There may not be basketball to watch, but when has that ever stopped anyone from prognosticating about what would be happening if there were basketball?
Such is the case with this most recent edition of ESPN’s NBA Future Power Rankings. In it, analysts Kevin Pelton and Bobby Marks rated each team across five categories — players, management, money, market, and draft.
To cut right to the chase, the top three teams over the next 3 years according to the future Power Rankings are the Lakers, Clippers, and Warriors. That seems to make perfect sense on its face, and who am I compared to Analytic Giants such as Pelton and Marks. (I’m just the homer/genius who correctly predicted the Mavericks would never be under .500 this season.)
However! Don’t those choices seem juuuust a bit convenient? A little “of the moment,” no? Two teams with the best record in the West, and another coming off of a historically dominant 5-year stretch. Real creative.
In 3 seasons LeBron will be 38, and the Lakers may well be in need of another savior. Kawhi and Paul George, a duo made up of players who have been perhaps the league’s most fickle stars over the past 3 seasons, and a Golden State team that will no longer have the benefit of an absurd cap structure that saw them pay the league’s first unanimous MVP $11 million per year. In fact, Golden State is already carrying four enormous contracts (Curry, Thompson, Green and Andrew Wiggins), three of whom are over 30, and two of those just missed nearly the entire season with injury.
Look, LA is still LA, so they may very well get that next savior before they need to hit the reset button. We saw in their post-Kobe, pre-LeBron iteration that even the mighty Lakers aren’t immune to some lackluster seasons. That said, we just saw how quickly they can go from garbage heap to contender.
Maybe Kawhi and Paul George finally like where they’ve ended up and stop jumping around the league. The Clippers seem to be a very well run organization with Doc Rivers coaching, Owner Steve Ballmer unafraid of loosening the purse strings, and Jerry West already proving he has the chops to create some impressive personnel moves.
And Golden State with a healthy Curry and Klay Thompson as well as two upcoming lottery picks do admittedly have a pathway to extend their dynasty. That said, three years is a looooong time in the NBA. I don’t consider it all that unlikely that two of those top-3 teams find themselves either on the edge of the playoffs or even the lottery in 3 years time. Each of them isn’t so much the future of the NBA as they are the present of the NBA. A league that has shown the only thing that is constant is change. One man’s opinion.
Anyway, enough about California teams. Where’s Dallas stack up? Well, readers, I don’t want to panic you, but Dallas is certainly not being underestimated in these rankings. Far from it, in fact. The Mavericks find themselves tied for 6th with the Toronto Raptors.
Of the five ranking categories, the Mavericks earned their highest marks in the “Player” department. Not hard to see why when Luka Doncic flashed his MVP caliber and Kristaps Porzingis started to strike fear into opposing defenses again before the season was suspended. The hardest thing to do in this league is to lock in super star talent, and it’s looking likely — even shading towards probable — that Dallas managed to completely alter the outlook of this team in the span of a single season by drafting Doncic and stealing KP away from the Knicks.
Some good to middling grades in most other categories — 9th for Management, 11th in both Money and Market categories — aren’t worth arguing over… but if I was going to, I would say that Dallas as the 11th best market behind teams like Milwaukee, Chicago and Houston is a little hard to compute. Do players want to play in Chicago based solely on 90s Michael Jordan highlights? I guess Giannis is enough to elevate Milwaukee above Dallas? And Houston?! The town that has everything Dallas has but worse, plus 2 aging stars? Okay, okay. I digress…
The Mavericks find themselves all the way down at 26th in the draft category, which comes as no surprise. After all, the team made moves to trade just about every 1st round pick we were legally allowed to in order to obtain the aforementioned dynamic duo of Doncic and Porzingis.
All things considered, getting the nod for 6th ahead of teams like Denver, who seem one step away from breaking through as a contender, Brooklyn, who is one healthy Kevin Durant away from re-ordering the entire Eastern Conference, and the 76ers, who were one-fewer bounce on a Kawhi Leonard jumper away from seeing themselves in the finals, is a big vote of confidence from the World Wide Leader™️.
Much is made of the Spurs otherworldly stretch of contention through the 2010s, but the Mavericks were right there for much of that time, and after just a few seasons spent wallowing in the dredges of the league, they find themselves strapped to a Slovenian-made ballistic missile fueled by hype that we might once again see our team in the finals in the near future. A far cry from what similarly dismal teams like Phoenix, Detroit and Charlotte have been dealing with recently, and which shows no signs of changing any time soon.
That’s to say nothing of the New York Knickerbockers who, let’s be honest, I’m just going to assume is dead last.
What’s that? I’m being told that the Knicks are, in fact, 27th and the Cleveland Cavaliers have been given the dubious honor of having the worst future outlook? I see… well, six of one, half-dozen of the other, am I right?