Now that we are several months into the NBA offseason, this should be the time of year when each team's fans begin debating the chances that their squad will hold the NBA Finals trophy at seasons end. One factor has made this discussion a moot point in recent years, the Golden State Warriors. As if Steph Curry and company weren't formidable enough, this past season they signed former league MVP Kevin Durant, giving them one of the most talented squads in the history of the National Basketball Association.
But in order to avoid an article solely discussing the Warriors, let's look a few years down the line to when Golden State won't have such a stranglehold on the Finals trophy. Looking towards the future, this list will discuss 8 NBA teams with the brightest futures, and 7 with the dullest. Going with the Philadelphia 76ers new slogan "trust the process," this list will look at those franchises who have the pieces in place to become serious Finals contenders in the next few years (and those franchises who will be hopelessly lost). A premium will be placed on those squads who already have young talented players at their disposal, though teams with a plethora of future picks (especially those expected to be lottery picks) will be calculated. How much do you trust the process of your favorite NBA franchise?
15 Brightest - Phoenix Suns
I've already had to alter this entry because the Phoenix Suns roster has been in a state of constant flux since this offseason began. The latest rumors surrounding the Suns is that they are attempting to trade a large package (not including recent draft pick Josh Jackson) for Kyrie Irving. Earlier this month, Irving voiced his desire to be traded from the Cavs to a team with a younger core (presumably so he could stop living in LeBron's shadow). If this deal actually happens, it could make Phoenix an extremely dangerous team, and will certainly improve last year's performance which saw them finish with the second worst record in the league. Even without Kyrie, Josh Jackson is an incredible talent who could develop into one of the better players in the Western Conference.
14 Dullest - Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers are a perfect example of what happens when a playoff contender consistently fails to make a sustained run for the championship. Despite being a top Western Conference Contender for the past four years, the Clippers were unable to add enough talent to get them to an NBA Finals. Worse than that, is the fact that they consistently mortgaged their future in an attempt to build the team around Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. While they were able to retain Griffin this past offseason, the departure of CP3 likely signals a pause in this teams championship aspirations. As far as young players go, the Clippers cupboard has become noticeably bare. Even worse is the fact that their 2018 1st-round pick is currently held by the Celtics/76ers.
13 Brightest - New Orleans Pelicans
With the current state of the NBA, any team who has three promising young players has to be considered to have a fairly bright future. Last season the New Orleans Pelicans got what I considered the steal of the year when they traded the Kings for embattled big man, DeMarcus Cousins. While the man known as "Boogie" has had some issues meshing with his teammates in the past, it is impossible to deny the physical skills which make him one of the most dominating big men in the NBA. Pairing him with a transcendent player like Anthony Davis was a no-brainer for Pelican officials, and Jrue Holliday provides some nice depth for this New Orleans team. Whether the Pelicans bright future can ever be realized is largely dependent on the chemistry that develops between Davis and Cousins this upcoming season.
12 Dullest - Memphis Grizzlies
Many of the franchises on this portion of our list are featured because of poor decisions they have made in years past. Such is not the case with the Memphis Grizzlies, however, as simple aging has taken its toll on this once great franchise. Leaning on reliable big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies have become a pillar of the Western Conference playoffs, and can boast of several upsets of title contenders (like the Thunder, Spurs) on their resumes. Father time, however, plays no favorites. Both Randolph and Gasol have aged appreciatively in recent years, and this offseason Randolph decided to sign with the Sacramento Kings. If Memphis starts to pile up losses to begin the 2017-2018 season, don't be surprised if you see Gasol trade rumors begin circulating.
11 Brightest - Milwaukee Bucks
It is the new fad among NBA pundits to crown the Milwaukee Bucks as the "up-and-coming" team of the Eastern Conference. Where there's smoke there's fire, however, and the Bucks do have the young talent to make a serious run next year. For years the team was solely dependent on the "Greek Freak," Giannis Antetokounmpo for its star power, but they recently drafted Jabari Parker, giving them a legitimate All-Star duo to base their squad around. Given the current state of the Eastern Conference (pending Kyrie being traded from Cleveland), the Bucks have as good a shot as anyone of representing the East in the next few NBA Finals. Assuming the Warriors are the team that comes out of the West, I'm not sure that this is necessarily a good thing, but Milwaukee fans have to be happy with the current direction that their team is headed.
10 Dullest - Sacramento Kings
When the Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins last season, they were signaling to the league that they do not have the talent to compete in the Western Conference any time soon. Despite his off-court issues Boogie is still a fairly young player (26), therefore, the trading of him was an admission by the franchise that they do not have other players around him capable of making a playoff run. As if this weren't bad enough, the Kings traded Cousins to the Pelicans for little return (or at least not a return of the same value as Cousins), so things don't appear to be getting better any time soon. But who knows, maybe Buddy Hield and De'Aaron Fox can turn this team around.
9 Brightest - Golden State Warriors
This list is supposed to be about the future, but I couldn't resist naming the Warrior's as a team with the highest upside going forward. Though this team will likely regress in the near future, they are so uberly talented that there is no telling how many championships they will rack up before their run is done. Despite the fact that they lost to LeBron and the Cavs in the 2016-2017 NBA Finals, that iteration of the Warriors will still go down as one of the greatest NBA teams of all time. Instead of sitting on their laurels all offseason, they went and got potentially the best current player in the NBA, Kevin Durant. The result was this past seasons super team which went 16-1 in playoffs and claimed the franchises 2nd NBA title. Right now, the sky is the limit for the Golden State Warriors.
8 Dullest - Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder bet everything they had this summer with the trade that brought them Paul George from the Indiana Pacers. This trade was much less about Paul George (who will likely leave when his contract expires at the end of the season), and more about showing to Russell Westbrook their commitment to building a championship team around him. The problem with this? The Golden State Warriors. While George and Westbrook will undoubtedly make an impressive duo, the rest of the team is not strong enough to stop the Warriors leviathan. With the Thunder presumably again falling short in the Finals, I would not be surprised to see Westbrook sign with another team in the 2018 offseason. If both George and Westbrook leave (a likely scenario), the Thunder will be entirely bereft of talent, making their future outlook extremely dull.
7 Brightest - Los Angeles Lakers
I'm not sure if the Lakers future is actually that bright, or if the Los Angeles hype machine has finally broken me down and made me believe the Lakers are an infallible franchise. While I might be more hesitant than others to crown the Lakers as the next great up-and-coming team, I cannot deny that they have put some interesting pieces together the past few seasons. For the Lakers, their future must begin with the development of their last two 1st-round draft picks, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. Once these players develop, there will have to be some infusion of Paul George/ LeBron James/ Russell Westbrook to make this team capable of competing with the Golden State Warriors. While this seems like a lot, word around both the LA and NBA media is that the Lakers are gearing up to create a super-team (from the above mentioned players) which will challenge the Warriors in the immediate future. Only time will tell.
6 Dullest - New York Knicks
This next entry on our list goes to show that a team's future is not determined by the talent of their players alone. While the Knicks roster has been abysmal in the past, they finally found a gem in the form of 7'2" power forward Kristaps Porzingis. The man known as the "Unicorn" put up an 18-7-2 stat line last season, while cementing himself as one of the best young players in the entire NBA. Instead of player talent, the reason the Knicks find themselves on the Dullest portion of this list, is the clear ineptitude of the franchises management. Whether it be the Phil Jackson experiment, Carmelo's tumultuous Knicks run, or last season's Derrick Rose signing, it is clear that no level of talent can bring the Knicks from the basement of the Eastern conference.
5 Brightest - Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers and their infamous front office were the inspiration (and namesake) of this list, so you should have known that they would be featured somewhere near the top. With four top three selections in the last four drafts, it would be highly embarrassing if the Philadelphia 76ers didn't have a number of talented young players on their roster. This was almost the case, however, as injuries to Joel Embiid (and a lack of production for Nerlens Noel and Ben Simmons) could easily have derailed the future of this franchise. Luckily, both Embiid and Jahlil Okafor played well this season, and teaming them with #1 overall pick Markelle Fultz should make the 76ers one of the most promising (and exciting) teams in the next couple seasons.
4 Dullest - Brooklyn Nets
In the annals of terrible NBA trades, the trade that saw a plethora of players and picks go to Boston in exchange for an aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce should hold a place of extreme honor. Utilizing a "win now" attitude, this trade was supposed to put the Nets over the top and allow them to grab the Eastern Conference crown (and compete with a Miami Heat super team). Unfortunately for Brooklyn, this team never realized their potential, and they have since been left holding the bag for this terrible trade. The Celtics meanwhile, have utilized their young players and picks (including this year's 1st overall selection) to build perhaps the most promising team in the league. Celtics GM Danny Ainge has famously been nicknamed "Trader Danny", and it appears that he struck gold again with this trade that continues to determines the futures of these two franchises.
3 Brightest - Minnesota Timberwolves
Every team listed here as having a bright future inherently has a plethora of young talent. If you're talking about young talent with the potential of being an NBA superstar, however, the Minnesota Timberwolves seem to have the competition pretty well beaten. For years the T-Wolves have been waiting for Andrew Wiggins to become the transcendent type player that he was projected to be prior to being drafted by the Cavaliers, but it appears that their best chance at grooming a future MVP may be their 2015 first round pick (and 1st pick overall), Karl-Anthony Towns. Throw in the fact that they were able to get a fairly young Jimmy Butler for practically nothing (good move Chicago), and it becomes clear that Minnesota will become a team to reckon with in the next few years.
2 Dullest - Cleveland Cavaliers
Considering the fact that prior to LeBron's return, a Cleveland sports team had not won a championship since the 1950s, whatever happens after he leaves won't be that big a deal for the Cavalier faithful. With that being said, however, things aren't looking too good for the Cavs if Lebron decides not to stick around (whether he goes to another team or merely retires). This was true before this past week, but is even more so if Kyrie Irving gets his way and is traded from the squad. Both Kyrie and LeBron may be in the top 5 players in the entire NBA, so it's a little scary to think what this Cavs team will look like if they both leave for greener pastures. Unless the second coming of LeBron is on the horizon, this Cavs team will be pretty depressing when their favorite son leaves.
1 Brightest - Boston Celtics
If this list was based solely on future picks and unproven prospects, the Boston Celtics would be worthy of the 1, 2, and 3 spots. Due largely to the ineptitude of the Brooklyn Nets front office, the Celtics have the pieces and assets to have a very bright future in the next five years. Not only do they have the 3rd-overall picks from the last two years (Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum), but they also hold three 1st-round picks in the 2018 NBA Draft (their own, the Nets, and the Clippers/Lakers). This doesn't even factor in the notably draft-and-stash players that the Boston front office currently holds the rights to. We have been waiting for years for GM Danny Ainge to turn these prospects into a team capable of winning the eastern conference, perhaps the emergence of Isaiah Thomas will force him to make a blockbuster move and acquire an accompanying star.