Power Ranking Every NBA Team's 3-Year Window

Mo DakhilFeatured Columnist IJuly 19, 2021

Power Ranking Every NBA Team's 3-Year Window

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    Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

    Life in the NBA moves quickly, as teams are often a season away from losing their key players to free agency. Teams who few believe in now could also be on the verge of becoming contenders. The dream scenario is to give your organization the best chance of winning a title now and staying competitive in the long run. 

    Every team has to go about it differently. Some have to build through the draft and make smart trades; others can lean on being a destination that will draw top talent. It's easy to be too top-heavy and leave no room to add around the edges. Teams can go all in too early or too late and miss their window of opportunity.

    Here are rankings for the future of all 30 NBA teams over the next three years. Teams were ranked by where they are now and where they might be in three years. For example, a team that is a lottery club might be higher in the rankings than a current contender.

    The criteria are how the team’s current roster looks, cap management, draft equity and overall place in the league.

30. San Antonio Spurs

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    Every year, we are waiting for the Spurs to begin their rebuild, and every year they find a way to stay competitive. Last season was no different when they snagged the last play-in berth. But the time might finally come when San Antonio actually starts the process of rebuilding. 

    The Spurs have some interesting young talent starting with Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, who are under contract for the next few seasons on extensions to their rookie contracts. Then they have a lot of interesting young players coming back, including Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell and Lonnie Walker IV, who are still on rookie deals. 

    San Antonio will go into this summer with boatloads of cap space but not a lot of options to spend it on. DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills and Rudy Gay are all free agents this offseason, and it might just be time to completely shift to the youth movement. 

    With all that cap flexibility, the Spurs might be able to help facilitate big trades in the next few years as a third party and receive some nice assets as they rebuild. Ultimately, it might be a bleak few years in San Antonio as they search to develop their next star. 

29. Orlando Magic

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Orlando jumped off the mediocrity treadmill last season and went into a full rebuild. Going with a youth movement and development is now the plan. The hope is Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz can both come back from knee injuries that kept them out for most of last season. 

    Orlando's trade with Chicago netted the team another young promising prospect in Wendell Carter Jr. to develop, but more importantly, it loaded the Magic with even more draft assets. Because of that trade, Orlando holds two top-10 picks, in addition to a future one that has until the 2024 draft to convey before turning into multiple second-round picks. After that, they will also receive a first-rounder from Denver from the Aaron Gordon trade.  

    In addition to the change of course on the court, Orlando also made a change on the sidelines. The Magic hired Jamahl Mosley from Dallas as head coach to develop their young talent. Mosley was well-regarded as an assistant coach with his ability to create relationships with his players, and now will have the chance to show what he can do.

    The Magic are starting their rebuild and in a good position in the long run, but it will be a stretch before seeing Orlando return to the playoffs in the next few years. 

28. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    The Oklahoma City Thunder are stocking up on draft picks the way a doomsday prepper stocks up on canned goods. Over the next seven seasons, the Thunder have 38 draft picks, with 17 in the first round. With newly acquired Kemba Walker, it stands to reason that they may even add more to their draft stockpile in the next year or two.  

    There is talent on the roster starting with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as the centerpiece. The 23-year-old is the face of the franchise and is a star in the making. Lu Dort has evolved into a two-way player at the tender age of 22. Oklahoma City also has even younger talent it needs to develop in Aleksej Pokusevski, Theo Maledon and Darius Bazley.

    The Thunder's tank job last season put them in a position to pick in the top four, but their luck in the draft lottery dropped them down two spots. With the sixth pick in the 2021 draft, Oklahoma City will be able to add another young prospect to aid in its rebuild. 

    Despite all of these draft assets, Oklahoma City is ranked low in the three-year rankings because the team is setting up for a long-haul rebuild. Playing in the Western Conference will make for quite the climb back into the playoffs.

27. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The Cavaliers had a fun start last season before the wheels fell off. Darius Garland and Collin Sexton found some synergy as backcourt mates, and the Cavs found their future center by jumping in the James Harden trade to snag Jarrett Allen. In last year's draft, Cleveland selected a wing prospect in Isaac Okoro. 

    The draft lottery was good for Cleveland, as the team jumped two spots to land the third pick. This puts the Cavaliers in an interesting position, with Sexton's restricted free agency approaching the next offseason. The Cavs can look to draft a guard and move Sexton or look to grab a big man like Evan Mobley if he's available. 

    That is not the only big decision. Allen is in line for a nice payday as a restricted free agent. The Cavs were aware of this when they traded for him, so it is safe to assume they intend to keep him. 

    Cleveland is set up nicely to add to its young core, and depending on what route the Cavs go with the third pick, they may be able to pick up an extra asset along the way. They may not be in a position to win a title in three years, but they are on an upward trajectory. 

26. Houston Rockets

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Injuries destroyed this past season for the Rockets, but they were rewarded with the second overall pick in the 2021 draft. Houston dodged a bullet with the draft lottery results; had it fallen out of the top four, the pick would have conveyed to Oklahoma City as a result of their Russell Westbrook trade.

    Adding a second pick to the team with Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr. is a good start for rebuilding its core going forward. Wood averaged 21.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks last season but played just 41 games. Porter Jr. flashed some skills since coming over from Cleveland, including a 50-point, 11-assist night in a win over Milwaukee.

    The problem for the Rockets is the John Wall contract weighing them down: He is owed $91.6 million over the next two seasons. The last year of the deal is a player option he is surely going to pick up. Even with the Wall contract, Houston will have some cap room to play with.

    With the current state of the Rockets, it will be hard to see Houston as a free-agent destination. They are just starting their rebuild, but with picks still owed to the Thunder, the expectations should remain low over the next three years.

25. Detroit Pistons

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    With the No. 1 overall pick, the Pistons are in a good position to select a player who can help speed up their rebuild. Jerami Grant had a breakout season in his first year as a Piston, but it did not result in a lot of wins. Pairing him with Cade Cunningham could fix that for next season. 

    There are several other promising pieces on the roster in Saddiq Bey, who made the All-Rookie first team, and Isaiah Stewart, who made the second team. Killian Hayes showed flashes but missed time with a hip injury. 

    There is a lot of talent on the roster, with more incoming with the top pick. The Eastern Conference has gotten better, but if things break right, the Pistons could be a playoff team in the next three years.

24. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    The Wolves are a team at a crossroads. They have had a franchise player in Karl-Anthony Towns for the past five seasons and have only made the playoffs once. Minnesota will most likely be over the cap next season, and its draft pick is heading to Golden State as part of the D’Angelo Russell trade. There won't be many ways for the team to improve all that much. 

    Anthony Edwards started his rookie season off a little slowly but found his flow midway through and made a real run at the Rookie of the Year award. He is proving to be a nice building block for Minnesota.

    There are reasons to be optimistic for the Wolves. Since head coach Chris Finch took over in the middle of the season, the team has gone 16-25, a big improvement on the 7-24 mark before he got there. The team’s offensive rating went up from 105.8 to 111.7. That is without a training camp.

    It is hard to predict the Wolves' future, but with how stacked the West is, it will be hard to see this team as more than an eighth seed.

23. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Based on the past month or so, Portland's future is pretty bleak. The Blazers' future all lies with if/when Damian Lillard demands a trade. It could happen as soon as this offseason or the next one. That demand may come after he sees how they revamp the roster after the last season. 

    The only real chance to upgrade the roster is through trading CJ McCollum and maybe Jusuf Nurkic. Portland has never really been a free-agent destination, and next season the Blazers have $131 million already on the books. They will have to look to the trade market to make a leap, and that does not seem likely.

    Portland's best young prospect is Anfernee Simons, who has not really burst onto the scene. Beyond that, its core is beginning to hit their 30s. The Blazers have not been preparing for a post-Lillard era, and that is understandable because they were looking to build around him. 

    But now with Lillard's future up in the air, the Blazers will have to begin planning for their next phase.

22. Washington Wizards

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Wizards are one of those teams at an inflection point. Both Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook have a player option next offseason. How the team does this year under new head coach Wes Unseld Jr. will dictate where they may be in three years. 

    After a horrid start, Washington snuck into the play-in tournament and eventually the playoffs. Beal was amazing this season, finishing second in the league in scoring with 31.3 points a night. All eyes are still trained on him to see if he eventually requests a trade out of Washington. 

    Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the fourth time in his career, including career highs in assists (11.7) and rebounds (11.5). Washington gave up a future first-round draft pick to get him from Houston, but it is heavily protected and may not convey for a few years. 

    But looking at the next three years for the Wizards, it will be about developing young players like Rui Hachimura, Daniel Gafford and Deni Avdija. There will not be much wiggle room in the cap this offseason with $78.7 million committed to Beal and Westbrook. 

    With Washington's only great trade chip being Beal and not a lot of cap space to work with for the next year, their future looks unclear.

21. Sacramento Kings

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    It has been 15 years since the Sacramento Kings have made the playoffs. That is the longest current playoff drought in the NBA.

    The team is led by young star De'Aaron Fox, who averaged 25.2 points and 7.2 assists last season. He is flanked by Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes and Tyrese Haliburton. The Kings are one of the youngest teams in the NBA with Barnes and Hield as the elder statesmen at 28 and 29 years old.

    Sacramento's cap sheet is fairly clean with Barnes and Hield's contracts both descending as Fox's max rookie extension kicks in next year. As of now, they are projected in the 2022-23 season to have under $70 million on the books. But Sacramento has not been a free-agent destination since the Chris Webber days.

    Trading will be the best option for the Kings to improve. Putting together a package centered around Hield, Marvin Bagley and draft picks might be enough to land a player who can improve one of the league's worst defenses. 

    The Kings are well-positioned cap-wise, with draft capital and some interesting players to make a big move in the next year or two to help them break the drought. It will just come down to making the right move.

20. Chicago Bulls

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    At the trade deadline, the Bulls took a big swing. The addition of Nikola Vucevic to pair with Zach LaVine did not work out last season, but it was about the next few years. They gave up two protected first-round picks as well as Wendell Carter Jr. to get Vucevic. 

    Even though Chicago gave up draft capital, the Bulls are situated nicely cap-wise this offseason to add pieces, starting with a point guard. After next season, they will have four free agents to decide upon (three if they reach an agreement on an extension with LaVine). But with cap flexibility, the Bulls can rearrange their pieces over the next few years.

    The Bulls finished the season two games out of the play-in tournament, but their goal will not be making the play-in tournament. The goal is to make the playoffs outright. That might be tough as the East is beginning to get deeper, but next year's team might be their best chance. 

19. Indiana Pacers

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Indiana Pacers are often overlooked in the Eastern Conference, but they have made the playoffs in five of the last six seasons. After a disappointing end to this season, they moved on from first-year head coach Nate Bjorkgren and brought in the highly respected Rick Carlisle. That alone should give the team a bit of a bump.

    Indiana has several good players on the roster, but no one player is a clear star. Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon and Caris LeVert are all under contract for the next two years, while Domantas Sabonis is on a deal one year longer. T.J. Warren is expected to make a recovery after missing nearly all of last season and will be heading into the last year of his deal. 

    There are two ways to look at the Pacers' future: With a better coach at the helm and good health, they might be able to get more out of their current roster, or they can look to try to make a move. 

    Last offseason, Indiana attempted to entice Boston into a sign-and-trade for Gordon Hayward, centered around Myles Turner. The Pacers may go back to that idea of trying to land a big fish.

    The three-year outlook for Indiana is more of the same. The Pacers are going to be in the play-in range more often than not until they find their next big star.

18. Charlotte Hornets

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Hornets are going to be League Pass favorites with LaMelo Ball. This year's Rookie of the Year brought excitement and showmanship to a franchise that has largely been ignored by the mainstream for several years. It felt like something magical would happen every time Ball had the ball in his hands, be it a no-look lob to Miles Bridges, a behind-the-back pass to a shooter for three or an underhanded full-court bomb for a bucket. 

    More importantly, the team trended upward, going from a 35.4 win percentage in the 2019-20 season to a 45.8 mark last season. Terry Rozier had a career year in points at 20.4 a night and came up huge in clutch scenarios for Charlotte. Gordon Hayward missed a lot of time with injuries, but when he played, he averaged 19.6 points a night while shooting 41.5 percent from three. 

    Hayward's persistent injuries are worrisome with around $90 million owed to him over the next three seasons, but it does not handcuff the Hornets cap-wise. Rozier will be on an expiring contract next season, so the Hornets have a decision to make. If they do not plan on re-signing him, they should look to move him for a big man.

    The next three years for the Hornets will, at the very least, be fun. With Ball growing as a player, they should have playoff aspirations. They nailed down their young star and now need to start putting the proper pieces around him.

17. Golden State Warriors

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    The Warriors are in an interesting position in the last few years of the Stephen Curry era. Klay Thompson will be coming back after two years off from an ACL and Achilles injury. The years are beginning to catch up to Draymond Green. 

    Golden State has some decisions to make: Do the Warriors start building a bridge from the current era to the new one, or do they make one last run at a championship?

    They could try to package last year's second pick, James Wiseman, and the seventh and 14th picks in this year's draft for a current star. Or they could use those picks to add some long-term pieces.

    The next three years could be the last of the Warriors as we know them, and they have yet to find the player or players that this older core can hand the torch to.

16. New York Knicks

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Ladies and gentlemen, the New York Knicks are back...well, kind of. After making a surprising run to the playoffs under head coach Tom Thibodeau and a resurgent Julius Randle, Knick fans are rejuvenated. 

    Unfortunately in the year the Knicks have the most cap space, there are no true franchise-changing free agents for them to go after. There will be some interesting names that New York could look at, like Spencer Dinwiddie and Lonzo Ball. Keeping at least one maximum slot available for the 2022 offseason should be the top priority for the Knicks. 

    The NBA is ready for a New York Knicks renaissance, but it needs to be done bit by bit. They are set up nicely with two picks in this draft, a future Dallas pick in 2023 or later and lots of cap space for the next few years. 

    Continuing to be patient will be key to the Knicks building in the future. So far under Leon Rose, they have not made moves chasing stars. Madison Square Garden rocking again raised eyebrows around the league and could help draw in a star in the next few years. 

15. New Orleans Pelicans

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The Pelicans have one of the most exciting players in the NBA in Zion Williamson. They just hired Willie Green from the Phoenix Suns to be their third head coach in as many years. That is less than ideal for New Orleans.

    Brandon Ingram is signed for the next three seasons at a big number but is likely to play the role as a second option behind Williamson. If he is willing to accept that role, he could end up being their closer at the end of games with his ability to create his own shot. 

    From here on out it will be about building around Williamson and convincing him that he can win in the Big Easy. The good news for the Pelicans is they have several draft assets and a relatively clean cap sheet for the next three seasons, depending on how they handle Lonzo Ball's restricted free agency.

    New Orleans is set up with draft picks and soon-to-be expiring contracts in Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe to pounce on some trade packages for a third star.

14. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    The Grizzlies could not ask for things to be shaping up better for them in the short and long term. They have a star in Ja Morant, who shined brightly in the play-in tournament and the Grizzlies' first-round playoff series against the Jazz. Jaren Jackson Jr. is the perfect young versatile big man to pair up with him.

    Dillon Brooks is just 25 years old, as is Grayson Allen. De'Anthony Melton and Xavier Tillman are 23 and 22. Their two oldest rotation players are Kyle Anderson at 27 and Jonas Valanciunas at 29. 

    Cap-wise, Memphis will need to decide on what its plans are with both Valanciunas and Anderson, who are heading into contract years next season. The roster is going to get expensive in a hurry, as Jackson is up for a rookie extension this year and Morant the next. Morant is a lock to receive the max; Jackson will probably fall just below the max.

    This team was largely built through the draft, and it has nailed it in consecutive years, with Desmond Bane being the last example. They are also loaded with draft assets: Memphis should receive a first-round pick from Utah in the next three seasons, and because of the Andre Iguodala trade, they have another pick that could convey as early as the 2024 draft. 

    The Grizz look like they will be playoff regulars for the next few seasons.

13. Dallas Mavericks

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Dallas has a megastar in Luka Doncic, and he is expected to sign the designated rookie extension in the range of $200 million this summer. With their face of the franchise locked in, the Mavs will have to look to upgrade the talent around him. 

    The hopes of Kristaps Porzingis becoming a No. 2 option offensively are fading with his inability to stay healthy. Unfortunately, the Mavs owe him $101 million over the next three years if he picks up the option on his last year. 

    Even with that Porzingis contract, the Mavs have a ton of cap space, but this year's free-agent class is not as loaded as it often is. Surely some of it will be used to re-sign Tim Hardaway Jr., who had a great season. 

    The Mavs have been here before with a large amount of cap space and no one of note to sign. Their pick in this year's draft is heading to New York, along with their 2023 pick, which is top-10 protected. That makes it difficult for the Mavs to play in the trade market with a lack of draft equity and not a lot of value on the roster. 

    Doncic is talented enough to get the Mavs to the playoffs by himself, but the new regime in Dallas will have to put together a team that can get them deeper into the postseason.

12. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Philadelphia blew a golden opportunity to advance to the conference finals after finishing the season as the top seed in the East. With how the season ended, it seems Ben Simmons' time as a Sixer is over. 

    President Daryl Morey and the Sixers have begun exploring trades with a steep asking price. That will be the great unknown at this time. If the Sixers can acquire a high-level player to pair with Joel Embiid, their three-year outlook would look much better. If they have to settle for an almost-All-Star and/or draft picks, they would drop.

    Aside from the Simmons situation, Philadelphia has some free-agency decisions to make. As it stands now, the Sixers are likely to be over the cap the next two years and most likely the year after if/when they sign Embiid to a supermax contract that would kick in for the 2023-24 season. Morey is no stranger to working around the margins as he did in Houston, finding value whenever he could. 

    Even if the Sixers held onto Simmons, they still would be a team to watch out for in the Eastern Conference. They will rightly get the treatment the Bucks have for the past two years: No one will believe in them until they actually win. 

    That said, there are several teams with a potential MVP on the roster set up worse in the next three years.

11. L.A. Clippers

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    The Clippers have finally broken through to the Western Conference Finals. They did it in stunning fashion, upsetting the Jazz without Kawhi Leonard after Game 4. It would have been a much better story if the news about Leonard having surgery to repair a partially torn ACL did not drop a week ago. 

    Seeing how little information was given when Leonard was injured, information about his return will be sparse. On top of that, he can opt out of his contract and become a free agent. Even with him injured, teams, including the Clippers, will jump at the chance to sign him. 

    Assuming Leonard at the very least opts in for next season, the Clippers do not have much flexibility to make moves in free agency. They have Reggie Jackson's Early Bird rights, so they should be able to re-sign him. L.A. could lose Nicolas Batum to a team with cap space and a need for a wing. 

    Already over the luxury tax, the Clippers will probably not bring in a major free agent. Their best bet for improvement would be better health from Serge Ibaka (assuming he opts in) and Terance Mann's development. 

    Next season might be a wash if Leonard misses a large chunk of it, and after this year's draft, the Thunder will control their draft picks for the foreseeable future. 

    When healthy, this team can contend for a championship, but it has become rare for this team to stay injury-free. 

10. Denver Nuggets

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    There is no way around this: Jamal Murray's knee injury set back the Nuggets. In the best-case scenario, he may be back by March, or he could miss the season. Denver will be slow to bring him along with so much invested in him long term.

    Without Murray, the Nuggets' ceiling is significantly lower, but it is not all lost. They still have the MVP of the league in Nikola Jokic, who will be eligible for a supermax contract extension next offseason. 

    After that, president Tim Connelly and his staff will have some work to do on the cap sheet. Aaron Gordon is heading into a contract year. Will Barton has already announced that he is opting out with the hope of re-signing. On top of all of this, the discussions for a Michael Porter Jr. extension on his rookie contract will be taking place before next season. That is a lot to sort out and it will surely make the cap gymnastics a challenge.

    The Nuggets are set up with their own draft pick for the next two drafts but will most likely send their 2023 pick to the Thunder.

    Next season might be a step back depending on Murray’s recovery time, but the two best Nuggets players are 23 and 25 years old, with a promising talent in Porter who is 22. Age is on Denver’s side in the long run, and that is why their outlook is bright.

9. Miami Heat

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Heat are one year removed from the NBA Finals. Even though the 2020-21 season was not nearly as good to them, they still have a good mix of veteran and young talent on the roster. Jimmy Butler is the star, and Bam Adebayo is the next star once Butler begins to fade. 

    Tyler Herro took a step back last season, but with so little time from the Finals to the start of the season, that could be forgiven. He could be due for a bounce-back season with a proper offseason regimen. 

    Miami does not have any draft assets, but it has a fairly clean cap sheet. The Heat can kick the can to next season by re-signing Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn to hopefully team-friendly deals and then pick up the options on Goran Dragic and Andre Iguodala's contracts. That should help them remain competitive while keeping their options open for the 2022 free-agency class.

    That is a class that could be loaded with top talent like Kevin Durant, James Harden and Bradley Beal as headliners should they not pick up their player options. The Heat with cap space will always be able to get a meeting.

8. Toronto Raptors

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    For a variety of reasons, it was a brutal season for the Raptors, but it might be more a setback year than a full step back. 

    Pascal Siakam is signed for the next three years and will be 29 at the end of the contract. Fred VanVleet is signed for the next two years, plus a player option for a third. OG Anunoby had a great season, and his extension kicks in next season at a reasonable $16 million.

    Toronto is expected to re-sign Gary Trent Jr. this offseason. Now with the fourth pick in hand, Toronto is in a great position to move on from free agent and greatest Raptor of all time Kyle Lowry. 

    With head coach Nick Nurse on the sidelines and lots of talent on the roster, they are well-positioned for a nice run over the next three years. The one thing that might drop them a few spots is if Masai Ujiri does not return as team president. 

7. Atlanta Hawks

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Hawk fans have to get themselves some sunglasses because their future is very bright. After a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals, one thing Atlanta cannot lose sight of is that past success does not guarantee future success. 

    Trae Young is a budding star with a great cast around him. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, Danilo Gallinari, Clint Capela and De'Andre Hunter have shown to be a truly capable supporting cast, even able to win games without Young. Most importantly, everyone is signed for the next two seasons minimum. 

    Atlanta would get even deeper if it re-signs John Collins, but that may not be a lock considering he turned down a $90 million extension before the season started. Even if he walks, the Hawks can move Gallinari into the starting lineup, and second-year player Onyeka Okongwu can help to fill some of that void off the bench. 

    The Hawks are in a good position to capitalize on their postseason success since almost everyone is expected to be back next season. This could be the start of a new power rising in the South.

6. Boston Celtics

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The two best players for the Celtics are both under 25 years old. Jaylen Brown is 24 and Jayson Tatum is 23. Both have signed extensions: Brown has three more years left on his, and Tatum's five-year extension kicks in next season. More impressive than anything is that they already have a ton of playoff experience in their short careers.

    After Tatum and Brown, the roster gets a little less impressive. Besides Marcus Smart and the newly re-acquired Al Horford, there is not a lot of experience on the roster, though there are lot of young players with potential. The best of the bunch is Robert Williams, who projects to be a long-term starter at center.

    Boston's cap sheet clears up after this season with both Smart and Tristan Thompson on the last year of their deals. In addition to that, Horford's deal is not fully guaranteed for the 2022-23 season, so the Celtics could create additional room if they wanted after next season. 

    Besides having to attach this year's draft pick to Kemba Walker in the Oklahoma City trade, the Celtics have all their draft picks available to them. With most of their draft equity in hand, the Celtics can look to package that with Smart and Thompson's expiring contracts to help fill their need at point guard. 

    Boston is ranked high because it has two young stars. The Celtics are not far away from contending for a championship, and with a couple of shrewd moves by new president Brad Stevens, they could be in a position to remain regular contenders in the East.

5. Utah Jazz

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Utah had a very successful regular season, finishing with the best record in the NBA, but could not get out of the second round of the playoffs.

    The Jazz have both of their cornerstone pieces under contract for the next four years. Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are most likely going to be in Utah for quite a while. The team is projected to be over the cap for the next two seasons, and that is before potentially re-signing Mike Conley.

    Should the Jazz bring Conley back, it will likely take them into the luxury tax, which could cause movement elsewhere on the roster. Joe Ingles will be heading into the 2021-22 season on an expiring contract, and moving him could help make the tax bill smaller. 

    As far as draft assets go, Utah is pretty well-equipped, only owing one pick to Memphis for the Conley trade, which is protected but will likely be sent in 2022. That means the Jazz can use future draft picks to sweeten the pot in trades. 

    Utah will be hamstrung by cap limitations depending on how the Conley deal works out, but it already has a strong foundation. Building around the margins may make or break this team.

4. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Derick Hingle/Associated Press

    The Lakers' future gets murky relatively quickly. Their best player, LeBron James, is going into his 18th season and will be turning 37. How many more elite seasons does he have left? There is no way of answering that question because we are heading into uncharted territory with his longevity. 

    Anthony Davis is 28 and in his prime. He will be the one to carry on the Lakers legacy once James retires. He is locked in with a long-term deal and appears to be happy in purple and gold, but Davis is probably the only lock to still be a Laker three years from now. 

    Dennis Schroder is a free agent and is expecting a large payday. If the Lakers do not want to pay him, they can look for sign-and-trade options. Kyle Kuzma is on a team-friendly contract, but rumors have already begun surfacing that Los Angeles is gauging his trade value. 

    The only real young prospect the Lakers have right now is Talen Horton-Tucker, but as much as he is a fan favorite, he still has a long way to go in the development department. The Lakers hold the 22nd pick in this year’s draft, and it is the last pick they will get to make that won’t be controlled in one way or another by the Pelicans for the next few years.

    The Lakers will contend as long as James and Davis stay healthy, but finding some younger talent needs to be a priority because as last season showed, the drop-off is steep if one or both of those guys are not able to go. 

3. Phoenix Suns

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    As surprising as the Suns' run to the Finals has been, the team is set up quite nicely for the next few years. Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson are all under 25, and Deandre Ayton is just 22. Assuming Phoenix either agrees to extend contracts or matches any contract Ayton and Bridges receive in the 2022 offseason, this young core should be together for a long while.

    Add in Jae Crowder, who is signed with the team for the next two seasons, the Suns' core is almost completely locked up. The big question is whether Chris Paul will opt into his contract for next season.

    Even if Paul leaves, Phoenix has plenty of talent on the roster and with this recent run could bring in a younger replacement who fits the team's timeline better.

    The Suns have only one draft pick outgoing, and that is to Oklahoma City for the Paul trade. It is most likely to be conveyed in the 2022 draft, so Phoenix would be free to move future picks or add more talent to its roster.

    Ultimately, this team is built well for both the short and long term. There is no reason to believe the Suns are not going to be a threat in the West for years to come, especially as they embark on the prime years of Booker.

2. Brooklyn Nets

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    Brooklyn is an interesting team to project for the next few years. With Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden committed for next season, they will likely be the odds-on favorites to win the championship. Everything about the Nets will come down to this coming season. 

    Their entire Big Three has the ability to opt out after the 2021-22 season, and financially, it would make sense for them to do so and re-sign for even more money. They would most likely all re-sign, but this group has been anything but predictable.

    With over $120 million going to three players, the Nets are already over the projected cap and deep into luxury-tax territory.

    It does not seem likely that their own free agent, Spencer Dinwiddie, will return, but it opens up a sign-and-trade possibility for the Nets. This is a way they can add a piece or two to the roster for next season. After that, they will be the top destination for ring-chasers and buyout candidates during the season. 

    Being heavy favorites to win the championship in 2022 and the likelihood that they can keep the trio together past that season is why the Nets are high up in the future rankings. 

1. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    This season, the Bucks locked themselves into this core unit of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. The trio will cost Milwaukee $105.8 million in cap space next season. Considering they are a game away from winning the championship at the time of this being published, it will be well worth the cost. 

    Having Antetokounmpo signed for the next five years means Milwaukee will have all of his prime years. Middleton and Holiday proved their worth during this playoff run and are in the middle of their prime years as well.

    The challenge for the Bucks will be building out the rest of the roster beyond this season. Brook Lopez is under contract for two more seasons for over $26 million. P.J. Tucker is a key free agent the Bucks will try to re-sign using his Bird rights to exceed the cap. 

    The only draft pick Milwaukee fully owns is its 2022 pick; the others will either be going to Houston or New Orleans for the foreseeable future. With no draft equity and an already expensive roster, the Bucks will be heavily dependent on players looking to chase a ring in free agency in the coming years. 

    With all of that in mind, the Bucks are set to contend for the next several years. Antetokounmpo is 26, Middleton is 29 and Holiday is 31. They are in a better position to contend for the long run than any other team in the league.


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