Who Will Win a Title Before 2028?

Ranking all 30 NBA teams based on talent, future assets and organizational principles

Aug. 31, 2017 — Source: Omar Rawlings/Getty Images North America
  1. Dominance of superstars. Having one of the best players in the league makes it relatively easy to build a title contender; other sports require more surrounding talent.
  2. Longevity of superstars. When a team gets one of those transcendent players, they are set up to win for a decade. Football careers are shorter, whereas stars matter far less in baseball.
  3. Difficulty of upsets. The best teams win more often in basketball than any other sport. The high number of possessions and low importance of each possession decreases the randomness of outcomes.
  4. Importance of franchise stability. Given the value of stars and lack of randomness, the best-run franchises tend to win across eras.
  1. How good is the current team?
  2. What is their best young player’s ceiling?
  3. How many assets do they have (young players, future picks, value contracts)?
  4. How good is their coach?
  5. How good is their GM?
  6. How willing is their owner to maximize spending and minimize meddling?
  7. How attractive is their market to free agents?

First Tier: The End-All, Be-All

1. Golden State Warriors

I know this is a list ranking teams based on how likely they are to win a championship in the next 10 years, and I don’t want to discourage you from reading further. The truth is, though, that the Warriors are the only team that is actually likely to win a championship in the next 10 years. In fact, they are more likely to win multiple championships than our № 2 ranked team is to win one.

Second Tier: It looks good on paper…

2. Boston Celtics
3. San Antonio Spurs
4. Philadelphia 76ers

Now we’re in the real world, where every team’s case is flawed. The Spurs edge the Sixers because, while Philly has the best duo of young stars in the league, neither is likely to ever be as good as Kawhi Leonard, who is only two years older than Joel Embiid. And then they have Gregg Popovich, R.C. Buford and Peter Holt, the holy trinity of NBA upper management.

Third Tier: The Premier Non-Premier Franchise

5. Houston Rockets

The Rockets are in a tier by themselves. They check enough boxes to be in Tier 2 (they’re a 55-to-60-win team, they have an MVP-level leader, a good coach, a great GM, a seemingly-committed owner, and above-average free agent appeal), but none of those checks are definitive enough. Morey does not have the vault of assets Boston or Philly does. James Harden might not be good enough to be the best player on a title team. D’Antoni is no Pop. The Rockets are peaking at the height of the Warriors era.

Fourth Tier: …but we still have that guy!

6. Cleveland Cavaliers
7. Milwaukee Bucks

Both of these Midwestern franchises are wrought with problems. Coaching, front office, ownership and market are real concerns. The future is murky in Cleveland with James’ impending free agency, as it is in Milwaukee with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ceiling and desire to be a Buck long term both undetermined.

Fifth Tier: One of these 10 teams will do it

8. Toronto Raptors
9. Los Angeles Lakers
10. New York Knicks
11. Portland Trail Blazers
12. Minnesota Timberwolves
13. Denver Nuggets
14. Oklahoma City Thunder
15. Utah Jazz
16. Dallas Mavericks
17. Washington Wizards
18. New Orleans Pelicans

This tier is where the fun is. Each of these 11 franchises has a realistic path towards title contention, while each could also be in the lottery eight times in the coming decade. My feeling is that one of these teams will win a title, maybe two, maybe none.

  1. The Pelicans find a great GM, get out of cap jail and build a 50-win team quick enough to re-sign Davis, and then find the right coach to elevate them to real contender status.
  2. The Jazz—with the roster flexibility, draft record, coach, and depth already in place—hit one home run via the draft or trade to become real contenders.

Sixth Tier: One of these teams will contend in the post-LeBron East

19. Detroit Pistons
20. Miami Heat
21. Indiana Pacers

Without any remaining current contenders or elite collections of young talent, the teams best equipped to contend are those that can realistically become one of those two things.

Seventh Tier: Who has the assets to have any hope?

22. Phoenix Suns
23. Los Angeles Clippers
24. Orlando Magic
25. Brooklyn Nets
26. Atlanta Hawks
27. Charlotte Hornets
28. Sacramento Kings
29. Chicago Bulls

All of these teams are bad. Some know they’re bad (Suns, Hawks), while others are in denial (Clippers, Hornets). It doesn’t really matter though. The Clippers could pivot into a rebuild in the coming months, and still be in a better position than the pickless Nets, the prospectless Hawks and the Reinsdorf-owned Bulls.

Eighth Tier: The end-all, end-all

30. Memphis Grizzlies

Forget the interim head coach, the puppet front office and the soap opera ownership situation. This team’s best young player is Dillon Brooks. If it wants better prospects, it would have to trade Marc Gasol—you know, the guy it fired its good young coach for. Even tanking is not a great option, considering it owes Boston its 2019 first rounder.



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