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Head to Head: Whose Future Needs Shades?

There are several championship contenders and teams with great young cores, but which team has the brightest future?

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Updated 10 months ago on
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There are several championship contenders and teams with great young talent this season, but which team has the brightest future? Jessica Camerato, Moke Hamilton and John Zitzler debate this issue in today’s Head to Head:

Jessica Camerato:

The Golden State Warriors burst into this season on a hot streak. In the ultra-competitive Western Conference, quick success can be hard to maintain but the Warriors have managed to do so consistently since Opening Night.

This team is just starting to scratch the surface. Led by two young guards, Stephen Curry (will be 27 next month) and Klay Thompson (25), these All-Stars have yet to reach their potential. They can achieve it together on the Warriors, with Curry locked in through 2016-17 and Thompson signed through 2018-19.

Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut are also inked through 2016-17. The team’s biggest question mark is Draymond Green, who will be one of the top free agents this summer. He is making less than $1 million this season and it remains to be seen if the Warriors will be the team to offer him his pay day.

Should Green — or any other contributors — choose to leave, the Warriors have set themselves up to become a destination in free agency. There is already a foundation in place on the court, as well as a highly successful first-year coach, Steve Kerr, on the sidelines. Curry’s popularity has skyrocketed this season and players will be looking to become part of that success. And while it’s not South Beach, Oakland is still registering in the 60s during the winter months.

The Warriors’ forecast is bright and sunny in California.

Moke Hamilton:

For what seems like an awful long time now, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, in some order, have been anointed as the top two consensus players in the National Basketball Association.

This season, Anthony Davis is knocking.

Despite the rejuvenated play of James and Russell Westbrook playing himself into the conversation for Most Valuable Player, it is Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans who will enter March 1 as the league leader in Player Efficiency Rating, and it is he who is leading one of the leagues young teams with a bright future.

As always, staying healthy will be the ultimate determinant of the long-term success of the Pelicans, but the collection of young talent that has been assembled in the Big Easy has at least put them in contention for a playoff berth in the leagues ever-competitive Western Conference.

Now, it seems like just a matter of time.

General manager Dell Demps has done a phenomenal job of accruing talent since taking over in the front office back in 2010. Drafting Davis with the first overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft was an easy enough call to make, but since then, Demps has managed to add talented players around Davis to give the Pelicans what now looks to be a promising core.

Weeks after drafting Davis, Demps managed to pry Ryan Anderson from the Orlando Magic.

The following July, he managed to acquire Jrue Holiday from the Philadelphia 76ers and Tyreke Evans from the Sacramento Kings, and in June 2014, managed to plug one of the holes that arguably cost the Pelicans a playoff spot last season by acquiring Omer Asik from the Houston Rockets.

While it is true that a careful inspection of the trades that Demp has made since 2010 may contain a few that, in hindsight, didnt necessarily work out, there are a few undeniable facts.

First, the Pelicans are in a much better position now than they were prior to Demps taking over.

Second, the core group upon which the franchise will rely consists of youngsters: Holiday (24), Evans (25), Anderson (26), Asik (28), Eric Gordon (26), and Davis (21).

Third, their supporting cast features plus-contributors in Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter and the newly acquired Norris Cole.

The Pelicans will enter March 1 having won four consecutive games and trail the Oklahoma City Thunder for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference by just one-half game. When Davis returns, if things break right, the team could make its first postseason appearance since 2011the final year Chris Paul was a member of the team.

Even if the Pelicans dont outlast the Thunder for the final playoff seed, though, the future is still incredibly bright. The team traded a protected 2015 first-round pick to the Rockets, which is likely to vest this season, but own their first-round picks afterward.

And after matching a four-year, $58 million offer sheet that the Phoenix Suns tendered to Eric Gordon back in 2012, the Pelicans have been reluctant to dole out maximum contracts. They have managed to stay away from egregious contracts and will have flexibility, a core to grow with and the player many feel will be the consensus number one in the league within the next few years.

The Pelicans have handled the departure of Chris Paul quite well and, all things considered, seem to have a bright future ahead.

John Zitzler:

Entering the 2013-2014 season the Bucks were in the all too familiar position of playoff hopeful. Not good enough to contend, yet not bad enough to warrant a full rebuild. At least that’s what the perception was going into the season. However, it didn’t take long for those playoff aspirations to dissolve as the Bucks struggled from the get-go and never found their stride. They of course went on to finish that season with the worst record in the league at 15-67. While the Bucks’ dreadful 2013-14 campaign may have been tough for fans to swallow, it turned out to be exactly what the franchise needed. Not only did Bucks get the second pick in the draft, Jabari Parker, but it allowed Giannis Antetokounmpo to play extended minutes as a rookie and gain valuable experience.

What a difference a year makes. Roughly two-thirds of the way through the 2014-15 season, the Bucks find themselves in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and a near lock for the playoffs. Led by Jason Kidd, in his first season as coach of the Bucks, Milwaukee has made a remarkable turnaround from just a season ago. What’s been most impressive, unlike many Bucks teams of the past, is that they have built a winner without sacrificing the team’s future. In Fact, the surprising trade of Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee only offered further evidence that the Bucks are looking at the big picture.

This season the Bucks have been led in minutes, first, by 20 year old Giannis Antetokounmpo, and second, by 23 year old Khris Middleton. Despite their youth, both players have stepped up and been key contributors to the Bucks’ steady play. Middleton has developed into a terrific outside shooter, knocking down 41.9 percent of his three-point attempts this season. Likewise, Antetokounmpo has been very impressive in his second season as a pro. He leads the Bucks in scoring at 12 points per game and rebounding, hauling in 6.6 boards per game. However, Antetokounmpo and Middleton aren’t the only young players on the Bucks with promising futures. Prior to suffering a season ending knee injury, 19 year old Jabari Parker was putting together a strong case for the Rookie of the Year award. In 25 games played, Parker was averaging 12.3 points on 49 percent shooting from the field.

Additionally, now the Bucks have added another dynamic prospect to the mix in point guard Michael Carter-Williams. With Carter-Williams, Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Parker the Bucks have a tremendously talented core group to build around going forward.

Additionally the Bucks have a number nice young complementary pieces that will be brought along with the players mentioned above. John Henson is another player on the Bucks’ roster with exceptional length and has proven to be a capable scorer down low. Also, the two less revered pieces of the Brandon Knight deal, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee, are both cheap options with potential.

Financially the Bucks are in very good shape following the Brandon Knight trade. With the restricted free-agency of Knight no longer hanging over their heads, the Bucks will enter this off-season with some cap flexibility. Khris Middleton will be a restricted free-agent and with Knight no longer in play, the Bucks will have much more freedom in terms of negotiating a new deal with Middleton. In addition, Antetokounmpo and Carter-Williams won’t be eligible for free-agency until 2017-2018 and both will be restricted. Jabari Parker won’t reach free-agency until 2018-19 and he too will be restricted.

Jason Kidd has the chance to grow and develop Milwaukee’s young roster from the ground up. Even in just his first season, Kidd has done a great job forming a cohesive unit. That chemistry should only get stronger as the young Bucks continue to grow and develop together. They will undoubtedly be a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference over the next few years.

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