Happy New Years STR! I’ve come full circle. When I was 17, the ultimate New Years Eve was watching movies all night with my parents and having Sparkling Cider at midnight. For the next decade, my New Years consisted of way too much alcohol, making out with strangers and other escapades so debaucherous they would make a drunken sailor blush with embarrassment. Now here I am again, having just enjoyed a night of movies with my folks topped off with a glass of champagne at midnight.
I guess for me, that’s progress. But what about our beloved Kings? Where do they stand? Most people here accept we have a bright future. But what’s the ultimate goal here? I say it’s championship or bust.
So with that in mind, I present the patented SPTSJUNKIE Race To A Championship rankings. As you may guess, these rankings are gauging one thing and one thing only, how close is each team to winning a championship. This factors in current roster, future potential, cap space, assets and this year’s potential draft pick.
Ok, enough blabber, rankings below the jump:
1A – Heat – Something tells me they won’t win this season, but they are the safest bet of any team to win at least one ring in the next 3 seasons. If I were a betting man, I’d say next year. Really don’t think I need to justify this pick any more.
1B – Lakers – Putting them as 1B because they are just as likely to win it all this year. Regardless of early season struggles, they know how to flip the switch. Only have them below the Heat, because their window is smaller. As Kobe deteriorates, they will enter the current "Spurs Zone" where they look good on paper, but are never really a threat to win it all.
3 – Celtics – Really, they are in the same position as the Lakers, but with an even smaller window. Almost bumped them down more, but they probably have the third best chance of winning it all this year. However, this is likely their last chance.
4 – Magic – Another dark horse for this year’s crown. They have a lot of great talent and moveable assets if they need to rework their roster next season. Although to win a title, they really need Howard to reach the next level. He can still be slowed a bit too easily for a superstar.
5 – Thunder – I know this will be the first real shocker on the list. I’ll get more into negatives of other "contenders" in their rankings, but the Thunder are just barely on the outside of the elite teams. They have a bonafide superstar, a great #2 and a lot of talented role players. On top of that they have numerous tradeable assets and ample cap space. They are not a true contender this year, but should be for the next 4-5 years at least.
6A – Mavericks – Below the Thunder because I just don’t trust that their current roster can win it all. The only reason they aren’t way down the list is that Nowitzki is still a superstar and Cuban will spend money to help bring in more talent. They could conceivably make another trade or two that put the complementary pieces in place. Their window is not very big though. If they don’t make a move, they are headed downward despite their great regular season record. They would be smart to push for Carmelo this year and then blow everything up if they still can’t win it all and he leaves in the offseason.
6B – Bulls – Similar in some ways to the Mavs, but heading in an upward trajectory. They also need another piece or two to be true contenders. Have them below the Mavs simply because another move or two this year could produce a championship for the battle-tested Mavs. The Bulls are probably another year or two away from being able to challenge the Heat regardless of what moves they make this season.
8 – Knicks – Admittedly a speculative pick on my part. Felton and Stoudemire are not taking them beyond a first round exit. However, Carmelo and Chris Paul really want to play for them and there is no denying the appeal of the market. They will have no cap space to sign these players, but do have an assortment of young players with some upside and expiring contracts that could help them make a Sign & Trade.
9 – Jazz – Hesitated to put them up here, because I’m not fully convinced Deron will ever be a true superstar. He may end up being a great #2 for some team. However, he is borderline and with Jefferson, Okur, Kirilenko they have a nice core. They will definitely need a game-changing trade though if they want to win it all. With their assets and lack of cap space, I’m just not sure how they would get there. If Hayward turns out to be a bust, that miscalculation with the 9th pick, could be their downfall.
10A – Clippers – OMG?!?!?! I know, this is one of the 5 signs of the apocalypse. In fact, I think lightning struck my house as I wrote this. But The Posterizer + Gordon + young assets + cap space – Del Negro - Sterling = "So you’re saying there’s a chance."
10B – Kings – Either Evans or Cousins could be a superstar. We have young assets, expiring contracts, ample cap space and even with a late season run should have a top 8 pick in the draft (most likely still top 5). Our window won’t open for at least 2-3 more years, but we are heading there in a very organic, strategic direction reminiscent of the Thunder.
10C – Nets – Have largely the same combination of young stars, tradeable assets and a likely high pick in this year’s draft that the Clippers and Kings have. However, they will have less cap space and long term I would rank the Lopez-Harris combination below the Clippers and Kings top 2.
13 – Timberwolves – Kahn has done a better job of assembling young talent and undervalued assets than people give him credit for. The team is moving in a good direction. I just don’t know how all of these pieces will fit together. Frankly, Rubio seems like a terrible fit for what they have in place and I’m not sure they can afford to be bad for another 3 years while he adjusts to the NBA. Again, Kahn has accumulated undervalued assets well, but now he needs to bundle those for real talent that fits together. The fact that he has not proven he can do this before, along with the Wolves lack of a potential superstar leaves them a notch below the previous 3 teams.
14A – Wizards – Mainly because they already have Wall. Add that to some young talent, another high draft pick and cap space and they are building something. However, they are a year behind the other teams listed above in their rebuilding timeline.
14B – Warriors - Hard team to rank because they have some nice pieces, but I feel they lack any potential superstar. Curry to me is a great #2. Ellis could also be a nice number 2, though I have a harder time seeing him co-exist next to another star. They have some nice young pieces, but little cap room and will probably have a mid to late lottery pick. One nice trade though and they could move up this list quickly.
16A – Pacers – Poor man’s version of the Warriors. They have some young talent and a good trade could change their fortunes quickly. However, I don’t see Granger or Hibbert having the potential to carry a team anywhere, although both could be great complementary pieces around a star player. Sadly, that will likely be on another team unless Indiana makes the mistake of giving them a Joe Johnson/Andre Iguodala franchise-killing contract.
16B – Bucks – Switch Jennings and Bogut for Granger and Hibbert. Subtract some of the aforementioned young talent and you have the Bucks.
18 – Nuggets – This is a bit speculative as I imagine they trade Melo for something. A combination of young players and picks that will give them a base to work with in the future. Sadly, they are just good enough now, they probably will be looking at a late lottery pick even if Melo is traded.
19 – Raptors - Bargnani, Derozan and Davis give the Raptors 3 potential starters/role players. Calderon is making himself tradeable again. And they should have a good draft pick this year. They also may have some cap space.
20A – Rockets – Here we start the "race to the bottom" for teams who will need to blow everything up to build themselves back up. Houston has a savvy GM and a couple of good young players. I just don’t trust that they are ready to blow it up yet. My potentially misplaced faith in Morey keeps them atop the junk heap.
20B – Trailblazers – This one is painful. They should be much higher on the list. Sadly Roy’s career is likely nearing a premature end. Oden has more hope, but there’s a 99% chance it happens for a different franchise. Aldridge is most likely a #3 player even at his peak. They do have some expiring contracts and young talent though. Although, they may have to trade Aldridge to become bad enough to get the star player they will need in the draft.
20C – 76ers – Really in the same position as the first two teams listed, but with a worse cap situation. However, they also have the most tradeable current "star" in Iguodala and should have a very high draft pick this year.
23 – Hornets – Similar to the teams in the 19 slots, but with less tradeable assets outside of their star. They can at least get assets for Paul, but my guess is that does not take place until next season, which will delay their rebuilding and any chance at a high draft pick for another season.
24 –Cavaliers – Not much young talent, but cap space and a top 5 pick should get them moving in the right direction again.
25 – Suns – This team is going to be lucky to make the 2nd round of the playoffs. They do have a number of expiring contracts though. I’m hoping the acquisition of Vince Carter (and his big expiring contract) means the Suns are taking one last shot and then blowing things up if it doesn’t work. They can still get value for Nash this offseason and start the process of rebuilding.
26 – Spurs – I may get blasted for putting them this low, but I stand by it. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see their current core winning a championship. Duncan is declining. He may be able to win another ring as a cog on a great team, but he’s no longer a superstar capable of leading a team to a championship anymore. Parker and Ginobili don’t fill that role either. And they don’t have the assets to pull in a star via trade. It looks like they will try to make another run or two before rebuilding. They have managed their cap well, so I assume they can blow things up rather quickly. However, I’m also guessing that Poppovich won’t stick around for a rebuild, so barring a miracle, it will be awhile before we see the Spurs contending for another title.
27A – Grizzlies – They have talent, just not enough. Most trades I can see them pulling will move them laterally and not to contender status. Sadly, I think they are stuck in perpetual mediocrity of late lottery/early playoff exits. The Thabeet pick and Conley extensions were franchise altering mistakes.
27B – Hawks – See 26A, but Joe Johnson makes more money than Gay and should deteriorate sooner and be untradeable. At least the Grizzlies have a chance to trade Gay eventually. Josh Smith’s game also won’t age gracefully unless he considerably ups his jump shot and other base skills. If Horford is smart, he’ll be playing elsewhere when his contract is up.
29 – Bobcats – Few tradable assets? Check. Well over the cap? Check. Lack of young talent? Check. Terrible GM and ownership? Double check. Killing professional basketball in Charlotte? Priceless.
30 – Pistons – Like the Bobcats but with worse contracts and somehow worse young talent. At least Augustine, Thomas and Wallace can get something worthwhile. But Stuckey, Monroe and Daye? This team is going to need an amazing top 3 pick to salvage this. And frankly even if they get a slam dunk superstar that Dumar’s can’t pass on (although he might try), with their current cap situation, I don’t trust Dumars to build a nucleus to keep him past his rookie contract.