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The Race to Eight In The East

A look at which teams in the East have the best odds of securing the final playoff spot.

John Zitzler

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The landscape in the Eastern Conferences has shifted dramatically from just a season ago. The days of the LeBron James-led HEAT battling the Pacers for Eastern Conference supremacy are a thing of the past. James’ return to Cleveland left the HEAT scrambling to replace him and, along with addition of Kevin Love, immediately made the Cavs a favorite to win the East. While the Cavs’ acquisition of James made the biggest splash, they weren’t the only team in the East to make some noise during the offseason. Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls added another talented piece to an already proven group in Pau Gasol. Gasol has fit in seamlessly and the Bulls are off to a terrific start. Elsewhere the Raptors, Wizards and Hawks have all impressed early on and look to be legitimate threats in the East.

The waters are get a little bit murkier outside of the top five in the conference. Currently the Bucks, Nets and HEAT hold the final three playoff spots, however with so many games remaining all three teams still have plenty of work before they can feel confident about their playoff chances. On the outside looking in there are still a number teams that have a chance at working their way into the playoff picture. In Orlando, the feisty Magic have surprised and kept themselves within arm’s reach of the HEAT. The Pacers, even though they have been short-handed for much of the season, continue to be one of the best defensive units in the league and as they get healthy, have a chance to climb back in the playoff race. Lastly, coming off a playoff berth the Hornets have started slowly, but with the talent the have can’t be counted out quite yet. Record wise, the Celtics are is the mix as well, but after the departure of Rajon Rondo its clear they are looking towards the future and will likely unload other pieces prior to the trade deadline.

Lets take a closer look at the figures to be a hotly contested race for the final playoff spot in the East. Teams will be ranked on their chances of securing the eighth seed based off what they have shown thus far and what’s in front of them during the final 5o games of the season.

4) Indiana Pacers (11-21) – Games Remaining: 50 (26 Home, 24 Away)

Record: 11-21

Games Remaining 50 (26 Home, 24 Away)

Remaining Opponents: +.500 teams: 18, vs East: 36, vs West: 14

Strength of Schedule: .524

Record over their last 10 games: 4-6

Efficiency: Offensive 97.9, Defensive 101.1, Net -3.2.

The outlook of the Pacers season changed dramatically following the horrific leg injury suffered by Paul George this summer. Not only have they been without George, but other key players like David West and George Hill have missed time as well. They have continued to play their physical brand defense, allowing only 96.3 points per game but have struggled scoring the ball.

Despite missing a number of key players the Pacers have continued to battle under coach Frank Vogel. They have been very resilient even when shorthanded. While they continue to play stingy defensive, things have been much more difficult on the offensive end. Their biggest issue is the lack of a true go-to scorer. Their most consistent threat on that end of the court has been David West, yet West is averaging just under 13 points per game. Offseason acquisitions Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles were expected to help fill the scoring void left by George but have been inconsistent thus far.

Looking ahead, 36 of the Pacers remaining 50 games will come against Eastern Conference opponents, which should offer a glimmer of hope. Their longest remaining road trip is a five game set that will come at the end of January from the 17-25. Although they won’t have to make any more multi-game trips West after January 7 when they return from Golden State. Of the teams in the hunt for the eighth seed the Pacers have one of the more favorable schedules, but the question remains as to whether they have enough firepower on the offensive end. If they can play at or above .500 against the East they might just have a shot at eight seed depending on how things play out. It may be a long shot but at this point, but they’re still alive.

3.) Charlotte Hornets

Record: 10-22

Games Remaining: 50 (23 Home, 27 Away)

Remaining Opponents: + .500 teams: 22, vs East: 35, vs West: 15

Strength of Schedule: .512

Record Over Last 10 Games: 4-6

Efficiency: Offensive 98.8, Defensive 104, Net -5.2

Expectations were high at the start of the season for the Hornets. The addition of Lance Stephenson to a team that was coming off a playoff berth gave fans reason to believe they were on the road to contending. Unfortunately, things have not played out nearly as well as Hornets’ backers hoped. Stephenson hasn’t been a good fit and point guard Kemba Walker has been unable to find his shooting stroke. Both players were expected to be major contributors in the Hornets’ bid for a back-to-back playoff appearances. Thus far Stephenson is shooting only 38.6 percent from the field and Walker has not been much better at 39.6 percent. Inefficient play for the backcourt has hampered their offensive attack all season and is a major reason for their lack of wins. That is something they will have to improve on going forward if they hope to catch Miami.

Also concerning for the Hornets, is their inability to compete with opponents above .5oo. Thus far this season they have played 18 games against teams with a winning record and have only been able to win four. With 22 games against above .500 opponents looming they will have to find a way to win higher percentage of those contests.

While the chances of Hornets making the playoffs are this slim, there is still plenty season left. They’re only four games behind current eighth seed holder Miami and with the talent they have, they may be able to make push to finish the season. Twenty eight of their remaining games will come against teams under .500, which should help them close the gap. The Hornets appeared poised to go on nice winning streak after notching four straight W’s prior to Christmas, only to follow that with a three game losing streak. They’ll have to find a way to be more consistent if they want to make run at a playoff berth. One stretch they can look forward to is a four game home set from January 14-21, concluding with a game against the HEAT. They’re in survival mode with Al Jefferson out for the next four weeks due to a groin injury. The best case scenario for them now is simply to still be alive until he comes back.

2) Orlando Magic (13-22) – Games Remaining: 47 (27 Home, 20 Away)

Record: 13-22

Games Remaining: 47  (27 Home, 20 Away)

Remaining Opponents: +.500 teams: 20, vs East: 27, vs West: 20

Strength of Schedule: .489

Record Over Last 10 Games: 4-6

Efficiency: Offensive 99.2, Defensive 104.5, Net -5.3

Going into the season it seemed highly unlikely that the young Magic would have a shot a playoff berth. However, with the way things are shaping up in the lower half of the conference that doesn’t seem nearly as unlikely anymore. They are currently just 2 1/2 behind the HEAT, despite having only 13 wins. Versatile forward Tobias Harris is having a break-out season, averaging 18.5 points, seven rebounds and shooting 47.6 percent from the field. The Magic have been getting significant contributions from Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo as well. Vucevic is one of the more productive young bigs in the league with his ability not only rebound at a high rate, but score the ball as well. Rookie point guard Elfrid Payton looks to have a bright future and is already making an impact. He will have to improve his jump shot, but has already proven to be a serviceable defender.

Their first major obstacle will come in just over a week. They have a four-game road trip starting January 7 in Denver, followed by games against the Lakers, Trail Blazers and Bulls. It doesn’t get any easier when they return home on January 14 as the face the Rockets, then take on the Grizzlies and Thunder respectively. If they can come out of that stretch with three wins, they should be very happy.

If the Magic can make it through that tough stretch in January the rest of their schedule is very manageable. They will play the vast majority of their remaining games at home. However, the Magic have been better on the road (9-12), then when playing at home (4-10). If they have any hope of competing for the final playoff spot that is something they must address as they still have 27 home games remaining. One thing that has surprised about the Magic is how good they have been in close games. Usually young teams struggle to finish tight contests, but the Magic have thrived, going 5-2 in games decided by three points or less. They have a winning record (10-7) against teams under .500 and with 27 remaining games against teams with a losing record that is one thing they can be optimistic about.

Miami (14-18) – Games Remaining: 50 (23 Home, 27 Away)

Record: 14-18

Games Remaining: 50 ( 23 Home, 27 Away)

Remaining Opponents: +.500 21, vs East: 31, vs West: 19

Strength of Schedule: .503

Record Over Last 10 Games: 4-6

Efficiency: Offensive 103.6, Defensive 106.5, Net -2.9

As expected the loss of LeBron James has really taken its toll on the HEAT. Even with Dwyane Wade having a very solid year and the addition of former All-Star Luol Deng, the HEAT are four games under .500. December in particular has been tough on the Heat as they have won just five of their 16 games played this month. They will have to snap out of this funk quickly before giving up too much ground.

They have relied heavily on Chris Bosh down low, as he is their only legitimate low post threat. Bosh is leading the team in minutes played, logging just over 35 per night. He has been very productive in those minutes, leading the team in rebounding and ranking second in scoring, but you have wonder if he will start to wear down later in the season. He’s already missed some extended time this year. Losing Josh McRoberts has really hurt their frontcourt depth. It will be on Bosh and Wade to do much of the heavy lifting for the remainder of the season to as the HEAT look to hold onto to the eighth seed.

Like the Magic, another issue for the HEAT has been than their their inability to win at home. In 18 home games thus the far the Heat are only 6-12. Surprisingly they have actually been much better on the road, going 8-6. They have to be happy with the way they are playing away from home, but need to do a much better job protecting their homecourt. The HEAT have two four-game road trips and one five game road-trip remaining, spread over the next three months, with the five gamer coming in the middle of January where they will take on the Trail Blazers, Clippers, Lakers, Warriors and Kings. Both the Magic and HEAT face significant tests in the next few weeks; whoever fares best will likely have a leg up on the eighth seed race.

The first 32 games of season for the HEAT included 17 against above .500 opponents and they were only able to salvage five wins in those games. Although, when you compare that to the teams above them in the standings, it doesn’t look so bad. The Bucks are only 4-11 against +.500 teams, and the Nets just 2-11 against +.500 teams. When they have played teams under .500 the HEAT have done well, going 9-6 in those contests. With 29 of their remaining 50 games against opponents under .500, if the HEAT can continue to take care of business against those teams holding onto the eight seed becomes much less of a challenge.

The race for the last spot in the East will almost certainly be a tight one. As of today the HEAT are the favorites to land the eight seed, but a lot could change between now and the end of the season. While the Heat may hold a slight lead over the rest of the pack they have done little to prove that they will run away from their competition, leaving the door wide open for a team like the Hornets, Pacers or Magic to sneak in. It will be interesting see which teams step up during the more difficult parts of their schedule and which teams fold when faced with a little adversity.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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NBA Daily: Can Anyone Challenge the East’s Top Teams?

The Eastern Conference Finals will likely have two of the top three teams represented. While the rest of the teams in the East battle amongst themselves, do any of them have a shot to knock off Brooklyn, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee in the playoffs?

Chad Smith

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The Western Conference has been dominating the league once again, in terms of quality teams from top to bottom. The 13th worst team in the West would be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Though their depth is lacking, the East still has a few teams that are championship contenders this season.

The Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks all have a legitimate chance of reaching the NBA Finals this summer. It is championship-or-bust for these franchises who have emptied their wallets in order to pursue the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Each of these teams has at least two star players and another All-Star caliber player to help them reach their ultimate goal. Each one of these teams has a legitimate MVP candidate. In Brooklyn’s case, they just might have the greatest offensive three-headed monster the league has ever seen.

Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo are what separates these three teams from the rest of the conference.

This season there is plenty of parity among the remaining teams in the East. The standings change every night as these teams battle with nearly identical records. It would be a shocking surprise to not see one of Brooklyn, Philly or Milwaukee make it to the NBA Finals.

Odds are that two of these three teams will meet in the Conference Finals, but is there another team lurking that could upset the apple cart? Do any of these teams in the second-tier have enough talent and firepower to upset one of the East’s elite? Here are four teams that could play spoiler.

Miami HEAT

After reaching the NBA Finals last season in the bubble down in Orlando, the HEAT have definitely cooled off this year. They had a slow start at the beginning of the season, then had a long pause as health and safety protocols wreaked havoc on their roster. Not having Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic available really hurt them, but the tide could be turning.

Butler himself has been on a tear since returning to the court — and his teammates have followed his lead. Bam Adebayo has quietly had another outstanding year and they finally got their man Victor Oladipo before the trade deadline passed. Unfortunately, his recent injury put a serious damper on their hopes of getting back to the Finals.

Miami needs Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson to play more consistently, especially with Oladipo out. Veterans Andre Iguodala and Trevor Ariza should help in the postseason as they incorporate another perimeter shooter in Nemanja Bjelica. They have the star power and the experience needed to make another run, but the odds are stacked against them.

Atlanta Hawks

After a dismal start to the season, the Hawks appear to have figured out their identity. Much like the situation in Boston, this team was tasked with trying to build chemistry during a pandemic without essentially any practice. That is a difficult proposition and something that was going to take time. They also still needed to develop their young guys like Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Onyeka Okongwu.

After turning things over to Nate McMillan, he has been able to coach up this young squad, even without some of their top talent. Every player on the team has missed a chunk of time this year and they have had to seriously rely on their depth to get them through most of the regular season. Having won 15 of their last 20 games, they now find themselves in a position to have home-court advantage when the playoffs begin.

The vision that Travis Schlenk had in the offseason is finally becoming clear. The incredible play of guys like Clint Capela, Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic and even Solomon Hill has been vital to their success. They will still lean on Trae Young and John Collins for their offense but the talented pieces around them are what will make this team tough to beat in a seven-game series.

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets have been one of the pleasant surprises this season, even after the acquisition of All-Star forward Gordon Hayward. Charlotte is the true definition of a team, as they have multiple guys that have stepped up and played well in spots throughout the season. PJ Washington, Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, Bismack Biyombo, Jalen McDaniels and the Martin twins of Cody and Caleb have all contributed to their success.

The play of LaMelo Ball had him sitting at the top of the rookie class before he suffered his broken wrist. His phenomenal first season may be over, but the organization is holding out hope that he may be able to return in the playoffs should Charlotte earn a spot in the postseason. Hayward is also back on the shelf as he continues to deal with a sprained foot. Charlotte has been able to stay afloat during their absences, which is a huge credit to James Borrego.

One more major difference-maker for the Hornets this season has been Terry Rozier. The electric guard is one of the top 40 scorers in the league this season and has been one of the best clutch performers as well. He is shooting a career-best 41 percent from behind the arc and 46 percent overall from the floor. They can be a dark horse come playoff time, but they will need their two best players healthy in order to have any chance.

Boston Celtics

It has been a very strange season for the Celtics, who entered the year with high expectations. They have been the greatest mystery this season and a puzzle that Brad Stevens is still trying to put together. Jaylen Brown has taken his game to another level and Jayson Tatum has had his moments as well. Both have cooled off since the All-Star break and Kemba Walker has been hot and cold from game to game.

Marcus Smart missed a lot of time and they brought in Evan Fournier at the trade deadline but he has yet to fit in like many thought he would. Chemistry could be the issue, but no one has really been able to put their finger on their kryptonite. The good news is that Tatum appears to finally be returning to health after his battle with COVID.

The center position has been a revolving door for this team all season, with Tristan Thompson, Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, Tacko Fall, Moritz Wagner and Luke Kornet all trying to fill the void left by Enes Kanter. They could have had the league’s leading shot-blocker Myles Turner, but Danny Ainge let Hayward walk for nothing instead.

On paper, this team is oozing with talent and should be much better than their record indicates. They may finally be figuring things out, having won six of their last seven games, including four straight. If their issues are truly fixed and if they can stay healthy, they will be a team that nobody wants to face in the playoffs.

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NBA Daily: Rajon Rondo Brings Leadership, Playmaking to Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers made a big trade deadline move last month when they shipped out locker room favorite and perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rajon Rondo.

David Yapkowitz

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The Los Angeles Clippers made a big trade deadline move last month when they shipped out locker room favorite and perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rajon Rondo.

The Clippers have had one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA this season, but even so, they have had times where the offense seemingly stalls and they can’t seem to generate easing scoring opportunities especially late in games.

The calls for a true point guard only got louder after those games and the team finally gave in and rolled the dice on one of the league’s better playmakers, especially come playoff time. Williams has been a good playmaker himself throughout his career and he was averaging 3.4 assists per game prior to the trade.

But in Rondo, the Clippers get a premier playmaker and floor leader who has won two championships and whom the Lakers often closed games with last year in the postseason. Rondo made his Clippers debut on Easter Sunday in the team’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers and although his numbers didn’t jump off the stat sheet (2 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists and 4 turnovers in 12 minutes of play), he played with a lot of energy and pushed the pace well, something the Clippers haven’t always been so good at this season.

After the game, Rondo summed up what his role on the team is going to be quite simply.

“Just go out there and try and lead by example,” Rondo said. “I don’t like to talk as much without showing out on the court for my teammates.”

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue was a little more effusive in his thoughts on how Rondo will fit in on the team and how much better they will be with his addition. The Clippers have spoken all season long about needing to push the ball in transition and try and generate easy scoring opportunities on the break and that’s something Lue noticed right away with Rondo.

“You could just tell his pace brings a different something to our team and offensively he’s getting the outlet close to half court before the first pass is made. That generates pace for us and we need that,” Lue said. “As slow as we run sometimes, it’s probably going to have to be something that we adjust to, but I think he makes the game easier. When you get out and run in transition, a lot of teams can’t get back and get a match so we will get open shots. With him generating the pace, that’s going to be good for us.”

One area in particular that the team is hoping Rondo can help with is taking some of the ball-handling pressure off of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Both players have really stepped up in transitioning to primary ball-handling roles, something they haven’t had to do thus far in their careers.

They’re both averaging career-highs in assists at 5.0 and 5.4 respectively and have done well moving the ball around and getting good shots throughout the game for themselves and their teammates. But there have been times when the ball stagnates a bit and both Leonard and George end up taking tough contested shots late in the game.

With Rondo on board, the Clippers have a player that will keep the ball moving and can help get both of them easy looks down the stretch, something he did to perfection last year with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

“Just trying to get our two main guys the ball in easier spots as far as them having to work so hard to get the ball against a set defense,” Rondo said. “If we are able to create stops to get on the break, my job is to advance the ball and let those guys attack one-on-one before the defense is set.”

In his first game playing alongside Rondo, George immediately saw the benefits and how Rondo will take pressure off of both him and Leonard.

“You just see his intangibles, you see he just sees plays happening,” George said. “I thought it just made the game easier getting it up to him, letting him push the ball, letting him initiate instead of a lot of times myself and Kawhi doing it. We got a guy that can do it, it’s just going to make the game easier for us.”

A team’s point guard is often an extension of the head coach on the court and Rondo certainly has been that throughout his career. He’s been a vocal leader on the court and in the locker room and his stint with the Dallas Mavericks notwithstanding, he’s been a very positive influence wherever he’s been.

He’s looking forward to working alongside Lue and doing his best to implement Lue’s schemes on the court both offensively and defensively.

“Just try to be on the same page as my coach. Not too much as me trying to outsmart my opponents, which at all times I want to be two steps ahead of,” Rondo said. “I want to stay afloat with my teammates as well and be on the same page as them and be an extension of [Tyronn Lue] on the court.”

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NBA Western Conference Bright Future Watch

The Western Conference is loaded with talent this year, but who will be the teams that dominate it in the future? Zach Dupont takes a look at which teams have the brightest future in the Western Conference.

Zach Dupont

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It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the current season as we head towards the climax of a great race for the Western Conference title. But there are already reasons to look past this year and get excited about the teams who could dominate the Western Conference past 2020-21.

Who are the teams that could strike next year? And who has set themselves up to have a bright future in the Western Conference?

Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets are primed to become a force in the Western Conference for years to come and could easily be the favorites heading into next year. The Nuggets’ four best players, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon, are all under contract for next season, and all of them are younger than 26-years-old. Jokic has proved himself to be one of the best players in the NBA over the past few seasons and has emerged as a favorite for the MVP award this year. In 2020-21, Jokic is averaging 26.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. Jokic’s wingman Murray is no slouch either, posting the best numbers of his career with 21.3 points per game on 48 percent shooting and 41.2 percent shooting from three. Combine Jokic’s MVP play and Murray’s high-end scoring ability with the shooting and potential of Porter Jr., and the defensive ability of Gordon and the Nuggets emerge as a clear threat in the Western Conference.

The Nuggets also won’t be lacking for depth next year like many of their rivals. Monte Morris is locked up for the next few seasons, and Will Barton and JaMychal Green have player options for next season that they could easily accept. The Nuggets can also keep Facundo Campazzo and P.J. Dozier for next season, as both are on non-guaranteed contracts. There are also younger players on the roster who have shown some promise and could be a factor next season. Zeke Nnaji showed potential as a stretch four in limited showings this year, and Bol Bol is still an exciting talent. Denver will even have some money to play with in free agency this offseason, although the looming extension they will owe Porter Jr. will make options limited. Paul Millsap will no longer be on the books at near $15 million a year, and if either Barton or Green decided to decline their player options, that would give the Nuggets more cap flexibility.

The Nuggets have the most intriguing mix of high-end talent and youth in the west, and while they’re already a threat this season, next season, they may be the favorites.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies may not be where Denver is as a team now, but long-term, they are equally as exciting. The Grizzlies are loaded with young talent up and down the roster, and they already have one of their stars of the future. Ja Morant has been a sensation since entering the league last season, and with another year of experience under his belt, the league should be worried about the Grizzlies’ potential. Morant is averaging 18.8 points and 7.4 assists per game in his sophomore campaign. Morant is joined by fellow youngster Jaren Jackson Jr., a two-way big with loads of potential. Jackson has yet to see the floor this year, but he showed the ability to protect the rim like an elite defender and knock down a high volume of three-pointers in his first two seasons of action.

The Grizzlies core may be focused around Morant and Jackson, but what makes Memphis more exciting than other teams out west is the roster’s pure volume of prospects. Brandon Clarke was a steal in the 2019 NBA Draft and has already shown to be a great center who can impact the game on both offense and defense, De’Anthony Melton is one of the league’s most underappreciated defensive players at just 22-years-old and Desmond Bane is already knocking down over 45 percent of his three-point attempts in his rookie season. From top to bottom, Memphis has exciting young talent. Together with their established talent like Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas, you’ve got a team primed to compete in the Western Conference in 2021-22.

Memphis may not be a title favorite next year, but their ability to acquire talented youth will only make them better and better every season.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans have some major decisions to make this offseason, but they are a team to watch out west next year no matter what they do. New Orleans has maybe the most exciting young talent in the NBA in Zion Williamson, who has emerged as one of the most efficient and dangerous scorers in the league this season. Williamson is putting up 26.3 points per game this season on an absurd 62 percent shooting and 66 percent true shooting. At just 20-years-old Williamson is already an All-Star, and he will inevitably improve over the next few seasons with his ceiling being as high as anyone’s in the NBA. New Orleans has managed to pair Williamson with another All-Star level player in Brandon Ingram, who has averaged nearly 24 points per game in each of the past two seasons. The Pelicans’ big decision this offseason will be what to do with their point guard, Lonzo Ball. Ball has always been a talented distributor and defender since entering the league, but this year he has taken a step forward as a scorer, averaging a career-best 14.5 points per game and 38.4 percent shooting from three. Ball is set to be a restricted free agent this offseason, and it’s not a given that he will be back next year.

New Orleans already has a core to build around, and they have young depth pieces to add to the already exciting potential of the roster. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis are a pair of young point guards who have shown a lot of potential and could fill in nicely for Ball if he departs this summer. Alexander-Walker is putting up more than 10 points per game in his sophomore campaign, and he has shown glimpses of being a defender and shooter in the same mold as Ball. Lewis is a speedy rookie out of Alabama who has found playing time hard to come by, but if either Ball or Eric Bledsoe find themselves not in New Orleans next year, he has showcased skills that could put him in the conversation for major minutes.

If Zion takes another step next year, and the whole team cleans it up defensively, the Pelicans could become serious players in the Western Conference.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers may not be full of young players with high-end potential like other teams on this list, but they still represent the West’s most dangerous threat when healthy. Every season the question “when will he finally slow down” is asked about LeBron James, and every season LeBron shows he is still one of the most dominant players in the NBA. LeBron Is 36-years-old, and this season he has put up 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game and, before getting injured a few weeks ago, was one of the favorites for the MVP award. LeBron’s running mate, Anthony Davis, is equally dangerous and could be considered the NBA’s best two-way player. The Lakers have both Davis and LeBron locked in for next season, and the presence of those two players alone makes them a title threat in the west regardless of the team put around them.

One benefit of having superstars like LeBron and Davis is that it becomes much easier to sign role players. The Lakers will already have the services of Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marc Gasol next season, and Montrezl Harrell has a $9.7 million player option for next season. But the draw of potentially winning a championship will bring the Lakers role players on cheaper contracts than they would have signed elsewhere, as evident by Gasol, Andre Drummond and Wesley Matthews’ contracts.

The Lakers may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of bright futures, but LeBron and Davis will keep the Lakers’ future bright for as long as they remain in LA.

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