7. Charlotte Bobcats
It’s hard to ever get excited about the Bobcats. They don’t have any true superstar to build around, they hardly have any cap room this summer, and the upcoming draft class is extremely weak. Not all is lost for the NBA’s worst team though. The Bobcats do have improving Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Bismack Biyombo to build around. Plus, as Chad Ford suggested, a weak draft may be Charlotte’s best friend. Charlotte certainly won’t be a playoff team, even with the addition of a top pick in the draft. Drafting a guy like Nerlens Noel, with his ACL tear wouldn’t be a bad plan, as they could let Noel take his time rehabbing, not having to worry about playing him. Then presumably after another terrible season, the Bobcats would be able to add another top 5 pick in 2014. Oh and by the way, the 2014 draft should be loaded, according to scouts who can’t wait until Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker get to the league. For the Bobcats, building around a Kemba, MKG, Nerlens, and a 2014 top 5 pick would be ideal. Also, to speed up the process, the ‘Cats will gain nearly $20million in cap space after this year when Ben Gordon and DeSagana Diop come off the books. While the Bobcats have a few pieces for the future, it’s just hard to get too excited about a team that is making 60-loss seasons a habit.
6. Orlando Magic
Before the start of the season, the Magic got ripped for not getting enough back for Dwight Howard, and rightfully so, but this year has shown maybe the trade was judged prematurely. Nikola Vucevic has been the second best asset in that deal, behind Dwight Howard, as he’s averaging a double-double and puts up stat lines like this. Meanwhile, Orlando also parted ways with J.J. Redick in a wise move to acquire prospect Tobias Harris, who put up an insane stat line in that same game. If you didn’t look closely enough, go back and check that box score again. Along with Vucevic and Harris, the Magic also acquired Mo Harkless who’s shown some promise too for the future. Overall, the Magic seem to have some nice pieces, plus they will have a top pick in the draft that will help too. Key for the Magic will be when the terrible contracts of Hedo Turkoglu, Beno Udrih, Al Harrington, Glen Davis, and Jameer Nelson run out. Unless further trades happen, this will take three years, and that seems like a realistic timetable for how long it will take for Orlando to even sniff the playoffs again.
5. Toronto Raptors
What exactly are the Raptors doing? First they tried to sign hometown hero Steve Nash, but by trying to screw over the Knicks, they ended up overpaying Landry Fields. Then, they failed to trade Andrea Bargnani, one of the worst, most overpaid #1 picks of all time. How can a 7 footer not even average four rebounds a game? Then, they traded Jose Calderon’s expiring contract in a deal that landed them the overpaid Rudy Gay. Gay may be a freak athlete, but he is among the worst shooters in the league, shooting only 41% and a pathetic 30% from three. The Raptors have some pieces like Demar Derozan, Jonas Valanciunuas, and rookie dunk champ Terrence Ross, but that isn’t a whole lot to get excited about. Especially because Derozan, Ross, and Gay are all basically the same player. They’re all super athletic two or three guards that are horrendous shooters and don’t do much else. Valanciunas has shown considerable promise, and the Raptors also have Kyle Lowry, but this team is ways away from seriously competing, and acquiring Gay only complicated their cap situation in the future.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
A year ago the Sixers looked like one of the up-and-coming teams in the East, after taking down the top-seeded Bulls (without Rose) and then taking the Celtics to 7. Andre Iguodala was one of the best players in the league, Jrue Holiday looked like a future star, Louis Williams was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, plus Philly had some nice young players in Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes. Flash forward a few months and the Sixers trade away Iguodala, promising prospects Mo Markless and Nikola Vucevic, and let Louis Williams walk in free agency. In return, they got the oft-injured immature Andrew Bynum and signed the perennial chucking wedding crasher known as Nick Young. To make matters even worse, Nikola Vucevic is looking like a stud now, and Andrew Bynum hasn’t played a single game for the Sixers. The Sixers are now left with Holiday who’s an all star, a prematurely plateauing Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, and an uncertain future. Is it worth it to pay Bynum a max deal in the summer knowing he’s barely ever healthy? The Sixers were a game away from the Conference Finals, but some questionable moves have pushed them out of the playoffs this year.
3. Washington Wizards
The Wizards have been one of the most improved teams since the All Star Break, mostly due to the return of John Wall. The Wiz were 5-28 without Wall, surely headed for another embarrassing season, but since he came back, they’ve been 24-23, proving that their pre-season talk of making the playoffs wasn’t complete BS. This team is capable of being a 7 or 8 seed next year if everyone is healthy, but beyond that, very difficult decisions loom. All Wiz fans are counting down the days until Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, and Nene’s deals expire. But is John Wall really worth a max deal? DC fans take such a question with cynicism, pointing to his horrendous shooting and poor decision making. The Wizards though can’t afford to let Wall walk at this point. They have a promising backcourt for the next decade in Wall and Beal. Beal looked like a bust until Wall came back from injury. Beyond the backcourt, virtually no one is worth keeping on this roster. However, with such a promising backcourt, a lottery pick this year and some emerging cap space in two years, the ‘Zards may finally be on the upswing.
2. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons haven’t been relevant since Chauncey and Rip were in town. Joe Dumars hasn’t exactly been competent when he’s had cap space, and the Pistons will have around $25 million this summer. Detroit has some really nice pieces in place already in Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, and surprisingly Andre Drummond. Monroe was snubbed from the all star game this year, but he’s one of the best power forwards in the league. Andre Drummond looks like a stud, and while the Shaq comparisons may be a bit ambitious (aside from the 35% free throw mark), it’s not unrealistic to think he can be one of the best centers in the NBA soon. Plus, it’d be an added bonus if he can stop airballing free throws in crunch time too! If Dumars can hit on a good perimeter scorer in free agency or in the lottery this year, the Pistons should be in the playoffs in a few years.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
This may be a surprise having the Cavs so high, but that is probably due to my man crush on superstar Kyrie Irving. Having a top four point guard who’s only 20 years old goes a long to fixing any team’s issues. Along with Kyrie, the Cavs have Tristan Thompson who’s made strides to become a nearly double-double player, as well as top five pick Dion Waiters. The Cavs will have another top five pick in this draft too, which would be wise to spend on Otto Porter. Porter would be a perfect fit on the Cavs as the Tayshaun Prince-type do-it-all player that every team needs. While some Cleveland fans may be still holding out hope that Lebron returns in 2014, that’s nothing to bet on. Lebron may not come back, but by 2014 if things continue as expected, Kyrie Irving could easily be the best point guard in all Basketball, while Thompson and Waiters should be very solid starters. Those pieces, mainly Irving, should be enough to get a top free agent in Cleveland.