All this week, ESPN.com will be looking ahead a few years in an attempt to see what the NBA will look like in the year 2010.
Mon., 9/18: Which current cellar dweller may turn into a champ?
Tues., 9/19: Which current elite team may find itself in the lottery?
Wed., 9/20: Who will supplant Dirk as the NBA's best international player?
Thurs., 9/21: Which player will rise from mediocrity a la Boris Diaw?
Fri., 9/22: Timelining the rise of the NBA's next young superstars.
We asked some of the top NBA writers from around the country to weigh in with their thoughts.
Here's today's roundup:
Q: Which one of the Bottom 10 teams (Blazers, Knicks, Hawks, Wolves, Bobcats, Warriors, Raptors, Rockets, Celtics, Sonics) can win a championship in the next couple of years?
Chris Sheridan, ESPN Insider: First of all, this is somewhat of a loaded question. Any answer invites ridicule. You want a CHAMPIONSHIP out of one of these dregs, not just a conference finals appearance? The Rockets are easily the closest, so I'll exclude them and take a chance on one of the others the Bobcats.
A year from now, they could have a starting front line of Emeka Okafor, Adam Morrison and Gerald Wallace or Walter Herrmann with a backcourt of Ray Felton and Vince Carter only, of course, if Carter decides to hit the road when he can become a free agent at the end of next season.
Charlotte will be one of the few teams (Orlando is a big other) with the cap room to lure him away from the Nets. We've already seen how good of a player Felton can be, and point guards usually don't even come close to peaking until after their third year.
Obviously another major piece is needed here (and no, I'm not going to take the easy way out and say Michael Jordan's input will fill that need), but the 'Cats have been trying to build their team slowly and correctly, and sooner or later all those high lottery picks working together could form a formidable team.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA and international basketball for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
John Denton, Florida Today: It was rare that Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming were healthy and on the court together last season, but when they were, they proved why the Rockets aren't that far away from being a contender.
When the two were dominating together on the inside and outside, the Rockets were a stellar 21-10. And just before McGrady's back failed him yet again, the Rockets seemed poised to make a serious run at getting back into contention. They were 12-4 before McGrady called it a season because of the pain in his back.
But with one or the other out, the Rockets looked like one of the dregs of the league. At one point in the season, Houston was 0-16 in the games that McGrady either missed or left because of injury. And things weren't much better when Yao was out with an infected toe and later a broken foot.
McGrady's back injury is nothing new, and has to be of great concern to the Rockets. It dogged him throughout his time in Orlando, and played a big role in the star guard never making it out of the first round of the playoffs. But after an offseason spent strengthening his core muscles with trainer Wayne Hall, McGrady is claiming to be as healthy as he's been in years.
Yao proved in the World Championship that his foot is fine, and he's ready to build off his strong play late last season. He was arguably the game's best big man late last season, scoring at least 30 points eight times down the stretch.
The addition of Shane Battier should give head coach Jeff Van Gundy a gritty defender, and McGrady and Yao another 3-point shooter when defenses collapse.
Make no mistake about it, Van Gundy is under fire to win big or his job could soon be gone. Trading away Rudy Gay's enormous potential for Battier was proof that the Rockets are under the gun this season to make a significant jump.
John Denton covers the Orlando Magic for Florida Today.
Marc J. Spears, The Denver Post: As odd as it may sound, keep an eye in the coming years on the New York Knicks. Why the Knicks? Because either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade will be wearing a Knicks uniform after his contract ends following the 2009-10 season.
James has long been rumored to be interested in playing under the bright lights on the Madison Square Garden floor in New York City with the Knicks. While Wade has never been rumored to play in New York, there definitely will be temptation to go there once he becomes a free agent. The allure for both James and Wade will also be much deeper than just playing in the Big Apple. Endorsement money will be at a career-high for either if he plays in the world's greatest city.
The Knicks would need a sign-and-trade or a mid-level exception to make a deal happen because they will be over the salary cap. Trust me. The long line of multi-million dollar endorsement opportunities, however, would be so ridiculous in New York that it could make up for some of the shortcomings on the Knicks' contract. Just imagine the jersey sales.
Who knows? Maybe James and Wade can even figure out a way to play there together. But don't expect Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony to join them since his contract extension doesn't end until 2012. With either James, Wade or both, the Knicks will be an NBA power in a couple years.
Marc J. Spears, who covers the NBA for The Denver Post, is a contributor to ESPN.com.
David Thorpe, Pro Training Center: Just three years ago, the Miami Heat came off a bad year and started the new season with a rookie coach, losing their first seven games.
Yet, less than two seasons later, that franchise lost in the Eastern Conference Finals, and then won the title the next year. I think the Minnesota Timberwolves can build a similar team.
The Heat added Shaq, giving them an All-Star post player to go along with Dwyane Wade. The Wolves already have Kevin Garnett, a dominant scorer/rebounder/defender, and they drafted Randy Foye, who showed this summer (and in college) that he has a real chance to be Wade-like very soon.
Eddie Jones and Damon Jones provided perimeter scoring and leadership that proved pivotal to the Heat, while the Wolves now have Mike James, coming off a career year (20 ppg and 44 percent from 3) and Ricky Davis (19.4 ppg).
Mark Blount had his two best rebounding months in March and April last year. KG will continue to influence him toward playing to his potential. The Wolves need some additional help inside, and they need Foye to develop rapidly, so a trade involving Ricky Davis could help on both accounts.
Now, if Coach Dwane Casey can go to school as fast as Coach Van Gundy did in Miami, and Foye can "be like Dwayne," the Wolves just may pull a Miami and contend for the title in 2008.
Brian Windhorst, Akron Beacon Journal: It's the team with the best player from that group, the Timberwolves. Kevin Garnett's still in his prime and is still just two years removed from being the NBA's MVP. There is no questioning his motivation or management's position -- progress must be made fast or it will be time to start over.
The Wolves appear to have significantly upgraded their backcourt over the summer, convincing Mike James to turn down the Rockets and Mavericks and drafting Randy Foye, who will start the season as a favorite for Rookie of the Year.
More help is needed, of course. The roster has assets for Kevin McHale to work with and using them wisely is the best way for Minnesota to get back to elite status. When the Wolves had the West's best record in 2003-04, they were buoyed when McHale pulled off trades to pick up Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell.
So the challenge at hand is to create a package involving one or more of the following: Mark Blount, Ricky Davis, Marko Jaric, Trenton Hassell and Troy Hudson. All are semi-talented players with somewhat burdensome contracts who have value to someone.
The other big issue is the head coach. If the Wolves don't get off to a good start, every insider in the league feels Dwane Casey will be on the hot seat, especially with Randy Wittman imported to his staff over the summer. Getting behind Casey or making a prudent switch will be vital.
Brian Windhorst covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal.
Ian Whittell, The (London) Times: If you're looking for a team to rise from the cellar to win a championship - a championship - in the next couple of years, then look no further than the Raptors.
With a non-U.S. address and new faces Andrea Bargnani, Jorge Garbajosa, Anthony Parker, Rasho Nesterovic and Uros Slokar all European-born or with European experience, new Italian assistant G.M. Maurizio Gherardini should move the team into the EuroLeague and battle the likes of Maccabi Tel Aviv and CSKA Moscow for a title.
A more serious answer still brings you back to the Eastern Conference, purely based on the fact it is still easier to win out East night in, night out. On that basis, an Atlanta trade for Allen Iverson might be the best way for the Hawks to move forward, giving up some young prospects or future picks in return. An AI-Joe Johnson backcourt? That's got to be a winning prospect with Josh Smith the third cog around which general manager Billy Knight can build a contender.
Alright, we're clutching at straws here, and even that trade would not make up for the Boris Diaw/Chris Paul disasters of recent times. But the Hawks' summer upgrades of Speedy Claxton, Lorenzen Wright and Shelden Williams have given long-suffering Atlanta folk hope and, if Toronto isn't going to make the move I suggest, then this could be the best of a bad bunch.
Ian Whittell covers the NBA for The (London) Times and BSkyB.