Before you know it, we're going to be looking at the home stretch of the 2016-17 NBA season, and with that comes an updated reality for most teams in the league. We already knew who the elite players and teams were going to be prior to the start of the season, and for the most part, those consensus predictions held up. The Warriors and Cavaliers are the clear-cut strongest teams in their respective conferences. For many other teams in the league however, this season has been a necessary wake-up call. Some of these franchises need to add a few more pieces to be a serious playoff contender, and some need to start a rebuilding process entirely.
As such, the teams on this ranking range from "close to being a perennial playoff contender" to "downright awful". Some of these teams are going to be really bad in the proceeding seasons, and there's no guarantee that they'll return to a level of dominance they may have once had. On the other hand, it doesn't pay to be in the middle of the pack in the NBA, and tanking is certainly a viable option to land a future star player. The rest will be looking to add some complimentary players in free agency, or in the middle range of the draft. In any event, these teams won't be hoisting a trophy in the near future, or maybe even longer.
Ranked below are 15 teams who won't be winning the NBA Championship anytime soon.
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15 Los Angeles Lakers
The aftermath of the "2015 Kobe Bryant Retirement Tour" has been interesting to say the least for the Lakers. They took Brandon Ingram in the first round of the 2016 draft, and are trying to figure out where all their additional young players (D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle) fit into the long-term plans. Right now, they're sitting as one of the worst teams in the Western Conference, and are clearly a few years away from anything resembling a playoff contender. They need Ingram to develop, and also work out the kinks with their new front office, that now has former star Magic Johnson leading the charge. While nothing for the Lakers is equating to wins on the court, it's certainly been an intriguing past couple of years, and will be for the foreseeable future.
14 Milwaukee Bucks
Right now, the Bucks are a top-heavy team with Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way. Unfortunately for them, Parker just suffered a season-ending injury, and they now seem out of contention for the eighth seed they were competing for in the Eastern Conference. Either way, they wouldn't have gotten past the likes of the Celtics and the Cavaliers in the playoffs this season, which begs the question of how they are going to do that in the proceeding seasons? While they have Giannis and Parker as a solid tandem, there's little in the way of production when considering the rest of the roster. That's not a good sign, and puts Milwaukee squarely in the "no man's land" of the NBA landscape. Good enough to compete for the playoffs, but won't be bad enough to receive a lottery pick that could add real talent to the roster.
13 Philadelphia 76ers
While the Sixers have proven that they are a team on the rise, even before first overall pick Ben Simmons has set foot in an NBA regular season game because of injury, it's still going to take a while for all the respective pieces to gel together. Though Joel Embiid has been a revelation, and Dario Saric is proving to be an all-around complimentary piece the team so desperately needs, they are still a few years away from making a real run at an NBA Championship. This is to be expected, but with the way their roster is being hyped by some outlets, some may expect a deep playoff run to be happening next season. That won't be the case, and in reality the Sixers are looking at making such a run a few seasons down the line, maybe even as late as 2022-23 or so. A good young team, but more pieces have to be added, and cohesion between the young group must happen first.
12 Minnesota Timberwolves
Much like the Sixers, the Timberwolves are stocked to the brim with young talent who doesn't yet know how to win in an NBA playoff series. That can take a few years, and while fans in Minnesota aren't complaining about having the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Ricky Rubio on their roster, the fact is that a young corps of players like that isn't going to usurp a proven commodity in the playoffs like LeBron, overnight. Again, like the Sixers, the T-Wolves are probably a few years away from even making any sort of a playoff run. But it will all be worth it when LeBron moves out of his prime, and they'll be able to lay claim to one of the best young rosters in the league (most likely). Minnesota is definitely a team to keep an eye on, but haven't hit their prime stage yet.
11 Miami Heat
The Heat are still making a run at the eighth seed in the playoffs this season, but are a far cry from where they were a few seasons ago. They have two B+ level players in Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic, along with a promising young talent in Justice Winslow, but that isn't enough to make a statement in the playoffs, even in the inferior Eastern Conference. Instead, the Heat will likely be selling off one of either Whiteside or Dragic in the coming seasons, and then will be looking at a rebuilding period. This shouldn't upset fans in Miami considering their past successes, including making four straight NBA Finals when LeBron was in town, but it's less than an ideal situation to be in at the moment. The Heat will likely miss the playoffs this season, and then beginning to think about which players they'll be able to move for younger assets.
10 Memphis Grizzlies
Every year, the Grizzlies seem to be in the playoffs, and then promptly fall short of a really great run. That is probably going to be the same case this year, as the team sits with the sixth seed in the Western Conference. Players like Zac Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley have served the team well over the years, but they're hardly the youngest group of corps players in the league, and it won't be long before they are disbanded to some degree. The Grizzlies have been a team that is perennially guaranteed a second-round playoff exit, and without the addition of a real game-breaker, that's where they're going to stay for the long haul. They'e actually one of the better teams on this ranking at the moment, but they will likely undergo a rebuilding period that will keep they out of the Championship running for a long, long time.
9 Denver Nuggets
Standing in as the eighth seed in the Western Conference, the Nuggets may be the most patently uninteresting team in the NBA, and the embodiment of what the NBA "no man's land" is all about. They'll always be on the bubble for a playoff position, but they have absolutely zero chance of making it past the top teams in the conference. This is a terrible position to be in, because it affords little chance of landing a surefire draft pick that can make a real difference. The Nuggets currently have a bunch of B players that are good, but will never be great, and as such won't be able to overcome the teams that have the true stars. A rebuild seems to be in order, while retaining some young talent like Will Barton or Gary Harris. But either way, it's going to be a long time before the Nuggets are a truly relevant team again.
8 Oklahoma City Thunder
If the Thunder weren't able to get by the Warriors in the playoffs with Kevin Durant last season, there's little chance they'll be able to do so with only Russell Westbrook on the roster as their one star player. Granted, Westbrook is having probably the best season of his career, and has truly made him name as one of the most dynamic players in the league, but he's unreliable late in playoff games. The supporting cast around him will have to be better than the likes of Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, like he has right now. That won't get it done against the best the Western Conference has to offer. It's only a matter of time before Westbrook starts seeking options elsewhere, since the Thunder will be hindered in their ability to compliment him with quality talent. The Thunder had their chance at greatness when they were up 3-1 on the Warriors in the Conference Finals, but it just wasn't meant to be.
7 Orlando Magic
After several years when it looked like the team was on the rise, the Magic have crashed back down to Earth in the worst possible way. Currently second-to-last in the Eastern Conference, Orlando has little in the way of high-quality young talent, and it's only a matter of time before this roster is blown up completely. They've already traded away Serge Ibaka to the Raptors, who was undoubtedly their best overall player. Now, with a mix of washed up veterans, head-scratcher free agent signings like Bismack Biyombo, and previous draft picks that haven't lived up to potential (Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton), the team is just a flat-out mess right now. Even with the rebuild starting tomorrow, it's going to be a good five years or so before the Magic are even considered possible contenders for the playoffs. This is pretty much a lesson on how not to build an NBA roster
6 Dallas Mavericks
As Dirk Nowitzki eventually eclipsed his prime, this one was bound to happen. Even so, there might be a light at the end of the tunnel due to last year's signing of Harrison Barnes off of the Warriors roster. He's a quality young player, and can be a productive player for a long time. He may be slightly overrated by the Mavericks front office however, and the fear is that Barnes won't really turn out to be the franchise player they thought he might be upon signing him in free agency. We know that Nowitzki is near the end of the line at the age of 38, and there's really little else in the way of complimentary pieces that could aid the Mavericks in upcoming seasons. This all seems like a recipe for a series of underwhelming seasons, and while it may not be a rebuild in the traditional sense, it'll be a while before Dallas is able to replace an all-time great talent like Nowitzki.
5 Portland Trail Blazers
After a few seasons of appearing that they were on the cusp of greatness, the Trail Blazers have fallen off significantly this season, and could be looking at moving either C.J. McCollum or Damian Lillard in exchange for some draft picks. It's gotten so bad, that they aren't even guaranteed to make the playoffs this season, currently sitting in 10th place in the Western Conference. That's a sizeable fall from grace, considering they were winning some playoff series, and looking to be only a piece or two away from being a Championship contender. Instead, they've regressed, and it's almost a guarantee that some move involving one of their better players is going to happen at some point. If they weren't able to cash in a couple years ago, it's unlikely to happen now.
4 Phoenix Suns
The Suns are in last in the Western Conference, and despite having a few nice young players in Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe, this is a team that is a long way from actually competing in the stacked West. The talent just isn't there, especially considering the kinds of teams they'd have to beat in the playoffs. The best bet for Phoenix right now is to hope that they hit a nice lottery pick for the draft this year, maybe ending up with the first or second overall. That would go a long way for providing the kind of game-breaking talent they'll need to compete in subsequent seasons. Still, even if they hit on such a talent, they won't be making a run anytime soon, so this is one of the safer bets on this ranking.
3 New York Knicks
Oh, what a mess the Knicks have been for the last few years. Even with signing the oft-injured, but talented Derrick Rose in free agency last offseason, and pairing him with the duo of Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony, the team still can't find a way to win games. At 12th place in the Eastern Conference, they're well out of a playoff spot, and there's clearly a disconnect between the personnel and Phil Jackson. Of the "big three" on the team right now, only Porzingis figures to stick around for the long haul, with Rose and Anthony clearly out of their prime and on the downturn. This is not an ideal situation for the Knicks at all, and it's fair to wonder how long they'll delay selling off Anthony and Rose to build the team exclusively around Porzingis. In any event, they aren't even close to contending for the Championship.
2 Brooklyn Nets
The Nets are far and away the worst team in the NBA this season, and are guaranteed to begin a rebuilding process the second the season is over. Their best player, Brook Lopez, is hovering around the age of 30, and the rest of this roster is quite simply dreck, in every possible estimation. This is a prime example of a team that has absolutely no choice but to blow everything up and start over. Best case scenario for them, and they will get the first overall pick this year, and go from there, but even landing a surefire talent would only scratch the surface of what needs to be done. As much of a dumpster fire as the Nets have been, they've been relatively inconspicuous about it, with the Knicks taking up most of the negative headlines out of teams in the East.
1 Sacramento Kings
With the recent news of the Kings selling off their best player in DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans, they are now a prime contender for worst team in the league. Receiving only rookie Buddy Hield, and a few other paltry pieces in return for one of the best players in the league, this was a questionable trade on just about every level. What it does guarantee however, is that the Kings are going to be bad for a very long time. While this is just about they're only option at this point, it means they aren't even going to be thinking about a Championship for five years at absolute minimum. They probably have the worst current outlook out of any team in the league. Whether it will be worth it or not in the long run, Kings fans should just be prepared for a long, painful road back to NBA prominence, if they are able to get there at all.
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