On Thursday, we unveiled the latest edition of our NBA Future Power Rankings. Now it's time for our 5-on-5 crew to weigh in.
1. Which team has the best outlook over the next three seasons?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Oklahoma City Thunder. They nudge out Miami, only because their core is locked up long term. The Thunder posted one of the best point differentials in NBA history during the regular season, and the playoff landscape might look a lot different had Russell Westbrook not gone down with his knee injury. They're not flawless, but it's hard to see them falling off.
Dan Feldman, Piston Powered: Miami Heat. LeBron James … Oh, need I say more? Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time, but LeBron has about a 50-50 shot to pass him. Any team with LeBron making the final push of his prime to pass Jordan will contend for a title. [Dwyane] Wade, [Chris] Bosh, South Beach, Pat Riley and the lack of a state income tax don't hurt the Heat, either.
Andrew Han, ClipperBlog: Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Durant and Westbrook being locked up long term and Sam Presti maintaining a Buddhist monk level of devotion toward maintaining cap flexibility means a roster that can adjust with the times.
Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: Miami Heat. Some of the supporting cast around James might be on the decline, but James is still the best player on the planet right now. Until other teams prove they can slow him down in the postseason, Miami's future looks the most promising.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN Insider: Houston Rockets. Defense can be bought cheaply, and the Rockets already have the makings of an elite offense. They also have a good chance of signing Chris Paul or Dwight Howard. Even if they don't get either superstar, 23-year-old James Harden lends the Rockets a lot of time to figure this out. Note: OKC would get this spot, but Scott Brooks' contract extension knocks them back some.
2. Which team has the worst outlook over the next three seasons?
Arnovitz: Charlotte Bobcats. They're better off today than they were a year ago, but they still have a ton of work ahead. They need a couple of semi-complete players to go along with the young core -- which, while solid, doesn't contain a superstar. They're not going to be an attractive free-agent destination until they gain some cachet, and that's tough to do until they win.
Feldman: Charlotte Bobcats. They are so incredibly talent-deficient. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was a nice step, but his skills complement good players rather than help him carry a team. That should allow the Bobcats to remain bad enough for long enough to add more high-value players at the top of the draft, which they desperately need to do.
Han: Phoenix Suns. They have a serious dearth of young talent. As clean as their ledger is, talent is the biggest component to winning in the league. New general manager Ryan McDonough should prove to be a quality hire, but it'll take at least a couple of seasons to acquire the pieces to install his vision in the desert.
Robb: Charlotte Bobcats. Anytime a perennial lottery team has more bad contracts than building blocks, that's a red flag. Combine that with an indifferent fan base and an underwhelming management team, and the future does not look rosy in Charlotte. New coach Steve Clifford has his work cut out for him.
Strauss: Toronto Raptors. Though Toronto is a wonderful, cosmopolitan city, it's quite difficult to convince free agents that they should leave the United States. Because of this, the Raptors have overpaid the likes of DeMar DeRozan and taken on Rudy Gay's terrible contract. They aren't getting a first-round draft pick this season, and it's difficult to envision how they evolve into title contenders.
3. Which team will make the biggest leap over the next three seasons?
Arnovitz: On the surface, Cleveland makes the most sense because its point guard [Kyrie Irving] is one of the league's next superstars. Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson project as above-average performers at their positions. The Cavs have nothing but scale contracts on the books for 2014-15, with money to burn. But with the addition of a superstar, the Rockets would propel past them.
Feldman: Houston Rockets. They made the playoffs for the first time in four years and have completely turned over their roster during that span. With Harden, a true star, and the cap space to add another one, the Rockets should compete deep into the playoffs for years to come. Daryl Morey has shown an ability to build a team, and Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik will only help.
Han: Sacramento Kings. Finally out from under the oppressive regime of the Maloofs, the Kings have already started to clean house by bringing in new coach Mike Malone, and they are searching for a new GM. They're also not a team devoid of ability: DeMarcus Cousins is a franchise cornerstone talent. Depending on how Sacramento manipulates its current assets, who knows how improved the Kings could become?
Robb: Sacramento Kings. With a new ownership group and coach already in place, we'll finally see a roster that makes sense in Sacramento, instead of a bunch of mismatched parts. Good young talent is locked up there, along with some salary-cap room. I expect them to jump from the Western Conference basement to pushing for a playoff spot in the next three seasons.
Strauss: Washington Wizards. They are due for a turnaround, and John Wall looked like a superstar in 2013. They already have a decent defense, and Wall should fuel the offense going forward. Throw in Bradley Beal's growth and the help of solid veteran big men and I wouldn't be shocked to see Washington make a few consecutive postseasons.
4. Which team is most likely to fall hardest over the next three seasons?
Arnovitz: Relative to expectations, the New York Knicks. They'll have a tough go of it for the first couple of seasons. They won't be putrid but won't get to retool for another couple of seasons, and their core is aging quickly. It's still New York, so they'll have a better chance than most to dig out.
Feldman: New York Knicks. The first ingredient to falling is overachieving, and, to their credit, the Knicks did that by winning a division title this season. But New York is old and has the NBA's worst contract in Amar'e Stoudemire. Unless Carmelo Anthony decides to take more interest in defense and passing, his contract will limit the Knicks' ability to add the peripheral pieces necessary to win with him.
Han: Los Angeles Lakers. Seems sacrilegious to say of one of the crown jewels of the NBA, but they might have the biggest variance of all the upper-talent teams. Pau Gasol and Steve Nash are both aging stars battling injuries; Kobe [Bryant] is aging and rehabbing from one of the most serious injuries in the game. All of this, even before the recent flirtations between Howard and Houston.
Robb: Brooklyn Nets. They are a talented but flawed team that has no real room to maneuver around the cap in the next few seasons. As the rest of a blossoming Eastern Conference grows around them, the Nets will be unable to add any major pieces to improve a roster that doesn't play much defense. A fall to the bottom half of the East seems inevitable.
Strauss: Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, they are already listed all the way down at No. 17. Still, they could fall further if Howard leaves. Though L.A. is a top destination and Lakers is a top brand, the new collective bargaining agreement makes it difficult for this team to leverage its advantages. Yes, the Lakers have immense cachet, but they also have zero assets if Dwight signs with Houston or elsewhere. Even if you're the Lakers, "no assets" is a terrible place to be.
5. Whose Future Power Ranking is most surprising?
Arnovitz: Minnesota Timberwolves. Had there been some healthy players, we'd be looking at them in an entirely different light this spring. They have flexibility going forward: a top-three power forward in Kevin Love; a developing point guard in Ricky Rubio with spectacular potential; and a center in Nikola Pekovic who complements Love. So it's a little cold in Minneapolis. They have skywalks for that.
Feldman: Los Angeles Clippers. Perhaps it was a bit jarring to see a team that has surpassed nearly every franchise milestone this season rank so low, but it might have been just as surprising to see the Clippers rank so high. They probably belong at No. 12 right now, but they won't stay there. Paul's free-agent decision will vault them into the top five or down to the bottom 20.
Han: Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs are essentially still a team reliant on the obscene promise of Irving and whatever the No. 1 pick yields. Cleveland as the eighth-best team three years from now would put it on an Oklahoma City trajectory, which was more the exception than the norm.
Robb: Minnesota Timberwolves. Given how much talent Minnesota has on that roster, the No. 23 ranking was a bit surprising to me. With team president David Kahn out of the picture now, there is a real opportunity for his replacement, Flip Saunders, to build around an above-average core and get the Wolves back into the postseason.
Strauss: Golden State Warriors. I've followed the Warriors closely, and even I was shocked to see them at No. 5. Upon reflection, the ranking makes sense. This is one of the quicker franchise turnarounds in recent memory. Much of the change has to do with Stephen Curry, who, when healthy, has proved to be a volcano on offense. Solid rookies also help the cause as Golden State basks in a bright future for the first time since Chris Webber was a rookie.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Kevin Arnovitz writes for ESPN.com and TrueHoop. Ethan Sherwood Strauss contributes to ESPN Insider and TrueHoop. Dan Feldman, Andrew Han and Brian Robb contribute to the TrueHoop Network.
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