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NBA AM: Which NBA Teams Poised For Postseason?

There are a few NBA teams that look poised for a Playoff berth … Could Tristan Thompson land a MAX deal in Toronto?

Steve Kyler profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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Poised For A Bounce?:  In order for one team to rise another team has to fall. That’s simply the nature of a zero sum equation like wins and losses in a fixed 82-game schedule. Last year some very talented teams failed to make the postseason, however, the upcoming season could swing a very different way for a small handful of teams. Here are some of the ones to look out for:

Utah Jazz – 38-44

As the Jazz faithful will point out, Utah was one of the best defensive teams after the All-Star Break last season. In talking with some Jazz players this summer, a common theme emerged about last season and that was the commitment to unlearning bad habits. Jazz players point to the early part of the season as adjusting to head coach Quin Snyder’s philosophies and changing how they approach the game. The big change in how the Jazz played last year was finally understanding how to play the way their coach wanted them to play. With more roles defined, more time together, a somewhat healthier roster and a better understanding of what is expected, the Jazz could be one of the teams in the West that takes a big step forward. The problem for Utah is Oklahoma City should be healthy and very few of the playoff teams from a year ago look to be heading in the other direction. Portland could be the only playoff team from last season to take a step back, and it’s safe to say Utah won’t be the only team in the hunt for the Trail Blazers playoff chair.

Orlando Magic – 25-57

The Orlando roster is stacked with talent, so making the playoffs shouldn’t be out of the discussion, especially with hard nose Scott Skiles running the show as the head coach. There is no doubt the Magic massively underachieved last year as things fell apart around former head coach Jacque Vaughn. Skiles has a history of overachieving in the first year as the head coach of a team, which should bode well for the Magic. The East’s final two playoff spots are wide open, so Orlando has a shot if things continue to progress forward. The problem for Orlando is that they are not the only team eyeing one of those final two chairs. The Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets and Boston Celtics are not going to go away quietly.

Detroit Pistons – 32-50

The Pistons should be substantially better than their 32-50 record this season. With a revamped roster, the addition of stud rookie Stanley Johnson and more balance in the lineup, the Pistons look to be much improved this season. Head coach Stan Van Gundy finally has a roster that is more to his style and that should yield more wins. If there is a team to pencil into one of the final playoff spots, it’s probably the Pistons. If they continue to progress on the talent front, they could be one of the more improved teams in the East.

Charlotte Hornets – 33-49

Like the Pistons, the Hornets have reshaped their roster with an eye toward returning to the postseason. The Hornets were dreadful last year both offensively and defensively and it was clear that they rested on their laurels a bit last year. With a better fitting group in town, and a leaner and healthier Al Jefferson down low, the Hornets should be in the hunt for one of the final playoff chairs this upcoming season. If the Hornets can put together a decent perimeter game, things could improve dramatically. Like Orlando, Charlotte needs a few guys to take a step forward in their personal development to be a serious playoff threat, but they are in a better position to make a postseason run.

Miami HEAT – 37-45

No team in the NBA personifies the “if they are healthy” moniker quite like the HEAT. If healthy, Miami could not only make the postseason, they could win the division and challenge for a top three spot in the East. The problem is Dwyane Wade has a long history of injury, star Chris Bosh is coming off a season in which he had blood clots in his lungs and the end of the bench isn’t getting any younger. There are lot of things that have to break the right way for Miami. If they can stay healthy they could be one of the best teams in the East, it’s just really hard to bet on that at this point. But they may be healthy enough to get into the postseason dance and that’s when the make-up of the roster could get scary since Miami has a ton of impact talent.

Oklahoma City Thunder – 45-37

Like the HEAT, the Thunder, if healthy, could run away with the division and possibly the West. A healthy Kevin Durant, a healthy Russell Westbrook and a great supporting cast with a new head coach with a knack for offensive efficiency? That could yield a pretty special season. The problem for the Thunder is being healthy has been a major problem for the last two season and their new head coach Billy Donovan, while as seasoned as they come in the college ranks, has never coached in the NBA. That wasn’t a problem for Steve Kerr in Golden State or David Blatt in Cleveland, so we’ll see in short order if talent truly wins out.

Training camps in the NBA open at the end of the September, with the teams competing in international events opening camp around September 25th, and the rest of the league opening camp the week of the 28th. The NBA regular season gets started on October 27th.

Tristan Thompson And The Raptors?:  A recent report from Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher suggests that Cavaliers restricted free agent Tristan Thompson is unwilling to sign for anything less a full maximum offer, citing that Thompson would rather sign his one year qualifying offer and test his value next summer with an eye toward Toronto as a possible MAX level suitor next summer.

That makes for an interesting wrinkle, but one that might not be as solid in reality as Thompson’s agents may think.

As things stand today, the Raptors have $81.895 million in salaries on their books for next season, assuming they keep everyone they currently have under contract on board. That number does include a $10.05 million Player Option on DeMar DeRozan, which he will likely opt out of. That also includes what’s currently a $4.79 million Qualifying Offer on Terrence Ross. There has been talk that Ross and the Raptors may get an extension done before the October 31st deadline, which would change his cap value. Factor in a Player Option on Bismack Biyombo worth $2.94 million and two team options on Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo and the Raptors are looking at less than $9 million in cap space as the roster stands today.

To get to the MAX level money Thompson’s camp is said to be seeking, the Raptors have to pass on retaining DeMar DeRozan and renounce his rights to clear his $15 million cap hold. The Raptors would also have to not extend Terrence Ross now, which opens up a bidding situation to retain him next summer. And they likely have to decline the options on their two promising Brazilians. All of that could get them within the margin of error on a starting salary in the $16 to $18 million range.

It’s not impossible to think the Raptors would make those kinds of sacrifices, especially if Thompson continues his upward trend. But it is somewhat off base for anyone to believe that the Raptors have the cash to add Thompson. Raptors President Masai Ujiri has been pretty adept at finding creative ways to land players he covets, but it’s not a home run that Thompson can just walk to Toronto without the Raptors having to make some hard cap decisions, even with the salary cap expected to balloon to roughly $90 million next season.

It’s far from decided what Thompson will ultimately do with the Cavaliers who still can offer more money even next summer, but it is becoming clear that Thompson may be willing to roll the proverbial dice on himself and see if unrestricted free agency can yield more fruit, especially if he has another strong season.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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