7. Phoenix Suns
As much as I wanted to put the Kings in the cellar, I just couldn’t do it. The Suns are that bad. Take a look at the Suns roster and you won’t find any egregiously bad contracts, but you also won’t find a single player worth building around. Goran Dragic has quietly had a very solid season, ranking 15th out of point guards who play at least 30 minutes per game in PER. Notably he’s ahead of players like Damian Lillard and Ricky Rubio this year in PER. Past the 26 year old point guard though, the Suns are stuck with mediocre perimeter players like Shannon Brown, Mike Beasley, and Jared Dudley, and Wes Johnson.
Down low, picking up Luis Scola on the amnesty wire wasn’t a particularly bad move, but it’s a band aid fix. Along with Scola, Marcin Gortat is an above average center, though already 29 years old, and not the long term solution for Phoenix. For the future, the Suns don’t have much young talent to look forward to. Kendall Marshall hasn’t resembled anything close to an NBA caliber point guard in his rookie season, and the Morris twins are merely rotation players. Last summer, Phoenix signed Eric Gordon to an offer sheet, but New Orleans matched. Gordon would’ve been a huge upgrade on the perimeter, but without him, it looks like their best bet is to find someone in the draft like Ben McLemore.
6. Sacramento Kings
While the Suns may have the bleakest outlook going forward, the Kings are easily the most dysfunctional franchise in the league. No one is sure if they’ll stay in Sacramento, but that’s not even what makes them dysfunctional. Demarcus Cousins may be the most talented center in the league and the most immature player in entire league. While building around Cousins should work from a talent perspective, his problems are well-documented. On the other hand, Tyreke Evans has regressed each season since he entered the NBA. He went from being the Rookie of the Year–joining Oscar Robertson, MJ, and Lebron as the only rookies to average 20-5-5, to not even being offered an extension. The other recent draft picks for the Kings haven’t panned out either. Jason Thompson is a mediocre borderline NBA starter and picking Jimmer was nothing more than a publicity stunt. Thomas Robinson is a promising prospect, making it even more inexplicable that the Kings shipped him off for Patrick Patterson at the deadline this year.
5. Dallas Mavericks
It’s difficult to have the Mavericks this low because we know Mark Cuban will do all he can to get the Mavs back in the playoffs before Dirk retires, but their roster is without any real young talent. For the Mavs to make strides, they’ll have to land some big free agents, and we know Cuban isn’t afraid to spend money. Cuban tried to keep the Mavs in the playoffs by signing Chris Kaman, O.J.Mayo, Darren Collison, and Elton Brand this past summer after missing out on Deron Williams, but a slow start robbed them of any chance at the playoffs. We know Cuban has his eyes on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard this summer, but both those guys are in more attractive situations already, and it seems unlikely they would sign with the Mavs. Unfortunately, Dallas did the worst thing possible this year: middled out. They did exactly what the Rockets had been doing the past few years. Now, they’re stuck with a late lottery pick in a terrible draft.
4. Utah Jazz
This team should easily be number one, but failed to make any moves this season. Specifically, they didn’t trade Al Jefferson and/or Paul Milsap, who are both in the final year of their deals. The Jazz had the chance to trade Milsap for a guy like Eric Bledsoe, but decided to stay with their current crew and fight for the 8th seed. Unfortunately, young guys Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors haven’t received enough minutes, despite their ultra efficient production. Other than Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks, the Jazz don’t have much in their backcourt to look forward to, which is why getting a guy like Bledsoe would have been a good decision. If the Jazz manage to sneak into the playoffs this season though, only to get swept by the Thunder, management will have to question its decision to stand pat with its current roster.
3. Portland Trailblazers
The Blazers changed the outlook of their future the second they drafted Damian Lillard. Suddenly, they now have an all star caliber point guard for their future, already capable of taking games over. Lillard has outclassed the rest of the rookie class in terms of production and looks like the most NBA-ready player from last year’s draft.
Along with Lillard, the Blazers have a cornerstone piece in all star LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s a nearly 20-10 guy. Paying Nic Batum $46 million may be a bit too much, but he hasn’t had a bad season. Batum is a lockdown defender who’s proven he can score too this year, putting up 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists per game, but I’m not sure what to think if Batum is your third best player. He’s more of a 4th or 5th option on a really good team. Nonetheless, the Blazers will have a difficult decision this summer, whether to pay J.J. Hickson or not. Hickson has been a pleasant surprise for Portland this year averaging a double-double, but he will certainly command a decent contract this summer, as he’s finally playing like the player who Cleveland almost traded for Chris Bosh. The Blazers are a solid team on the rise, but are going to need Batum to make a leap if they’re going to be a legit playoff team.
2. New Orleans Hornets
The Hornets, much like the Cavs, have such a bright future because of a number one pick. Anthony Davis has been compared by many to Tim Duncan, and if he comes remotely close to that comparison, the Hornets will be a perennial playoff team for the next decade. Signing Ryan Anderson last year has proved to be a smart decision. The thinking is that Anderson can be covered defensively by Anthony Davis, much like he was covered by Dwight Howard in Orlando. Matching Phoenix’s sheet for Eric Gordon should have been a good decision, but it looks like Gordon will be traded this summer. Gordon had even said his “heart was in Phoenix.” One silver lining for the Hornets tough season has been point guard Greivis Vasquez, third in the NBA in assists. Of course, he only plays so much because tenth pick in the draft Austin Rivers has been a complete bust. Rivers looks like a wasted draft pick, but with another top 10 pick this year, New Orleans should be able to get a keeper. The Hornets may not be in the playoffs for a few years, but they have one of the brightest futures in the league.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
It’s really hard to be so optimistic about a team headed by this guy. Ya know, the same guy who drafted three point guards in the first round. Oh, and one of those point guards was Johnny Flynn who’s been one of the biggest busts of the past decade. This team has talent though, namely Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. Hopefully, horrible management doesn’t drive Kevin Love away. He’s one of the best players in the league. Whether a team can win a title with Kevin Love as its best player is yet to be determined, but Love is certainly a Keeper. Ricky Rubio has been worth the wait, and while he is the best League Pass player to watch, he still needs to improving his dismal 28% perimeter shooting. Derrick Williams still has ways to go before people will put the bust label away, but he’s made some strides this year to look like a potential NBA starter.