The 2016-17 NBA season is winding down and it appears as if the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are on a collision course for a Finals rematch from last year.
There’s not much to do from now until the postseason starts, so why not look ahead to next season?
Given the number of players who will be free agents and the way the window is closing for some teams and opening for others, the 2017-18 campaign should look dramatically different than it does now.
Here are the five teams that are expected to surprise the basketball world by either exceeding or falling short of expectations.
Milwaukee Bucks: Trending Upward
If you’ve completely forgotten that there is a professional basketball team in Wisconsin, you are in for quite a shock next year.
The Bucks are already a solid playoff contender, thanks to their talented, young roster. Unfortunately, Milwaukee has been bitten by the injury bug a fair amount this year so if they can stay healthy they should be battling for a top spot in the East a year from now.
Los Angeles Lakers: Trending Upward
Metta World Peace believes the Lakers are on the brink of building a superteam. On Chris Broussard’s weekly podcast, “In The Zone,” World Peace said Los Angeles will put together a team that looks similar to the Warriors as far as superstar talent.
“With time, if this group can stay together, you’ll see a Golden State situation, because you’ll start to see Brandon Ingram take over games, where there’s nothing anybody can do, similar to what Stephen Curry’s doing. You’ll see. Guys have no chance.
“Then D’Angelo Russell, you can’t make mistakes against him, similar to like Klay Thompson. He’s a different player, but you cannot make a mistake against a fourth-year D’Angelo Russell. Right now, he’s in his second year, right?
“And then Julius Randle, with the improvement, look at Draymond Green, pushing the ball. Julius had triple-doubles this year, he had [games of] eight assists, and he’s still raw. So with that being said, you’ve got guys that if they stay together, they’ll win, and they’ll be All-Stars.”
World Peace may be a little higher on the Lakers than some, but they have a lot of young talent including their coach and will be able to draft another one early.
2017-18 will be the year the Lakers turn it around.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Trending Downward
After the magnificent season Russell Westbrook had, the Thunder could only muster up the No. 6 seed in the West. Coupled with the rampant rumors that OKC would like to sign Blake Griffin through free agency which may cause them to struggle to fit him in Billy Donovan’s system, the team may actually take a step back next season as they try and find their identity aside from being “The Russ Show.”
The 76ers: Trending Upward
It may not look like the Sixers are trending upward at the moment: Joel Embiid is injured, Ben Simmons hasn’t stepped foot on an NBA courts, no one really knows how good Jahlil Okafor actually is, and Philadelphia practically gave Nerlens Noel away.
But here’s the truth: The Sixers were on the verge of playoff contention when Embiid became sidelined and he’ll be fine when the start of next season rolls around.
We also know Brett Brown is a much better coach than he gets credit for with this team. Once he has a full complement of actual NBA players at his disposal, Philly should turn The Process into The Result almost overnight.