NBA Power Rankings Post-Free Agency

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterNovember 30, 2020

NBA Power Rankings Post-Free Agency

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Although it's been less than two months since the Los Angeles Lakers captured the 2019-20 title, the 2020-21 season will kick off soon.

    It's been a short yet action-packed offseason with the draft and the bulk of free agency having already taken place. So while we're still waiting on some big decisions (Giannis Antetokounmpo's supermax, a new contract for Anthony Davis in L.A., what happens to James Harden and Russell Westbrook), the majority of team rosters are already set.

    Here's how all 30 franchises stack up following a busy week of free agency.

No. 30: New York Knicks

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    Kim Klement/Associated Press

    The New York Knicks finished last season 25th in win percentage, added a ready-to-go rookie in Obi Toppin and brought in some helpful veterans in Austin Rivers, Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel.

    So how are they the worst team in the NBA now?

    New York actually hasn't had a bad offseason, choosing not to splurge on marginal talent and instead bringing in quality role players on team-friendly contracts while keeping cap space open for 2021.

    Cutting ties with so many veterans hurts the Knicks in the short term, however, and relying on a young core of RJ Barrett, Toppin, Mitchell Robinson and Immanuel Quickley makes for a nice future but a not-so-pleasant present.

    Patience isn't what new head coach Tom Thibodeau is known for, but it's what he'll need with one of the NBA's youngest rosters.

No. 29: Detroit Pistons

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    The Detroit Pistons had a tremendous draft by taking Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey in the first round before making a series of questionable moves in free agency.

    Dumping Andre Drummond made sense assuming the team planned to re-sign Christian Wood, a younger and more modern NBA center. Losing the 25-year-old to the Houston Rockets on a modest three-year, $41 million deal certainly hurt, especially since the Pistons also agreed to pay Mason Plumlee $25 million over those same three seasons.

    Jerami Grant is a solid starter who can play and defend multiple positions, but he'll turn 27 in March and doesn't exactly fit Detroit's timeline to contend. Hayes, the new face of the Pistons, turned 19 in July.

    A healthy Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose could go a long way in making the Pistons competitive, although both should probably be moved at some point this season to help open up playing time for the next wave.

    Making the playoffs shouldn't be the goal for Detroit in 2019-20. The development of Hayes, Stewart, Bey and second-year forward Sekou Doumbouya should instead take priority.

No 28: Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    Only the injury-ravaged Golden State Warriors had a worse win percentage than the Cleveland Cavaliers last year, and Cleveland will be relying on internal improvements after a quiet offseason.

    Andre Drummond chose to return on a $28.8 million player option, which wasn't a surprise given that centers like Serge Ibaka, Tristan Thompson and Montrezl Harrell ended up signing for the mid-level exception. Chris Fedor of reported there was "mutual interest" in an extension but the two sides were far apart in preliminary discussions.

    The Cavs frontcourt of Drummond, Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr. and JaVale McGee is built to win now, although the backcourt and wings are still extremely young.

    Cleveland essentially gets two first-rounders this season with Isaac Okoro and last year's No. 26 overall pick, Dylan Windler, who missed his rookie year due to a leg injury. Growth from Collin Sexton, Kevin Porter Jr. and Darius Garland will be needed, as well.

    Even as a rookie, Okoro should help a Cavs defense that posted an NBA-worst 114.8 defensive rating a year ago, but this is still going to be a bottom-feeder that may not have Love or Drummond by season's end.

No. 27: Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    No team will be as unrecognizable as the Oklahoma City Thunder this season.

    Losing six rotation players—Chris Paul, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari, Dennis Schroder, Nerlens Noel and Terrance Ferguson—from a 44-28 team will finally plummet OKC back into the lottery, a position many felt it would be in last year after trading Russell Westbrook and Paul George.

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander may need to average 25 points per game for the Thunder to remain somewhat competitive as Al Horford, George Hill and Trevor Ariza are all in their mid-30s and could be trade candidates at any moment should a draft pick be on the table.

    Look for second-year forward Darius Bazley to earn a starting job and be a prime breakout candidate, with fellow sophomore Luguentz Dort asked to take on a bigger offensive role, as well.

    The Thunder could cash in their incredible collection of draft assets for proven talent at any time. For now, they'll be one of the worst teams in the NBA.

No. 26: Sacramento Kings

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Though the Sacramento Kings have been building momentum toward a playoff appearance the last two seasons, the Western Conference has remained too powerful for them to make the postseason in 2020-21.

    Tyrese Haliburton falling to No. 12 overall was a stroke of luck as he'll likely soak up sixth-man minutes behind De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. If the latter is eventually traded, which he should be, a Fox-Haliburton backcourt will be a lot of fun to watch.

    Bringing in 31-year-old Hassan Whiteside doesn't fit the team's timeline, but getting the 2019-20 blocks per game leader on a minimum deal could be attractive trade bait come February. He'll help clean the glass for a team that ranked 21st in rebound percentage (49.2 percent) and can't seem to get a healthy version of Marvin Bagley III.

    Losing Bogdan Bogdanovic to the Atlanta Hawks for nothing was a disastrous move even if Sacramento didn't want to pay him $72 million over four years. The Kings were happy to give Harrison Barnes $88 million last offseason, and losing the better player for less money will set them back.

    Getting De'Aaron Fox to agree to a five-year, $163 million extension was the most important part of the offseason even if it won't necessarily lead to more wins this year.

No. 25: Charlotte Hornets

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    There's no way the Charlotte Hornets won't improve on their 23-42 record from last season.

    LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward should help kickstart an offense that ranked 28th in the NBA (105.9 rating), and Vernon Carey Jr. gives them a young center to develop behind veteran Cody Zeller.

    Did the Hornets overpay for Hayward? Of course, but he'll put up big numbers and should be the team's primary scorer this season with both Ball and Devonte' Graham setting him up.

    Leaps from P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges may ultimately dictate just how good the Hornets end up being, though their ceiling probably still falls short of the playoffs.

No. 24: Chicago Bulls

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Despite putting together a new front office and coaching staff, the Chicago Bulls have been extremely quiet this offseason.

    Billy Donovan got the most out of his Oklahoma City Thunder last season and is now tasked with pulling all the potential he can out of players like Coby White, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.

    Chicago has playoff-sleeper potential. However, there's no true point guard on the roster, and losing Kris Dunn's defense will hurt. Only the Golden State Warriors put together a worse offense last season than the Bulls' 105.8 rating, and Chicago needs some help on the glass, as well (48.1 rebound percentage, 28th in NBA).

    Zach LaVine is toeing the line between All-Star and stat-stuffer on perennially losing teams, and Chicago's primary scoring and playmaking duties will once again fall on his 25-year-old shoulders.

No. 23: Orlando Magic

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Getting Cole Anthony with the 15th pick in the draft was great value for the Orlando Magic even if the fit between him and Markelle Fultz isn't great.

    Evan Fournier picking up his player option may have been a blessing as the Magic will need his floor-spacing to offset the lack of shooting in their young backcourt.

    Not having Jonathan Isaac for the season due to a torn ACL suffered in the bubble is a devastating loss since he was Orlando's best hope for internal improvement. Aaron Gordon should thrive with more time at power forward, though, and Nikola Vucevic is still in his prime as a do-it-all center.

    Last year's No. 16 overall pick, Chuma Okeke, will finally be making his debut after rehabbing from a torn ACL, and the 22-year-old should soak up minutes left by Isaac.

    Still, losing D.J. Augustin as a veteran mentor in the backcourt hurts, and a repeat of last year's 33-40 record won't cut it in an improved East.

No. 22: Washington Wizards

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    With a healthy John Wall, a potential steal of a draft pick in Deni Avdija at No. 9 overall and Davis Bertans back on a five-year, $80 million deal, the Washington Wizards should be significantly improved from the team we saw go 25-47 last season.

    Wall has had nearly two years to recover from an Achilles injury, and he and Bradley Beal once again represent one of the best offensive backcourts in the NBA. Bertans will keep the floor spread for both (42.4 percent from three) even if he's likely to stay in a reserve role.

    Second-year forward Rui Hachimura will need to learn to play off both star guards following a nice rookie season, and Avdija will need to improve his outside shooting if he wants a shot at the starting small forward job.

    Robin Lopez was a confusing choice for a backup center given Washington was dead last in rebounding last season while Lopez was 13th on his own team in rebound percentage (8.3 percent, even behind point guard Eric Bledsoe).

No. 21: Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Timberwolves were a disaster last season (hence getting the No. 1 pick) but only got one game out of their new Karl-Anthony Towns-D'Angelo Russell pairing.

    Add in Anthony Edwards and this team should be one of the league's top offensive units, especially with Ricky Rubio returning and making sure everyone gets their touches.

    Jarrett Culver has gone overlooked but showed real promise toward the end of last season (10.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game on 46.7 percent shooting from three over his final 10 appearances) and will be key to Minnesota's long-term ceiling.

    Defense will definitely be an issue, especially with Towns, Russell and Edwards all logging heavy minutes. The West is still too good for the Wolves to reach the playoffs, but they've at least assembled a core of four-to-five young pillars around whom they can build.

No. 20: San Antonio Spurs

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    Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

    The San Antonio Spurs seem content to remain in NBA purgatory, keeping both DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge to avoid a rebuild and failing to add any veteran outside help to try starting a new playoff streak.

    Devin Vassell was a terrific pickup after he fell to No. 11 overall, but he may start the year buried on the depth chart with so many guards and wings, led by DeRozan, in front of him.

    San Antonio will forever play hard, but a 24th-ranked defense wasn't addressed in free agency. The Spurs need to embrace a rebuild and seek new homes for both DeRozan and Aldridge before they become free agents next summer.

    With the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans both fighting for the eighth seed and the Golden State Warriors getting a healthy Stephen Curry back, the Spurs will miss the playoffs for the second straight year.

No. 19: Memphis Grizzlies

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Despite not picking until 30th overall, the Memphis Grizzlies were able to snag two of college basketball's best players, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman Sr., each of whom should be able to contribute immediately to one of the NBA's most talented young rosters.

    Memphis should theoretically get Justise Winslow to suit up at some point as a do-it-all forward who hasn't played more than 68 games in a season since he was a rookie in 2015-16. While Ja Morant will handle most of the playmaking duties, a healthy Winslow (along with Kyle Anderson, Tyus Jones and De'Anthony Melton) makes for a pass-happy core.

    After flirting with the playoffs last season before ultimately falling just shy, Memphis is short on star power but has an incredibly bright future. This will be a year primarily devoted to development, but that doesn't mean the Grizzlies won't have a shot at the postseason.

    With a rotation that could include only players in their 20s, Memphis could have used a few extra vets sprinkled in. It's a strategy that worked well at the beginning of last season.

No. 18: Phoenix Suns

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Despite trading for Chris Paul and signing Jae Crowder, the Phoenix Suns still face an uphill battle to make the postseason.

    Devin Booker is coming off a career year and looks like a superstar in the making, and getting the opportunity to play alongside Paul should only help improve the mental aspect of his game. Deandre Ayton could make the leap to become one of the NBA's best big men with an improved outside shot and defensive motor, while Jalen Smith should serve as a floor-spacing big man behind him.

    Crowder and Mikal Bridges are a terrific pair of wing defenders who can do the dirty work, and Cameron Johnson should compete for the starting power forward job after going No. 11 overall in the 2019 draft.

    As long as Paul doesn't fall off a cliff, this could be the best Suns team we've seen in over a decade. In the West, though, even that may not be enough for a playoff berth.

No. 17: New Orleans Pelicans

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Pelicans will win any and all arm-wrestling contests this season with Zion Williamson and Steven Adams, perhaps now the strongest frontcourt in all of basketball. The former will have to become an effective outside shooter, however, for the pairing to work.

    Adams takes over Derrick Favors' spot as the starting center. While he's not quite as good a rebounder, both are quality defenders with limited offensive games who don't need the ball in their hands to be effective. On a team with Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, that matters.

    With Ingram agreeing to a five-year, $158 million deal, the chemistry between him and his young teammates matters more than anything.

    The trio of Ingram, Ball and Williamson posted a net rating of plus-11.3 in 360 total minutes together, an encouraging start to their mutual time in New Orleans. A rotation with Eric Bledsoe, JJ Redick, Jaxson Hayes, Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker could certainly make a postseason run.

    New Orleans took a step back by trading Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks, but that move should ultimately be worthwhile given the draft capital it got back.

No. 16: Atlanta Hawks

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Hawks should jump from the bottom of the East into the playoffs, a leap made possible by some key free-agent signings and the development of one of the NBA's best young cores.

    Following a 20-47 record, the Hawks checked off nearly all their needs.

    Rajon Rondo serves as a veteran point guard behind Trae Young, Kris Dunn helps make up for Young's defensive shortcomings in the backcourt, and Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari should improve a team that ranked dead last in three-point shooting last season.

    Onyeka Okongwu has All-Defensive potential with his shot-blocking and switchability, and he won't have to be thrown into the fire immediately with Clint Capela locked in as the starting center.

    While the free-agent activity gets most of the buzz, jumps from players like De'Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter will be key to the Hawks making the postseason, as well.

No. 15: Houston Rockets

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Houston Rockets could look very different by the time the season starts with James Harden and Russell Westbrook both potentially on the way out. Even if the star pair returns, this won't be the same 44-28 squad from last year.

    Head coach Mike D'Antoni is out, and first-timer Steven Silas is taking his place. General manager Daryl Morey is also gone, now running the Philadelphia 76ers front office. The chemistry between Harden and Westbrook certainly won't be the same, either.

    While Houston did well to pick up a 25-year-old center in Christian Wood (21.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game on 40.8 percent from three in 12 starts), it lost a key defensive piece by trading Robert Covington to the Portland Trail Blazers.

    DeMarcus Cousins is a wildcard, last playing in an NBA game in June 2019. Now 30, the four-time All-Star hasn't played a full season since 2016-17.

    If the Rockets keep Westbrook and Harden, this is likely a low playoff seed in the West. Should they blow it up, a young team like the Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Pelicans or Memphis Grizzlies will be waiting to take their playoff spot.

No. 14: Indiana Pacers

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The Indiana Pacers are exactly where they left off the 2019-20 season: good enough to make the playoffs yet destined for another first-round exit.

    A healthy Victor Oladipo would go a long way toward the Pacers making any postseason noise, and Myles Turner (15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game on 42.9 percent shooting from three) finally showed his true potential against the Miami Heat in the playoffs.

    After seeing seven players average double-digit scoring numbers (with none reaching more than 19.8 points per game), the Pacers' calling card should once again come on the defensive end where they ranked sixth overall with a 107.5 rating.

    Still one of the NBA's middle-of-the-pack teams, it's hard to see Indiana's needle moving one way or the other without some drastic roster shakeup.

13. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The Portland Trail Blazers will be one of the league's most improved teams after finishing last year four games below .500.

    A healthy Jusuf Nurkic will be the biggest reason, but a revamped set of wings will play a big role, as well.

    Robert Covington is a perfect fit at either forward position as a 29-year old coming off playoff averages of 11.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.1 blocks and a 50.0 percent mark from three. Rodney Hood and Derrick Jones Jr. give the Blazers scoring and depth, and Carmelo Anthony should now be asked to do far less at age 36.

    Enes Kanter gives Portland insurance behind Nurkic, and Harry Giles III (22) was a no-risk signing with significant potential.

    While the Blazers didn't do much to improve their league-worst assist rate (48.8 percent), this roster is still far better than last year's.

No. 12: Toronto Raptors

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Toronto Raptors won't finish with the second-best record in the NBA again, but they should still be a playoff lock with Fred VanVleet back on a four-year, $85 million deal.

    While Marc Gasol's play was slipping, his plus-5.9 on/off rating was still the second-highest among players in the starting lineup (Pascal Siakam's plus-6.2 was first). Losing him and Serge Ibaka was a big hit.

    Aron Baynes is a downgrade but is still a quality starting center who brings toughness and floor-spacing to the position. Siakam, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell and VanVleet are all still improving, and 34-year-old Kyle Lowry has shown little decrease in play to this point.

    It just won't be easy to maintain a second-place defensive rating without Gasol and Ibaka, and that was the backbone of Toronto's success last season.

No. 11: Golden State Warriors

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    An Achilles injury to Klay Thompson makes the Golden State Warriors a borderline playoff team even with Stephen Curry back in the starting lineup.

    While Curry and Draymond Green are a recipe for success, head coach Steve Kerr will need to get immediate contributions from rookie James Wiseman, he of just three games since high school.

    Andrew Wiggins is a wildcard as he and Curry only played a single game together last season. At age 25, Wiggins is running out of time to reach whatever potential he has left, and he'll have to be a willing ball-mover and defender for the Warriors system to work.

    Kelly Oubre Jr. certainly isn't on Thompson's level, but he brings a scoring punch the Warriors suddenly need. He must improve on a 34.4 percent catch-and-shoot three-point rate playing with Curry and Green as Golden State's starting five could suddenly be short on outside shooting.

    This season will be one of Curry's greatest career tests, and the Warriors will likely plunge back into the lottery if he misses any significant time.

No. 10: Utah Jazz

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Should the Utah Jazz be viewed as a team that blew a 3-1 first-round lead, or rather one that nearly knocked out a Denver Nuggets squad that would later take down the Los Angeles Clippers?

    Utah was the league's best three-point shooting team last season (38.0 percent) even with a starting center in Rudy Gobert who's never made one in his seven career seasons. Surrounding a two-time Defensive Player of the Year with shooters is a recipe for success, and it's one that should carry into this season.

    Getting Derrick Favors back on a modest three-year, $30 million deal is a massive upgrade from Ed Davis at the backup center position and perhaps serves as an insurance policy should the Jazz and Gobert fail to agree on a long-term extension.

    With a new five-year, $195 million extension, Donovan Mitchell will continue to keep Utah in the playoffs, and Mike Conley should be better in his second year with the Jazz.

    Utah was already one of the best teams in the NBA, and it got even better by bringing Favors back.

No. 9: Dallas Mavericks

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The Dallas Mavericks swapped offense for defense this offseason, sending sharpshooting guard Seth Curry to the Philadelphia 76ers for Josh Richardson.

    That was a necessary move for a Dallas team that was overwhelmingly ranked first in offense (115.9 rating) yet placed in the bottom half defensively (111.2 rating, 18th overall). They already featured a better net rating last season than teams like the Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz, and the Mavs should soon be a true title contender.

    Luka Doncic could be the MVP front-runner in just his third season, especially with Kristaps Porzingis expected to be out until at least January following October knee surgery.

    Dwight Powell's return from a January Achilles injury will be a big boost to the team's defense, and James Johnson brings toughness to the frontcourt.

    Doncic will establish himself as a top-five player in the NBA this season—if he hasn't already.

No. 8: Philadelphia 76ers

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia 76ers went from trying to force two puzzles together to boasting a neatly constructed masterpiece, at least on paper.

    Getting off Al Horford's contract and receiving Danny Green in return was well worth a first-round pick, improving both the Sixers' on-court fit and future salary books. Tobias Harris returning to power forward full-time should help him build upon his already strong play, and Dwight Howard will take over backup center minutes from Horford at a fraction of the cost.

    Landing Seth Curry was huge since he's a perfect fit next to Ben Simmons in Philly's backcourt with his 12.4 points per game on 45.2 percent shooting from three last season. He should once again get plenty of open three-point looks playing with Simmons and Joel Embiid, shots he converted at a 48.9 percent clip last year.

    While Simmons (24) and Embiid (26) are both still a few years away from their primes, the pressure will truly be on Philadelphia to finally make a deep playoff run.

No. 7: Boston Celtics

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Despite losing Gordon Hayward for nothing more than a conditional second-round pick, the Boston Celtics should still be one of the best teams in the East behind Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker.

    Tatum took the leap many hoped he would in Year 3 and now has a new five-year, $195 million max contract that will kick in next season. Now 22, Tatum may not yet be ready to be the best player on a championship team, although he'll have plenty of help on this roster.

    Tristan Thompson, 29, should get the starting center job over Daniel Theis, especially coming off a season in which he averaged 12.0 points and 10.1 rebounds. He's already started for one championship team and has always been fine with limited offensive touches while doing the dirty work franchises need to win.

    Jeff Teague will be a fine veteran backup to Walker at point guard, but a lot of this team's attractiveness is still in its youth. Players like Robert Williams III, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and now Aaron Nesmith are all recent first-round picks who could turn into valuable rotation pieces or be used as trade bait.

    The Celtics are good as-is, but they could also be a sneaky trade destination for the next star player to hit the market.

No. 6: Brooklyn Nets

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    The Brooklyn Nets may have the best roster on paper, a collection of talent that contains both star power and an immense amount of depth.

    This will also be one of the most expensive teams in all of basketball, especially with a new four-year, $75 million contract for Joe Harris.

    Kevin Durant should be 100 percent after not playing since June 2019 with an Achilles injury, and Kyrie Irving hasn't suited up since Feb. 1. That's a lot of rest for two players who were consistently making deep playoff runs, a trend that could resume this season.

    First-time head coach Steve Nash has one of the most difficult jobs in basketball as he looks to keep Durant and Irving happy while also finding enough minutes for Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Harris, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen, Bruce Brown, Jeff Green and Landry Shamet. During a season in which teams could lose players to COVID-19-related absences for stretches, Brooklyn's incredible depth will come in handy.

    The talent is there for the Nets to win a title, but it will likely take time for Nash to get everyone on the same page while figuring out how to thrive as an NBA head coach.

No. 5: Denver Nuggets

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    Kim Klement/Associated Press

    The Denver Nuggets chose not to shake up the roster after making a run to the Western Conference Finals last season, instead relying on internal improvements while bringing back Paul Millsap.

    While a trade for a player like Jrue Holiday or Buddy Hield would have been nice, Denver should win more than 46 games due to growth from players like Michael Porter Jr., Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. It's easy to forget all are 25 or younger, and 21-year-old Bol Bol could potentially break into the rotation this season, as well.

    Murray played like a superstar in last year's playoffs (26.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game on 50.5/45.3/89.7 shooting splits), and those are numbers he's capable of stretching out over the course of the regular season.

    Losing Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig hurt the team's defense, although JaMychal Green gives Denver a replacement power forward in the rotation.

    If Porter can build off his strong rookie season, Denver will challenge for the best record in the NBA.

No. 4: Milwaukee Bucks

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    Steve Dykes/Associated Press

    After finishing with the best regular-season record for the second straight year, the Bucks should be even better with Jrue Holiday at point guard over Eric Bledsoe.

    A starting five of Holiday, Donte DiVincenzo, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez will be one of the best in basketball on both ends, and a revamped bench should fit in well once there's been time to mesh.

    Milwaukee will need DiVincenzo to improve his three-point shooting (33.6 percent last year) for the spacing to work, especially with Lopez taking a step back last season (31.4 percent).

    Botching a sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic could come back to bite the Bucks, but keeping DiVincenzo isn't a bad result. They will miss George Hill's outside shooting and Wesley Matthews' defense, areas that won't be completely covered up by their replacements. Playmaking may once again be an issue, but the Bucks are still better simply by adding Holiday.

    Antetokounmpo signing his supermax extension would allow the entire organization to exhale and lift a potential cloud over the season.

No. 3: Miami Heat

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Miami Heat surprised many by making the NBA Finals as a No. 5 seed last season, and they featured the perfect mixture of age and skill sets.

    Getting Goran Dragic back after he averaged 19.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.0 steals in the playoffs was critical, as was retaining Meyers Leonard and his 41.4 percent mark from three during the regular season.

    Losing Jae Crowder was partially offset by the addition of Precious Achiuwa, who should immediately contribute to the rotation with his defense and rebounding. Getting Avery Bradley to help lock down opposing wings was a terrific signing, as well.

    While Jimmy Butler is in his prime, we should see leaps from Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn, all of whom are between 20 and 26. 

    For a group that never lacked confidence, going on a Finals run should only help the Heat's younger members believe they can win it all.

No. 2: Los Angeles Clippers

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    While it was a disastrous ending to the 2019-20 season, this is still a loaded Los Angeles Clippers team that got better with the additions of Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard.

    Ibaka is a better defender than Montrezl Harrell, and he's extended his range past the three-point line (38.5 percent) to give L.A. a dimension it didn't have from its centers last season. Kennard (15.8 points per game, 39.9 percent from three) is an excellent deep threat when healthy.

    New head coach Tyronn Lue has led a superstar-driven team to a championship before and was the best hire the Clippers could have made. What L.A. needs more than anything now is simply experience playing together.

    Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley and Marcus Morris Sr. shared the floor for a total of just 166 minutes over 11 games last season, posting an impressive plus-20.5 net rating in that time.

    The Clippers don't need to make any drastic roster changes, instead just letting their players soak up more time together under Lue.

No. 1: Los Angeles Lakers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The best just got better.

    Unless LeBron James falls off a cliff at age 36 (he won't), the Los Angeles Lakers should be the title favorites once again.

    With limited resources to add talent, the front office did a tremendous job making the defending champs even deeper. Marc Gasol can still direct a defense and is a good three-point shooter (38.5 percent), while Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell each averaged over 18 points per game off the bench last year.

    Wesley Matthews mostly makes up for the loss of Danny Green, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's new three-year, $40 million deal is solid value, especially after his play in the Finals.

    One scary thought: Anthony Davis should only be better in his second season working alongside James. At 27, he can continue to develop as an outside shooter and playmaker.

    Plenty of teams are capable of winning a title, but the Lakers should still be at the top of the pile.


    All stats, unless otherwise indicated, courtesy of Basketball Reference or


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