5 Teams I Want to See Continue to Contend
The NBA landscape is definitely in the balance right now with the key players who have not yet made decisions on where to play next year. During this time of free agency speculation, I find that we tend to look at building basketball teams through a video game lens: Let’s take the best players we can possibly find and put them on the same team. Then we will win. In a video game that’s largely true. Whether it be 2K, Madden, or FIFA, teams with players who have higher overall rankings are going to win more often than not. But basketball, more than any other sport, doesn’t work like that. You can’t just buy players that have good stats and put them together with the hopes of building championships. Yes: the successes and failures of many teams will be dictated by what players like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony decide to do, but I have a keen interest in some other teams that have built and are building in a traditional way. Becoming a good team in the NBA takes patience, intelligence, leadership, hard work, and definitely a lot of luck. Here are five teams with solid cores of players that I want to see continue to get chances to contend.
1. Portland Trailblazers – Yes, I would consider myself a Trailblazers fan, but I think anyone who likes basketball should want this team to work out. The franchise that has Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, and Brandon Roy in its history books has finally hit the jackpot with a core of four players that could be a threat for years in the West. Brilliant draft day trades gave them a franchise superstar big man (LaMarcus Aldridge) and a versatile wing player with star-level talent (Nic Batum). A surprisingly high mid-level exception has paid dividends in a now perfectly-paid sharpshooter, leader, worker, and defensive bulldog (Wesley Matthews). And then a gamble on a kid from Weber State returned an All-Star point guard. Those four players have made the Blazers a dangerous basketball team, as they showed in their surprising run this year which included a defeat of the Houston Rockets in six games. I hope these four guys stay together long enough to give the front office time to build around them, as the Blazers’ bench has been notoriously weak. Aldridge and Matthews are both in the final years of their contracts, so we’ll see how things go. I just like the way these guys play basketball and I think if they’re all in they could contend in the West for years.
2. Washington Wizards – I want to see John Wall and Bradley Beal making deep postseason runs for the next ten years. Through the draft, trades, and free agency, the Wizards have finally become a team that can win games. Now with a star duo in the backcourt, I hope they can capitalize on the opportunity that gives them to be a consistent contender in the East. They have agreed to terms with Marcin Gortat, which is key, but they also may lose out on Trevor Ariza. This may work for their benefit, as the 11.5 million they were paying him a year could be invested in other solid supporting players to join a rotation that includes Andre Miller, one of my most favorite players in the NBA, and a veteran that can do a ton to help mentor Wall as a point guard. With Wall, Beal, Nene, and Gortat, the Wizards have the building blocks of a team that could make the East Finals sooner rather than later.
3. Memphis Grizzlies – It feels like the Grizzlies have never quite gotten that one final piece they needed to be a serious threat to win the West. They have as good a 4-5 pair as there is in the NBA with Zach Randolph (who they have agreed to an extension with) and Marc Gasol (who some would call the best center in the NBA). They have one of the most underrated point guards in Mike Conley. Then there’s Tony Allen, out of whom they get some of the best perimeter defense in the Association for a mere 5 million per season. Unfortunately, that’s about where we stop talking about the roster. Tayshaun Prince and Courtney Lee are nice role players, not major rotation guys. I feel like any team that gets four guys like the Grizzlies have and plays basketball with as much unselfishness and grit deserves a break in free agency or the draft that gets them a legitimate chance at contending for a spot in the Finals.
4. Chicago Bulls – There is no way – NO WAY – that this group of Bulls shouldn’t get at least a few chances at making it happen. They picked right when they took Rose over Michael Beasley, they turned Joakim Noah into one of the 15 best players in the league, they stole Jimmy Butler with the 30th pick in the draft, and with the 26th pick in the 2009 player they drafted a guy who was almost as old as his draft position (Taj Gibson). Melo or no Melo, this group has to work out. You don’t draft an MVP, a Defensive POY, AND form the best defensive team in the NBA just to be done in by injuries and an inability to score. No. Freaking. Way. With the money that they get from Carlos Boozer’s amnesty (which they must, must do) the Bulls have to make the right choices as they finally put a team together that can achieve what they are capable of.
5. Atlanta Hawks – They’ve been mediocre long enough, right? I’d just like to see them finally make the East Finals as a reward for never tanking. They have some really good players, just not enough of them. I mostly include them here out of pity.
Why the Indiana Pacers are not on this list – The Pacers would have been on this list last year. Now they are what I hope these teams do not turn into. Indiana is in the terrifying situation of a successful team that must come to terms with the fact that they aren’t good enough and won’t get better without major changes. Uncertainties at point guard? Check. Headcase shooting guard who wants a big payday? Check. Superstar small forward who looks very unready for superstardom? Check. Veteran leader at power forward whose fed up with his team and isn’t effectively leading? Check. Overpaid center who is sometimes unbelievably bad? Check. Questionable bench? Check. Coach who appears to have lost control of the situation? Check. Next.
Why this isn’t a Saturday List – Cause….. I’m lazy with the Saturday Lists. One day they’ll be weekly. One day.
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Soli Deo Gloria