The NBA is a constantly changing league. Besides the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA hierarchy has been nothing if not fluid.
Just four years ago, the Heat and Pacers dominated the Eastern Conference. Four years before that, the Cavaliers, Magic, Pistons and Celtics were the class of the conference. The Western conference has been similarly volatile despite the Spurs’ constant success. The Lakers dominated the West during Kobe’s prime before the Warriors took over as the most dominate force on the Pacific Coast.
It’s likely that we will see a similar shift in power over the next few years. Five years from now, the league will likely have changed considerably.
In five years, Lebron James will be 37 years old. There’s no ruling out that he’ll still be dominating the league into his late thirties. Most likely, however, his days as a world-beater will be done. The power vacuum in the East could be filled by a number of teams, but these teams have the best chance at rising to the top.
The Cavaliers have set themselves up well for the next few years. LeBron won’t stay at this level forever, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love can keep them a contender into the future. Kyrie will be in his prime in five years and will most likely still be one of the best point guards in the game. He can be the best guy on a championship team.
Lebron’s game will most likely adapt well as he loses athleticism. His vision and playmaking will withstand father time and compliment Kyrie perfectly. The powers of David Griffin will most likely keep the team contending well into the future.
Best Case: Kyrie turns into a superstar and Kevin Love turns into the Kevin Love of old. LeBron turns into a distributor and the Cavs continue to dominate the East year after year until his retirement.
Worst Case: Kyrie stays at the level he’s at now. Kevin Love regresses and loses some of his rebounding prowess. LeBron loses his midrange touch and struggles with injuries. The Cavs are a fringe playoff team.
The Celtics are already a top three team in the East. Besides that, GM Danny Ainge has set them up for future success as well.
Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford will be 31,32 and 35 respectively. Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown will each entering their primes rounding out a solid five man rotation.
The picks they have stashed from Brooklyn will help round out their lineup as well. They look to have a couple of lottery picks over the next two years that should work as assets or turn into solid young talent.
Best Case: If they can land a superstar in the draft they could become a powerhouse and the top seed in the East. Similarly, If they trade some picks to land another superstar, they could elevate themselves into the top spot. Only time will tell, but they look to be a lock as a contender for the next couple of years.
Worst Case: They strike out on their lottery picks over the next two years. Their aging talent becomes injury prone and fails to produce at the same level. They stay a playoff threat, but drop to a five or six seed in the East.
To be a top team in the NBA, you need a superstar. It’s becoming more and more clear that the Bucks have that role filled. Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as one of the brightest stars in the NBA and looks ready to lead this team for the next decade.
The Bucks have a depth of other young stars as well. Jabari Parker and Malcolm Brogdon look like great pieces and Khris Middleton is set to return next year. The Bucks could be set to dominate the league for the next few years.
Best Case: The Greek Freak becomes the best player in the league. He, Parker and Middleton become a Big Three and they become a perennial championship team in the East.
Worst Case: The Greek Freak continues on his trajectory, but the pieces around him don’t develop. He becomes a good player on a bad team and they are exit the playoffs early.
The Sixers could be the biggest unknown in the NBA. They have made huge strides with Joel Embiid this year, but the team’s future is still up in the air.
Like the Bucks, the Sixers have the most important piece of the puzzle. If Joel Embiid can stay healthy he is going to be a star. The question is whether the Sixers can surround him with talent.
Hopefully, Ben Simmons can be another star for the team. And with two potential top ten picks this year, they could add more star power to their lineup. The Sixers have the potential to be a super-team, but also stay at the bottom of the East.
Best Case: They get two more stars in the draft this year. Ben Simmons turns out to be another star, and Joel Embiid turns into the best center in the league. The Sixers contend for the championship every year and dominate a strong Eastern conference.
Teams that will drop:
Verdict: The Bucks are the most likely team to rule the East in five years. With a few future superstars and proven role players, they are set up best for the future. The Sixers have the second best chance. With their injury risks domination is anything but definite, but they have too much talent to rule out. The Cavaliers and Celtics are dark horse candidates to remain on top of the conference as well.
Golden State Warriors:
The rich get richer. The Warriors will most likely take a similar path to the Heat after they signed Lebron James. Although they lacked cap space in the first year, they added depth in James’ second year with the team. Although they lack depth this year, the Golden State Warriors will most likely continue to get better as their four stars hit their prime. They will most likely continue to be the class of the West.
Best Case: The Warriors gain depth to surround their stars. They remain the one seed for the next five years and win championships along the way.
Worst Case: The Warriors can’t retain their superstars. They’re stuck with a middling team that sits in the middle of the conference every year.
San Antonio Spurs:
The Spurs have Kawhi Leonard, Lamarcus Aldridge and a knack for never missing on a free agent signing or draft pick. They will continue to build around Kawhi and remain at the top. As long as they have a star player and the best coach in the league they will continue to contend.
Best Case: They make a splash in free agency. With two superstars and a great supporting cast, Popovich continues to keep this team at the top of the West.
Worst Case: The team struggles to contend, and Kawhi is the only star on the team.
Los Angeles Lakers:
The Lakers have a depth of budding superstars, led by Deangelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. The team is set for the future and have a great young coach in Luke Walton. Whether or not they can contend depends on the progression of Brandon Ingram, but if their stars pan out they could easily turn into one of the best teams in the West.
Best Case: Deangelo Russell and Brandon Ingram turn into superstars and lead the Lakers to championships over the next few years. Luke Walton becomes one of the best coaches in the league and they become the powerhouse of the West.
Worst Case: Brandon Ingram can’t put on weight. Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle don’t live up to their potential. The Lakers can’t execute their turnaround and remain a borderline playoff team.
The Timberwolves have a coach, two stars and a depth of pieces that can contribute or be traded. They will also most likely have a top pick in this year’s draft. Although their timetable has already been pushed back, it is matter of when not if they will be the class of the west.
Best Case: Towns and Wiggins become superstars at the level of Durant and Westbrook, but the team succeeds and wins championships. They become a perennial one seed.
Worst Case: The Wolves fall into a trap of becoming a great team, but never an elite team. They never develop the pieces around Towns and Wiggins, and stagnate around the 2 or 3 seed.
Teams that will drop:
Los Angeles Clippers
Verdict: The Timberwolves are the most likely team to dominate the West in five years. They have two future superstars in Wiggins and Towns, and they have the young pieces around them to build a great team. The Warriors are the second most likely, as they already have the proven stars, but their stars will be aging in five years. The Lakers and Spurs will be dark horse contenders because of their star power and their respective coaching prowess.