As the NBA playoffs wear on, more and more fans grow disappointed by another season being cut short, forcing them to look ahead to next season in hopes of bigger, better things from their team.
Despite the fact that any team has a chance to make the playoffs next year, there are a few teams who have much brighter futures than the rest of the league.
So as the focus is rightfully placed on the 2010 playoffs and the teams still contending, let’s take a look at three teams who should be ruling the NBA once the 2013 playoffs roll through.
Working under the assumption that the 2013 Blazers won’t have the same injury issues as the 2010 Blazers, this might be the best team in the West. Portland has drafted for the future, and it seems the only things that have been slowing them down are, in fact, injuries. Despite losing both of their centers and almost all of their key guys missing significant periods of time with injuries, they still made it to the playoffs in a loaded West. Not only did they make the playoffs, they were a six-seed who gave the Phoenix Suns a serious scare.
The NBA draft has been the Blazers best friend since the turn of the decade. Unlike most contenders, they have built their roster almost entirely through the draft. Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, Martell Webster, Lamarcus Aldridge, Jerryd Bayless, and Nicolas Batum are all guys that the Blazers drafted themselves or traded for in draft-day deals. That is an unbelievable core group that was built solely by good management. Roy is an All-Star with certifiable superstar talent. Webster and Bayless are scorers who can go off at anytime, with range that GM’s drool over. Batum and Oden are defensive specialists that make the Blazers one of the more formidable teams in the league. The wild-card of that group is Aldridge, a talented power forward who has all the skills to be one of the best big men in the game. If Aldridge can continue to develop his post-game to go with a nice mid-range jumper, he can be a dangerous offensive weapon.
Like most teams who become title contenders, the Blazers have also had some great luck. In 2005, they drafted Randy Foye, then convinced the Timberwolves to switch draft picks with them. All they got in return was Roy, their best player. The next year, the Blazers were able to trade picks with the Bulls after taking Tyrus Thomas. That move netted them Aldridge, only their biggest weapon inside. If there is one draft decision that seems to have been made incorrectly by the Blazers, it was choosing Oden over Kevin Durant in 2007. However, based on need and the current roster, that was the right pick for a Blazers squad who already had their scorer and inside offensive presence on the roster. Perhaps the best move the Blazers made was a deal they couldn’t close. Prized free-agent Hedo Turkoglu was supposed to sign a five year deal with the Blazers that would have tied them up financially. Turkoglu backed out at the last second to sign a deal with the Raptors, and the way he played this season shows Portland that they came out with the better part of that situation.
The Bulls are the biggest question mark of any team with the potential to become a contender, but it’s hard to argue that any team in the East has a brighter future right now than Chicago. With a core of Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah, the Bulls have some great pieces to build around. The problem with this team right now has been consistency, but that’s exactly what you can expect from a young team who had to deal with coaching controversy all season long.
Despite the controversy, the Bulls were able to make the playoffs this season and are lead by a superstar-in-the-making in Rose. The second-year point out of Memphis is already considered one of the best point guards in the NBA, and he continues to improve. Rose is a freakish athlete, with a combination of speed, hops, and strength that you don’t see in point guards today. The best comparison for Rose would be the physical abilities LeBron James has as compared to other small forwards. While that may be blasphemous to some people, the fact of the matter is that Rose has a package of talent we’ve rarely seen in a player at his position.
The Bulls are in a position to be a great squad for the rest of this decade because of what they’ve done in the last couple of seasons. The core of the squad began with the 2004 draft, when the Bulls traded for the rights to Luol Deng from Phoenix. While his career has so far been marked by injuries, Deng is still considered a cornerstone for the Chicago franchise. In 2007, the Bulls lucked into a great pick-up when they drafted rebounding machine Joakim Noah out of Florida. Noah fell to the Bulls at the ninth pick as guys like Mike Conley, Jr., Yi Jianlin, Corey Brewer, and Brandan Wright went ahead of the two-time NCAA champ. The next season, the Bulls got the number one pick in a two player draft, having to decide if they wanted Rose or Michael Beasley. The Bulls made the right pick in Rose and the rest will be history.
The Bulls biggest wild-card is their cap space this summer. While they can still build through the draft, they have an opportunity this offseason that not many other young teams have in that they have the money and talent to lure a max-deal free-agent like hometown star Dwyane Wade – or even the greatest prize of them all, LeBron James. Depending on what happens this offseason, the Bulls could be defending champions three years from now instead of a young team vying for a title.
Oklahoma City Thunder:
Perhaps the best of them all, the Thunder proved this postseason that they are indeed ready for the spotlight. After pushing the Lakers in a six-game first round series, Oklahoma City has shown everyone that they are a team to be reckoned with – sooner rather than later. With an average age of 25, they boast a starting lineup filled with guys aged 21, 21, 23, 26, and 26. Their best bench players? Those would be James Harden and Serge Ibaka, both only 20 years old.
The most terrifying thing about all those ages? Their two best players, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, are the youngest starters they have. Durant just became the youngest scoring champion in NBA history, and Westbrook showed the rest of the league he is ready for the spotlight when he single-handedly dominated the Lakers. Although Oklahoma City won’t have enough cap-space to make a big splash this offseason, they will have enough to fill the one area of need they have, and that is the center position. It seems that the only thing stopped the Thunder from knocking off the Lakers was a lack of size inside, an issue that can be addressed this offseason.
The Thunder are a team that, with the exception of Thabo Sefolosha, were built 100% through the draft. The roster-building began in 2007, when the former Seattle Supersonics lucked into Durant with the second pick of the draft, then shipped off All-Star Ray Allen for the fifth pick in that same draft to take their other starting forward, Jeff Green. The next year, the Thunder surprised some people by taking Westbrook with the fourth pick in the draft to be their point guard of the future. Then in 2009, they showed that they are a team drafting for need and building a specific type of roster when they took the sharp-shooting Harden third overall, ahead of many more highly-touted prospects. The Thunder is a team that is only one big man and some more playoff experience away from being a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
While trades and free-agent signings can instantly take a team from fringe playoff squad to bona-fide title contender, teams like the Bulls, Thunder and Blazers have built talented rosters by using the NBA Draft the way it was meant to be used. Core rosters that have developed together from the beginning give these squads a much bigger advantage than teams that are thrown together to contend for a title in one offseason. While talent is something you can find on every NBA squad, chemistry is not. You can’t buy chemistry, you can only hope that you build it correctly and it leads you to the promised land. In the cases of these three teams, so far so good.
Belal Abdelfattah is BSO’s newest writer and comes from a long background in sports writing at the Sports Authority Blog and The Block Radio. You can follow Belal on Twitter athttp://www.twitter.com/belal_a