There’s only a few more games left before the regular season ends and the NBA playoffs begin. That means we pretty much know which teams will be in the postseason and who will be lottery-bound this year (the one exception being the ongoing race between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz). Still, just because a team won’t be in the postseason this year, that doesn’t mean that can’t make an impact in the near future. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some teams with the brightest futures. Some of these teams will be in the lottery this year, while others are on the fringes of the playoffs. In any case, all of them are heading in the right direction.
10. Charlotte Bobcats
Yes, they’ve had another miserable season, but the seeds of improvement have been planted. Kemba Walker is an emerging star, while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist should improve as he accumulates more experience in the NBA. Gerald Henderson has improved his play greatly in these last few weeks and if the Bobcats choose to re-sign him, he could play a big role in their future. Bismack Biyombo is still struggling to do much on offense, but he’s already a great shot-blocker and if he improves his offensive game even a little bit, he could be a big part of the team going forward.
9. Detroit Pistons
This has been another lost season for a team still rebuilding, but the building blocks are in place. The biggest one being Andre Drummond, an amazingly athletic player who has wowed crowds with his strong dunks while also being incredibly efficient. Teaming him with Greg Monroe will create an elite pairing in the frontcourt for years to come. Meanwhile, Kyle Singler hasn’t been terribly flashy, but he’s a quietly useful player who could improve as time goes on. If Jose Calderon is retained, he would be excellent at running the pick-and-roll with Monroe and Drummond. This team isn’t just going to get better; they’ll also be ridiculously fun to watch.
8. Orlando Magic
The first season of the post-Dwight Howard era hasn’t been a pretty one for the Magic. After flirting a .500 record for the first two months, the Magic fell hard into the abyss, losing game after game. As bad as this season has been, however, the players who will lead them in the future are there. Tobias Harris was a great acquisition for the Magic, as he has thrived since coming to Orlando in the J.J. Redick trade. Rookies Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson both have loads of potential, while center Nikola Vucevic is one of the better young centers in the league. The Magic hit the floor hard this year, but they’ll be peeling themselves off of it sooner than you think.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
Sure, it’s been a rough year, because just about everything that could go wrong for this team. Luckily, this team still has Kevin Love and when he returns next season, they should be pretty scary. If Love and Ricky Rubio can avoid the injuries that have kept the Wolves out of the playoff race these past two seasons, this team will be on the rise very quickly. If Love comes back and plays the majority if next season, it would be stunning to see them miss the playoffs.
6. New Orleans Pelicans
Two words: Anthony Davis. If the No. 1 overall pick had been healthy all season, there’s good chance he would be the front-runner for Rookie of the Year instead of Damian Lillard. As it stands, he’s had an excellent rookie season, justifying the massive hype that announced his arrival into the league. As Davis continues to develop his skills, he will likely play a greater role in the offense, becoming the primary scoring option. The Hornets/Pelicans also have a very talented point guard in Greivis Vasquez and an elite sixth man in Ryan Anderson.
5. Toronto Raptors
Rudy Gay has struggled this season, but he’s still a very talented player and if he gets his groove back in 2013-14, the Raptors could become one of the scarier teams in the Eastern Conference. Rookie center Jonas Valanciunas has looked impressive and should get even better with a full season of his belt. In the backcourt, Terrence Ross has thrilled fans with his athleticism (he won this year’s dunk contest) and it would not be surprising to see him take on a greater role in the offense next season.
4. Washington Wizards
John Wall isn’t just potential anymore — the third-year guard from Kentucky put it all together this season and he’s become one of the best young point guards in the NBA. Rookie Bradley Beal improved considerably as the season went on and he looks like a star in the making. Had Wall been healthy at the start of the season, the Wizards might have been a playoff team. Next year, they’ll be getting a healthy Wall and an even better Beal and the rest of the East better look out.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
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2. Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge should provide the nucleus of this team for years to come. Lillard is having an amazing rookie season and there’s no telling how much better he could get in the future. Meanwhile, J.J. Hickson has emerged as one of the better centers in the game, after struggling to fit in at each of the forward positions. The Blazers almost made the playoffs this year and if Lillard improves his defense next season, they should be able to crack the top eight. If they can improve their notoriously weak bench and add some depth, this could be a very tough team.
1. Houston Rockets
The only team making this year’s playoffs to make the list, the Rockets are going to get better and better over the next few years. They already have a young superstar in James Harden and now they have the opportunity to build around him. If they can add another big name free-agent in the offseason, they can become a title contender as soon as next season. Meanwhile, Chandler Parsons has emerged as a solid scorer for the Rockets and Jeremy Lin is an explosive point guard and his play has improved as the season has progressed. There’s a lot of young talent here and that’s why the Rockets have the brightest future of any team in the league.