The first round of the NBA playoffs are over, and that means that for eight teams, the offseason has just begun. The future for these eight teams varies from bright to uncertain to dismal. Here is a ranking of the teams just now facing the offseason, ranked from best outlook to worst.
The team with the brightest future is undoubtedly the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo was a fringe MVP candidate this year, and if his shooting continues to improve, he might win the award next year. Khris Middleton is a 20-point scorer and fits well next to Antetokounmpo and their two rookies Malcom Brogdon (who might win Rookie of the Year) and Thon Maker, who both showed promise in their first season. While they showed their youth in their elimination by Toronto in six games, they’ll undoubtedly be better next year with continued improvement from their young players and the return of Jabari Parker.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are in this position for one reason: Russell Westbrook. He is going to make any team competitive by himself, as he has shown this season. The question is if other players can be worked into a team so dominated by one player.
The Portland Trail Blazers have one of the best backcourts in the NBA, with Damian Lillard and C. J. McCollum. The issue is they are paying both players $50 million combined next year, plus $20 million to Evan Turners. They have very few avenues to upgrade their roster and there are very real concerns about the limits of how good a team with two minus defenders (Lillard and McCollum) starting can be.
It might be the end for the Los Angeles Clippers as we know them. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and J.J. Redick might all be free agents this summer, and their current makeup has never shown an ability to make a playoff run. Their best move is probably to resign everyone and hope they get more luck with injury, but their window to compete for a title might have closed.
The Atlanta Hawks had a very Hawks season: they were average for most of the season, made the playoffs, and then put up a respectable (losing) effort. Dwight Howard was a disappointment in the playoffs, and they face uncertainty in trying to keep their best player, Paul Millsap, in free agency. Dennis Schroder reminded us why the team signed him to a long-term deal in the playoffs, but he might be forced to be the face of the team in a couple years.
The Memphis Grizzlies are old. They have a good coach and good management, but their bet on Chandler Parsons has backfired badly, and they don’t have much means to improve on what is a solid but aging core.
The Indiana Pacers have some young talent in Myles Turner and some good veteran pieces, but the only thing that matters is Paul George’s upcoming free agency next year. With Larry Bird stepping down as GM, the Pacers have an uncertain future that might hinge on whether or not George makes the All-NBA team this year, giving the Pacers the ability to offer him more money than any other team.
The Chicago Bulls might have done the worst thing for their future in the playoffs: they showed signs of being a capable basketball team. The team has no good path to improvement over this season. They have a rapidly declining Dwyane Wade on their books (assuming he picks up his option), and no one else of note to go along with franchise player Jimmy Butler. Butler is a top 20 player in the league, but Bulls management has shown no signs of being able to construct a good team around him.