nbapowergiannis.png

There were no NBA games this week due to the All-Star break, so we decided to deviate from the usual rankings and go with something a little more forward-thinking. With LeBron James' tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers suddenly in peril, it got us thinking about the future. Which teams are best set up for success over the next 4-5 years?

It's a loaded question with a lot to consider. Some teams have superstars, but how will they age? Some teams have young talent, but how will it develop? Some teams are loaded with future picks, but what will they become? At the end of the day, we went with more of a "bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" philosophy to these rankings.

The key factor is having a player who has proven himself capable of being the No. 1 option on a championship team. If that player is young, even better. If there is a solid supporting cast under contract and a winning culture in place, now we're talking about a path to sustained greatness.

With those criteria, the Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets all landed at the top of the rankings in terms of brightest futures. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker and Nikola Jokic have all been great in both in the regular season and playoffs, and each has a multitude of young(ish) teammates that could raise their franchise's ceiling.

Meanwhile teams like the Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets, viewed as title favorites to start the year, have cloudier futures based on the age and injury history of their stars, a lack of young talent and their limited options moving forward, both financially and through the draft.

Before we get back to our regularly scheduled program next week, let's take a quick look at the NBA Power Rankings for teams with the brightest futures.

Biggest Movers
9 Clippers
8 Trail Blazers
Rk
Teams
 
Chg
Rcrd
1 Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo is arguably the best player on the planet, he's 27 years old, and he's signed through at least 2025. Things are good in Milwaukee. Add in the long-term contracts for Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, and the Bucks are set up to continue competing for titles for the foreseeable future. The one downside is they don't have many first-round picks to play with, but that shouldn't stop them from being able to upgrade the roster around their three stars. 8 49-32
2 Suns Chris Paul's age and potential downslide before eventual retirement are, of course, concerns, but with Devin Booker already a 1A superstar, a talented young core led by Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton (assuming they re-sign him this summer), one of the best coaches in the NBA in Monty Williams and a GM with a proven track record in James Jones, the Suns seem perfectly built for sustained success. Other than this year's draft pick, which they owe to OKC, the Suns have all their future picks, which will provide ample ammunition for a potential deal for another star down the road. 1 48-33
3 Nuggets Nikola Jokic could be a two-time MVP by the end of this season, with Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon all signed to long-term contracts. The main question is Porter's health, but even if he's in and out of the lineup, those other three should keep the Nuggets more than competitive. If Porter stays on the floor and lives up to his potential, we're looking at Denver as a possible dynasty. That's a big "if," but the Nuggets have already built a strong roster and winning culture around a transcendent, 26-year-old big man. 7 56-25
4 Celtics Even before their recent surge, the Celtics' future was bright. Their core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams and now Derrick White is locked up through at least 2024, all with relatively reasonable (and tradeable) contracts. The average age of that group is 25, so Boston's trajectory looks incredibly promising as it attempts to build a championship contender around the fringes. 2 63-18
5 Grizzlies Does any team in the league have a brighter 10-year outlook than the Memphis Grizzlies? They have a bona fide, 22-year-old superstar in Ja Morant and a deep, talented supporting cast that can either grow alongside him or be used in a trade to bring in a more high-profile star. They don't owe any first-round picks to other teams and potentially have incoming first-rounders from the Lakers, Jazz and Warriors in the next three years. The Grizzlies are already way ahead of schedule, and they have myriad options to keep building a title contender down the road. 3 27-54
6 Bulls If Zach LaVine re-signs this summer, the Bulls' core of LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams is locked up at least through 2024, with Nikola Vucevic's contract expiring next summer. That should keep them in the mix in the Eastern Conference for years to come, even with an expected drop-off from DeRozan's current hyper-efficient, prolific season. They owe 2023 and 2025 first-round picks to Orlando and San Antonio, respectively, which could limit their options down the road, but Chicago has to be happy with the outlook provided LaVine re-ups. 3 39-42
7 Clippers Assuming Kawhi Leonard and Paul George come back healthy, the Clippers might be the title favorite next season after adding Norman Powell to an already stout supporting cast. All three of them, plus Terance Mann, Marcus Morris and Luke Kennard, are locked up through at least 2024, and the Clippers should be a popular destination for veteran free agents willing to take a paycut to play for a title contender. They've also done an excellent job developing young talent like Amir Coffey and Brandon Boston, which softens the blow of having no control over any of their first-round picks for the foreseeable future. 9 51-30
8 76ers It's hard to gauge the 76ers' future since we haven't seen Joel Embiid and James Harden play a single minute together, but on paper they have (potentially) two MVPs surrounded by shooting and defense with a championship coach in Doc Rivers and a front office leader who's as shrewd as they come in Daryl Morey. Embiid's health issues, Harden's commitment (both in terms of his contract and his physical condition), Tobias Harris' contract and their lack of future first-round picks are definitely scary, but the Sixers have the superstars in place and a young, cost-controlled asset in Tyrese Maxey that should make them title contenders for the next few seasons, at least. -- 46-35
9 Warriors The Warriors' stated goal of competing for a title now while also building for the future has worked so far, but the long-term production-per-dollar from Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green is certainly a question mark given their cumulative age and NBA mileage. Jonathan Kuminga has looked impressive as a complimentary piece, but Moses Moody has barely seen the floor and James Wiseman has played 42 games since high school, so the value of those first-round picks has depreciated since they were drafted. Barring significant injuries, the Warriors will be fine for the immediate future, but life after prime Steph, Klay and Draymond is a bit murkier. 2 45-36
10 Heat Yes, aging stars Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry will be eating up a lot of the salary cap for the next few years, but the Heat have young talent in Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro waiting in the wings ready to take over. More than anything, you trust Erik Spoelstra to keep the team competitive and the front office, led by Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg, to figure out ways to keep bringing high-profile talent to a marquee player market. 6 45-36
11 Mavericks The Mavs already have the rarest, most important ingredient for a championship team: An MVP-level player in Luka Doncic, who also happens to be just 22 years old. The pieces around him are basically all question marks after the Kristaps Porzingis trade, so they have some work to do, but Mark Cuban is willing to spend and Luka is the ultimate bait to lure the next available superstar. With the Porzingis experiment a failure, however, the Mavs' ascent might be farther away than expected. 6 50-31
12 Jazz The Jazz have one of the best perimeter scorers in the league and a three-time Defensive Player of the Year locked up through 2025 -- the problem is, we have no idea how long they can coexist. This postseason will go a long way into determining the Jazz's future, with most of their supporting pieces able to come off the books in the summer of 2024 and a volatile relationship between Mitchell and Gobert bubbling under the surface. The Jazz aren't really a free-agent destination and they owe draft picks to other teams in 2022 and 2024, so the future will largely depend on how far their two All-Stars can take them. 1 31-50
13 Hawks Despite the Hawks' underwhelming season, the future remains exciting behind a core of Trae Young, John Collins and a host of young role players. De'Andre Hunter and Onyeka Okongwu look like potential lineup staples for years to come, which allows the front office to explore the trade market for Clint Capela and/or Bogdan Bogdanovic, who could be packaged with future first-round picks to land a big fish to take Atlanta to the next level. We've seen what Young can do in a postseason setting, which means they just have to work on getting the right fits around him to get back into championship contention. 1 36-45
14 Cavaliers This season has opened a lot of eyes to the Cavs' potential, which now looks almost limitless with the emergence of Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen, the addition of Caris LeVert and the mind-blowing upside of Evan Mobley on both ends of the court. That's not even factoring in Lauri Markkanen or Collin Sexton, a 24-point-per-game scorer who could slide into the mix or fetch value in a trade to aid Cleveland's ascent. They also have all their first-round picks from 2023 on to help build around their core, and the possibility of getting LeBron James on a minimum in the twilight of his career, no matter how slim, adds to the excitement around this franchise. 3 48-33
15 Nets The Nets were built to win now, so the departure of James Harden and the uncertain future of Kyrie Irving leads to an unsettling view of the future in Brooklyn. Durant, full-time Irving and Ben Simmons comprises a championship-worthy core, provided health for Durant and a return to All-NBA form for Simmons. The Nets have incoming picks from Philadelphia that the front office could potentially package for supporting pieces, but they have no picks of their own. As long as Durant is healthy the Nets will be a contender, but his track record of late doesn't exactly inspire confidence, and the the surrounding roster is riddled with question marks. 2 32-49
16 Pelicans Two years ago, the Pelicans would have been near the top of this list due to the presence of Zion Williamson and a cache of seemingly unlimited draft picks. Those Lakers picks could be very fruitful down the road, but the bigger concern now is that Williamson hasn't played a game this season and has been surrounded by a cloud of mystery regarding his fitness to play and commitment to the team. Not great. With the addition of CJ McCollum to Williamson and Brandon Ingram, New Orleans should be optimistic about its future, but we need to see Williamson back on the court, productive and happy before we start preparing for the Pelicans' ascent. 6 49-32
17 Timberwolves The combination of Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards is enough to get excited about Minnesota's future. If they don't see D'Angelo Russell as a long-term fit, his contract, which expires after next season, would be a great salary-filler in a potential deal for a star. With the possible exception of Jaden McDaniels, it's hard to pick out any guaranteed rotation players out of the remaining roster, so the Wolves certainly have some work to do, but having Towns and Edwards is a wonderful start. 2 56-25
18 Raptors The Raptors are starting to show the potential of their modern, switchable lineup of length, speed and skill, and all of their core players are 27 or younger. One of the most creative coaches in the game, Nick Nurse has championship pedigree, and front office guru Masai Ujiri might be the most sought-after executive in the league. The only thing limiting Toronto's ceiling, for now, is a surefire alpha superstar who can be the No. 1 option on a title team. But if we're going to see another sum-of-its-parts type of champion, the Raptors are a solid option. 6 25-56
19 Lakers It's not great that LeBron James is publicly talking about eventually joining his son's future team, and potentially the Cavaliers, but if the Lakers were relying on 40-year-old LeBron to lead them to a title, they have serious problems. The bigger issue is that Anthony Davis, who was supposed to take the reins from LeBron as the face of the franchise, hasn't been able to stay healthy and has failed to take the leap into the echelon of the NBA's elite No. 1 options. Outside of him, the only other young talent on the team is Talen Horton-Tucker and Austin Reaves, who are anything but sure bets to develop into co-stars. It's common knowledge at this point that the Lakers can't trade any draft picks before 2027, so their moves are quite limited. They'll always have the allure of one of the league's most glamorous franchises and markets, but as we've seen in the past, that's not always enough. -- 46-35
20 Hornets The Hornets must be thanking their lucky stars that LaMelo Ball fell to them in the draft, as he's looked every bit of the franchise-altering point guard many evaluators predicted him to be. Gordon Hayward's contract won't look pretty over the next couple seasons if his availability issues continue, but Terry Rozier has been excellent for his price tag. Charlotte will have a choice to make about Miles Bridges as a restricted free agent this summer, but the trio of him, Ball and Rozier seems like a solid, core moving forward. James Borrego has proven himself to be a valuable coach, so now it's about adding pieces while they develop the young talent. 3 20-61
21 Kings Time will tell, but it certainly appears that the Kings sacrificed the future by swapping Tyrese Haliburton for Domantas Sabonis in an effort to win now. Given his shooting and playmaking ability, Haliburton looked like a more viable long-term point guard than De'Aaron Fox, but the front office clearly thought Fox and Sabonis would be a pairing that could lead to success. Both are still in their mid-20s, but there's clear pressure from the top to get the Kings into the postseason for the first time in 16 seasons. That could result in a lot of mediocre finishes that yield mediocre draft picks, making the path to title contention a difficult climb. 4 45-36
22 Thunder Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an All-Star level floor leader, Josh Giddey is a triple-double machine and the Thunder seemingly have more picks than the other 29 NBA teams combined over the next several seasons. Eventually OKC will be judged on wins and losses, but for now their future looks bright based on potential. Landing a no-doubt future superstar in one of these upcoming drafts, or cashing in their picks for an established one, will be paramount to future success for the Thunder. 6 56-25
23 Pistons In theory, the Pistons have their future superstar in Cade Cunningham, but we haven't quite seen it on the court yet -- which is somewhat expected, given his youth and supporting cast. Detroit may have missed the boat on cashing in Jerami Grant at the peak of his value, and there are still question marks surrounding the future of Killian Hayes, but Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart look like a strong complementary pieces as Cunningham continues to develop. A little lottery luck over the next couple of seasons, and they could add another transformative player to the equation. 4 14-67
24 Knicks Any dreams of the Knicks becoming a solid playoff threat have been extinguished so far this season, while Tom Thibodeau continues to give his veterans priority over developing the team's young talent like RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin and the newly acquired Cam Reddish. Julius Randle's contract is already looking like a bad decision, while underperforming Evan Fournier is on the books through 2024. The Knicks still have all their picks and are owed one from Dallas next season, but the path to contention isn't exactly clear. -- 49-32
25 Wizards A duo of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis is pretty good, in theory, but Beal suffered through a disappointing season before his injury and Porzingis has been unable to stay on the court consistently throughout his career. At this point only Daniel Gafford's contract is guaranteed beyond the summer of 2023, so a full-scale rebuild could eventually be in the cards if the Beal/Porzingis experiment fails to bear fruit. Either way, the ceiling is looking like a fringe playoff team for the foreseeable future. 5 15-66
26 Trail Blazers Hey, at least it looks like Anfernee Simons is going to be really good! After trading away CJ McCollum and Norm Powell and failing to get a difference-maker in return, the future of Damian Lillard in Portland looks tenuous, despite insistence from both him and the Blazers that the partnership remains intact. Without Lillard, they're looking at a full-scale rebuild from scratch. With Lillard, they look like a middling playoff team, at best, over the duration of the three seasons remaining on his contract. Either way, it's not great. 8 21-60
27 Spurs The Spurs have finally gone into rebuild mode, and the future is brighter for it. Dejounte Murray is already an All-Star, with a talented group of guards and wings behind him, even after the departure of Derrick White. The Spurs have picked up a handful of first-round picks through deals over the past couple of seasons, in addition to owning all of their own, increasing their chances to add more young talent or put together an enticing trade package for an established star. Competing for a title isn't exactly around the corner, but the foundation is there for future success. 6 21-60
28 Magic Orlando has some nice, young pieces in Franz Wagner, Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony, Wendell Carter Jr. and potentially Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz if they can return to full strength. None of them, at this point at least, look like the type of player who can be the best player on a championship team, but it's certainly a solid foundation for a rebuild. The Magic have all of their own first-round picks moving forward, along with incoming picks from the Bulls and Nuggets, so they should be able to continue to build through the draft. Like so many teams at the bottom of the standings, they'll hope for lottery luck and a franchise-changing prospect over the next couple of seasons. 2 46-35
29 Rockets The Rockets won't compete for a title any time soon, but they have moldable young talent in Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood, along with a whole lot of potential-filled young projects. They also have virtually no money on the books past next season, which gives them plenty of options for trades and signings. Houston is looking at a full-fledged tank job over the next couple seasons, but there's enough there to at least be moderately excited about the future. -- 40-41
30 Pacers The rebuild is on in Indiana, and the prized piece is Tyrese Haliburton, who came over from Sacramento in a deal for Domantas Sabonis. There are still potential trades to be made involving Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and Buddy Hield, which could add to the Pacers' growing supply of assets. Contention is probably a long way off, but Haliburton, Chris Duarte and a bunch of future picks isn't a bad place to start. 4 46-35