Even though the NBA season has ended just recently, the next season is already in the near future. We expect the 2021 season to begin sometime between January and February. This year’s free-agent class is not going to be as special as last year, but some decisions that will be made could still shake up the league for years to come.
There are teams in both the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference that will be in the same position, some will be in a worse position and some will be in a better situation. While the seeds in both of the conferences may be unclear right now, there are certain tiers for NBA teams next year, so we are going to break down each of them.
Tier 1- The Los Angeles Lakers, The Los Angeles Clippers, The Milwaukee Bucks, The Golden State Warriors, The Brooklyn Nets.
The Lakers should still be pretty heavy title favorites after defeating the Heat to win it all just under two weeks ago. They are bringing back both LeBron James and Anthony Davis who were the most dominant duo we have seen in quite some time. The surrounding depth on this team may look different, but with a player like LeBron and the excellent and consistent front office of the Lakers, there is no reason to believe they will not be in the same position as they were last year.
The Clippers were the clear upset and disappointment of last year’s season, at least in the West. Many people had them beating the Lakers in the conference final, but they were unable to even make it out of the second round while blowing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets. They just recently hired a new coach in Ty Lue, who has won a championship before. The talent is still there, will the culture change enough for them to take the next step?
The Milwaukee Bucks were just as disappointing only in what seems to be an easier Eastern Conference. While having the leagues best record once again, they were heavy favorites to come out of the East. They ended up losing in the second round in five games to the Miami Heat, and most of the games were not even close. If they want to keep Giannis on a long term deal, they are going to have to convince him that this is going to change or that a star is coming to help.
They do not have that much time left so they will need to figure that out soon. The Warriors will be back with a full and healthy roster, and even though teams around them have gotten better, they deserve the respect from being in five straight finals. They will be back and with Steph, Klay, and Draymond looking for revenge, they may be giving some teams trouble this year.
The Brooklyn Nets are a team that many people have already forgotten about. They will now have a healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to use next year in what looks like to be a completely wide open Eastern Conference. The Lakers proved that two dominant superstars could take your team to the Finals and that is what exactly the Nets will look to be doing.
Tier 2- Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors.
The Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and the Toronto Raptors are pretty even for the most part. Toronto and Boston battled back and forth in a seven game series that involved mostly close games. The Celtics were the team that came out on top, but it could of easily been the Raptors.
The Heat went on to beat the Celtics in six games in the conference finals in another series that could have been easily lost by the team who won it. These three teams should have their full rosters back and should be battling back and forth for that 2-4 seed once again in the Eastern Conference.
The same could be said for these three Western Conference teams, the Houston Rockets, the Utah Jazz, and the Denver Nuggets. The first rounded consisted of a battle between Denver and Utah in a seven-game series that the Nuggets ended up pulling out. They were down 3-1 in this series and showed that Jamal Murray and Jocic are the real deal.
The Rockets were once again met with a very disappointing exit from the playoffs as they were bounced out in five games to the Lakers. All signs point to Harden and Russ being back with them next year, but everything else around them, including the coach, could look very different.
These three teams could make a run at the California teams if they stick to their craft and develop the stars that carried them throughout the playoffs. It will be very interesting to see if these teams take a step back or a step forward with a shortened offseason.
Tier 3- The Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, Portland Trailblazers, Phoenix Suns and the Washington Wizards.
These teams round out the eight playoff teams in both the Eastern and Western Conference. The Phoenix Suns and the Washington Wizards were teams who did not make the playoffs last year, but they are teams that could easily do it this year.
The Wizards now have a healthy John Wall and Bradley Beal coming back in a very weak conference. These two are easily enough to carry the Wizards to at the very least an 8 seed in the East. They even made a push for it last year without those two stars.
The Phoenix Suns were the early story of the bubble, they went on to win basically every game that they needed to but just lost out to the Grizzlies and the Blazers for the play-in game. This team is very young and with stars like Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton coming back healthy, this team could make a run at the eighth seed in a very stacked Western Conference.
The 76ers were without a doubt one of the biggest shockers this year as many expected than to make a run for the finals. They added Al Horford in the offseason along with the additions of Tobias Harris who many people say is extremely overpaid. That may be the problem with this team in general, the bad contracts they have.
Head coach Brett Brown was fired this past offseason and they brought in former Clippers coach Doc Rivers. Can this team take the next step forward, or is it another rebuilding moment for the Sixers?
The Trailblazers were dealing with many injuries all season long and still made the playoffs somehow. They lost in five games to the Lakers but Dame and CJ did all they could to stay competitive. This team will be back again next year, but with all of the teams around them getting better, how can they stay afloat in a very tough conference?
The Orlando Magic are a very young and promising team, with Aaron Gordon taking the next step, can this team improve even more going into next season?
Tier 4- San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies
These are the two teams I consider who are on the outside looking in. They have the pieces and the coaching to make a run and maybe land a 7th or 8th seed in the West. However, other teams seem to be doing more to pass them.
The Spurs might be close to going into a complete rebuild mode if they unload on the contracts of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. If this is the case, we should begin to wonder how much longer coach Pop will stick around.
The Grizzlies have one of the best young stars in the league in Ja Morant. He won rookie of the year last year and only seems to be getting better. This team has all of the pieces to get into the playoffs again, but it seems that the other teams are only getting better and it may be difficult for them to replicate everything they did last year. The Warriors becoming healthy again really messes up the plans of most of these young teams looking to make a playoff push.
PSA: If your team was not on this list, it may be safe to say that the playoffs are not a likely scenario for them. This year should be a very fun and competitive season once again. The Warriors and the Nets will be the most interesting teams to watch, while the Lakers and the Clippers will continue their rivalry for bragging rights in Los Angeles. Will Giannis sign his supermax in Milwaukee? So many questions will lead up to the 2021 NBA Season.