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NBA PM: Five Teams That Could Surprise Next Season

Shane Rhodes looks at five teams that are poised to surprise folks next season.

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The NBA has seen quite the tumultuous offseason. A multitude of stars have changed teams while franchises like the Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls have transformed almost overnight. It’s shaping up to be an interesting, if not an unpredictable regular season.

That being said, here are five teams that, for better or worse, could surprise with their play next season.

Minnesota Timberwolves

People have been waiting for the Minnesota Timberwolves to break back on to the postseason scene for quite some time now. But, entering their 14th season since their last playoff appearance, they may finally be ready to make a return in 2017.

Tom Thibodeau’s squad has added a star this offseason in Jimmy Butler and a few reliable veterans — including Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford — to a core that already included rising star Andrew Wiggins and budding superstar Karl Anthony-Towns. While the Western Conference appears to be stacked, the Timberwolves roster seemingly consists of enough star power, hard work and grit to roll with the best of them. While no one is predicting a Finals appearance for the upstart team, don’t be surprised to see Minnesota locked into a playoff spot down the stretch next season.

New Orleans Pelicans

No one is denying the talent contained within the New Orleans Pelicans’ frontcourt. One could make the case that DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are the best in the NBA at their respective positions.

It’s just the rest of the roster that leaves a little bit to be desired.

Outside of the two big-men, the Pelicans sport a backcourt of Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo. Beyond that, the roster is seemingly made up of inexperienced, non-impact players. Players like Alexis Ajinca, E’Twaun Moore and Ian Clark will contribute on the stat sheet, but they won’t help the Pelicans push their way into postseason contention. While many expect them to sneak into a playoff spot, their lack of difference making depth, combined with their recent loss of starting forward Solomon Hill to a season ending knee injury, could keep the Pelicans out of the Western Conference picture.

Los Angeles Lakers

Lonzo Ball should give all Laker fans hope.

While his father’s playoff proclamation may seem far-fetched, he’s not too far off. By no means should fans expect Ball to lead the Lakers to the postseason, but his style of play is contagious. With a team first approach, Ball will always look to make the extra pass and, in time, his teammates will begin to do so as well. And, as teams such as the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics can attest to, a system built on ball movement is a winning system. Luke Walton’s influence should not go understated as well; he knows what it takes to be a winner, having coached with the Warriors during their 2014 championship run and their record breaking 73 win season in 2015.

Again, it is doubtful that the Lakers even sniff the playoffs next season. But the culture change brought on by Ball — in addition to other offseason acquisitions Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope —  could have an immense impact on the team. Expect Walton’s squad to see a marked improvement on their 26 wins from last season.

Indiana Pacers

After sending star Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder, most expect the Indiana Pacers to take a backseat in the Eastern Conference this coming season. However, the (near) future may not be so bleak in Indiana.

The Pacers acquired Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in their trade with the Thunder, two youngsters who still have some developing left to do. Oladipo, 25, averaged 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists while playing second fiddle to the Russell Westbrook show, while the rookie Sabonis, 21, averaged 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds while playing 20.1 minutes per game. Another year of development should do them both good, as will playing time away from the ball dominant Westbrook.

The Pacers still boast plenty of versatile and/or young talent on their roster as well: Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner, Lance Stephenson, and Cory Joseph. Sabonis, Turner and Young form an athletic, versatile front court trio, while Oladipo will benefit from more time on the ball while playing with Joseph, Stephenson and Darren Collison. Playing in the dilapidated Eastern Conference isn’t the worst draw either. While a run to the postseason may be difficult, a grab at the seventh or eighth seed certainly isn’t out of the question for the Pacers.

Charlotte Hornets

After a down year, the Charlotte Hornets will look to rebound during the 2017 season. With health on their side and some new additions to the roster, they may very well be able to do it.

After acquiring Dwight Howard earlier in the offseason, the Hornets added Malik Monk via the draft. At this stage in his career, Howard is still a capable rebounder and can make an impact underneath the basket. At the very least, he can provide some insight to younger centers Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky. Meanwhile, Monk should provide a spark off the bench early on and, eventually, form an offensively potent duo with Kemba Walker.

Playing in the Eastern Conference, the new-look Hornets should have no trouble turning it around and grabbing a playoff spot.

The NBA is often full of surprises; some are pleasant while others are unwanted or unappreciated. However, after so much offseason movement, expect a bevy of unexpected events, good or bad, to envelope the regular season.

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