The NBA's Top 15 Teams for the Next Five Years

Photo credit: Isaiah J. Downing (USA TODAY Sports)

Someone approaches you. For some reason, you’re both in a desert.

This person, visibly thirsty, yells:


Well, this is convenient because if you know anything, it’s the NBA. You’re not great with relationships or directions (which is why you’re in a desert), but the NBA, you know that!

This person has no idea about any of the teams or players. They are from . . . Wyoming, let’s say. Could be Mars. Zero affiliation.

They are coming to you for advice. They are committed to be a die-hard fan of this team for the next five years. It was their father’s dying wish. If all goes well, maybe more, but five years is what’s on the table now.

How would you rank the teams for this person to choose from? If you don’t like the person, suggesting the Cleveland Cavaliers would be an option. You should also be arrested for attempted murder immediately if you do this.

Here’s how I would break down the top 15 teams to this lucky person who gets to cheer the team he or she roots for:

15. Rockets

I’m not super-high on the Houston Rockets’ future, but they have two people who will keep them competitive: James Harden and Daryl Morey.

If you’re looking for a team that will be in the playoffs year-after-year, this is a solid pick. If you’re looking for a team with young talent, eh, you can do better. This team will be without five of its own first-round picks until 2026.

Harden should age well, but we’re already seeing Russell Westbrook will most-certainly not. Bad news: Westbrook is due more than $120 million over the next three seasons.

14. Timberwolves

This would be a gamble and history tells us you’re almost certain to lose this gamble. But this is supposed to be a Minnesota Timberwolves’ piece so we can’t really leave them out of this.

The good: Karl-Anthony Towns is a top-10 talent in the league (not necessarily a top-10 player, though). D’Angelo Russell is a former All-Star. The team has the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, along with the 17th pick. Gersson Rosas is an innovative President of Basketball Operations. Malik Beasley seems like, at the very least, a very good sixth man. The players seem to like Ryan Saunders.

The bad: You’d be cheering for a team that has had made the playoffs once since 2004-05, sooooo, yeah. Not a lot of history to brag about to your buds. Towns and Russell are great offensively, but defensively, not so much. If you’re looking for someone to back you in a fight, I think I’d recommend my grandparents over those two. The team has the No. 1 pick in what many consider to be a historically bad draft. Meanwhile, the 2020-21 draft is supposed to be loaded and of course the Timberwolves do not have a pick in that draft.

13. 76ers

Maybe Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid can’t play together. Even so, they are extremely talented young players. Just from an entertainment standpoint, this will be a fascinating team to watch. Will the team trade one? Will the team trade both?

The 76ers aren’t missing any upcoming first-round pick, which is good for the gamble of the draft or to make a big-time trade (something they haven’t been so great at). Matisse Thybulle looks like a fun player to watch. The key for the 76ers will be whoever takes over for Brett Brown.

12. Heat

What if the Timberwolves had kept Jimmy Butler? What if the 76ers had kept him?

Those are rather popular questions right now with Butler on the verge of bringing the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals.

As far as a five-year window goes, Butler still has 2-3 years of high play in him I’d guess. But there are more reasons to be excited in South Beach. Tyler Herro might just be the most perfect Miami Heat player ever.

I know this is a pro Karl-Anthony Towns space, but . . . is it possible Bam Adebayo is better than Towns? Talent-wise, maybe not. Towns is a crazy talented player, but Bam does all of the little things. Plus, he’s been a big part of WINS, something Towns hasn’t done nearly enough of in his career.

Just because a guy isn’t putting up 25 points per game doesn’t mean he isn’t elite.

I don’t necessarily agree with this, but it’s an interesting thought exercise.

The bad news is that Miami is out two of its next four first-round picks.

11. Bucks

This all, obviously, hinges on Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s played this the right way. He’s loyal to Milwaukee, so he says. But if the Bucks can’t deliver and get him more help (the fact that Eric Bledsoe is the third-best player on this team is silly) by next season, he should walk as a free-agent in 2021.

If that happens, this will be a very difficult team to watch. There are so many Bledsoe bricks a guy can watch before wanting to watch literally anything else.

10. Clippers

Similar to the Giannis situation in Milwaukee, it all depends on what Kawhi Leonard and to a lesser extent, Paul George decide to do after their contracts are up in 2021.

A second-round upset to the Denver Nuggets after being up 3-1 is a real bad look, but there’s no reason why this team can’t win a title next season. For that reason alone, this is a team to be a fan of.

Also, we’ve seen enough of George in big moments to know that he’s not an elite player. He has elite skills, sure. And he has elite regular-season moments. But he’s not of the the guys in the NBA.

At least it sounds like George has the respect of the locker room. . .

If Leonard and George leave after 2021, the team will be a complete dumpster fire. The team traded every first-round pick it could until 2026.

9. Grizzlies


Just show his rookie highlights to this stranger and that should be enough for anyone to be a fan. From a competitive standpoint, the Memphis Grizzlies might take a step back in 2020-21 just given how loaded the West will be. Even so, with Morant and Brandon Clarke, the Grizzlies have a really, really good base.

Memphis won’t have its first-round pick in 2020, but will have two first-round picks if Utah’s pick falls between 8-14 in an absolutely loaded 2021 class. That will be huge. In five years, the Grizzlies might not be at the peak of their powers, but they’ll be knocking on the door.

8. Hawks

The Hawks should be better than they are. They have SO MUCH YOUNG TALENT! Trae Young is great. Then there’s John Collins, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, etc.

Eventually, it all has to click, right?

The Hawks have another lottery pick and will pick sixth in this year’s draft. The team also has a 2022 lottery-protected pick coming from OKC.

I love the Hawks, hypothetically. I love that they can score 150 points per game and that there are so many promising players. But eventually, you have to win.

If this current experiment doesn’t work in Atlanta, which it should, we’re going to be reminded that the Hawks COULD HAVE JUST DRAFTED LUKA DONCIC millions of times.

7. Pelicans


The Pelicans have more young talent than the Grizzlies. Brandon Ingram is going to be an All-Star. Lonzo Ball is growing into the point guard we thought he’d be. Zion can be one of the best players in the league, but he needs to stay healthy. In order to stay healthy, he needs to stay in shape. This isn’t fat-shaming. I’m the biggest Zion fan there is, but at some point, he needs to be held accountable for how he enters a season.

New Orleans will pick 13th in the 2020 NBA Draft and has all of its own first-round picks moving forward, including two from the Lakers in 2021 and 2024, respectively. That 2024 pick could be juicy if Anthony Davis leaves L.A.

6. Warriors

The Warriors will start the comeback tour in 2020-21.

Stephen Curry is 32. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are both 30.

A lot has changed in the league since the Warriors were the Warriors. Golden State now has Andrew Wiggins. I can’t think of someone who reminds me less of a Splash Bro, but here we are.

So, why are the Warriors sixth? In a league where shooting is still king, Curry and Thompson are both very much in the prime-ish of their careers. Plus, the Warriors have the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft along with two first-round picks in next year’s loaded draft.

Could the Warriors make a move to pluck Giannis off Milwaukee with one of those picks? Hmmmm.

5. Nuggets

Denver gets a playoff boost.

Nikola Jokic might be the best big man in the league and he’s only 25. Jamal Murray is a certified killer and he’s 23.

Michael Porter Jr., it turns out, is pretty good when he’s healthy!

To get over the hump, Denver will probably need another star. The good news is that they have plenty of pieces to make that happen: Will Barton, Jerami Grant, Gary Harris or even Porter could be trade chips.

Plus, Denver won’t miss any first-round picks in the coming years, giving them even more ammo.

If there’s any team that should make a big move to go for it this offseason, it’s Denver.

4. Nets

This could be awesome, or it could be an absolute train wreck. Either way, I’m here for it!

Kevin Durant will be back. Kyrie Irving will be back. Steve Nash(!) is the new head coach.

What could go wrong?!

Brooklyn has other nice pieces like Caris LaVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen. Given how open the Eastern Conference is, there’s certainly a world in which the Nets are in the Finals in nine months from now. But there’s also a world in which Nash is fired and Irving forces his way out.

Again . . . I don’t care what happens, I just want to watch.

3.5 Thunder

This is kind of cheating because this list is supposed to be only 15 teams, but in my first draft I somehow forgot about the Thunder which seems so silly considering Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is awesome and the team is loaded with like 398 future first-round draft picks.

Who will OKC’s next coach be and could we see the Thunder package some of those picks for another young star to pair with SGA? We’ll find out soon, but it looks like it will be another competitive decade for the Thunder.

3. Lakers

The good news is that in five years, LeBron James will be 40 years and still another 10 years from retirement, so that’s fun.

James is supposed to be on the decline, but I’d be shocked if he wasn’t still a top-20 player in the league three years from now. Then again, Father Time catches everyone eventually.

The Lakers will probably win the NBA Finals this season, and will very much be in the conversation in 2021 as well.

Anthony Davis has a player option after this season, but it’d be a complete shock if he didn’t sign long-term with the Lakers. After James leaves, the Lakers will need another star to put alongside Davis. But if we’ve learned anything from the Lakers throughout their history, that won’t be a problem.

2. Mavericks

In Luka we trust. There hasn’t been a young player who set the league on fire quite like Luka Doncic has since . . . LeBron James?

We saw the Mavericks already nearly upset the Clippers in a first-round matchup. This is just the beginning. Doncic is going to win multiple MVPs.

Can the Mavericks win the title with Kristaps Porzingis as the second-best player? I’m not sure, but with Doncic still on his rookie contract, the Mavericks have a two-year window to add another max contract (you better believe Mark Cuban will be targeting Giannis if he hits free-agency in 2021).

If there’s one player I’d pay to watch every night for the rest of his career, it’s Luka Doncic.

1. Celtics 

Jayson Tatum might not be Luka, but he’s not far off. He just made the All-NBA Third Team as a forward and he’s only 23 years old.

The difference between the Celtics and the other teams on this list is the mixture of young and experienced talent.

Jaylen Brown is only 23. Kemba Walker has been around forever but is still only 30. Marcus smart is only 26. Knowing what we know about Boston, someone out of the Grant Williams, Romeo Langford and Robert Williams group will turn out to be a solid player.

Plus, Boston has plenty of draft assets, including three 2020 first-round picks (Boston will pick 14th, 26th and 30th).

The Celtics also get the benefit of just doing things right. We know Danny Ainge isn’t afraid to go after a big star if he needs to and within the next five years, I’d image Boston will be part of a blockbuster trade inching the Celtics closer to another dynasty.

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