One of the weirdest NBA seasons ever is now over and we know for sure that the next one won’t start before January 2021. With the draft scheduled for the middle of November, that leaves the teams with some time to think and try to draft a strategy.
The goal of every franchise is to improve for the next campaign or at least follow a plan that would lead to success at some point in the future. And yet, I see four NBA teams that are at risk of going backwards in 2021 not only for the upcoming season but as a whole. Let’s take a look at them.
The Houston Rockets have been a unique team in the past several years and they have tried to find success with an unusual system. I believe their experiments were provoked by the desire to somehow beat the unstoppable Golden State Warriors at a time when the whole NBA just decided to tank and prepare for the moment when the Dubs won’t be that strong.
The masterminds behind that plan were Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey. The head coach was released by the Rockets and the GM decided to resign after the season was a failure.
That puts the team in an awkward position because the roster was specifically built to accommodate James Harden and D’Antoni’s system. Houston’s small-ball experiment leaves the franchise with a group of players that simply can’t play in a different way.
On top of that, the organization is tied to Russell Westbrook’s awful contract that only gets bigger every year and has close to no future draft picks.
Simply put, the Rockets are stuck right now and they don’t have an obvious way to rebuild. They will need to find some trades and the rumors suggest that the New York Knicks might be interested in Westbrook.
That sounds like a good start, but the team has to do more. Finding a solid head coach that could implement a new system would be essential as well. There aren’t too many candidates out there and there are other organizations looking to appoint someone at that position, so the Rockets might struggle to get the right person.
The overall sensation is that the team’s future doesn’t look good right now and 2021 might be the beginning of a long period of suffering for the Houston Rockets.
San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs have been part of the NBA’s elite for what seems like forever, but the team might be going the other way now. The 2019-20 season was the first one without playoffs for more than 20 years and it’s hard to see how 2021 will be different.
The main players of the Spurs are simply not good enough to lead an NBA franchise nowadays. DeMar DeRozan is a guard that can’t shoot from the outside and LaMarcus Aldridge is 35 now. You can’t expect them to be the first two options for a contending team.
The Spurs simply don’t have enough talent at the moment and it’s hard to see a clear path of changing that in the near future. They need to execute some smart trades and hope that some of their younger assets will improve dramatically.
I have high expectations for Dejounte Murray and there are other guys who could be big for the Spurs in the 2021 campaign, but that might not be enough.
The problem is that I don’t see how the Spurs will find a proper star to remain relevant in the NBA. The team might be forced to look for a long-term rebuild and that’s not something Gregg Popovic would like.
The head coach is on the wrong end of 70 and doesn’t feel like starting from scratch in what could be the last years of his NBA career. The question is if the Spurs really have a choice.
This is the surprise entry to the list and one that many people probably didn’t see coming. The Toronto Raptors had an excellent season and coped with Kawhi’s departure better than most people expected. Nick Nurse built a competitive team that fought hard in the NBA playoffs.
I’m not sure that the Raptors will still be a contender in 2021, though. Fred VanVleet is an unrestricted free agent and one of the best ones available this offseason, for that matter. He might receive come lucrative offers that would put Toronto in a tough spot.
The team will likely lose Marc Gasol as well who’s been a useful role player and Kyle Lowry is not getting any younger. Pascal Siakam’s confidence took a huge hit in the previous season and I won’t be shocked if his performance drops in 2021.
The overall feeling is that the Raptors already peaked and are currently heading the other direction. It’s up to Masai Ujiry to find a solution or the team could return to mediocrity in the near future, especially looking at the competition.
Teams like the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics have a strong young core, while the Nets should be a contender for the years to come. Even the 76ers could be dangerous, so the Raptors probably won be a top 5 team in the East in 2021.
The last team on my list are the Indiana Pacers. I believe the franchise is in a very dangerous spot and there’s potential to regress big time in 2021. On the other hand, the opposite could be true as well if the organization does well in the offseason.
The Pacers have several players with potential, including Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon, and Jeremy Lamb. They also have Victor Oladipo, but the latest rumors suggest that the star wants out of the team.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you look at his injury record and the goal for the Pacers should be to get a good return. There are two options here, to go for draft picks and young assets or to look into ways to improve the roster for the upcoming season.
The reason I’ve put the Pacers in my list of NBA teams that could regress in 2021 is that I expect to see the latter. The franchise has just enough talent to be tempted of trying to compete right now instead of rebuilding for the future and that would be a massive mistake.
If the Pacers play it smart, they will make a decision on their big man problem and decide on whether they want to keep Sabonis or Turner. They can trade the other players, alongside Oladipo and get draft picks and youngsters.
After a year or two, they could have a formidable roster if they choose this path. As I said, I expect them to do the opposite and try their luck right now and that could leave in the worst possible position in the NBA – not good enough to be a contender and not bad enough to get a lottery pick in the draft.
Do you agree with my opinion on the teams above or do you have other ideas? Do you think that other organizations are at risk of going backwards big time in the 2021 NBA season? Don’t hesitate to leave your comments below.
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