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NBA Rookie Extensions: Sign Now or Sign Later?

Taking a look at the 2012 NBA draft class and where notable players will land in their early rookie extension negotiations.

Eric Saar

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It’s the NBA offseason, so there isn’t much basketball to discuss aside from some Team USA action. What is going on behind closed doors are the contract negotiations between players, their agents and the teams.

Between now and October 31st is the time for the rookie extensions to be signed for the 2012 draftees. The New Orleans Pelicans and the Portland Trail Blazers have already agreed to major extensions for Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard respectively, while other players going into their fourth season look for similar treatment from their organizations.

These players are going into the final years of their standard rookie contracts and if a player agrees to an extension, it would kick in after this upcoming year. If both sides don’t come to terms before (basically) the beginning of the season, then the player would become a restricted free agent as soon as the 2016 offseason begins.

Some of these players should be getting the max that their team can offer, like Davis and Lillard for example. Other players haven’t earned that with their production on the court and might agree to an extension below the max before the October 31st deadline.

Some other players are a bit trickier. Their value may be indeterminable at this point and the team doesn’t want to commit huge dollar amounts to them until they can improve with another year under their belt. So the teams might choose to let the player play out the final year of their rookie contract and then renegotiate when he is a restricted free agent (when the team is allowed to match any offer made to that player). In these scenarios, management can ascertain if the player has earned the big bucks or a smaller commitment.

Note: remember, max extensions are not created equal. Each max is tied to where that particular player was drafted and therefore fixes the starting place allowed on the following contract. It is also tied to a percentage of the cap for that season that is decided in July before that season. So all contract prices are estimates.

Max Out

Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)

Drummond is probably the easiest of the players to gauge. Just pay the man. He’s productive, skilled and of course, very large. Drummond is due nearly $3.3 million this year. There is nothing murky here about his future… it’s bright. I mean, the numbers speak for themselves. 13.8 points per game primarily in the paint while relying on being fed the ball is pretty good. Also, 13.5 rebounds per game last year and nearly two blocks each game on average is quite good.

His PER (player efficiency rating that is somewhat comprehensive) comes in at 21.50, good for 23rd in the whole NBA, which is pretty good for someone who just turned 22 years old. He’s the centerpiece of the Pistons; just max him out as soon as you can Stan Van Gundy. The projected max for these rookie extensions from the 2012 draft is $20.8 million a year.

Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors)

The Raptors’ big man is sort of in the same boat as Drummond. While playing in an offense that doesn’t revolve around him nearly as much as Drummond’s does, the Lithuanian center averaged 12 points, 8.7 boards and 1.2 blocks per game with a PER of 20.60. He’s only 23 and is still improving, just like Drummond. Skilled big men like him are hard to find. While Valanciunas seems like less of a sure thing, Toronto should just max him out as soon as possible. He is making nearly $4.6 million this year, but should be maxed out. They just brought in DeMarre Carroll, should keep Kyle Lowry and let DeMar DeRozan go and bring in someone cheaper to replace him.

Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)

While Beal isn’t a big man, he is very valuable and should be paid as such. He’s getting paid nearly $5.7 million this year, but should receive a max extension. He, along with running mate John Wall are quite a dynamic duo out on the court.

Beal averaged just more than 15 points per game and although his assist and rebound numbers are underwhelming you can’t undersell a 22-year-old with a great shooting stroke (40.9 percent from behind the arc last year) who can play defense and has great chemistry with your superstar. As long as Wizards retain enough room to potentially sign Kevin Durant in free agency next summer, they should max out Beal now.

Sign Now

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte Hornets)

Kidd-Gilchrist kicks off the tier of players that shouldn’t get maxed out on their rookie extensions. While he is about to turn 22, he is only an average player. He is a strong wing-defender, can jump passing lanes, score in the paint and rebound pretty well. Of course he could get better, but, at this point, he’s not a max extension player. Charlotte could of course wait and see how he develops and what his market is in restricted free agency, but it might be advantageous to lock down a cheaper deal in the next few months.

Kidd-Gilchrist should probably get something in the Al-Farouq Aminu ($30 million) to the Iman Shumpert/Danny Green ($40 million) range for his extension.

Dion Waiters (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Waiters should not get a max extension considering that, at this point, he’s a streaky, inefficient volume chucker. He’s not horrible, but not anywhere near a max player. Last season, he averaged just less than 12 points per game, two assists and 2.4 rebounds with a PER of 10.93 (15 is roughly league average). Those numbers don’t inspire confidence. Hopefully, he realizes that and can agree to a rookie extension with OKC soon so he can play for a contender for the foreseeable future and try to win a ring.

Waiters will probably get anywhere from a Will Barton ($10.6 million over three years) to Marco Belinelli ($19 million over three years) contract, but could conceivably hold out for Danny Green type contract.

Meyers Leonard (Portland Trailblazers)

With the huge exodus from Portland this offseason, Leonard will gain a much larger role with the Trail Blazers. The 7’1, 23-year-old is the backup center for Mason Plumlee, but hasn’t produced much at the pro level yet. He averaged 15 minutes a game last season and put up just 5.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and a PER of 14.85. He played at just about a league average level. We’ll see what happens with more usage and playing time. Both sides should get a less than max extension done soon, because he’s not worth the max. He gets the security of extra guaranteed years and if he outperforms the next few years, the team gets value.

Leonard could get a deal in the range of Kosta Koufos ($32.9 million over four years) to Thaddeus Young ($50 million over four years). He’ll probably land in the middle of that range, near $9-10 million a year annually.

Sign Later

Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors)

The Warriors won the title. Barnes started a lot of the year, but got bumped for Andre Iguodala in the Finals. His three-point percentage during the season was 40.5 percent, but dipped to 35.5 percent during the playoffs. He can play pretty solid defense, but isn’t much of a playmaker on offense. The 23-year-old still has some room to grow for sure, and his future is bright. However, the Warriors should wait and see if he takes a big step forward next year. Iguodala is getting older and Golden State will have to rely on Barnes in crunch time. They’ll have to see some improvement from Barnes before they hand him that much cash.

Barnes is in the range of Danny Green ($40 million over four years) to Thaddeus Young ($50 million over four years). Barnes should probably receive a deal that pay him roughly $10-12 million a year.

Terrence Ross (Toronto Raptors)

Ross is somewhat similar to Barnes. Barnes has Curry first in line for the big money, while Ross is behind big man Jonas Valanciunas, who is more likely to get the max extension. The Raptors are also paying Kyle Lowry and brought in DeMarre Carroll for big money. Ross is potentially the fourth (or fifth in line if they can somehow also keep DeMar DeRozan) on the team.

The 24-year-old shooting guard can shoot decently well from deep (37 percent last year), but in about 25 minutes per game, he only averaged 9.8 points, along with one assist and 2.8 rebounds per game, with a PER of 11.21. These aren’t great number, but he has athleticism, youth and a good shot, which is generally a formula for getting paid a decent amount.

Ross’ contract will probably be about the same as Waiters’. Ross should get roughly $10 million a year.

Terrence Jones (Houston Rockets)

Jones is an interesting case. He only played 33 games last season, but with Josh Smith gone and Jones back to full health, he has a chance to really break out this upcoming season. He shoots 35.1 percent from three, which is quite good for a 6’9 player who is more known for his energy and athleticism.

Jones should probably receive around $9 million per year.

Jared Sullinger (Boston Celtics)

Sullinger is also intriguing. He has struggled with injuries and conditioning, but has a nice skill set. He has to prove he can stay healthy for a whole season and can be consistently productive when on the court. 13.3 points per game along with 7.6 rebounds is pretty solid and his 17.93 PER is above average.

Probably due to health, Sullinger’s deal will be a bit less than Jones or Leonard. He’ll probably end up receiving around $8 million a year.

Perry Jones III (Boston Celtics)

Also in Boston, Perry Jones is eligible for a rookie extension, but won’t get too much. He has athleticism and potential but hasn’t put it together so far in his three years in the NBA. His numbers are pretty dismal (4.3 points, less than one assist and less than two rebounds per game with a PER of 6.91). Those numbers don’t warrant a significant offer from Boston.

If he makes the Celtics’ roster at all and can get some leverage in negotiation talks he could get Will Barton money (10.6 million over 3 years).

Tyler Zeller (Boston Celtics)

Tyler Zeller is also with the Celtics, but in a very different situation. The 25-year-old seven-footer is a solid backup center, as he averaged 10.2 points, 5.7 boards and posted a 19.01 PER last season for Boston. As one of the older players from the 2012 draft, his ceiling or potential is somewhat lower than other players looking for their first contract extension, but he has a role and executes it well. Each team needs players like that to let the stars thrive and to be flexible with other players.

Zeller will likely end up in the range of Alexis Ajinca ($19.4 million over four years) to Kosta Koufos ($32.9 million over four years) on his rookie extension. He’ll probably end up receiving around $8 million per year.

Festus Ezeli (Golden State Warriors)

Ezeli is another 25-year-old, but he has a bit more potential than Zeller. He’s down on the depth chart at the center position for the reigning champion Warriors. The energetic Nigerian has had pedestrian numbers (4.4 points, 3.4 boards and a 16.21 PER), but he’s been buried on a super-deep roster.

Ezeli is in the range of Alexis Ajinca ($19.4 million over four years) to Ed Davis ($20 million over three years). He’ll likely end up receiving around $5 million per year.

Evan Fournier (Orlando Magic)

The 22-year-old French shooting guard has posted below average numbers (12 points per game, 2.6 boards and 2.1 assists with a 12.47 PER), but he can shoot. Fournier shot nearly 38 percent from behind the arc last season. Shooters tend to get paid and Fournier is unlikely to be an exception to that rule.

Fournier is in the same tier as Waiters and Ross and could end up receiving around $7-8 million per year.

John Henson (Milwaukee Bucks)

The 24-year-old Henson stands at 6’11 and while his numbers don’t jump out at you (7 points, 4.7 boards and two blocks per game), his 18.08 PER tells a different story. Henson is that energy/ glue-guy who can make those effort plays that win games.

Henson is in the same range as Leonard and Jones and will probably receive roughly $10 million a year.

Note: Thanks to Basketball Insiders NBA salary guru Eric Pincus for his help on this article.

Based in Arizona, Eric Saar is an analyst for Basketball Insiders. He has covered the league for several years. He loves to converse about the NBA on Twitter, so follow him at @Eric_Saar. Eric graduated with honors from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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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

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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