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Thursday, March 30, 2017

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Eyes On NBA: 5 Teams With Potential

By @TrueGodImmortal

The NBA is an organization that usually sees many of the same teams reach continual success. Sure, any team can become good one or two seasons, but to maintain it, it does take a certain level of consistency and hard work. We watched the Bulls have their run of 6 titles and after a steep decline, rise back to prominence again in the late 2000s and early 2010s, contending in the playoffs. The Spurs have made the playoffs nearly every year the last 20 seasons. The Mavericks were a regular playoff team and a contender some years, and the Rockets have always been a playoff team minus a few off seasons and transitional periods (from the Hakeem to the Yao/T-Mac era, they've competed, including this Harden era).

Sure, great franchises like the Lakers, Celtics, and even the Warriors have gone from extended tough periods to become viable again, but they experienced past greatness and eras of continuous success or at least contending for the playoffs. The same cannot be said for some of the other franchises in the NBA. Let's face it, since the Nets have been in Brooklyn, and since the Sacramento Kings lost Webber and Peja, both teams have been very underwhelming minus a random playoff appearance or two (the Nets did seem to be a big deal for a season or two). The Minnesota Timberwolves haven't been a viable team since the days of KG, and the Phoenix Suns have struggled heavily ever since Nash and Amare left the fold. Will any of those teams rise up in the future to be viable again? Or contend for the playoffs? We've seen teams like the Utah Jazz experience a rough period but bounce back, the Clippers at one point where the laughing stock of the NBA (and still are in a different manner), and of course, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been a top playoff team for literally this entire decade. There are a lot of teams in the NBA this year that even despite making the playoffs possibly need work and have potential for greater things. There are teams who won't make the playoffs this year, but with the right moves and focus, they could very well be a playoff team. Potential means a lot in basketball and some teams have untapped potential or haven't quite reached it. Today we look at the top 5 teams with potential for future seasons.

5. Philadelphia 76ers

-Despite a weird start without their top pick in Ben Simmons (and he doesn't seem likely to play until next year) and losing the promising center Joel Embiid to injury, it looks as if the future could be bright if the 76ers truly do trust the process. Jahlil Okafor hasn't proven to be as effective and he has a slight issue with staying healthy, but if you could imagine the 76ers with a focused Okafor, a healthy Embiid, and a ready and willing Ben Simmons along with the constantly growing Darko Saric??? This Sixers team could be a true playoff team in a year or two, but only if the process works as it should. They'll like get another good draft pick or two this year and when that happens, the process could really be something worth trusting.

4. Los Angeles Lakers 

-This Lakers team showed some promise early on in the season when they actually amassed more wins than losses to begin the year, but they've shown that their youth and lack of true heart have caught up to them. Luke Walton definitely has the right coaching attitude to push them further and if they end up getting a good pickup in the draft, the Lakers could be on their way. The rumors are buzzing that Paul George wants to play for the Lakers and if that happens, they might be a playoff worthy team soon. If the Lakers draft Lonzo Ball and infuse him into the team that now has D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and more, it could be an interesting growth period for the team. The Lakers have a long while before they are serious contenders again, but they can start the process of getting there at least.

3. Miami Heat

-They are firmly in the 8th seed, but this group might be even better if they add one or two more pieces. They play pretty tough defense and Dion Waiters stepped up this season before going down with an injury. Dragic and Whiteside are two solid players and every piece of their puzzle has led them from a 10-31 record at one point to being the 8th seed in the East currently, which can be attributed to the great play and defense they've showcased. I think Hassan Whiteside has so much potential as one of the better big men, and if he finally reaches that potential, the rest of the league is in trouble. Dragic, Waiters, and Whiteside could be the next trio to help push the Heat into the future if they stick together. Give them another solid piece and perhaps a good draft pick to push them over the edge, and I think the Heat could be a regular playoff team even with no Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, or Chris Bosh. The potential is honestly endless for them if they can add one more piece in the offseason, like maybe even a Blake Griffin, which is highly unlikely, but it would truly work in this case for the team.

2. New Orleans Pelicans 

-This team could really do some damage if they keep Boogie Cousins and Anthony Davis together. When we first got the news that Cousins was joining the Pelicans, we all expected to see them dominate in the front court, but the trade for Boogie seemingly gutted their team a bit. Boogie and AD together should both be 20 point plus scorers owning the post, and they are, but what they lack is a solid backcourt and some role players. If the Pelicans can upgrade their bench a little bit and get a solid 1 or 2 guard, they could end up contending for a 6th or 7th seed next season. They haven't been fully healthy this year either so that plays a factor as well, but if they can remain healthy and fill out the team more, next season could be  very interesting.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves 

-This is a playoff team next season. Zach Lavine went down and faced injury, but I think this team is headed down the right path. They could end up taking that 8th seed or the 7th seed next season depending. The thing that has been fun watching is the process of the Timberwolves. Under Coach Thibs, they haven't really found their footing, but with over 30 wins this season and only 5 games out of the last playoff spot, the Wolves are learning. The key to this team succeeding will be the continuing development of Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony Towns, and of course, a healthy Zach Lavine. This trio is young and talented, and though I don't see any championships in their future, years down the line we could very see them in a few Conference Finals if they're hungry. Let's hope Minnesota gives these young guys the chance to grow and get better. That'll make all the difference.

I wanted to put the Nets and Suns here, but I don't have much faith in either team. I have faith in Devin Booker, but I think he needs to get out of Phoenix. The Pistons have potential, but not enough to make this list and the same could be said for teams like the Bulls, the Bucks (who haven't reached full potential but are a playoff team so it's acceptable), and the Denver Nuggets (who have plenty of potential, but just missed the cut). Potential matters in the NBA and some of these teams have a lot of it, they just haven't tapped into it yet. But when they do? The whole NBA will be put on notice.