This past NBA season was an exciting one. Fans were treated to a rematch of the 2013 NBA Finals; Kevin Durant, after another stellar season, finally wrestled the MVP trophy away from Lebron James; and fresh faces like Damian Lillard evinced that, once the league’s old guard retires, the NBA will be in good hands for years to come. A new commissioner took over for David Stern, which is only fitting since the league appears to be rapidly changing. Great coaches like Doc Rivers and Greg Popovich shined, and ageless wonders like Tim Duncan and Ray Allen put forth luminous displays of poise and talent. These highlights only scratch the surface of this past season.
The season was not without controversy of course. Donald Sterling attracted attention away from the playoffs and the players when his racial bigotry and its extent became public knowledge. The NBA acted swiftly, essentially expelling Sterling from the league. With Sterling out of the way, the league looks primed for another exciting offseason full of major transactions, an offseason that will lay the foundation for an exciting 2014-2015 season.
In the spirit of looking away from the murky waters of the past and into the bright and sunny future, this list looks at 5 NBA teams that will significantly improve their records next season. For each team, a case has been made as to why they will drastically improve. While some of it is speculation, a great deal of solid, if not truly empirical, evidence has been given to justify each team’s inclusion on this list. Enjoy!
5. Chicago Bulls
In the 2013-2014 season, the Bulls were not that bad, finishing the year 48-34 and making the playoffs. Given that kind of season, it would appear that there isn’t much room for significant improvement from the Bulls next season. However, the team played the majority of the season without Derrick Rose, who only played in 10 games before going down with an injury. Moreover, the team traded their best scorer, Luol Deng, midway through the season to free up cap space. The rest of the team, then, played a significant chunk of the season without their best player and without any real scoring threat. If all things go smoothly for the Bulls this offseason, they will significantly improve on their 2013-2014 record next season.
With Derrick Rose’s return, the Bulls will already be a contender to win the Eastern Conference. But the cap space that they will have when they amnesty Carlos Boozer—a likely decision given his lack of production and exorbitant salary—will afford them the opportunity to make a highly attractive offer to one of this offseason’s free agents, the most notable of which being Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony. As it stands, the Bulls look like front runners to land either James or Anthony. If they do, the team will instantly become the favourites to win the Eastern Conference. The Bulls definitely look ready for success in the coming year.
4. New Orleans Pelicans
Last season, the New Orleans Pelicans finished near the bottom of the Western Conference with a 34-48 record and a 4-12 record in the Southwest Division. The team was hurt by playing in the best division in professional basketball, as every other team from their division—Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs—made the playoffs. Next season, the Southwest Division will stay uber-competitive, but unlike those other teams, the New Orleans Pelicans will still be relatively young. Indeed, it seems like the Pelicans hit their proverbial floor last season, and no one can be certain how high their ceiling will ultimately turn out to be.
In 2014-2015, the team will be led by a number of talented young guns who can score the ball. Since Anthony Davis entered the league, he has looked every bit the real deal that he was expected to be when he left Kentucky. He averaged 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game in just his second season. Already a formidable frontcourt talent, Davis’ stats will improve as he continues to put on muscle and hone his scoring ability. Also, Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon complement Davis nicely out of the backcourt. Holiday has steadily improved since entering the league, and last season he averaged 14.3 points, 7.9 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game. And though an injury hampered him, he still averaged 15.4 points per game last season. The best thing about these two guys is their age; they are 24 and 25 respectively. If the Pelicans’ front office returns this core group of players next season, the team will surely improve.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
Last season was disastrous for the Los Angeles Lakers and their fans. In a city where fans expect their team to compete for the championship every year, the Lakers really disappointed. However, and everyone already knows this, Kobe Bryant was forced out of the lineup by an injury for the majority of the season. Bryant’s importance to the Lakers’ success cannot be overstated, as he is one of the greatest players to ever play the game. It is, then, not a big stretch to say that the Lakers will significantly improve on their 27-55 record next season.
What also boosts the Lakers’ chances of improving their record by a wide margin is the team’s cap space, which will enable them to be competitive in the free agent market this offseason. As has been widely reported, Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony are both free agents, and the addition of one of these guys to the roster would make the Lakers a better team on offensive. However, the Lakers could also choose to pursue a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love. Kevin Love would pair nicely with Kobe, and he would certainly improve the Lakers’ abysmal rebounding statistics, as they finished 25th in the league last season in rebounding. Whatever the front office decides, any addition to the team’s roster will help Kobe out a great deal and lead to a better record next season.
2. Detroit Pistons
In the 2013-2014 NBA season, the Detroit Pistons finished with a 29-53 record and, of course, failed to make the playoffs. It has been a tough road for the franchise since the disbandment of the formidable core of players that won a championship back in 2004. The Pistons’ front office has tried, though, signing Josh Smith last season to, for some, a surprisingly lucrative contract. Though he had a good season, there is talk that Detroit wants to move Smith this offseason, a move that ostensibly makes the team much weaker, as Smith can score, defend, and rebound fairly well. However, moving Josh Smith might just help this team find its identity.
If the Smith is dealt, the team will still have its talented core of young players—namely, Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond. Brandon Jennings is only 24, and he has shown, albeit inconsistently, that he can be an elite scoring threat, so one can only assume that consistency will come with age. Most importantly, however, Greg Monroe’s and Andre Drummond’s maturation will be the cause of this team’s improvement next season. Just 24 years old last season, Greg Monroe averaged 15.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, shooting slightly below 50% from the field. He has been improving with each year in the league, so he should be even better next season. Andre Drummond averaged 13.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game last season, shooting over 60% from the field. He is only 20, so he should also be better next season as he enters his third year in the league. With these three guys, the future looks bright for the Detroit Pistons—at least brighter than last season.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers failed to make the playoffs with a 33-49 record. Since Lebron James jilted the team for the glitz and glam of South Beach, things have not been rosy. The team also made a woeful pick with the first-overall selection in the NBA Draft last year, taking Anthony Bennett out of UNLV. Moreover, Andrew Bynum, who was signed for over $10 million last offseason, gave the Cavaliers absolutely nothing to write home about. Thankfully for Cleveland fans, Bynum is out, and last year is, well, history. With one of the league’s premier point guards, Kyrie Irving, and another first-overall pick in this year’s Draft, which is glutted with talent, the Cleveland Cavaliers looks like they will significantly improve their record next season.
What likewise increases the team’s chances of improving next season is the fact that Lebron James recently opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat. As it stands, there is no guarantee that James will leave Miami. But as several teams around the league jockey for position to sign him or Carmelo Anthony, the Cleveland Cavaliers look to be the only other team besides the Heat that have a real chance of signing King James. The addition of James will give the Cavaliers a potent offensive threat to take the scoring pressure off of Irving. A good rebounding team, the Cavaliers struggled to put points up on the board last season, so more offense is what they need. They will surely get more offense through the Draft, free agency, or both. It should be exciting!