Looking ahead for each team that missed the Playoffs last season.
by Jake Fischer / @JakeLFischer
The term “five-year plan” is thrown around on a daily basis in professional sports. With the 2014 draft class at the forefront of the most NBA teams’ minds, the League is looking more toward the future now more than ever. We are witnessing several teams in “tank mode” and several teams also adding young pieces to an already promising young core. But which method will ultimately prove the most successful?
Let’s take a look at the following categories to evaluate each team that missed the Playoffs last season: valuable players, future Draft picks, salary forecast and recent key personnel moves. To clarify, I’m considering a valuable player is either an expiring contract, a player on a reasonable contract with trade value or a young player with potential to grow.
With all that in mind, each of the 14 teams that missed the Playoffs last season can be separated in four categories: fringe playoff teams, teams trying to stay or be relevant, teams building for the future and teams still trying to figure out their direction. To explain, a “fringe playoff team” could easily make the Playoffs if everything goes right but could also easily miss out again if something goes wrong. Teams “trying to stay/be relevant” made somewhat risky free-agent signings in order to throw their hat in the Playoff contention ring instead of bottoming out. Teams “building for the future” and bottoming out and teams that are still “figuring things out” don’t know quite yet know if they’re trying to compete for the Playoffs in the next two years or bottom out and start over with a young core.
Keep that in the back of your mind and let’s look into the crystal ball…
FRINGE PLAYOFF TEAMS
Valuable Players: Andrew Bynum and Anderson Varejao (potential expiring contracts), Jarrett Jack, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev, Carrick Felix
Future Draft Picks: Owed 2014 second-round picks from Memphis and Orlando, 2015 first-round pick from Miami
Salary Forecast: ’13-14: $58 million, ’14-15: $35 million, ’15-16: $6.3 million, ’16-17: $6.3 million, ’17-18: $0
Key Moves: Added: Bynum, Jack, Bennett, Karasev, Felix; Lost: Daniel Gibson
Evaluation: The Cavs are a young team that were on the cusp of competing for a playoff berth with the core they had from last season. Add Jack, a super-backup point guard, Bynum, a dominant force in the paint if healthy, and two solid first round picks, and Dan Gilbert has a team that can legitimately contend for the 6-seed in ’13-14. Then again, that’s if Irving, Varejao and Bynum can all play at least 60 games.
Looking toward the future, Cleveland has a solid crop of extra picks coming their way over the next two years to help them add their budding young core. They could also get Sacramento’s 2014 first rounder (even though it’s 1-12 protected and will probably go to the Kings) and also have a shot at Memphis’ 2015 first rounder that’s 1-5, 15-30 protected (though also likely staying with the Grizz). But Cleveland can continue to add young pieces to this budding core over the next two seasons regardless of those two long shots.
Essentially, Cleveland has one of the best young cores in the League to compete now and for the rest of the decade and they have tons of cap flexibility and trade chips in this five-year window as well. Cleveland has Varejao and nine young players under 25 years old on their ’13-14 roster that could easily be moved. If their injury-prone frontcourt of Bynum and Varejao fails, Cleveland can dump both of their contracts after this season and have max money available to offer a free agent in 2014 and infuse an entirely different veteran presence. Ultimately, Cleveland could be a serious contender in the East in 2-3 years.
Valuable Players: Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey (expiring contracts), Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Andre Drummond, Kyle Singler, Tony Mitchell
Future Draft Picks: Owe 2014 first-round pick to Charlotte (1-8 protected)
Salary Forecast: ’13-14: $58 million, ’14-15: $36.9 million, ’15-16: $20.6 million, ’16-17: $17.2 million, ’17-18: $0
Key Moves: Added: Smith, Jennings Billups, Caldwell-Pope, Mitchell; Lost: Jose Calderon, Corey Maggette, Jason Maxiell, Brandon Knight
Evaluation: The Detroit Pistons’ offseason was obviously headlined by their signing Smith and swapping Knight and pieces for Jennings. But Joe Dumars also added several other valuable pieces in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell and re-signed Will Bynum at a very reasonable price among others. In fact, Dumars has quickly turned the entire Pistons organization in a complete 180 from his dreadful summer of 2009.
After trading away Ben Gordon last summer, Detroit now has its remaining terrible contracts (save your Josh Smith hate) coming off the books following ’13-14 in Villanueva and Stuckey—making them both instant trade pieces at approximately $8.5 million each. Simultaneously, the Pistons are also in position to compete with the Knicks for the 5th spot in the East, too. But can they continue to compete over the next five seasons with what they’re building?
Detroit will have to up Monroe for likely a four years/$44-48 million; everyone and their mother is in love with Drummond; KCP is going to be a very entertaining 2-guard for an up-tempo team; and the J-Smoove/Knight experiment could turn into something very athletically aesthetic. But they need someone to play point guard and run this team. The Pistons are set up to financially keep upping their young core and adding pieces around it, but their ultimate success three-to-five years down the road hinges on Jennings’ ability to grow as a complete point guard. With that being said, having Chauncey Billups back on board will certainly help all of the above.
Valuable Players: Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer, Ricky Rubio, Alexey Shved, Shabazz Muhammad, Ronny Turiaf, Gorgui Dieng, (Nikola Pekovic)
Future Draft Picks: Owed 2014 second-round picks from Golden State and New Orleans, 2015 second-round pick from Denver, 2017 second-round pick from New Orleans; Owe 2014 first rounder to Phoenix (1-13 protected), 2015 second-round pick to Portland
Salary Forecast: ’13-14: $55 million, ’14-15: $55.8 million, ’15-16: $37.3 million, ’16-17: $12.8 million, ’17-18: $0
Key Moves: Added: Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Muhammad, Dieng; Lost: Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Luke Ridnour, Greg Stiemsma
Evaluation: As of now, Minnesota’s financial future doesn’t have too much flexibility over the next three seasons and Nikola Pekovic’s undoubted eight-figure salary isn’t even included in those above numbers. Flip Saunders is clearly trying to build a winner this season, now the question is if they can compete for years to come.
Clearly, Love and Rubio are a good start for any NBA organization. Add in Pekovic, a possible sixth-man-extroadinaire in Muhammad, a solid defensive/energy rotation guy in Dieng, Martin, Shved, Brewer, and the Wolves definitely have the making to compete in ’13-14. For better or worse, the majority of that nucleus will cost Saunders and the Wolves around $50 million for the next three seasons, so that’s what Minnesota is going to war with.
But unless Rubio steadily morphs into a top-five point guard, Muhammad can score between 12-15 points per game off the bench and Dieng can turn into Serge Ibaka 2.0, the Wolves are going to struggle to escape the second round of the Western Conference. The Wolves took bold strides in getting back to relevance and competing for the postseason, but they also handicapped their potential over the next five seasons as well.
New Orleans Pelicans
Valuable Players: Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, Al Farouq-Aminu, Greg Stiemsma, Jason Smith, Austin Rivers, Anthony Morrow
Future Draft Picks: Owed 2016 second-round pick from Clippers and Kings (both 31-55 protected); Owe 2014 first-round pick to Philadelphia (1-5 protected), 2014 second-round pick to Minnesota, 2015 second-round pick to Washington, 2017 second-round pick to Minnesota (31-55 protected)
Salary Forecast: ’13-14: $62.8 million, ’14-15: $53.8 million, ’15-16: $55.5 million, ’16-17: $21.5 million, ’17-18: $0
Key Moves: Added: Holiday, Evans, Lost: Greivis Vasquez, Robin Lopez
Evaluation: The Pelicans have a very curious, intriguing and ludicrous roster. How will Gordon, Evans and Holiday mesh? Will Davis be able to take a step forward? Do they have a deep enough roster to compete for the Playoffs?
Those questions all point to the Pelicans’ immediate success, but they don’t really hinder their prospects for a few years down the road. Davis is going to be a good player. His tremendous skill set was on full display in the USA Olympic scrimmage last weekend. And while it will take a while for Gordon, Evans and Holiday to become accustomed to playing with each other, they all have the potential to grow and mature into very solid players. New Orleans has also surrounded that core with role players who are all assets on great contracts. This team has room to grow.
Even though they’re essentially capped out for the next three seasons, the Pelicans now have the pieces in place to create a post-Chris Paul era identity. Now we all just have to wait and see if that identity will be that similar to the Golden State Warriors of last season or what’s been brewing in Atlanta for five years.
Portland Trail Blazers
Valuable Players: LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson, Damian Lillard, Dorell Wright, Joel Freeland, CJ McCollum, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe
Future Draft Picks: Owed 2015 second-round pick from Minnesota, 2016 second-round pick from New York; Owe 2014 first-round pick to Charlotte (1-12 protected)
Salary Forecast: ’13-14: $60.8 million, ’14-15: $62.2 million, ’15-16: $27.7 million, ’16-17 $3.2 million, ’17-18: $0
Key Moves: Added: Lopez, McCollum, Wright, Lost: JJ Hickson
Evaluation: Once the basketball world stops feeding the “LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE IS GETTING TRADED” rumor mill, people will slowly start to realize how set to compete now and to possibly make some noise out West over the next few years Portland really is.
Portland has a lot of guaranteed money invested in their roster for the next two seasons, but they have flexibility on the horizon on July 1, 2015. The Blazers aren’t truly overpaying anyone either, so they have a team full of most young and promising players on reasonable deals. That sounds like a recipe for success.
Portland has built through the Draft and have now added pieces to complement those young stars. With Aldridge and reigning ROY Damian Lilliard, the Blazers have their identity, a much improved bench and a fan base ready to get behind them. Portland has done an excellent job setting themselves up for the rest of the decade.
Valuable Players: Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza (expiring contracts), John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Eric Maynor, Garrett Temple, Glen Rice
Future Draft Picks: Owed 2015 second-round pick from New Orleans
Salary Forecast: ’13-14: $69.9 million, ’14-15: $37 million, ’15-16: $29 million, ’16-17: $11.7 million, ’17-18: $0
Key Moves: Added: Porter, Maynor, Lost: N/A
Evaluation: The Wizards are ready to build off of their triumphant March and April, and they’re everyone’s favorite pick for non-playoff-team-to-playoff-team this season. But are they built to ever reach the top of the Eastern Conference?
Having a backcourt of Wall and Beal and the addition of Porter on the perimeter is a solid core to build with. The Wizards also have a solid-when-healthy center in Nene for three more seasons. With all of that on the payroll and the roster, Washington has enough momentum to make the Playoffs, but their success will hinge on what power forward is brought in to compliment those four players and if Washington’s front office can backup that starting lineup with valuable players on better contracts than that of Martell Webster.
Okafor and Ariza’s contracts are currently expiring assets that give the Wiz a some flexibility next offseason. Essentially, the team that’s been reeling since Gilbert Arenas’ crash back to earth from stardom has a real chance at creating a promising future in the Verizon Center.