22 teams were invited to part in the NBA’s bubble on the campus of Walt Disney World in Orlando over the summer. As great as it was to see so much inclusion, there were eight teams not invited to partake.
Those eight teams haven’t taken the court for game action since the second week of March, which is hard to fathom. On the bright side, each of them will have a high draft pick and a chance to improve the roster. They’ll be well rested.
Which of those eight teams has the best shot at reaching the playoffs next season? Read on to find out.
8) New York Knicks
Things in New York aren’t great. They have continued to whiff on draft picks and free agency alike, ending up with a roster lacking in stars. RJ Barrett could have a bright future ahead of him, but the Knicks really don’t have much else.
Just because they made some changes in the front office, it doesn’t mean that they will magically be able to lure the big names over. The Nets are New York’s team until further notice, with BOTH Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant choosing to play for Brooklyn.
The Knicks have the #8 pick and will have some cap space this summer. We should expect very little from them. As long as James Dolan is in charge, mediocrity is barely even attainable.
7) Detroit Pistons
Detroit is in a bit of an odd position. They qualified as a low playoff seed two seasons ago, before completely falling off this past season. A big reason for this was a missing Blake Griffin, who was an All-Star on the postseason squad. Without him, they had nobody to play through.
They have a good coach in Dwane Casey, and a high draft pick again this year. They have trade chips in Derrick Rose, and possibly Griffin if they choose they want to move on from his expensive contract. Trading either player should be able to net them a nice return.
But the playoffs aren’t coming for a Pistons team that went 20-46 a year ago, with their best player being Christian Wood.
6) Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets are as young as any team in the NBA. While they have some talent, they’re lacking in several areas. They don’t have a takeover player. They lack a natural big man. And, their best player shot 37% from the floor a season ago. Devonte Graham should not be the #1 option on a team with winning expectations.
There are rumors that Charlotte may try and trade into the #1 pick to draft James Wiseman, a move that could position them to be a solid team next year. Their owner is the best player of all-time, but that doesn’t translate to winning or bringing in big names.
They have Bismack Biyombo $18 mil off the books, and will hopefully find a suitor for Nicolas Batum. Cap relief would be a big step in their improvement.
5) Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs pick #5 for the second year in a row, and will hope to land a piece to add to the core. There are several options on the table and they have shown no inclination to lean towards one specific guy.
Collin Sexton emerged as a star late last season and looks to be the team’s best player. They acquired Andre Drummond at the deadline, and they still have All-Star Kevin Love. The team is still putrid on defense, an area that can’t be ignored.
The playoffs are still extremely unlikely for the Cavs though, barring a blockbuster trade. They will be fun to watch, but will lose a lot next season.
4) Minnesota Timberwolves
If they were playing in the East, Minnesota would probably make the playoffs next year. But, they’re not. 13 teams from the West were invited to the bubble, and they are one of two that were left off. Injuries and roster turnover hurt them last season, but things are about to change.
Karl-Anthony Towns will be healthy to open the year, and he’s playing alongside his best friend D’Angelo Russell. Both guys are All-Stars and capable of taking over any game. Malik Beasley was scoring 20+ every game after they acquired him, and they have good defenders in Josh Okogie and James Johnson.
Oh, and they have the #1 pick. Whether they keep it or trade it, the TWolves will be adding a big-time asset (or two) to the roster. If KAT and DLo stay healthy, the team could win 40+ games.
3) Atlanta Hawks
It’s hard to identify what the Hawks need to do next. The roster is full of young talent, but they are still winning absolutely nothing. Trae Young put up MVP numbers in year two, and yet they had the second worst record in the East.
The Hawks will have Clint Capela joining the team next year, giving them their best rim protector in a long time. John Collins is next to him, and they also have two top-12 picks from a year ago furthering in their development. If the Hawks can acquire a proven veteran in exchange for their lottery pick, things could turn around.
If Trae Young can improve his defense, and John Collins can avoid another 25-game drug suspension, they’ll contend for a #7 or #8 seed.
2) Chicago Bulls
It’s been a rough last few years for the Bulls. They traded Jimmy Butler. They hired the worst coach in the league. Their players didn’t even take said coach seriously. But now, they’ve got the #4 pick in the draft. They hired Billy Donovan. And Zach LaVine is happy.
Injuries have hurt the Bulls in the past two years. Lauri Markkanen has been in and out of the lineup, as has center Wendell Carter Jr. It has basically left LaVine to fend for himself, often having to score 35+ just for his team to be competitive. But hiring a proven winner in Donovan is a great move for a team that also just made some significant front-office changes.
New GM Arturas Karnisovas came over from Denver, who built something very special through the draft with picks like Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. It bodes well for Chicago as the draft approaches, and they look to add another piece. Coby White and Zach LaVine are ready to roll, and though the playoffs aren’t extremely likely, the Bulls will be in the race all season.
1) Golden State Warriors
This should come as zero surprise to you, as it does to me and basketball fans everywhere. The Warriors made it to five consecutive NBA Finals from 2015-2019. But last year, they never really had a chance. KD left, Klay didn’t play and Steph broke his hand after four games.
Now, the Warriors will have their two sharpshooters back, plus Draymond is going to be feeling healthier after the long layoff. When you add that they have the #2 pick and some budding young players like Eric Paschall and Jordan Poole, you’re looking at a likely playoff team. Andrew Wiggins is also capable of scoring 25 on any given night.
The Warriors will be beating teams with the three-ball, just as they did en route to winning three titles in a four-year span. If Steph Curry didn’t exist, Klay would probably be the best shooter in the world. But he obviously does, and they’re teammates. The two best three-point marksmen ever are in the same backcourt.
Expect the Warriors to qualify for the playoffs next year. Steph and Klay are both fully rested, feeling healthy and ready to roll.