Who’s the next great team after the Warriors?
Sorry to jump ahead Cavs fans, but… we’re jumping ahead a little bit.
Presumably, Golden State is going to be the heavy favorite to win the title for at least the next two years. Klay Thompson becomes a free agent in summer 2019 and Draymond Green in summer 2020, which could present the best opportunity for the rest of the league to try to break up the band, so to speak, but that’s not guaranteed, either.
Given that, title dreams are flickering and fading, all across the league. However, there’s always a chance that someone else will win the title, whether it’s 2018 or 2020 or 2024. Projecting that far ahead is rife with uncertainty and perhaps a fool’s errand. Still, here would be my best guesses on the teams with the best chance to be next:
(10) Washington Wizards
There are better teams than Washington (only 49-33) around the league, including Houston, Toronto, Utah, and the Clippers. However, I believe the Wizards have a little bit more upside because of the upside of their star backcourt John Wall and Bradley Beal. Still only 26 and 23 years old, respectively, they could both take another leap forward in the future. If they do, and the team manages to cobble together a half-way decent bench, we could be talking about a team that’s the best in the East (post-LeBron). I could see this core making a few trips to the Finals.
(9) Miami Heat
Right now, the Miami Heat are a solid, scrappy team who’s not looking at anything more than a possible first round upset. This team, as constructed, doesn’t have the core to win a title any time soon. However, this ranking is based on faith in the organization, the coaching, and the management. Pat Riley may have a few more tricks up his sleeve, especially now that Chris Bosh‘s salary is coming off the books. Whenever stars huddle together to talk about superteams in the future, Miami will always be a possible destination for that. That could mean 2020, 2021, who knows, but I’d never count them out.
(8) New Orleans Pelicans
I don’t have much faith in this current Alvin Gentry / Dell Demps brain trust, and I’m still not sold on the fit with DeMarcus Cousins, but this is a nod to the spectacular and singular talent of Anthony Davis. He’s first team All-NBA, and he’s 24 years old. There’s a very good chance that we’re going to be talking about him as the MVP by the time he’s 28. As hold as the Pelicans can hold onto him, they have title upside.
(7) Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have a solid roster all around, but again, this is a nod to the singular talent of Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s only 22 right now, but we can all imagine a potential future where he’s the best player in the East and carrying his roster to the Finals like a European LeBron. I still think the Bucks have some work to do on the roster around him (and on his own game, frankly), but there’s no denying the potential here for a Finals-caliber team in the future.
(6) Minnesota Timberwolves
Their defensive habits have been a cause for concern, but you still have to love the 1-2 punch of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins (still only 21 and 22 years old, respectively). If Tom Thibodeau can improve their defensive culture, and the team can add one more piece — preferably a stretch four — then they could be a fearsome unit on both sides of the ball. The idea of KAT playing stretch 5 and bombing threes gives this future lineup all kinds of upside.
(5) Philadelphia 76ers
I’m still cautiously optimistic about the hope of Joel Embiid, but perhaps more “cautious” than “optimistic” quite frankly. But IF Embiid can stay healthy (even for 60 games a year) that raises this young core’s upside quite a bit. As long as they nail this upcoming #3 pick, they’re going to have a MONSTER “Big Three” with Ben Simmons and Embiid, not to mention other solid young picks and draft picks coming their way. It’s all potential energy right now, and not much kinetic, so it’s hard to put them much higher than that based on all that unknown.
(4) San Antonio Spurs
You can make an argument that the Spurs may have missed their shot, with this current core unlikely to best the Warriors (even with Kawhi Leonard healthy). I doubt whether the Spurs are ever going to win a title with LaMarcus Aldridge as their second best player. Still, that roster’s not set in stone. This ranking is a nod to the organization more than anything else. If anyone is going to figure out the magic formula on how to beat Golden State, it’d be Gregg Popovich. Considering Kawhi Leonard is only 25 years old, he’s going to have a long window to try.
(3) Boston Celtics
The long debate about whether Boston should try to “win now” or “win later” may have been settled when they got stomped by the Cavs. If the Celtics are going to be a true title-worthy team in the future, it’ll likely be with a core of Markelle Fultz, Jaylen Brown, and whoever Brooklyn’s 2018 draft pick turns out to be. You can argue that other young cores are better than that, but those teams (PHI, MIN, MIL) haven’t established that they have great front offices or much chance in free agency. Danny Ainge is one of the best in the game, and he has the pieces and assets to parlay this team into an even brighter future.
(2) Los Angeles Lakers
Wait, what? Not only do the Lakers have a bunch of young kids that haven’t proven themselves in the NBA yet, they have an organization in constant turmoil. Still, this pick is based on the fact that the team does have some assets to play with — most of all, the marketplace. Miami may be a possible destination for a super team in the future, but L.A. is the most likely of them all. I’m not sure if I buy those LeBron to the Lakers rumors, but others could be more realistic (Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, etc). If the team can land two of those Laker-loving stars, and package some assets together to land a third or fourth, they have a path forward to jolt into contention.
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers
Look, I know the Cavs may be on the verge of getting swept. I know LeBron James may be eyeing up other organizations (allegedly). But as long as LeBron is on the Cavs, they still have the best odds of winning a title in my mind. Perhaps the team can actually beat this Warriors team if they shake up their core (and break up the Kevin Love / Tristan Thompson frontcourt for extra help on the wing). Even if they can’t beat this Warriors team, there’s no guarantee that this Warriors team is showing up for the next 2/3/4 Finals. There’s always a chance that Steph Curry or Kevin Durant suffer an injury one year, where LeBron and company can take advantage. Perhaps I’d only put the odds of LeBron winning another title in Cleveland at 20-25%, but given how hard it is to actually win a title in a league of 30 teams, that’s still a high chance.