Looking into the Future of the Lottery Teams in the NBA: Western Conference
While the first round of the NBA Playoffs are in full swing, 14 teams are already preparing for next season. Whether it is by organizing their draft priorities, looking at potential free agents, or implementing a new coaching staff, these lottery teams are already looking toward the start of the 2016-2017 season. And in this blog, I’ll look at the seven teams in the Western Conference and their chances of improving next fall.
The Utah Jazz barely missed the playoffs this season and some would argue that they may have been a better watch than the Houston Rockets. The team finished the season 40-42 and that is due in large part to Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, and Derrick Favors. Hayward is becoming a great player in the NBA after a stellar career at Butler. And Gobert exploded onto the scene this season as another great international player.
The Jazz will get a lottery pick, but it is not likely to be a very high pick. But Utah could do good by just getting some depth. They were eliminated from the playoffs on the last day of the season, but I see them rebounding and making the playoffs next season. Things are looking good for coach Quin Synder and the rest of the Utah Jazz.
2017 Playoff Probability: 85%
If the Kings were anything this year, it was an absolute dumpster fire! It is a mystery how they even managed to finish in the tenth spot in the west with a record of 33-49. Sacramento was carried by two players during the season. Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins were the two best players for the Kings this season. But they also are two of the most unpredictable and uncontrollable players in the league. The Kings have some other bright spots in players like Darren Collison, Rudy Gay, Marco Belinelli, and rookie Willie Cauley-Stein. But for the Kins to make a postseason push, they need a lot of work.
At the end of the season, Sacramento fired coach George Karl after teasing it thousands of times previously. And now, they have to find a new coach to build with. But Vlade Divac has his hands full trying to find a coach that will be able to work with Cousins and company.
2017 Playoff Probability: 30%
The Denver Nuggets finished a mediocre 33-49 and the team that used to always be present in the postseason. Now, I honestly forget they are still in the league now. The only thing I remember about the Nuggets was Will Barton’s Slam Dunk contest appearance. And that was only because of the Thriller bit that he did. It certainly wasn’t because of his dunks. But Barton is a good player for the young Nuggets and along with Kenneth Faried and Emmanuel Mudiay, form a good young core for the Nuggets in the future.
But the problem facing the Nuggets is that they must be able to keep these young stars. And they must add more pieces to the team to really make an improvement. The Western Conference is outstanding right now and other lottery teams are also improving so the road to the postseason could be a rocky one for the Nuggets.
2017 Playoff Probability: 40%
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
This one is the most painful to see as a fan of the Pelicans. The 2014-2015 Pelicans finished the season with a huge win to clinch a playoff birth. Then, they lost to eventual champs Golden State in four straight games. But that was alright for most of us as it signaled that New Orleans was headed in the right direction. But then this season the Pelicans finished 30-52 and took several steps back. New coach Alvin Gentry came into NOLA and wanted to build a team resembling the Warriors. But the problem with that is that New Orleans does not have those players. Anthony Davis is great. Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans, and Jrue Holiday are good. But they are not Curry, Thompson, and the rest of Golden State.
The Pelicans road to recovery starts in the front office. GM Dell Demps needs to be replaced. Then, a decision needs to be made on whether Gentry is going to be the guy. Then, wipe out the roster except for Davis and maybe Holiday. But it is not a quick fix and I am afraid the Pelicans are far from another playoff appearance.
2017 Playoff Probability: 35%
The Minnesota Timberwolves began the season with a heavy heart as their coach Flip Saunders battled cancer and passed away in October. Sam Mitchell took over the coaching duties and, along with the veteran presence of Kevin Garnett, led a very young Timberwolves to a 29-53 record. Minnesota was led by rookie Karl-Anthony Towns, second-year star Andrew Wiggins, two-time Slam Dunk contest champ Zach LaVine, and Spanish star Ricky Rubio. Towns emerged as a star in this league in his first season and Wiggins continued to improve and show his value as a top draft pick in 2014. Zach LaVine continues to show that he can do more than dunk and Rubio steadily improves and has transitioned to the NBA game enough to be a starter in the league.
Minnesota did struggle this season, but showed signs of greatness at times. The highlight of their season may have been their 124-117 OT win against the Golden State Warriors. But now that the season is over, the Timberwolves have moved on and hired former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau as their coach and team president. I highly believe in Minnesota and think they will be the most improved team next season and it starts with Thibodeau, a coach with postseason experience and a roster of young and hungry stars.
2017 Postseason Probability: 75%
The Phoenix Suns went through a coaching change this season as well as a team overhaul and finished with a 23-59 record. Things looked bleak for Phonix this year and I do not see much changing. The only bright spot for the Suns was rookie Devin Booker. The former Kentucky Wildcat stepped into the league and is trying to make a mark. He even challenged Steph Curry in the Three Point contest during the All-Star weekend. While not blowing people away, his numbers should improve as he gets more playing time.
Outside of Booker, the Suns future is very cloudy. The team needs a lot in the draft and free agency, but I am not sure how many people they can lure to Phoenix right now. Their lottery pick should be pretty high, but the draft is not a very good one. Their future may rely heavily on the bounce of the ping pong balls.
2017 Playoff Probability: 20%
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The Los Angeles Lakers had the worst season ever in the history of the franchise. With a record of 17-65, the Lakers were a laughing stock of the NBA. But they basically did this to themselves by holding off their young talented players and instead focus a season of saying farewell to Kobe Bryant. Now, I’m not saying that Kobe didn’t deserve it, but they also significantly hindered their rookie D’Angelo Russell’s progress.
In all, there is not a lot to say about that Lakers. Kobe is gone. Russell is talented but apparently immature. There are other players that are good, but not the stars that L.A. is used to having. And their coach, Byron Scott, has had many chances and proved that he is not the man for the job. The Lakers are miles away from the postseason with no end of a playoff drought in sight.
2017 Playoff Probability: 0%
Daryl Karpinski, Jr.