Winning an NBA Championship is not easy. Even with a roster full of talented players, there is a lot that needs to come together for a franchise to be successful. It starts with ownership and trickles down to the front office, coaching staff, scouting department and players. Some franchises know what it takes to win and some simply do not. The San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers have combined to win eleven titles since 1999. That’s not an accident. The Spurs are one of the best-run franchises in sports and it probably comes as no surprise that they’re on the first of these two lists. Some teams simply get it, as they stick to a winning formula and pounce on opportunities.
On the flip side, there are some teams that don’t have the infrastructure in place to build a championship team. Some organizations are dysfunctional, some are impatient, and some simply have an owner that won’t allow things to work properly. These teams will probably never win a championship without major changes across the board. This is the highest level of the game of basketball, and it’s a cutthroat business that chews up and spits out those that do not come prepared. Here are 8 potential NBA championship teams over the next few years and 7 who won't get close any time soon.
15 Potential Champ: Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers won it all last season thanks to a herculean effort from LeBron James and some dynamic play from Kyrie Irving. Taking down the juggernaut that was (and still is) the Golden State Warriors was nothing short of incredible. 2016-17 might actually present the Cavs with their best shot at another title for the foreseeable future. The Warriors signed Kevin Durant in the offseason and there simply has to be a feeling out process in the Bay Area this year. It took the LeBron-led Heat a year to figure it out, as it also did with this Cavs team. It’s likely to take a year for the Warriors to do the same. And while he seems superhuman, LeBron isn’t getting any younger and we’ll eventually see some physical decline from him.
14 Continue To Fail: Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies appear to be happy to simply make the playoffs year after year with no real chance of winning an NBA Championship. They have two really good players in Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, but you’re not winning the title with those guys as your two best options. Memphis just re-signed Conley to a massive contract in the offseason and gave a ton of money to the oft-injured Chandler Parsons. Aside from an aging Zach Randolph, Memphis does not have much else going for them. In a Western Conference that features the Warriors and Spurs, there is simply no way this team can compete for a spot in the NBA Finals. And with Gasol, Conley and Parsons locked up for the long-term that is not likely to change any time soon.
13 Potential Champ: Golden State Warriors
The Warriors enter the 2016-17 season as the favorite to win the NBA Championship. While the Cavs may actually be a better bet, for reasons we detailed above, the Golden State roster is on the cusp of ridiculous at this point. Golden State was coming off two consecutive NBA Finals appearances this offseason and they managed to sign who many people consider to be the third-best player in the NBA in Kevin Durant. Durant joins Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to form the best quartet of players we’ve seen in quite a while. It should take some time for Durant to truly find his role with the team, but when he does, watch out for this bunch. They’re being labeled a “superteam” for a reason and the results could be scary.
12 Continue To Fail: Los Angeles Clippers
Is Doc Rivers really a good coach? Sure, he won a title in Boston, but he had three of the best players in the league at the time as well as a young Rajon Rondo. Since joining Los Angeles, Rivers has not done much more for the Clippers than Vinny Del Negro did. Seriously. But as questionable as “Doc the coach” may be, “Doc the GM” is much, much worse. Rivers has made a ton of bad moves since taking over the front office in Los Angeles. Most egregious is probably his affinity to playing his own son, Austin, but it’s not only the nepotism. Blake Griffin’s career is at a crossroads, Chris Paul has an Early Termination Option after the 2016-17 season and the Clippers don’t look like they’re going to get it done this year. As long as Rivers remains the GM, it’s hard to see the Clippers truly contending for a championship.
11 Potential Champ: San Antonio Spurs
It feels like little attention was paid to what a fantastic regular season the San Antonio Spurs had last year. Sure, the Warriors won 73 games, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that San Antonio won 67 games and only lost once at home (at the hands of Golden State). The Spurs often fly under the radar, but they are completely capable of winning the NBA title in 2017 and for the foreseeable future. Kawhi Leonard is one of the best players in the game. His statistics may not jump out at you in the traditional sense, but he’s built himself into quite the offensive threat while developing into one of the most incredible defensive players the NBA has ever seen. As long as he and LaMarcus Aldridge are healthy, this team has a shot against anyone.
10 Continue To Fail: Chicago Bulls
It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Bulls looked like a legitimate threat to the Big Three of Miami’s reign over the Eastern Conference. Derrick Rose had won the MVP and the Bulls had a talented and deep roster. Things have changed, and the Bulls now have a roster that seems to lack direction. Their offseason was a confusing one and it seemed like the Bulls were simply grasping at big names regardless of fit. Chicago does have one really good piece in Jimmy Butler, who has developed into one of the top two-way players in the league. However, the additions of Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade don’t really mesh with Butler. Rondo and Wade are on short-term deals, but Butler is entering his prime and the Bulls should be focusing their roster construction around their star player.
9 Potential Champ: Boston Celtics
Boston has exceeded expectations in each of the last two seasons and they’re coming off a 2015-16 campaign in which they won 48 games. That roster simply should not have won 48 games, even in the Eastern Conference, which shines a light on the work of Brad Stevens, the brightest young coach in the game today. Stevens has been nothing short of fantastic since he was hired as head coach in Boston and the team’s ascent in the standings should continue. Boston still lacks a star, but they’re really deep and landed Al Horford in the offseason. Without major injuries hitting Cleveland, it’s hard to see the Celtics getting to the NBA Finals this year. However, if they add a star player or another guy one tier below they could legitimately be in the mix over the next few years. Danny Ainge is patient and calculated in running this team, and that bodes well for their future.
8 Continue To Fail: New Orleans Pelicans
It’s a real shame what’s going on in New Orleans since it’s wasting the talents of Anthony Davis. Davis is one of the 10 best players in the league right now at the age of 23, but the roster around him is seriously lacking. Jrue Holiday is a good player, but isn't enough to make up for the rest of the squad. Tyreke Evans is always going to be a tantalizing talent that never quite figures it out. Omer Asik is not the player he once was. The Pelicans did use a lottery pick on National Player of the Year Buddy Hield, but he doesn’t have star written all over him despite his collegiate performance. Outside of Davis, there is not much to love on this roster and one can’t help but think of Kevin Garnett spending most of his best years on a bad Minnesota squad.
7 Potential Champ: Milwaukee Bucks
Let’s rewind to the end of the 2012-13 season. Few rosters looked as dire and directionless as Milwaukee’s back then. My how things have changed. The biggest reason that Milwaukee makes this list is Giannis Antetokounmpo. Better known as “The Greek Freak,” this youngster is oozing potential. He’s a physical marvel, the kind of player whose size and ability shouldn’t come in the same package. Giannis is a forward, but he’s capable of playing four positions on the floor. He played point guard toward the end of last season and dropped multiple triple-doubles. The Bucks have another player with a ton of upside in Jabari Parker, who was the second overall pick in the draft just a couple of years ago. Building around these two young players has the Bucks pointed in a nice direction. With a couple of solid additions, don't be surprised to see this team contend in the near future.
6 Continue To Fail: Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic appeared to have a plan after trading away Dwight Howard. They were going all-in on the Oklahoma City model, rebuilding through the draft. The team focused on uber-athletic prospects and defense, and they did it to a fault. Selections of players like Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon made the Magic extremely athletic, but it also left them with a dearth of shooting. If you haven’t heard, the current direction of the league emphasizes shooting more than it has in many years. But Orlando stuck with their plan for several years, that is, until this offseason. Orlando traded Oladipo and a lottery pick to Oklahoma City for Serge Ibaka in what appeared to be a desperate attempt to make the playoffs in 2017, along with horrible overpaying for Bismack Biyombo. So the Magic seem to have abandoned their plan with a suspect trade and signings. That doesn’t really feel like something a championship team would do.
5 Potential Champ: Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz have built their roster the right way. When the team waved goodbye to Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, the full rebuild began. The Jazz didn’t make any attempts to contend before they were ready, avoiding the misguided signings that plague so many teams that lack the patience required to build a contender slowly. Utah has consistently drafted well and added veterans through savvy trades and signings. Now they’ve got a young core that features Gordon Hayward, Derricks Favors and Rudy Gobert. Underrated players like Alec Burks and Rodney Hood also call Utah home and don’t forget about pups like Dante Exum and Trey Lyles. The team added veteran help in George Hill and Boris Diaw in the offseason. Expect to see the Jazz in the playoffs in 2017 and they should only continue to get better.
4 Continue To Fail: New York Knicks
The New York Knicks will never win a championship as long as James Dolan is running the team. That is the bottom line. Dolan has spent his time as owner of the Knicks consistently meddling with the operations of the organization. There have been multiple opportunities for a rebuild at Madison Square Garden, but the consistent impatience of the franchise have done little more than hold the team back. Bad hires, bad contracts, bad trades, it’s all become the status quo in The Big Apple. Hiring Phil Jackson to run the team made a splash, but, outside of drafting Kristaps Porzingis, is there really a good move he’s made? The Knicks could make the playoffs this season with new additions like Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee, but Carmelo Anthony and company definitely don’t look like a title contender.
3 Potential Champ: Philadelphia 76ers
Wouldn’t it be amazing if the foundation that Sam Hinkie poured ended up setting the stage for an eventual championship? It’s certainly possible, as Hinkie’s blueprint essentially worked. Of course, it also got him fired just before the plan came to fruition. The Sixers are loaded with assets right now. 2016 top pick Ben Simmons looks like he could be a really special player, a super-athletic forward with incredible court vision. We’ll get our first glimpse of Dario Saric in 2016-17 and all reports from overseas say that this kid is the real deal. Joel Embiid is actually healthy and anyone that saw him play at Kansas knows that he’s got franchise center potential. The jury is still out on Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, but this team has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to young talent. With an experienced GM in Bryan Colangelo, the Sixers could very well be on the track to a title. Of course, much of the credit would have to go to Hinkie if it happened.
2 Continue To Fail: Sacramento Kings
Any team that can outdo the Knicks in the ineptitude department deserves some kind of prize; some kind of terrible, terrible prize. The Kings are the worst-run franchise in the NBA right now. Majority owner Vivek Ranadive simply has no idea what he’s doing. Go to YouTube and search for “vivek stauskas” and you’ll see. This is a guy that actually suggested the Kings play 4-on-5 defense so they could have one player just waiting as a cherry picker. The Kings seem to make moves without a clear plan, which has resulted in a muddled roster. Star big man and resident malcontent, though he has made strides in that regard, DeMarcus Cousins has been consistently coddled by the organization. He probably feels untouchable because he basically is. The Kings want to make the playoffs, but they just had a draft that points to building for the future. Nobody can figure out what is going on in Sacramento, least of all the Kings.
1 Potential Champ: Minnesota Timberwolves
There is plenty to like about where the Minnesota Timberwolves are headed right now. Let’s start with the crown jewel of this roster in Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns was the 2015-16 Rookie of the Year after averaging more than 18 points and 10 rebounds per game. He also added two assists per game and nearly two blocks per contest, all while shooting good percentages. This kid is a star already and he’s just 20 years old. Towns is not alone on the Minnesota roster, though, as former #1 pick Andrew Wiggins looks like a potential stud as well. If he can become a more efficient player on offense, this duo could haunt the dreams of opposing coaches. The Wolves added two huge pieces in the offseason in head coach Tom Thibodeau and point guard Kris Dunn. Thibs is one of the best defensive minds in the history of the game and Dunn was a lottery pick that tore apart the summer league. Dunn is already a defensive maven, so he’ll get playing time right away. This trio of young players could really be something special and the playoffs in 2017 seems like a realistic goal, on top of some lengthy runs in the near future.