Updated: Oct 19, 2022
2021 had an NBA season that felt much like a roller coaster ride. With the bubble in the rearview, but Covid-19 here to stay, nobody expected this season to be normal. Empty arenas returned for the most, although by now fans are filling the seats across the states. 16 teams are locked into a battle for the ultimate prize in the basketball world. After a season filled with injuries, social justice and safety protocols, it is finally time to get down to the best ball of the year.
But with another NBA season in the books, what is left for those on the outside looking in? The Play-in tourney gave us thrills and spills but not every team now watching from home got a chance to participate. Here are my thoughts on what we saw and what the future holds for the regular season leftovers.
GS Warriors: (39-33) | Last Season Record:(15-50)
Following a historic regular season run from Curry after a hand injury robbed him of last season, the Warriors fell just short of making the playoffs. A Lebron shot-clock-buzzer combined with a tough young Grizzlies team now has the bay area boys watching from home. The good news for fans? This will probably be the last year before the dynasty returns to form.
The rotation pieces for this team are starting to find their stride. Wiggins went toe to toe with Lebron in the play-in and has proven that he can be the third scorer this team needs. The questions start with whether GS can re-sign Oubre and Bazemore on team-friendly contracts, or if they need to find replacements in free agency. Can Wiseman continue to grow or will he become another young asset moved for more talent? Are the defence and playmaking Draymond provides enough considering he is losing the ability to score? Most importantly though, let's not forget that Klay Thompson has a chance to bring them instantly back into the conversation. I don't expect to see them here next season.
SA Spurs: (33-39) | Last Season Record: (32-39)
Another year, another NBA playoffs without Pop and the Spurs. San Antonio hasn't been this irrelevant since before David Robinson joined the team for the 89/90 season. Even with Deebo returning to All-Star form (and being snubbed at that), SA fell short in the play-in when his shot went cold against the Grizzlies. Are we looking at another streak starting for this team, one the fans may not be happy about?
Winning or losing aside, this will be a big offseason for the San Antonio Spurs. With most of the young talent locked up until 23/24 it's time to decide whether to ride or die with a young rebuild, or bring back the vets and keep pushing. DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills are all on the wrong side of 30 and looking for another payday. Honestly, this team can go in any direction and only the future will reveal it now. That said, with Popovich now in his 70s, I can only hope that this is not the end to his Hall of Fame career.
NO Pelicans: (31-41) | Last Season Record: (30-42)
I hoped Zion's body would hold up all year and the Pels could somehow sneak into the postseason. Fans were happy to see the man play 61 total games and dunk harder than a prime Shaq. Stan Van Gundy did his best to get this young team in shape, but unfortunately, he could only muster 1 more win than Gentry could before his shock-firing at the end of last season.
Let's not forget that this team is young, led by two stars under 25 and a plethora of other pieces around them. Lonzo is an upcoming RFA who has stated he would love to stay and continue building the bond established so far. But if a team like the Knicks comes knocking, will they need to search elsewhere for a floor general? Imagine what a team like this could be with a player of CP3's calibre leading the way. If the injury bug can be avoided, the Pelicans are playoff material come next season guaranteed.
SAC Kings: (31-41) | Last Season Record: (31-41)
15 years with no playoff basketball is not a record you want to hold. This team hasn't been in the post-season since Bibby and Peja were attempting to stop Kobe and the Lakers. At least this year I can say something positive with Fox continuing to break out and Haliburton looking like the steal of the draft. To be completely honest, I expected them to lose more games.
The front office let Bogy walk and decided to believe in Buddy, and were rewarded with the exact same record as last season. Barnes was great for the team this year, but at almost 30 is he worth a 20 million dollar paycheck? Bagley's contract is up after next season and he still hasn't shown signs of being a top 2 pick. A shame for the Kings when you consider that the 2018 draft may be one of the best in recent memory. After another year of mediocrity, this team is no closer to figuring out how to return to contention and at this point, I don't see it happening any time soon.
MIN Timberwolves: (23-49) | Last Season Record: (19-45)
If you asked me my thoughts on the TWolves just a few months ago, I would have written this off as another failed season in Minnesota. But after an impressive close out to the season in which the team went 10-9 (impressive right?) I have started to lean in the other direction. If the rumours that Kat is looking to leave proves false, we could be looking at a trust-the-process type situation brewing for the Wolves.
Though Ant-man came out of the gate looking unfit for the next level, he evolved as a player and fought his way into the ROY conversation; though an injury did limit Lamelo Ball to just over 50 games. With every major player under contract for the next few years, it's possible for this team to roll into next season with all the momentum. Plus, if their pick can move into the top 3 another young stud will be joining a squad mostly under the age of 25. At the current 6th best odds, I'm not holding my breath. Hopefully, GS doesn't use it to get another championship right Wolves fans?
OKC Thunder: (22-50) | Last Season Record: (44-28)
This season can only be described as a tank masterclass from the Thunder. With the further development of Shai and co. this team came in expecting a losing record. A Top 5 draft prospect and the largest war chest of picks ever assembled will only allow this organization to plan its path back up the table.
With young pieces like Lou Dort, Kenrich Williams and Poku supporting a future star in SGA, OKC found itself winning more games than it probably wanted this season. It seems the winning ways of CP3 were instilled into the young rooks and now only a year removed from the playoffs, it is all about the retool. With the potential to add two top 5 picks in this year's upcoming draft, the future is bright in Oklahoma. Though we may see them here again next year, I only expect to be saying positive things left and right.
HOU Rockets:(17-55) | Last Season Record: (44-28)
Anyone else wondering if Rockets fans still think they won the James Harden trade? Reports have recently surfaced that John Wall wants out, and those draft picks from the Nets will most likely be late rounders across the board. For a team that has been the most consistent playoff presence since the previous Harden trade, it's possible the next few years might be hard to stomach.
Fans can at least take away a few bright spots from an otherwise bleak season. Through 41 games, Christian Wood was a strong 21ppg scorer who although inconsistent at times, proved himself as the piece to build around moving forward. Kevin Porter Jr. even came out of nowhere to etch his name among greats like Lebron, Harden and Devin Booker with a stunner 50 point game. As long as their draft pick doesn't fall out (top 4 protected) this team could have a star and a few good young pieces moving forward.
IND Pacers: (34-38) | Last Season Record: (45-28)
Through all the hardships and struggles this team experienced this NBA season, they found themselves one game shy of the playoffs. After putting the Hornets away in convincing fashion (144-117), they fell to a rebounding Wizards squad (115-142) in the second of their play-in games. With rumours of rookie head coach Nate Bjorkrin losing the locker room throughout the season, it could be a rocky road ahead.
The good news for fans is that the main core is locked up on contracts through the 22/23 season. The question
comes from if this core is competent enough to compete in an East that continues to get tougher. Now two-time
All-Star Damontas Sabonis can be the number 1 option, but can Indiana run two bigs in the modern NBA?
Turner provides defence around the rim that Sabonis clearly lacks and with a varied backcourt pairing of
Brogden and LeVert, this team could win the play-in next year. Nate McMillan is the winner here as he coached
his new team the Atlanta Hawks into the playoffs.
CHA Hornets: (33-39) | Last Season Record: (23-42)
To be quite honest I am sad not seeing the Hornets playing post-season basketball right now. LaMelo came out of the gate swinging, putting together a stellar rookie campaign before a wrist injury in March brought him back down to earth. If not for a foot injury keeping Hayward from the play-in, this team could be getting slapped around by Embiid and the 76ers in the first round.
Charlotte currently sits as a bit of an outlier in the east with both young studs and old(ish) vets coming together to bring them into relevancy. Ball is a stud who will most likely become the centrepiece around which this team rebuilds going forward. Hayward is sitting on the wrong side of 30 and the team will have to decide whether or not he gets to fight for the playoffs on this contract, or just be an expensive vet teaching the rooks the way. If Jordan can play his cards right, he may finally get to bring home more silverware.
CHI Bulls: (31-41) | Last Season Record: (22-43)
The Bulls went all-in at the trade deadline this year moving a young center and two picks for a chance at the playoffs with a 30-year-old Nikola Vucevic. Being 19-25 at the time, everyone said the Bulls absolutely won this trade and would become a menace come play-in time. The new duo of LaVine and Vuc started 3-7 together and the season was pretty much history from there.
Chicago surprised a lot of people during the draft last year selecting Patrick Williams 4th overall. The North Carolina native showed signs of potentially elite two-way play, but can he take his offensive game to new heights and become the 3rd option this team needs? Hopefully, they can get lucky and win the lottery because otherwise, this year's top 4 protected pick will be heading to Orlando. If the team can come together and find better chemistry this offseason, perhaps a full year will show the menace that most expected when Vuc made his way to the windy city.
TOR Raptors: (27-45) | Last Season Record: (53-19)
Boy am I sad to see how much this team struggled as the year went on. I was high on Baynes coming into the season and with my faith not being rewarded, I was left missing the bigs of the past once again. Covid, chemistry, injuries and playing 72 games on the road led to a year that fans will want to wash their hands clean of. A top 7 draft pick and a world returning to normal gives hope that this will just be a blip on an otherwise stellar few seasons. #FadeForCade
Gary Trent Jr. has the potential to be a great young piece to pair alongside the young defensive stud in OG Anunoby. If Fred and Pascal can prove they can lead a team in the playoffs, and the boys can solve their big man woes, a return to Toronto would almost certainly mean a +500 team. If Birch decides to stay, Gillespie keeps improving and with Boucher returning from injury, this problem could already be a thing of the past. Lowry is the real question mark of the offseason, as he will most certainly be looking for the last big bag of his career. Whether he stays or not, the greatest Toronto Raptor of all time deserves another deep playoff run. If the boys get to play in Toronto next year I won't be seeing them here, but otherwise..............
CLE Cavaliers: (22-50) | Last Season Record: (19-46)
An injury-riddled campaign had this team on the backfoot all season long. Kevin Love and his contract continue to be an awkward and immovable situation, while other ageing vets eat up more of Cleveland's cap space. Sexton's growth was encouraging, especially off ball when Garland wasn't limited by injuries and could run the point. But after missing out on the top studs in last year's draft at #5, it's possible that we are looking at the same story once again.
With a range of 5-9 in the upcoming lottery, the Cavs once again fall within the field of mystery. Okoro showed signs of a top pick to close the campaign, but he will most likely never be a game-changing piece that this team needs. Unfortunate considering he was my pick going into the season for rookie of the year. If Scottie Barnes, Jalen/Keon Johnson or possibly Kai Jones can make an impact, maybe this team could return to relevancy? If you ask me, we will be discussing them here once again come next season. #FreeKevinLove
ORL Magic: (21-51) | Last Season Record: (33-40)
Well if it wasn't a fire sale in Florida this season I don't know what else to call it. With Isacc planned to be out all year, and Fultz going down after only 8 games I wondered if this team would keep playing for the 8th seed or finally pull the plug. By trading out 3 pillars of the franchise and clearing the cap sheet for seasons to come the reset that most would say is desperately overdue can finally begin.
While Gordon, Fournier and Vucevic will be sorely missed by fans, the trades have set this team up well going forward. Wendell is only 21, R.J. Hampton just finished the first year of his rookie deal, and those two 1sts(21/23) from Chicago are lining up to possibly be excellent value. With only Isaac and Fultz on non-rookie contracts past 2022 the slate has been wiped clean and the Magic can bounce in whatever direction becomes available to them. When you look at the bottom of the table in the east getting beat around right now in the playoffs, you could say the Magic made a great play at the deadline.
DET Pistons: (20-52) | Last Season Record: (20-46)
Oh boy did the pistons just kind of hang around all season. Jerami Grant was given the keys to the kingdom and had himself a campaign worthy of MIP nods. Dwayne Casey continues to prove himself as a great developmental coach and was rewarded with an extension that will keep him on through 23-24. If the process continues and the ping-pong balls drop the right way, perhaps he can lead this team back to the playoffs.
Detroit is primed, with tons of rookie talent across the board and some of the best odds at finding a dynastic player from this year's draft. If Cade were to join the likes of Hayes, Sekou, Stewart and Bey, fans could find themselves looking at an eastern conference OKC-like roster. If Grant can prove that the Pistons were right to take a chance on him by keeping consistent for years to come, I look forward to seeing where this team can go. Will they win more than 20 games next season? Potentially. 30? Now that might be a stretch.
Teams from Last Season that got out:
PHX Suns: (51-21) | Last Season Record: (34-39)
Signing Chris Paul and Jae Crowder helped elevate this young team to fighting for the top in the west. Montey Williams was an absolutely deserving candidate for Coach of the Year and now has a tough post-season campaign ahead of him. Cam Johnson made strides becoming a valuable bench piece while Mikal Bridges shined in a defensive role while also having great shooting numbers. That 8-0 bubble streak can no longer be called a fluke and Devin Booker finally has his team. Shame they drew the Lakers in the first round.
MEM Grizzlies: (38-34) | Last Season Record: (34-39)
This team battled through two ageing dynastic organizations in the Spurs and Warriors to claim the final spot in this year's western conference playoffs. Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas are the one-two punch that can keep this team relevant for years to come. Dillon Brooks has also come out this year as one of the league's best 1 on 1 perimeter defenders. The future is bright for a team that decided to roll the dice with a rebuild just a few years ago.