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What does the future hold for the NBA's bottom-barrel franchises?

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

From Ja Morant, Luka, or the three-headed MVP race in Giannis/Jokic/Embiid, the right player can change the direction of any franchise. Consider that only 3 seasons ago both the Grizzlies and Suns, last year's "Kings" of the West, were bottom feeders building back towards relevancy. With another off-season wrapped and a fresh batch of draftees itching to go, each team is ready for a fresh start. Only 4/15 of the top picks from last season enjoyed playoff basketball though. Will this year's class fair any better?

Last night fans rejoiced as the 2022/23 regular season finally got underway. After a long summer of waiting and speculation, it is finally time to see how the chips will play out for each squad. For those that missed out last year, the playoffs will be the ultimate goal (especially if you are the Kings). Let's take a look at the NBA's bottom-barrel franchises.

Western Conference

LA Clippers (42-40) | 2020/21 Szn (47-48) | 2019/20 Szn (49-23)

Paul George going into protocols right before the play-ins was devastating for fans just itching to see this team return to playoff action. Losing to an up-and-coming Pelicans team was no shame and an off-season to recover and add in new talent brings a breath of fresh air. LA is a city hungry for victory, and with one of the deepest rosters in the league, the Clippers could be poised to finally have the playoff run fans are hopeful for.

With Kawhi and PG playing in just over 50% of the teams total games across the 3 seasons since joining, the Clippers have yet to set out and achieve the success so many thought they would. Add in newly acquired guard John Wall, who up until this summer looked a shell of his former self also due to injury, and the question marks don't stop. But if they can stay healthy and find chemistry down the stretch, nobody will want to be facing this team come playoff time. #Powellfor6thman

SA Spurs (34-48) | 2020/21 Szn (33-39) | 2019/20 Szn (32-39)

Crazy to think that if Dejounte Murray had not been sick and played that play-in game this whole situation could be a different story. Now he's gone, traded to Atlanta, and it looks like the Spurs have moved into full-on rebuild territory. After 2 decades of being at the pinnacle of success atop the west, and 3 seasons now at the bottom, a new age looks to be dawning in San Antonio.

Greg Popovich is now 73 years old and looks to be perhaps finding his way out of the coaching game. No one could blame him after 5 NBA championships and a coaching career that started all the way back with the Air Force in 1973. But perhaps a tank season and a talent like Wembanyama could be just the thing to see the man coaching into his 80s. After all, Tim Duncan is who Pop credits a ton of his career success. Either way, this roster has a lot of work to do, and it looks like young 23yr old Keldon Johnson may have just been given the keys to the kingdom. Shoutout to ex-Raptor Jakob Poeltl for quietly holding the center spot down and becoming a great starting five.

LA Lakers (33-49) | 2020/21 Szn (42-30) | 2019/20 Szn (52-19) - Championship

Do you know that Wolverine meme of him on the bed looking at the photograph? Ya, that's Lakers fans right now looking back at the Bubble Championship only 2 short seasons ago. Injuries to Lebron and AD have kept them from rising to Micky Mouse form and some questionable trades and decisions by the front office have left this team a shell of their championship selves.

Lebron is almost 38 years old, entering his 20th season in the NBA, and somehow just put up 30 points a game in his 56-game sample size last year. How much longer can we keep asking this of him? Anthony Davis is living up to his nickname street clothes and I don't think I want to even get into the Westbrook debacle. I think getting Pat Bev will actually do wonders and whether they trade Brodie or not, I am expecting this team to surprise some people (not hard considering most think this is a 30-win team). #Lebronslastdance?

SAC Kings (30-52) | 2020/21 Szn (31-41) | 2019/20 Szn (31-41)

For the past 15 years, fans in the Sacramento area have had to watch time and time again as this team falls short of the playoffs. Scrutinized each year for always taking the wrong draft pick, and never seeming to find a team direction, they have become in some ways the laughingstock of the league. But with a sneaky trade deadline move (Buddy is finally gone!!!!) and perhaps THE right pick of the draft, watch out NBA world the Kings may be on their way.

Anyone listening to Backboard Banter (our podcast) knows I am absolutely flying high on the Kings roster this year. This is the best squad built in the Fox area that will allow him to utilize his explosive talent and do what he does best. Sharpshooters Malik Monk, Huerter, TD, Barnes and even new rookie Keegan Murray will have a field day with the open looks Fox's mad dashes to the basket will provide. Not to mention Sabonis might just be the best big man he has had the pleasure to enjoy pick and rolls with. The drought is over, I am calling it now. #PlayoffsIncoming

POR Trailblazers(27-55) | 2020/21 Szn (42-30) | 2019/20 Szn (35-39)

At 31 years of age, Damian Lillard experienced the first major injury of his career, limiting him to only 29 games, and his team to 27 wins in his absence. The blazers only won 28 games the season before drafting Dame, and have never been below 30 wins since. The squad lost its direction without their captain and longtime backcourt mate CJ was traded out. The team now looks to be attempting to retool quickly before Dametime is at an end.

Anfernee Simons showed flashes of brilliance in the superstar's absence and looks to be given the #2 ball handling duties now on the team. Grant is on to his 5th team in 10 years, but if he can continue his momentum from Detroit he will be a welcome addition to this squad. Shaedon Sharpe may be the question mark of both the draft and where this team could end up in a very tough western conference. Perhaps championship pedigree from Gary Payton may help, but I don't expect much from this team this season.

OKC Thunder (24-58) | 2020/21 Szn (22-50) | 2019/20 Szn (44-28)

Another year down, another step in the direction of conquering the league. Many thought this was going to be the end of the tank, with Chet secured Sam Presti finally had the last piece to his Exodia. A classic foot injury to the big man means that thinking is gone, and this squad may be attempting to fall for "one" last time.

Now, let's not forget that this team not only has a plethora of young talent, but the means to actually compete in the heavily inflated free agent market of today. OKC continues to have all avenues open to them when it comes to the direction of the future. But how long can players like Shai, Dort and Giddy keep losing games without breaking their spirits? Or worse for the tank, winning too many games and forcing management to sit players again. It's a ticking clock in Oklahoma but many teams in the league would happily trade places.

HOU Rockets (20-62) | 2020/21 Szn (17-55) | 2019/20 Szn (44-28)

The Rockets found themselves at the bottom of the barrel for a second straight NBA season. Making history by having both a 7-game win streak and 20-game losing streak, this is a team ready to wipe its hands clean and look on towards the future. The reward for all the troubles of last year? The silky smooth 3-point shooter out of Auburn, Jabari Smith Jr. The kid may not have had the flashiest summer league, but he showed off defensive prowess and the best shot (Matt loves it!) coming out of this year's rookie class.

Green closed the season on an absolute tear, putting up 5-straight 30+ point games, before ending on a bang with a career-high 41 points. KPJ just secured a massive $82 million dollar bag, seemingly finding his home after a series of incidents and problems that bounced him out of Cleveland. Sengun surprised a lot of people last year and this squad has multiple young players poised to find their place in the rotation. Not to mention they now have everyone's best friend in the league Boban Marjanovic. They could be in the race for Wembenyama, but more likely I see this team being the best of the tank squads come May.

Eastern Conference

CLE Cavaliers (44-38) | 2020/21 Szn (22-50) | 2019/20 Szn (19-46)

The end of last season was a heartbreaking moment for this team and its fans. After lead guard Collin Sexton tore his meniscus in November, the squad rallied to a 30-19 record by the end of January, good for 3rd in the Eastern Conference. At a projected 27.5 wins, falling just short of the playoffs due to multiple injuries racking up was no shame. Plus this team claimed the prize of the summer, the electric shooting guard Donovan Mitchell.

Mobley looks like the next coming of Tim Duncan, Garland found his stride with Sexton out, and the team proved the big man isn't dead in this era. If not for key injuries down the stretch, Cleveland was an easy playoff lock. For a team looking to escape the shadow of Lebron, they look prepared to battle with the best of the east for years to come. With Mitchell adding a dangerous scoring element, many see this team as a solid lock for the post-season. Also, shout out to Kevin Love, man was a flamethrower from 3 last season! #Freedom

CHA Hornets (43-39) | 2020/21 Szn (33-39) | 2019/20 Szn (23-42)

Firing Borrego after two back-to-back 10th-seed outs in the play-in is probably the right step for this franchise. The man held a 99 -121 record over his tenure but was making progress in leading this team toward the future. This is a classic example of the coaching job that nobody wants, moulding the young guns before somebody else comes in to take all the credit for success. Though the main issue, which is having no real center or big rotation, will still be something that returning coach Steve Clifford will have to solve.

Hayword once again was injured come playoffs time and was unable to be the vet this team needed. If they don't find their identity they might just disappear in what is becoming the prime conference of the NBA. The Hornets are decent, don't take me the wrong way, they just look to be only good enough with the current pieces on the roster. With his best lob threat in Bridges now gone, if your name is not Lamelo Ball, you might find yourself in trade rumours in the future.

NY Knicks (37-45) | 2020/21 Szn (41-31) | 2019/20 Szn (21-45)

From a double-overtime season opener win to another disappointing season close, last year was a roller coaster for this Knicks team. Randle looked like a shell of his previous MVP-light season, and this squad always looked to be falling behind in the East week after week. Another off-season has passed, with another failed free agency pitch across the league. Unless of course, Jalen Brunson can be the saviour.

This year looks to be a pinnacle decision-making season for a team with a lot of potential directions. RJ just secured the bag, and while he may never blossom into a true #1 he will at least be a strong starting player for this team for years to come. Obi is heading into his third season and if he can continue his slow climb up stats wise could find himself in a situation like RJ in a year's time. Were all those future draft picks worth it to move out of 11 and on from Kemba? Will Cam stay, or will he go? So many questions. Let's circle back next year.

WSH Wizards (35-47) | 2020/21 Szn (34-48) | 2019/20 Szn (25-47)

The Wizards came out of the gate swinging, leading to an 8-3 record and sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings for the first time since 2007. With all the buzz on the new "superteam" Lakers, Washington took 9 new players to an above-500 record halfway through the season. But, as expected of a team without depth and no true superstar, the final half of the season was not kind to them.

Bradley Beals's 251 million dollar contract signed this offseason becomes the rock that this franchise now has to maneuver around. Giving a future 33-year-old a 57-million player option could be devastating but shows faith in the plan going forward. Rui is in the final year of his rookie deal, and new draftee Johnny Davis will get time to develop under Delon Wright and Monte Morris. If Deni, Kuzma and Porzingis can find their footing around Beal they might be able to crawl into the play-in. #maybefiresale?

IND Pacers (25-57) | 2020/21 Szn (34-38) | 2019/20 Szn (45-28)

After years of being good but not enough since the departure of Paul George, it looks like the Pacers have finally hit the reset button. Sabonis for Haliburton is starting to look like a fantastic trade and this team is seemingly poised at a chance for Wembanyama. Turner is the only player remaining from those I talked about last year and at only 26 years of age, he could fit into the timeline. The front office will be preaching patience as the Pacers look to retool for the future.

I will always be sad he never worked out in Toronto but hopefully, this new direction will let Oshae Brissett shine brighter. The team also thinks they have something special in Andrew Nembhard considering the 8.6M contract (largest ever for a 2nd rounder) just signed. New rook Bennedict Mathurin and last years lottery pick Chris Duarte should have no problems developing as a wing tandem. It may take a while, but this rebuild is already well on its way to success. Also shoutout to being the most Canadian team in the league with 5 players! #eh

DET Pistons (23-59) | 2020/21 Szn (20-52) | 2019/20 Szn (20-46)

Cries of "Detroit basketball is back" rang out last year during the lottery when the Pistons elected to draft a possible generational talent in Cade Cunningham. The fanfare slowed after an injury took him out of both the pre-season and the first 5 games of the regular season. A rocky start and a young team not quite ready for the competition in the East leads us to only a slightly better record than the other years we have seen Detroit populate this article. Happy to say my "Stretch" goal of 30 wins looks to be finally attainable this year though.

Not only is Cade the type of player who can lead a team on both ends of the floor, but with the likes of Stewart, Ivey, Duren, Burks, and Hayes, Detroit has options on which path to take. Last year I said this team could have an OKC-like roster but in reality, it's more going the way of the Grizzlies. Won't be this year, and probably not next but give this squad time and Dwayne Casey will find himself with another great team built from the ground up. Also, Saddiq Bey MIP season is incoming just wait! #MountainLife

ORL Magic (22-60) | 2020/21 Szn (21-51) | 2019/20 Szn (33-40)

After putting the team up for auction last season and committing to young talent, everybody knew this year was going to be a wash for the Magic. With the second-worst offensive rating last season, Orlando will look to its dynamic #1 draft pick Paolo Banchero to help put points on the board each night. The good news for fans is the young core of talent is slowly coming together.

With 1st round talent in Suggs and Fultz, and backups Cole Anthony and RJ Hampton locked up for the next few years the backcourt should sort itself out. Can surprise draft pick Franz support Paolo on the wing or will bubble-injured Jonathon Issac return to his former glory? After a tank masterclass of a season that put them in place to draft Banchero, Orlando just might have a 2021/22 Cavs-like roster on the horizon.

Teams from Last Season that got out:

GS: (53-29) | Last Season Record: (39-33) | 2019/20 Szn (15-50)

From the bottom of the barrel to back on top of the world, this dynasty has found its second wind. The dubs are back and the greatest shooter in the history of the game finally has his Finals MVP. The title defence starts now (actually 1-0 already thanks Lakers) and whether or not they can transition from the current core into the next will determine the lasting legacy of this front office. Shoutout to this team for going out and doing what I said last year and winning a championship (though I did think they would trade the wolves pick.)

Raptors: (48-34) | Last Season Record: (27-45) | 2019/20 Szn (53-19)

The team took a risk breaking the status quo and taking Scottie with the 4th pick in last years draft. After a ROY campaign and a tough first-round exit, the Raptors will be looking to continue their upwards trend in an ever-increasingly tough eastern conference. Gary's looming free agency could lead to a deadline deal, or he could play his way into the starters and a big payday. With very few moves in the offseason, apart from defending champion Otto porter and Euro champ Bo Cruz, chemistry will be the glue that keeps this young(ish) core moving forward.

Bulls: (46-36) | Last Season Record: (34-39) | 2019/20 Szn (22-43)

After coming out the gate firing and sitting atop the east in January with a 26-10 record, injuries forced this team to limp into the postseason as the 6 seed. A first-round exit at the hands of the then-defending champ Bucks only continued to pile on the pain. If the team can survive half the season without Lonzo (nagging knee injury) they might have a chance to limp into the playoffs once again. #RinseandRepeat?

TWolves: (46-36) | Last Season Record: (23-49) | 2019/20 Szn (19-45)

After years of bottom-feeding, the wolves finally got a taste of the playoffs with a well-fought first-round series against the Grizzlies. To keep trending in that direction, the front office pulled the trigger on a blockbuster that added defensive juggernaut Rudy Gobert to the squad. If the pieces can form together and Ant can continue his climb, the Jazz, sorry TWolves might be expected to actually do something in the post-season.

Pelicans: (36-46) | Last Season Record: (31-41) | 2019/20 Szn (30-42)

With the Zion leaving conversation officially dying after signing a $193m extension, this team is poised for a breakout year. Ingram became "the guy" last season and the supporting cast of characters only continued to develop. "3rd option" CJ McCollum might just be the most underrated guard in the west. If they can get even 60+ games out of Zion, I expect this team to be solidly in the playoff hunt.

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