Josh Cohen’s Analysis: With several budding young talent, including Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Tobias Harris, currently developing, high draft picks likely for the next two years and a plethora of salary cap space to sign top-tier free agents in 2014 or 2015, the Magic have created flexibility to establish sustainable success in a couple of years.
Cohen’s Analysis: Kyrie Irving is on pace to be a top 10, perhaps top 5, player in the NBA by 2016. Dion Waiters has shown enough flashes of excellence in his rookie campaign to believe he will be the perfect backcourt complement to Irving. And perhaps most striking, Cleveland will have cap space next year in hopes of luring LeBron James, who can opt out of his contract in Miami, back to his roots.
Cohen’s Analysis: The James Harden trade from October has transfigured the Rockets and league as a whole. In an instant, Harden has evolved into one of the best players in the NBA and a worldwide sensation. Aside from the bearded man’s sudden rise, Houston will have cap space this summer to sign a max free agent. If Dwight Howard decides to bolt L.A., the Rockets may be the most likely team to snag him.
Cohen’s Analysis: Both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be at the pinnacle of their prime in 2016. If OKC captures a championship by then, there probably won’t be much anxiety and vex about the future of these two superstars. Durant will be a free agent in 2016 and Westbrook in 2017. Serge Ibaka is rapidly evolving into one of the premier power forwards because of his defensive prowess and the Thunder will likely get a lottery pick this June as long as the Raptors don’t make the playoffs (part of Harden trade). Already an elite team, OKC may get even better in a couple of years.
Cohen’s Analysis: The return of John Wall last month has reinvigorated the Wizards, who began this season in the mud but have played exceptionally well over the past 20 games. Bradley Beal will likely be a perennial All-Star and with another lottery draft pick this year; Washington has the potential to be in position to climb up in the East standings in a couple of years.
Cohen’s Analysis: As Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson continue their rise to fame as the league’s top shooting backcourt, much attention will shift to Harrison Barnes and whether he can evolve into an elite small forward. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster rookie season for Barnes, but some scouts around the NBA believe in a couple of years he will mature into a legitimate All-Star caliber player.
Cohen’s Analysis: Will the dynamic tandem of Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan at some point rival LeBron James and Dwyane Wade? Probably not quite, but Toronto’s nucleus has been impressive since the blockbuster deal a few weeks ago. As Gay and DeRozan sustain greater chemistry and become one of the NBA’s most electrifying offensive duos, the Raptors’ success will rely on the development of Jonas Valanciunas, who Toronto hopes will eventually evolve into one of the more dominant centers in the league.
Cohen’s Analysis: Next year’s NBA Draft lottery will probably rival the anticipation that led into the 2003 lottery, when LeBron James was the unanimous No. 1 pick. While per league policy prospects cannot be mentioned until they declare for the draft, the consensus among those who cover and scout college and high school hoops is that 2014 will be the year when the next franchise superstar is unveiled. Some team, and perhaps it’s one that has already been cited in this slideshow, will be fortunate enough to, in a heartbeat, recover from their rebuild.