Looking Good: NBA Rosters That Don't Need Much

Joel C. Cordes@@bballJoelNBA Associate EditorMarch 14, 2010

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 20:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder goes to the basket against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on February 20, 2010 in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Last week, Dr. Trade looked at five NBA rosters that were stuck in neutral (click here to read). Even though a few of them were set to make the playoffs this season, they have currently hit their respective ceilings, and no longer have any additional "upside" that would inspire hope for bigger and better things down the road.

This week, let's take a look at a handful of franchises that have done the right thing so far.  Some of these teams are playoff contenders already, others are in the midst of their rebuilding phases. But either way, they still have room to blossom without even having to make a major move or embark on a large-scale overhaul.

Why are we investigating this subject now, when this is typically an offseason practice?  Well, by the time the NBA offseason rolls around, rebuilding plans and major moves are already lined up around the draft and all its possibilities. 

Sometimes, (as any hardcore NBA follower can attest to), franchises don't honestly assess their long-term chances for success.  By looking at teams' ceilings, (or lack thereof), before the end of a season, we can investigate where their offseason plans SHOULD be leading.  

So, let's look at a couple of squads that shouldn't mess a whole lot with their current concoctions.  A draft pick here, a reasonable free agent signing there, and these teams can expect to continue getting better just from the natural development of their current players.


Oklahoma City Thunder 

Come on, you would have put them at the top of this list too!  There are a lot of good teams out there, but do any of them have a higher long-term ceiling than this group?

What has impressed me most about this squad is not even the overall talent of the young starting lineup, but rather, it's the balance of its entire roster. 

Nowhere on this roster will you find duplicitous players who are tying up cap money while offering the exact same skill-set as another; you can't say that about more than half of the rosters around the League.

The Thunder were obviously assembled with chemistry-friendly players that bring out the best in, (and make up for the deficiencies of), super-scorer Kevin Durant. Few of us can grasp what the scoring limit of Durant will be.  The fact that he's getting better in the rebounding, passing, and defense departments also should frighten the heck out of the rest of the league.  

Even more scary, though, is thinking about the other young parts this starting group ALREADY has:

1. An overall unselfish point guard (Russell Westbrook) who pushes the tempo along with both the ability and the license to take over as the No. 2 scorer when needed. 

2. A "glue-guy" (Jeff Green) who does all of the little things and is capable of filling up the stat sheet in any quantifiable category.

3. A passing big man (Nenad Kristic) whose range opens up the lane for Durant/Westbrook drives. 

4.  A defensive stopper (Thabo Sefolosha) who doesn't need the ball, and seems perfectly content to do all the dirty work against the opposition's best wing.  You can't underestimate how much this helps Durant to score on the other end.

With a rebounding specialist (Nick Collison) and a host of intriguing youngsters (James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Kyle Weaver, and Eric Maynor) on the bench, this group will make the playoffs this season.  What's more, they probably just need one reliable bench scorer/3-point specialist, another season or two of experience, a little good luck/unselfishness for re-signing all the major parts, and they'll be amongst the NBA elite for a long time to come.

Atlanta Hawks

I know that the seemingly more and more probable departure of Joe Johnson may wreck the good thing going here. But if he is able to stay, (or be replaced with a similar "second-tier" superstar swingman), this team is right on the cusp of the elite. What's more, they're still getting better.

Having one of the most productive posts in the game (Al Horford), a freakishly athletic shot blocking finisher (Josh Smith), a "glue-guy" starter (Marvin Williams) who, like Jeff Green, does a little bit of everything, a quality/quantity scorer (Jamal Crawford), and an abrasively physical backup big man (Zaza Pachulia) helps this team to make up for the sliding production of point guard Mike Bibby.

Add in usable vets like Joe Smith and Maurice Evans, and there aren't a lot of holes in the roster left to fill.  This team finally has the eight-deep rotation that they've missed in the past.

Johnson, Horford, Smith, and Williams are all entering into their prime years and are matching a much more disciplined half-court approach to their off-the-charts fast break potential.  Upgrading the point guard spot and keeping or replacing Joe Johnson are the only clouds on the horizon for a franchise that is finally starting to bask in the light of being a contender.


Los Angeles Clippers 

Let's put aside the curse, put aside all the negative (and true) adjectives that are associated with Donald Sterling, put aside the glaring fact that they need a coach who can motivate certain players to reach their actual potential, and let's rather just look at the roster for a moment.

Marcus Camby's departure may have hurt them for the rest of this season. But has anyone else noticed that his replacement, DeAndre Jordan, has at least two freakish highlight finishes every night?  Matching this maturing player with the efficiently productive Chris Kaman and the hopefully healthy Blake Griffin gives this roster one of the most intriguing three-part big man rotations in basketball.  That's not even mentioning that Drew Gooden and Craig Smith are also both productive bigs when put in good spots.

This team has improving shooters (Eric Gordon, Travis Outlaw, and Rasual Butler), veteran point guards who both bring something different to the table (Baron Davis and Steve Blake), and lots of roster flexibility and cap space to choose from in the offseason.

Griffin, Jordan, and Gordon are the future of this squad, but Outlaw, Kaman, and Davis also should make this an attractive place for an upper-tier player to land. Now, if they just don't screw it up first.


Memphis Grizzlies 

Like Atlanta, this is a former doormat whose athleticism and well-balanced starting unit is beginning to hit stride. However, the Grizzlies are also dreading the potential loss of a major puzzle piece. 

Rudy Gay can flat out score, and he's lined up to get overpaid as a number one player. If he's honest with himself though, he'll realize that he's a second-tier guy, and that his greatest success will come with this lineup of young guns who have quickly complemented both his strengths and his weaknesses. 

O.J. Mayo and Zach Randolph have both shook off their defenseless reputations and have brought the complete product to the table all season long.  The value of Marc Gasol's physicality, efficiency, and unique skill set cannot be underestimated for this squad, and Mike Conley has effectively figured out where he fits on the totem pole.

Ronnie Brewer, Hasheem Thabeet, Darrell Arthur, and Sam Young all could be productive rotation players, but they are definitely in need of some steady reinforcements in the second unit.  If they can maintain the course, and add the necessary supporting pieces, we'll be talking about Memphis' playoff exploits in the present tense instead of the future, awfully quick.

Sacramento Kings

Oh my, we couldn't have said this about them last season.  Look at this group again though, and see that they too have added young, well-fitting parts together around a couple of definite up-and-comers. 

Tyreke Evans may be a bit of a ball hog this year. But he's the "bull in the China shop" type of scorer that fits well with the sharp-shooting potential of Omri Casspi and Spencer Hawes, as well as the athletic finishing of Carl Landry and Donte Green. 

Even Beno Udrih has returned to productivity playing alongside Evans, and Francisco Garcia might just find a role with this team yet.  Jason Thompson can play the four and five spots, and adds a little more physicality than Hawes.

All this group needs is enough time together and a veteran scorer off the bench.  Give the Kings these ingredients, and it's very likely that Arco Arena will be open again in May very soon.


Honorable Mention 

Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic, Portland TrailBlazers, Cleveland Cavaliers 

Some might question the omission of these four successful franchises. But in order to keep things interesting, and tread where fewer writers have trod, I decided to limit my list to those teams who are climbing the ladder, but still have a little ways to go.  Barring contining injuries or the exit of a main superstar, all four of the aforementioned squads are right where they want to be. 


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