NBA Power Rankings: Way-too-early projections have Warriors at No. 1, Celtics not far behind
The NBA season has come to a close, so let's start talking about next year
The 2018 NBA Finals ended with the Warriors defeating the Cavaliers in their fourth straight meeting, a result pretty much everyone predicted. On the surface, that sounds boring and predictable, but the journey to that result was far more exciting to watch unfold. The Cavaliers were twice pushed to the seven-game brink in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Celtics exploded. The Rockets had the Warriors right where they wanted them, but had injury woes strike at the worst possible time.
The regular season saw the rise of the Raptors, immediately followed by their fall in the playoffs against the Cavs. Who could have seen that coming? Who can forget Anthony Davis breaking out despite DeMarcus Cousins going down for the season. The Spurs potentially shattering their relationship with Kawhi Leonard. Victor Oladipo becoming a star. The 76ers processing their way into the second round then losing their general manager because of burner social media accounts.
The season was wild, intense, fun, sad and it featured so many intriguing storylines. However, it's time to leave all that behind us and start thinking about next season. Which teams are going to take their success and build off of it? Who's stuck in mediocrity, or destined for a rebuild? Here are some way-too-early Power Rankings.
|1||Warriors||Kevin Durant could leave this summer and the Warriors would still be favorites to win a third consecutive title. That's how talented and deep they are. There's no need to worry about that scenario because he's said multiple times his plan is to re-sign with Golden State. K.D. leaving would be a huge plot twist to what promises to be a wild summer. Let's not forget that multiple Golden State players were hinting at behind-the-scenes drama after their title. Could we see changes?||5||58-24|
|2||Celtics||Is there a team out there with a better future than the Celtics? They came within one game of the NBA Finals without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, who they lost at the beginning of the season. An early exit would have been completely understandable, but their young guys came through in a huge way. Jaylen Brown is amazing. Jayson Tatum is a future star. The Celtics' stock can only go higher from here.||6||55-27|
|3||Rockets||Where do the Rockets go from here? They came so close to beating the Warriors in the Western Conference finals and they might have pulled it off if Chris Paul hadn't gotten hurt. They need to re-sign him at all costs. Daryl Morey has improved his team the last two summers. Can he do it again this offseason?||1||65-17|
|4||76ers||The 76ers are entering one of the most important offseasons in recent history. The social media burner accounts saga cost Bryan Colangelo his front office gig, but the team has the benefit of a stacked roster talent-wise and a cupboard full of assets for the future. Any executive in the league should want to be a part of this team's future.||3||52-30|
|5||Jazz||Utah surprised a lot of people. Despite losing Gordon Hayward, the Jazz made it to the second round of the playoffs and saw Donovan Mitchell explode into a future superstar in this league. However, the talent disparity between them and the top of the West was noticeable. Mitchell and Gobert are a good start, but Utah can't stop there. A strong summer could push the Jazz even higher.||2||48-34|
|6||Raptors||Toronto fired its coach and still has not hired a replacement. The Raptors appear locked into the contracts of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka for at least another season, but never count out Masai Ujiri to get creative and make a splash. Even if the Raptors don't change much they should still be a great team next season. Just don't trust them in the playoffs.||1||59-23|
|7||Pelicans||The Pelicans have an incredibly tough decision to make this offseason with DeMarcus Cousins. They had a spectacular second-half run when Cousins was out injured, but is that proof that they don't need him or just a coincidence? If he were healthy this would be a no brainer, but the Achilles is a devastating injury. There might not be a team in the NBA with a bigger difference between their floor and ceiling than the Pelicans right now.||3||48-34|
|8||Spurs||Nobody knows what's going to happen to the Spurs. They're a perennial playoff team that's always going to be competitive. They just proved that. Without Kawhi Leonard, they're a shell of the contender they want to be. If they can fix their relationship with Leonard then the Spurs are back in the conversation as one of the potential front-runners to dethrone Golden State.||6||47-35|
|9||Timberwolves||Minnesota finally snapped its playoff drought. That was enough to make the season a success. Now the Wolves need to build on it. They had a pitiful bench last season, but the progress on young players such as Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins indicates they should improve next season.||7||47-35|
|10||Thunder||There are two sides to the Thunder's story. They lost their best perimeter defender and that was incredibly damaging to a team that had a defensive identity. On the other hand, they paired three stars together and it resulted in a one-win improvement and another first-round exit. Keeping Paul George for at least one more season is a priority.||1||48-34|
|11||Bucks||The Bucks may have disappointed, but the addition of Mike Budenholzer and his system should be a huge improvement. Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to be another year older and another year better. Milwaukee needs to make some roster changes, but the future is bright.||6||44-38|
|12||Trail Blazers||It would be easier to feel good about the Blazers if they had made the second round, or at least put up more of a fight in the first. Getting embarrassingly swept out of playoffs with a capped-out roster does not create confidence in this team's future. The Blazers need to make some changes.||5||49-33|
|13||Pacers||The Pacers had an incredible season. They were the surprise team, took the Cavaliers seven in the first round, and witnessed Victor Oladipo blossoming into a star. Now do it again. The worst thing for the Pacers would be to take this lightning-in-a-bottle season and see it as progress. They need to continue building and prove everything wasn't a fluke.||4||48-34|
|14||Nuggets||This is a monumentally important offseason for the Nuggets. They haven't been to the playoffs since the 2012-13 season and the franchise is starving for a return to the dance. A talent upgrade here, a trade there, could be the difference they need. Something needs to be done about that defense.||2||46-36|
|15||Wizards||The Wizards are going to be just as frustrating next season as they were this season. A team with John Wall and Bradley Beal should be so much better and more consistent than this one was. Maybe the Wizards make a big splash in the offseason and change things around, but this feels like a culture issue.||4||43-39|
|16||Lakers||This is it. This is the offseason the Lakers have apparently been waiting for. They have the cap space for a star player and the ability to move an asset or two if needed to create cap space for another star. The top two names on that list are Paul George and LeBron James. However, what happens if the Lakers strike out on them? Do they have a contingency plan?||4||35-47|
|17||Clippers||Los Angeles is trying to build a team on the fly. The Clippers want to be back where they were making a run in the playoffs while they fish for superstars. It's easier said than done, but it's not impossible. It's a similar strategy to what the Rockets used before trading for James Harden. This makes the Clippers a hard team to predict because one big name and they're back to contention status. The hard part is getting the name.||4||42-40|
|18||Cavaliers||Will he stay or will he go? That's the question on everybody's mind this summer regarding the future of LeBron James. He is also the ultimate factor into what the Cavs' future will look like. The Cavs will have to decide if they want to rebuild or try to retool with the talent still on their roster if he is out the door.||14||50-32|
|19||Heat||The Heat are at the start of what could be an interesting offseason. Dwyane Wade is weighing retirement, Hassan Whiteside could potentially be on the block and Dion Waiters is expected to return from injury. As the roster is currently constructed, the Heat are stuck trying to be a team that competes without a superstar. Some trades might be necessary if they want to get out of that mold. They don't have much of a future without making some offseason deals, even if Wade doesn't retire.||4||44-38|
|20||Pistons||The Pistons are a mess. They have Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and a roster full of win-now players, but they are an on the fringe playoff team, at best. They've decided to move on from Stan Van Gundy, which was probably the correct decision, but new coach Dwane Casey will have his work cut out for him.||2||39-43|
|21||Knicks||New York will once again enter an offseason with playoff aspirations behind Kristaps Porzingis and whatever veterans the Knicks sign in the offseason. It's frustrating that this always seems to be their game plan because they've had multiple opportunities to go through a proper rebuild. At least the David Fizdale hire should be a good one.||6||29-53|
|22||Grizzlies||The Grizzlies are weird. They were horrendous, but they also lost Mike Conley to injury early in the season. When Conley and Marc Gasol are healthy, they typically win games. However, Gasol is another year older and their coaching hire of J.B. Bickerstaff leaves much to be desired.||6||22-60|
|23||Nets||The Nets are slowly starting to crawl out of the basement. They've made some progress and by the end of next season, they'll have control of a draft pick that is not based off another team's record. However, despite the expected improvement of youth on the roster, they're still going to lose a lot of games.||1||28-54|
|24||Mavericks||Dallas is going to swing hard in free agency, just like old times. If the Mavericks can manage to hit on a big free agent, then maybe they can jump-start their rebuild a bit. If not, then at least they're growing a young core through these losing seasons. They'll have to eventually move on from the veterans though.||5||24-58|
|25||Bulls||Chicago is going through a rebuild, which means fans should expect a heavy dose of losses, which is OK because the Bulls already have a decent young core in Zach Lavine, Lauri Markkanen and whoever they draft in the 2018 NBA Draft. There is potential here. It just hasn't been tapped yet.||--||27-55|
|26||Kings||The Kings seem committed to building through the draft and developing young talent. They're filled to the brim with young guys and they used the second half of the season for development. However, one always has to wonder how much patience this ownership group has. Either way, expect them to have plenty of losses next season.||2||27-55|
|27||Hornets||Charlotte's future seems bleak. The Hornets missed the playoffs last season and nobody seemed to do more with less than Kemba Walker. They have a new GM and coach which could mean changes are on the way, but right now this team feels stuck in mediocrity.||6||36-46|
|28||Hawks||Atlanta is fully committed to the rebuild. Mike Budenholzer is gone and he was the one reason the Hawks won as many games as they did last season. This isn't a process-type rebuild like the 76ers, but it might get close to it. Expect Atlanta to be near the top of the lottery for the next few seasons.||5||24-58|
|29||Suns||The Suns have a well-respected coach and an insanely young roster. There should be plenty of talent to work with on the roster, but they also were the first team to finish dead-last in offense defense, and net rating. The Suns should still be bad, but there's nowhere for them to go but up.||1||21-61|
|30||Magic||Is there a worse situation right now than the Magic? The same core of players have gotten Jacque Vaughn and Frank Vogel fired while running Scott Skiles out of town. Maybe Steve Clifford will be the one that can get the most out of this roster. The new front office has had a year to see what they have and it doesn't look like much. Changes are necessary.||4||25-57|
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