'Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac and Julius Randle are bound to experience more success as they continue to grow more comfortable at the sport's highest level, even if they largely struggled during the past campaign. Adding another young prospect into the mix—Lonzo Ball, most likely—will only make this a more appealing learning curve.

    But the real growth comes in 2018. 

    That's when Paul George can opt out of his contract with the Indiana Pacers and hit free agency. And when that happens and he subsequently signs a monstrous deal to wear the Purple and Gold, the Lakers will suddenly regain their luster. Marquee free agents will slowly start joining the organization once again, placing it on an upward trajectory toward 50 wins—a mark it hasn't hit since 2010-11, when Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum were leading the charge. 

    Expecting an overnight transformation is foolish. But the Lakers are gradually regaining their footing, and they've managed to display patience while keeping the books open for big signings in the future. 

    Before too long, it'll pay off, even if some of the recent top picks turn into busts. 

Memphis Grizzlies

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 39-43

    2018-19 Projected Record: 40-42

    2019-20 Projected Record: 35-47

    2020-21 Projected Record: 34-48

    2021-22 Projected Record: 34-48

    Just take a peek at how the Memphis Grizzles' actual win tally has compared to expected wins, per Pythagorean records, which look solely at points scored and allowed: 

    SeasonActual WinsExpected Wins

    Maybe the team's style is conducive to winning tight contests. The grit-and-grind mentality can certainly have that effect.

    But perhaps Memphis has tempted fate long enough, and it's in for a fall from grace. That's the most likely outcome now, especially with the team's key players starting to fall victim to Father Time. Chandler Parsons' exorbitant deal locking up much of the cap space won't aid the cause, either.

    With Marc Gasol and Mike Conley still in tow, the Grizzlies don't have to worry about irrelevancy. But it'll become increasingly difficult to keep pushing above .500 in spite of the underlying metrics, even if the team somehow manages to retain high-upside players such as JaMychal Green at reasonable prices. 

Miami Heat

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 42-40

    2018-19 Projected Record: 48-34

    2019-20 Projected Record: 43-39

    2020-21 Projected Record: 44-38

    2021-22 Projected Record: 44-38

    The Miami Heat aren't going to land Gordon Hayward in free agency this summer. He has too many other prominent suitors with open championship windows to tie himself to a team still finding itself. 

    However, doubting Pat Riley's ability to land a quality player in too many successive seasons is a recipe for disaster. He'll find a new centerpiece by the time the 2018-19 season rolls around, whether that's DeMarcus Cousins or someone who provides a better complement to Hassan Whiteside. That's the reason for the jump in the second season of our timeframe, even if it's followed by another decline. 

    Age matters, and that's bad news for the Heat. Goran Dragic is already 31 years old—the age at which so many talented point guards seem to fall off a cliff. Whiteside, thanks to his stints in the D-League and outside the NBA, just turned 28. 

    As those core pieces move further from their primes, regression will inevitably set in. It could be negated by growth from youngsters such as Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, but it's tougher to see them developing into stars after stagnating (and dealing with injuries) throughout 2016-17. 

    Miami has one of the NBA's best coaches patrolling the sidelines. Erik Spoelstra should ensure this organization is always competitive, especially if he was able to do so with a hodgepodge group that got off to a horrid start this past go-round. 

    But even when there's an influx of talent, Miami's aging curve limits the ceiling. 

Milwaukee Bucks

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 45-37

    2018-19 Projected Record: 48-34

    2019-20 Projected Record: 50-32

    2020-21 Projected Record: 52-30

    2021-22 Projected Record: 49-33

    The sky may be the limit for the Milwaukee Bucks, who should just keep improving for the foreseeable future. Everything points toward success, with one notable exception—the Bucks aren't primed to bring in a superstar through free agency or a trade without sacrificing vital pieces, which means they may decline toward the tail end of our time frame as some key players move out of their primes. 

    But let's remain optimistic. 

    Giannis Antetokounmpo gives Milwaukee one of the league's best building blocks. Unless someone called the Bucks offering LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Karl-Anthony Towns or Anthony Davis in exchange, they may get laughed off the phone while inquiring about the aptly named "Greek Freak."

    And that's by no means where the talent pool dries up. 

    Malcolm Brogdon could very well win Rookie of the Year, as he proved he was more than just a steady force at the point. Khris Middleton is a preeminent three-and-D threat. Jabari Parker was trending toward Most Improved Player consideration before tearing his ACL for a second time. Thon Maker broke out as a two-way stud during the team's brief playoff run. Tony Snell could be another huge asset, so long as Milwaukee is able to retain the restricted free agent. Matthew Dellavedova...well, never mind about him. 

    Upside reigns supreme in Brewtown, especially now that Greg Monroe has justified his contract and ensured there are literally no terrible deals on the books. Even Dellavedova's salary is palatable, since it remains just seven figures while the cap rises. 

    Given the potential, the established studliness of a few contributors and the lack of outgoing draft picks in the next few years, the Bucks are primed to challenge the top of the Eastern Conference as they continue growing. 

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    2017-18 Projected Record: 39-43

    2018-19 Projected Record: 42-40

    2019-20 Projected Record: 44-38

    2020-21 Projected Record: 46-36

    2021-22 Projected Record: 48-34

    It would be downright shocking if the Minnesota Timberwolves didn't continue an upward trend for the next half-decade. 

    They're swimming in young talent, and all the relevant players are still learning how to play A) at the NBA level, B) in Tom Thibodeau's defensive system and C) with one another. As Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and Kris Dunn continue to coalesce, they'll only grow more dangerous on both ends of the floor, and that's before we factor in veterans such as Gorgui Dieng and Ricky Rubio. 

    Towns is unquestionably a gem. He should settle in as one of the game's 10 best players for a long time, and he could conceivably rank even higher in the near future, especially as he figures out how to play positive interior defense. It's Wiggins' future that's more up in the air, and that makes the upward trend a flatter one. 

    Bryan Toporek wrote about exactly this in January for BBallBreakdown:

    The long-term ceiling of Andrew Wiggins, meanwhile, remains less certain. He’s already emerged as a nightly 20-point-per-game threat, but his limited contributions elsewhere—he’s a poor rebounder and facilitator, and his defensive output doesn’t yet match his frame or athleticism—led to Dean Demakis of to opine in late November, “He has no chance of becoming a top-10 player, and the optimistic comparison is akin to DeMar DeRozan or something slightly better.” While that’s not the upside teams expect from a No. 1 overall pick, having Towns softens the blow for Minnesota, as Wiggins can slide into a sidekick role and slowly round out his game while avoiding the scrutiny he’d otherwise face.

    Even if Wiggins never truly pans out, the 'Wolves should have one of the NBA's best centers, a poor man's DeMar DeRozan, a sharpshooter (LaVine) and plenty of other quality pieces. Barring catastrophic injuries, there's almost no way they fail to challenge for 50 wins by the time 2021-22 is upon us, even if they can't quite get there. 

New Orleans Pelicans

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

    2017-18 Projected Record: 48-34

    2018-19 Projected Record: 32-50

    2019-20 Projected Record: 36-46

    2020-21 Projected Record: 35-47

    2021-22 Projected Record: 36-46

    The New Orleans Pelicans need to dominate in 2017-18. 

    Anthony Davis is locked up, but DeMarcus Cousins can hit free agency a year from now if he so desires. And lest we forget, it was the Sacramento Kings who traded him to the bayou; he didn't explicitly choose where he'd play next. If the Pelicans aren't immediately competitive and winning game after game as the "fire and ice" duo leads the charge, there's little reason to believe he'd avoid fleeing for greener pastures. 

    This tandem is supremely talented. There's no doubt about that. Even if Jrue Holiday leaves in free agency—and we're not betting on that—Cousins and Davis alone should be enough to propel the Pelicans well beyond the No. 8 seed in the ever-competitive Western Conference. 

    But that's still not enough. 

    Without competing for a championship, Cousins won't have much incentive to stay. And if he bolts after just a single full season, that leaves NOLA in the lurch, desperately seeking more talent without boasting much on the current roster. A downward spiral is inevitable, even if a mature Davis can keep his troops from sinking all the way back into the basement.

    Hovering just below .500 is the most likely outcome once more pieces are added to replace the departed big.

New York Knicks

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    2017-18 Projected Record: 27-55

    2018-19 Projected Record: 32-50

    2019-20 Projected Record: 34-48

    2020-21 Projected Record: 40-42

    2021-22 Projected Record: 45-37

    If you have faith in the New York Knicks' front office right now, I'd like to congratulate you on your thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. But why did it take you three years to trudge from Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin without any internet service when it typically takes people closer to six months? 

    All kidding aside, being lost in the woods without any way to check in on the Knicks for the entirety of Phil Jackson's tenure might be the only way to maintain confidence in their decision-making these days. They've squandered so many opportunities, burned bridges with franchise legends, signed veterans to bad contracts and displayed an unrelenting stubbornness with a certain geometric offense that shall henceforth remain nameless. 

    It's not going to get better anytime soon.

    The situation with Carmelo Anthony is tenuous (at best), to the point that he'll either play for the Knicks in disgruntled fashion or hesitantly acquiesce to a trade that offers a less-than-stellar return. At point guard, Derrick Rose might be the highest-upside player with whom the Knicks can get a meeting. And even if they do make pitches to big names, they don't have too much money to spend without neglecting this little thing called depth.

    Relief is on the distant horizon, though. Kristaps Porzingis and the other up-and-comers employed by New York should make the franchise a bit more competitive, and the brand appeal might be back by the time Joakim Noah's ridiculous contract comes off the books in 2020, allowing it to sign a marquee player and finally climb back into the playoffs.  

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

    2017-18 Projected Record: 44-38

    2018-19 Projected Record: 43-39

    2019-20 Projected Record: 42-40

    2020-21 Projected Record: 40-42

    2021-22 Projected Record: 41-41

    Let's say Russell Westbrook somehow manages to replicate his Herculean performances during the 2017-18 campaign. He once again bears enormous burdens, averages a triple-double for the second consecutive season and barely breaks a sweat while doing so. 

    Then what happens in 2018-19? 

    The let-Russ-do-everything strategy isn't a sustainable plan (I think). The dynamic point guard is a human being (I think). He has to wear down eventually (I think). And when that day eventually comes (if it ever does), the Thunder need more bodies capable of shouldering heavy loads. 

    Right now, they don't have those pieces. 

    Victor Oladipo was quite disappointing during his first season with the Thunder, and he's now making over $20 million annually through 2020-21. Steven Adams couldn't live up to the expectations after his breakthrough in the 2016 postseason, and he's on the books for even more money over the same stretch. In 2020-21 alone, the Thunder will pay over $48 million to just those two players. 

    Improvement will be tough. The Thunder won't be bad with Westbrook on board, and he's shown too much loyalty to think he'll depart in 2018 after turning down a player option. But the pieces just aren't there, and counting on general manager Sam Presti to unearth yet another gem is asking too much.

Orlando Magic

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    2017-18 Projected Record: 30-52

    2018-19 Projected Record: 29-53

    2019-20 Projected Record: 34-48

    2020-21 Projected Record: 36-46

    2021-22 Projected Record: 36-46

    Though it's a positive that Rob Hennigan is no longer in charge, he's left the Orlando Magic with quite a mess. New general manager John Hammond built up an impressive resume with the Milwaukee Bucks, but he's basically starting from scratch in his new location. And he knows as much, based on what he told Scott Anez on ESPN Orlando 580 AM (transcribed by Orlando Magic Daily's Philip Rossman-Reich) about the team's strategy with the No. 6 pick in the 2017 NBA draft:

    You hate to get cliches like that, but I think we do. That's how we think and that's what we're looking to do right now. We're going to take the best player on the board and hope this player can develop into a core player that we can help build around for the next few years and eventually turn into a championship-caliber team. But it's one step at a time. This is a big step. To have the sixth pick, it's one you don’t want to miss on.

    Orlando has been rebuilding for long enough that it shouldn't need to go with the best-player-available strategy. But it's been directionless in recent years, most notably backtracking with the Serge Ibaka trade after overloading on big men and pushing Aaron Gordon away from his natural position at the 4. 

    There is talent on the Magic roster. Gordon could still become a stud, while Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross and Nikola Vucevic can contribute nicely in their areas of confidence. 

    But it takes a while to establish direction, and Orlando's misfires mean it won't really have the necessary cap space to reverse the franchise's course until 2019-20. 

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    2017-18 Projected Record: 36-46

    2018-19 Projected Record: 40-42

    2019-20 Projected Record: 45-37

    2020-21 Projected Record: 48-34

    2021-22 Projected Record: 50-32

    The Philadelphia 76ers are better set up for a turnaround than any team in the league not named the Minnesota Timberwolves. Already, they produced a 3.2 net rating with Joel Embiid on the floor, though he was only healthy for a handful of games.

    Now, add Ben Simmons into the mix, as last year's No. 1 pick should be ready to make his professional debut in 2017-18. Throw in another top pick from this year's draft, whether that's Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson or someone else. Then, imagine if you can bring Kyle Lowry aboard as well, since the All-Star point guard could be looking for a new home and has already shown interest in Philly, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    If all goes according to plan, 36 wins in 2017-18 could be a drastic underestimate. Of course, there's also a chance injuries strike once again.

    It's better to be conservative here, because the Sixers will still remain on an upward trajectory for at least the next half-decade. They have as much young talent as anyone in the league, as well as the cap space necessary to ink Lowry to a big deal and still make other impact additions.

    Don't expect a massive jump, even with a shiny new point guard leading the charge. Improving by eight wins puts this organization firmly on the right track; then it can just keep growing in conjunction with the development of Embiid, Simmons and this year's No. 3 pick. 

Phoenix Suns

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    2017-18 Projected Record: 32-50

    2018-19 Projected Record: 33-49

    2019-20 Projected Record: 35-47

    2020-21 Projected Record: 35-47

    2021-22 Projected Record: 37-45

    The Phoenix Suns don't immediately seem like one of those teams doomed to be stuck in basketball purgatory for the next few years. Not after Devin Booker broke the 70-point threshold in a single game during his sophomore season. Not with so many different youthful pieces in place. 

    But which of the Phoenix youngsters is guaranteed stardom? 

    Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender are both quite raw, while Tyler Ulis might not have the upside necessary to become anything more than an offensive spark off the pine. T.J. Warren remains a one-way player, and Booker's defense negates so much of his offensive explosiveness. That's not a pessimistic set of takes, so much as a realistic look at a team that could dramatically exceed expectations or be doomed by its desire to acquire a large quantity of prospects over a smaller number of high-quality ones. 

    Plus, the Suns' window might not correspond with Eric Bledsoe's prime. The point guard is one of the league's most underrated players at his position, but he's also 27 years old with a lengthy injury history. By the time his teammates are ready, he'll either be moving out of the realm of All-Star contenders or playing for another organization, since his contract is up after he makes $15 million in 2018-19. 

    If it helps, this is one of the predictions about which you should have the least confidence. Such a plethora of up-and-comers makes a singular breakout more likely, even if it's currently impossible to guess from where that surge will come. 

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

    2017-18 Projected Record: 46-36

    2018-19 Projected Record: 41-41

    2019-20 Projected Record: 40-42

    2020-21 Projected Record: 39-43

    2021-22 Projected Record: 38-44

    Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are both under contract with the Portland Trail Blazers through the end of the 2020-21 season.

    So, they better work well together. 

    The dynamic backcourt pairing is fearsome on the offensive end, but both are far too porous defensively. They can each function as turnstiles against the many excellent guards scattered throughout the Western Conference, to the point that their mutual presence can sometimes be detrimental. Per, they allowed 110.4 points per 100 possessions in 2016-17, which would've placed No. 28 in the season-long rankings, better than only the Denver Nuggets (110.5) and Los Angeles Lakers (110.6). 

    The enduring presence of Jusuf Nurkic should help with this. Though he's not a lockdown defender on the interior, his size alone should help eliminate some of the easy lanes toward the hoop. 

    But Portland has still limited its upside by committing to a tandem with such an obvious and unfixable weakness. As the core grows more expensive, it'll be even harder to work around the flaw, which makes it most likely that Rip City endures a dry spell of perpetual mediocrity until it can move on in one way or another.

Sacramento Kings

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    Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

    2017-18 Projected Record: 20-62

    2018-19 Projected Record: 30-52

    2019-20 Projected Record: 31-51

    2020-21 Projected Record: 29-53

    2021-22 Projected Record: 29-53

    Keep your chins up, Sacramento Kings fans. 

    It's not going to get better anytime soon, but that doesn't mean you have to succumb to a deep state of depression. The management genuinely is trying to find new, exciting players. Buddy Hield can be fun! The same is true of Willie Cauley-Stein and Georgios Papagiannis!

    But...that's about all I've got. 

    The haul Sacramento received for DeMarcus Cousins wasn't nearly the type of return it should've been seeking, and that will inevitably set the franchise back. Even if it nails the No. 5 pick in the 2017 NBA draft and makes another impact addition five selections later, it should still end up competing for the league's worst record in 2017-18. 

    From there, the team should improve as the youngsters grow, and it doesn't hurt that having so many rotation members on rookie-scale deals opens up more cap space to spend pursuing big-name free agents. But selling a marquee player on Sacramento is a tough proposition right now, one that doesn't figure to change anytime soon. 

    Until the front office proves itself, forecasting anything more than a 31-win peak would be irresponsible. But again, keep those chins up and continue trying to find the silver linings in anything that happens between now and the eventual return to the playoffs. No franchise can ever be doomed to the lottery forever.

San Antonio Spurs

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    Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

    2017-18 Projected Record: 60-22

    2018-19 Projected Record: 59-23

    2019-20 Projected Record: 52-30

    2020-21 Projected Record: 50-32

    2021-22 Projected Record: 50-32

    Everyone gets old eventually, and players on the San Antonio Spurs aren't going to be exceptions. 

    Manu Ginobili, if he doesn't retire, will play even fewer minutes during the 2017-18 campaign. Tony Parker is now coming off a major injury and another year deeper into his 30s. Pau Gasol isn't getting any younger, and the same is true of the many other veterans still wearing a silver uniform. 

    But why should we bet against the Spurs? 

    It's impossible to predict fewer than 50 wins during any season in which Kawhi Leonard is healthy and on the roster. Youngsters such as Dejounte Murray could break out. Chris Paul may even sign with the organization to chase after the first ring of his career—in fact, we're expecting him to do exactly that, hence predicting just one fewer win in 2017-18. 

    Still, the decline will come. Even San Antonio can't keep winning 60 games year after year. 

    There are no concerns about Leonard's growth here. But the Spurs will eventually misfire on some free-agency pursuits and deal with a season of "only" 50 victories. 

Toronto Raptors

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    David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    2017-18 Projected Record: 42-40

    2018-19 Projected Record: 40-42

    2019-20 Projected Record: 39-43

    2020-21 Projected Record: 38-44

    2021-22 Projected Record: 39-43

    The Toronto Raptors aren't even close to the same team without Kyle Lowry. 

    DeMar DeRozan is a scoring stud at the 2, but that doesn't make him nearly as valuable as his backcourt counterpart. Forget about his penchant for racking up awards and producing gaudier per-game numbers than Lowry; the on/off impacts don't lie here, per

    SituationNet Rating
    Lowry On, DeRozan On5.4
    Lowry On, DeRozan Off11.3
    Lowry Off, DeRozan Onminus-0.9
    Lowry Off, DeRozan Off0.7

    That doesn't bode well for the franchise's fortunes when Lowry seeks a change of location this summer. Whether he escapes LeBron James' wrath by fleeing to the Western Conference or joins the Philadelphia 76ers as previously discussed, the Raptors can't experience nearly the same level of success with Cory Joseph and Delon Wright running the show.

    Plus, rebounding from the loss will be tough. Bringing back Serge Ibaka only adds to the massive expenditures owed to DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas, and there's not too much upside running rampant throughout this organization—if Bruno Caboclo were a future stud, it seems like he'd have made some impact by now, even for Raptors 905. 

    Toronto has too much talent to be bad, but it's hard to see it picking up enough quality players to escape mediocrity. 

Utah Jazz

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    Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

    2017-18 Projected Record: 56-26

    2018-19 Projected Record: 51-31

    2019-20 Projected Record: 46-36

    2020-21 Projected Record: 44-38

    2021-22 Projected Record: 42-40

    The Utah Jazz should be able to run it back with both George Hill and Gordon Hayward, and that makes them a serious threat to earn the second-best record in the Western Conference during the 2017-18 campaign.

    They were a dominant bunch whenever healthy in 2016-17, even if that didn't occur as frequently as desired. With the same core troops returning, there's no reason to expect anything different, though injuries could always strike with a vengeance once again. It's only after the next go-round that their situation becomes a bit tricky. 

    Though the Jazz are new to the contenders scene, they don't have a wide-open window. Too many members of the team's nucleus are past their athletic primes, whether we're looking at Joe Johnson's important contributions off the bench or Hill's status as a 31-year-old point guard. 

    Plus, re-signing everyone gets hard after 2017-18. 

    Hill, Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Alec Burks and Trey Lyles should be under contract beyond that date, but that leaves plenty of men for whom the Jazz have to find new deals. It won't be feasible to hang onto Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood, Dante Exum and nearly every other member of the bench, which means Utah has to do what it hasn't in the past—peruse free agency in an attempt to bring in top-tier talent. 

    There's just one problem: So many other teams will be doing the same in summer 2018, and that makes it tougher to imagine the Jazz remaining at the same level for more than another year. There's a lot of pressure on 2017-18 right now, and that spells trouble if and when the Golden State Warriors remain intact and are poised to knock Salt Lake City back out of the title picture. 

Washington Wizards

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    2017-18 Projected Record: 48-34

    2018-19 Projected Record: 46-36

    2019-20 Projected Record: 43-39

    2020-21 Projected Record: 42-40

    2021-22 Projected Record: 40-42

    The Washington Wizards can't afford to lose Otto Porter Jr., even if it'll take a max contract to ensure he remains in the nation's capital. 

    "I hope he gets the max," Markieff Morris said about his teammate after the team was eliminated from the postseason, per Candace Buckner of the Washington Post. "He's worth the max."

    He is worth the max. But that also creates an unfortunate situation for the growing Wizards, since tying up so much money in the sharpshooting small forward will limit their cap space for the next few years. John Wall and Bradley Beal already account for over $40 million a year for the next two years, and the exorbitant salaries handed out to Marcin Gortat ($12,782,609 in 2017-18 and $13,565,218 in 2018-19) and Ian Mahinmi ($48 million over the next three years) don't help. 

    Adding more beneficial pieces to Washington's cause is unlikely, which is problematic when the bench has so frequently held back the starters in recent years. And that only becomes more troublesome when Wall is no longer able to play at an All-NBA level. 

    It's tough to remember this now, since we're so accustomed to him turning on the jets and showing off his remarkable drive-and-kick vision. But the former Kentucky standout will turn 27 before the start of the 2017-18 season, which means he'll be in his 30s by the end of our five-year forecast. Regression should be planned for, even if the Wizards don't currently have many means with which they can counteract it. 

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball or NBA Math.