Think eight years ahead. Will LeBron James still be in the NBA? If he is, will he still be supplying a main role on a team, or will he be a veteran looking for one last ring? Will the young talent fulfill their potential and propel their respective franchise to contending status in the future? Maybe Russell Westbrook will find a new running mate to put the Thunder back into the championship discussion? Will Gregg Popovich continue his dominance in the NBA throughout Kawhi Leonard's prime?
Free agents, new draftees, coaching changes, trades, and injuries can all play a role in the future of the NBA and its franchises. Philadelphia has two budding superstars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. In four eligible seasons between the two, we have experienced Joel Embiid in 31 games and Ben Simmons in zero. There is also a possibility of the young talent leaving the rebuilding franchises before the window to compete for a NBA Championship is opened.
One thing we know is there will be a NBA Champion each year, and to look forward is something we love to do as sports fans. The immediate seasons seem that they will be dominated by familiar faces in the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. But there will be other franchises breaking through and cementing their place in the NBA Finals.
16 2017 NBA Champions: Golden State Warriors
More of the same for this year. The Warriors revamped their lineup after losing the 2016 NBA Finals in seven games to the Cleveland Cavaliers. They added former MVP Kevin Durant and the regular season has again been a breeze. There is the question of Kevin Durant's injury, but it seems he will be back and rested in time for the NBA Playoffs. Even if eased through the first round, the combo of Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson will prove too much in early rounds, and eventually regain their title of NBA Champions. The window is far from closed in Golden State, and this will probably not be the last time we see them in future NBA Finals.
15 2017 Runners-up: Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James will make it seven straight NBA Finals appearances and eight appearances overall. While it is well known that LeBron and the Cavaliers are struggling to the finish line, LeBron and his supporting cast will have enough to get through the up and coming Eastern Conference. Kyrie Irving will be able to continue his excellent playoff performances, and the Cavaliers will find themselves pitted against the Golden State Warriors for the third straight year. While LeBron is worried about how deep his supporting cast is, the Warriors have no such worry. Sporting out a big four, and a bench deep with veterans who are familiar with winning, the Cavaliers will still fall in the NBA Finals.
14 2018 NBA Champions: San Antonio Spurs
Year and after year, the Spurs continue their reputation as contenders. With their new star and leader Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio will continue to flirt with NBA Championships for the foreseeable future. While the supporting cast will eventually look different, the Spurs will grab another ring in 2018 behind Leonard and Gregg Popovich. If Pau Gasol sticks around the NBA, he will most likely want to stay with the Spurs, and though mentioned in trade rumors, LaMarcus Aldridge is under contract through the 2018-2019 season. Look for the Spurs to add a banner in the rafters with the players they currently have on their roster. They will just have to wait another year to take down the Golden State Warriors en route to the NBA Finals and NBA Finals win.
13 2018 Runners-up: Cleveland Cavaliers
Sorry, LeBron. Although eight straight NBA Finals is an incredible accomplishment, we are going to drop LeBron James' NBA Finals record to 3 wins and 6 losses. Teams will once again be on the brink of knocking off the Cavaliers, but in the end to no avail. The Celtics, Wizards, Raptors, and company will look forward to another year. But once again, the Cavaliers will come up short. The Spurs will out-coach, and Leonard will outplay James en route to the Spurs' sixth NBA Championship in franchise history. Leonard will earn his second Finals MVP award, and the Cavaliers will once again come up short, and the window of a LeBron, Love, and Kyrie big three may start to close.
12 2019 NBA Champions: Oklahoma City Thunder
At this point, we can get a little outside the box. Three years from now, Russell Westbrook will have found a new superstar to team with. There is a nice supporting cast around Westbrook already, which includes Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, and Enes Kanter. For the Thunder and Westbrook to fulfill the thought of becoming NBA Champions during the 2018-2019 season, a superstar needs to have been added. Blake Griffin? Paul George? Gordon Hayward? The Thunder will have to go through the Golden State Warriors who will still be a perennial contender, but Westbrook will put a storybook-like performance against former teammate Kevin Durant and company to get the Thunder back to the NBA Finals for the first time since he and Durant dropped the 2012 Finals. This time the Thunder will bring OKC a championship.
11 2019 Runners-up: Washington Wizards
Even more surprising is who the Thunder will go up against in the 2019 NBA Finals. The Wizards made a huge leap in 2016-2017, putting themselves in the race for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference towards the end of the year. John Wall has taken his game to the next level, just a season after the Wizards were mulling moving on from their cornerstone point guard. Bradley Beal is back by Wall's side, on pace to set a career-high in games. The emergence of forwards Otto Porter and Markieff Morris as three-and-D players has benefited the young stud backcourt even further. It may take a couple years, and maybe another veteran free agent, but the Washington Wizards will get back to the NBA Finals for the first time since the 1970s.
10 2020 NBA Champions: Boston Celtics
It wouldn't be much of a surprise to see the Celtics back in the NBA Finals earlier, and numerous times in our eight year span. Head Coach Brad Stevens is just 40 years old, and already has gained a reputation as one of the best coaches in the NBA today. The Celtics should look for a long-term marriage with Stevens, and with a young core backed up by a strong veteran presence, the Celtics have the formula for another NBA Championship. They can thank the Brooklyn Nets for what is looking like the best odds at the number one overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The Celtics may also be landing the number one seed in the Eastern Conference as well at this point. Add another franchise cornerstone and the Celtics win a NBA Championship in 2020.
9 2020 Runners-up: San Antonio Spurs
And they're back again. Kawhi Leonard will still be enjoying his prime at age 28. This trip to the NBA Finals he may be represented with a different-looking supporting cast. We're not sure if Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, or Tony Parker make this trip with him, but as long as Gregg Popovich does, the Spurs will again win the Western Conference. This time around, the Eastern Conference, in the form of the Boston Celtics, prevails. Including 2017-2018, this will give the Spurs their eighth Western Conference Championship, all under Gregg Popovich. The Spurs and Pop will drop to 6-2 all-time in the NBA Finals, but should take the now-powerhouse Celtics to the brink.
8 2021 NBA Champions: Houston Rockets
After a rather underwhelming runs with Dwight Howard by his side, James Harden has thrown the Houston Rockets on his back under coach Mike D'Antoni. Harden has full control of the offense at the point guard position and is delivering as D'Antoni had hoped. The Rockets will finish the 2016-2017 season as the three seed in a powerful Western Conference. It may not be that year but in 2021, Harden will hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy while being named NBA Finals MVP.
The Rockets already have surrounded the possible MVP with shooting and wing play. And although they are sound down low, it looks like the Rockets will be able to attract a big man via free agency to take the team over the top and to the elite.
7 2021 Runners-up: Philadelphia 76ers
Once again, Philadelphia will look to see all the product of the tank on the floor in 2017-2018. Ben Simmons will make his debut, Embiid will look to play more than 31 games, Dario Saric will look to continue his stellar NBA transition, and the 76ers will again pick at least once in the top part of the NBA Draft. Let's also assume they land Malik Monk. The Sixers will sport a core that consists of the four previously mentioned players, defensive stopper Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes, and probably backup point guard TJ McConnell. Things will come together in the next few years and in 2021, Philadelphia will make it back to the NBA Finals on the 20th anniversary of the Allen Iverson-led Eastern Conference Champions.
6 2022 NBA Champions: Philadelphia 76ers
Another year and another chance for the 76ers core to gain experience. Meanwhile, the 76ers front office will have another offseason to attract free agents and perhaps strike gold in the draft. The team will make it back through an Eastern Conference that has overtaken the Western Conference as far as NBA title contenders. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid will be able to add a NBA Championship to their 76er resume, and for the first time since 1983, the 76ers will be NBA Champions.
The rivalry between the 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers will be renewed, with the Sixers getting the better of the NBA final return for both franchises.
5 2022 Runners-up: Los Angeles Lakers
Like the 76ers, the Lakers have been building through the draft, and have looked to land a solid core in D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, and Jordan Clarkson. With what looks like a top three pick in 2017, and perhaps another high pick in drafts to come, the Lakers will have a roster filled with young talent. We're not sure if Luke Walton will be the one to do it, but someone will lead the roster through the dark years, and when 2020 hits, the Lakers will find momentum to once again become relevant in the basketball world, thus once again becoming a destination for free agents, or even a big name for a trade. No matter how it is done, the Lakers have the pieces to put together a championship caliber squad by 2022, unfortunately dropping the series to the Philadelphia 76ers who did it just a bit better.
4 2023 NBA Champions: Golden State Warriors
This will mark the return of the Golden State Warriors powerhouse. Not sure how many of the Big Four will still be on the team, or in the NBA, but Steph Curry will be 34, Kevin Durant 33, Klay Thompson 32, and Draymond Green also 32. Whoever is left will be able to lead new young talent into the 2023 NBA Finals and bring the title back to Golden State for the first time since 2017. They will play a Celtics team powered by Markelle Fultz who served as a solid contributor for the 2020 NBA Champion Boston Celtics.
Steve Kerr will be coaching most of the same faces but will look to a new star either from a trade or the big free agent signing. Still the Warriors are a very attractive destination to play and that will keep them in contention for the future.
3 2023 Runners-up: Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics, by this point, should officially be Markelle Fultz's team. After pairing with Isaiah Thomas for many successful seasons that will account to a NBA Championship, Fultz will lead the Celtics back into the NBA Finals. There they will face a Golden State Warriors looking to complete one last run at the NBA Championship. Fultz will cement himself as a top player in the league, but will ultimately come up short to the experience of the Warriors.
Brad Stevens will take part in his second NBA Finals, and will probably have added a Coach of the Year award or two to his growing trophy case. The Celtics will continue to be seen as a contender for the foreseeable future.
2 2024 NBA Champions: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are back, and much like the Boston Celtics, they will be led by their 2017 draft pick, Lonzo Ball. After years of playing alongside D'Angelo Russell, the Lakers will open up Ball to be able to facilitate the offense more. Ingram will have garnered a reputation as a knockdown shooter, and Julius Randle will be a dominant force on the block. The Los Angeles Laker jersey will still be enough to lure free agents. The team will be able to add a proven NBA player and put the 2022 NBA Finals loss behind them. Lonzo Ball should also be adding the NBA Finals MVP to his growing NBA resume. The years of terrible basketball are put behind the franchise and they are again the class of the NBA.
1 2024 Runners-up: Milwaukee Bucks
In 2024, the "Greek Freak" Giannis Antetokounmpo will still have not hit 30 years of age. After adding his first All-Star appearance during the 2016-2017 season, he will become a perennial selection, and will ultimately guide the Milwaukee Bucks back to the NBA Playoffs and eventually into the NBA Finals. His running mate at forward, Jabari Parker, will also still be under 30 years of age, and pending any more injury setbacks, the two will put together nice careers besides on another. Eventually the roster fills out with more NBA caliber talent, taking Antetokounmpo's game to new heights. It could happen sooner, but its safe to say the Bucks will be in good hands with their young All-Star running the offense.