With the departure of Kawhi Leonard from Toronto and Kevin Durant from Golden State, the race for the 2020 NBA championship is wide open. A handful of teams will be considered legitimate contenders when the new NBA season tips off three weeks from today. For a look at where all 30 teams stack up to start the season, read on.
30. Charlotte Hornets (2019-19 Record: 39-43)
The Charlotte Hornets had the worst off-season of any team. They selected P.J. Washington (PF from Kentucky) number 12 overall. A fair comparison would be Trey Lyles, who like Washington can do a little bit of everything from the 4 with high potential. Their biggest loss was not re-signing long time guard Kemba Walker. Instead, they brought in former Celtics backup Terry Rozier on a three year, 58 million dollar contract. The Hornets currently have six players paid over 10 million, and next year their cap space should exceed $40 million to help them rebuild and increase their youth.
29. Phoenix Suns (2018-19 Record: 19-63)
The Suns had a somewhat similar off-season to the Hornets by acquiring aging point guard Ricky Rubio, as well as Frank Kaminsky, Dario Saric, and Aron Baynes. The team selected Cam Johnson, a fifth-year Tar Heel, and Ty Jerome, a raw talented backup guard from Virginia in this year’s draft. Phoenix will look for Kelly Oubre to emerge along with last year’s number one overall pick, De’Andre Ayton and scoring phenom Devin Booker.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers (2018-19 Record: 19-63)
The Cavs recently extended forward Kevin Love, who will likely be on the move this coming season but will definitely be of some use up until the trade deadline in February. They also have a solid young core consisting of Darius Garland, Colin Sexton, and Larry Nance, Jr., who showed some light last year.
27. Memphis Grizzlies 2018-19 Record (33-49)
The Grizzlies selected Murray State guard Ja Morant at number two in this year’s draft. Morant, second year big Jaren Jackson Jr, Grayson Allen, and Jonas Valanciunas could be interesting, but they will struggle to get a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference.
26. Orlando Magic (2018-19 Record: 42-40)
The Magic continue to compete but fail to bring in top free agents. They signed forward Al-Farouq Aminu and re-signed All-Star center Nikola Vucevic. A young core of Aron Gordon, Chuma Okeke, Jonathan Isaac, and Markelle Fultz will be exciting, but it will be a steal if the Magic can secure the eighth seed.
25. Washington Wizards (2018-19 Record: 32-50)
With John Wall out for the entire year, and Bradley Beal and rookie Rui Hachimura carrying the team on their backs it’s hard to put the Wizards any closer to the top. Letting go of Thomas Satoransky won’t help at all. Maybe trading both Wall and Beal for picks will move this franchise in the right direction.
24. Chicago Bulls (2018-19 Record: 22-60)
Rookie Coby White, Zach Lavine, Lauri Markennen, and Thaddeus Young have little chemistry together, but this young core can sneak possibly 29 to 35 wins. Their best chance of making the playoffs is to trade for Kevin Love or Bradley Beal to team up with Lavine and upcoming free agent Otto Porter Jr.
23. Atlanta Hawks (2018-19 Record: 29-53)
The Hawks have one of the brightest futures ahead of them. Pairing forwards John Collins and De’Andre Hunter along with guards Kevin Huerter and Trae Young, this team has a good chance at a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and they will be a threat in the coming years.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves (2018-19 Record: 36-46)
With players like Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, and Jarrett Culver surrounding superstar Karl-Anthony Towns it is hard to put the Wolves any lower, but with talent like this 22 is a perfect spot for Minnesota.
21. New York Knicks (2018-19 Record: 17-65)
After a dismal season last year, the Knicks will be more competitive this year. It’s unfortunate the Knicks could not land a big name free agent, but they did not give up after the news of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving signing with the rival Brooklyn Nets. Adding players Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, and drafting number 3 pick R.J. Barrett will help returning players Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, and Dennis Smith Jr. grab the seventh or eighth seed in the East.
20. Miami Heat (2018-19 Record: 39-43)
Everyone knows Tyler Herro can shoot, Bam Adebayo can block, and Jimmy Butler can hit step back mid-range shots, but if one of those players goes down, the Heat have no depth. An aging Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk, and Goran Dragic have not shown enough to convince to put the Heat any closer. The only reason they are at 20 is from pure, first line talent.
19. Detroit Pistons (2018-19 Record: 41-41)
It’s now or never for the Pistons. Even though it’s seeming like Blake Griffin is just getting better, everyone around him is getting older like Derrick Rose, Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond, and Markieff Morris. With an underrated draft pick of Sekou Doumbouya and shooter Luke Kennard, this team has very slim chance of missing the playoffs; however, they will struggle against a team like Indiana or Boston in the playoffs.
18. Sacramento Kings 2018-19 Record (39-43)
Some experts believe the Kings have the best young core in the league. Marvin Bagley, De’Aaron Fox, and Bogdan Bogdanovic have shown the league a glimpse of the future, each having their unique skills. Re-signing Harrison Barnes may give them a boost at a run for the 2020 playoffs.
17. Oklahoma City Thunder (2018-19 Record:49-33)
The best move for the Thunder right now is to start watching college and high school basketball. There is an end to every journey, and Sam Presti had to end the exciting journey the Thunder once had. Presti managed to get every high school basketball player and still get players Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Chris Paul. Sam Presti should win manager of the year while he watches his team rebuild into a powerhouse over the next six years.
16. Dallas Mavericks (2018-19 Record: 33-49)
It may only be a two man team with Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic, but the addition of Seth Curry, along with returning guards, Jalen Brunson and Tim Hardaway Jr could help Dallas sneak the into the eighth seed in the West.
15. New Orleans Pelicans (2018-19 Record: 33-49)
The Pelicans are a unique team to be sure. New Orleans may have had the best draft night in team history, selecting Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes, and Nickeil Walker-Alexander. The additions of Josh Hart, Derrick Favors, and Lonzo Ball make this team a threat for a possible upset in the playoffs.
14. San Antonio Spurs (2018-19 Record: 48-34)
With a coach like Greg Popovich and All-Stars Demar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge 14 is the right spot for the Spurs. Rudy Gay, Patrick Mills, and Dejounte Murray will make this team fight like always for a heavily contested playoff spot in the West.
13. Brooklyn Nets (2018-19 Record: 42-40)
Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, and Carris Lavert make an interesting squad with veteran De’Andre Jordan. They will add Kevin Durant for next season. Irving showed the league he’s not the best leader for a team, so this placement is based off of talent. Fans will have to wait for next season for the Nets to be Finals contenders.
12. Indiana Pacers (2018-19 Record: 48-34)
The secret of the Pacers offseason was to just stack the best average players available like Jeremy Lamb, Malcom Brogdon, T.J. Warren, T.J. McConnell, and Aaron Holiday. Returning stars Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, and Victor Oladipo will help surge this Pacers team deep in the playoffs.
11. Toronto Raptors (2018-19 Record: 58-24)
Let’s face it; this team isn’t nearly as good as they were last year. Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol will make the playoffs, but when they face a serious team like Philadelphia or Milwaukee, they won’t win in a seven game series.
10. Boston Celtics (2018-19 Record: 49-33)
Filling the gap at point guard was a must as well as signing big man Enes Kanter to help down low. Team USA featured four Celtics players, and not one impressed the country as they failed to finish in the top three in the FIBA World Cup, so 10 is a fair spot for the Celtics.
9. Utah Jazz (2018-19 Record: 50-32)
Donovan Mitchell was the only U.S. player that impressed at the World Cup this summer, but the Jazz were heavily represented by Rudy Gobert, as his French team snagged the bronze medal. The additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic will fit right in with Quin Snyder’s system and lead the Jazz to the playoffs.
8. Portland Trailblazers (2018-19 Record: 53-29)
Fans have seen Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum get swept time and time again, as well as change franchises forever in the playoffs. Big men Whiteside and Nurkic might battle each other for rebounds, but this team will be special like always on offense.
7. Denver Nuggets 2018-19 Record (54-28)
Depth kills, and the Nuggets continue to get deeper each year. Having players like Mason Plumlee, Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, and Will Barton on the bench must be relaxing for coach Mike Malone. Players like Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, and Jamaal Murray will secure the Nuggets a playoff spot with ease.
6. Golden State Warriors (2018-19: Record 57-25)
It’s the beginning of a new era, but the talent hasn’t gone away. Klay Thompson is projected to return in early April, but a healthy Steph Curry and Draymond Green can lead a team easily.
5. Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers 2018-19 Record (51-31)
The Sixers have so much size, but can Brett Brown put it all together? Tobias Harris is a perfect second option on team with a dual-threat point guard, and Joel Embiid is an independent beast without much discipline. Number 5 on this list is the right spot because 28 teams in the East may not be able to handle the Sixers on offense.
4. Houston Rockets (2018-19 Record: 53-29)
James Harden and Russell Westbrook are an interesting pair to say the least, but a talented one for sure. Hopefully the Rockets age factor isn’t a problem, as they are the oldest team at an average age of 28. The biggest problem for Westbrook and Harden is to simply pass the ball whenever the time is right. If there were two balls on the court the Rockets would win the Finals for sure.
3. Milwaukee Bucks (2018-19 Record: 60-22)
Last year’s team was special. Brook Lopez had more threes than Kobe ever had in a season and had more blocks than Kevin Garnett ever had in a season, along with Giannis winning MVP. Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe will send this team very far into the playoffs without much struggle.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (2018-19 Record: 37-45)
There has been a battle for L.A. since Kobe’s re-occurring injuries, but now the era of L.A. has officially begun. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo, and Dwight Howard are all heading to the Hall of Fame at some point, but now,they have a big task at hand. The only questions surrounding the Western Conference Finals for this team are age and defense. A possible Finals lock, but there is one team in their way.
1. Los Angeles Clippers (2018-19 Record: 48-34)
Defense wins championships; offense wins the game. The Clippers have both. Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac are going to be scary. Offensively, with Lou Williams, Landry Shamet, Mo Harkless, and Jamychal Green coming off the bench, the Clippers will be able to put up 120 and give up no more than 109 on any given night. A new battle for L.A. has stirred, and the Clippers have the advantage.
Ryan Jubulis is a staff writer for The Rambler. He enjoys football and basketball, and is a member of the Class of 2021.