As the 2020 NBA season goes along, it has become pretty clear who the franchises contending for an NBA championship are. However, the NBA is a very volatile league, and the same teams who are contending now may be the bottom-feeders in five years. Inversely, the teams that are currently rebuilding are doing so with the idea that they will be contending in the next five years. With that in mind, here are some teams that could be in a position to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the 2024-25 season.
5. Milwaukee Bucks
The future success of the Bucks depends mostly on one player: Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 25-year-old forward has quickly become one of the most polarizing players in the game, and he is one of the rare superstars in the league that will still be near his prime in 5 years. If he improves his free-throw percentage, as well as his three-point shot, he will almost certainly be the best player in the league approaching the 2024-25 season. Of course, to be successful, a team needs more than just one great player. With Antetokounmpo becoming an unrestricted free agent in the 2021 offseason, he will almost certainly be re-signed to a large contract, which means the Bucks have very little cap flexibility to sign a strong supporting cast. The Bucks may attempt to trade some of their veteran players with large contacts, such as Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez, who both have contracts worth over $10 million per year. In short, as long as Milwaukee can both re-sign Antetokounpo as well as build a strong supporting cast around him, they could be a fearsome contender for years to come.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
After making the Eastern Conference semifinals (and losing) in the past two years, the 76ers have the opportunity to take the Eastern Conference this year. Their record this year may only be 25-16 and they may only be sixth in the East, but this is a team built for the future. As long as everything goes according to plan, their future looks just as good, if not better, as their present. Their two best players are center Joel Embiid and point guard Ben Simmons and both are stars at their respective positions. Not only that, but Embiid is 25 and Simmons is only 23. The only problem for the 76ers is that Simmons is still on his rookie contract, and to re-sign him, Philadelphia will certainly have to free up some cap space. If they do manage to do that, though, this team could certainly be a contender in the future.
3. Phoenix Suns
Now, this team is a little bit tricky. For the past five years, the Suns have been nothing short of “cellar-dwellers,” but that could all change soon as long as a few things happen, one of them being player development. Phoenix has many young players on their roster. In fact, they are the youngest team in the league in terms of age, averaging only 24.49 years. Since most of their players are still young, they have the potential to increase in terms of skill level, which obviously will help the Suns improve. Not only that, but shooting guard Tyler Johnson ($19 million) will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and point guard Ricky Rubio (three years, $51 million) will be a free agent in the 2022 offseason, potentially allowing the Suns to free up some cap space to sign a big-name free agent in the future. Combine that with star shooting guard Devin Booker, who is only 23 years old, and you have the potential for a real contending team in a few years.
2. Charlotte Hornets
The Charlotte Hornets have long been a team that has been decent at best, and awful at worst. (Remember the 9-41 season?) However, that could change soon. When Kemba Walker left for greener pastures in free agency and became a Boston Celtic, the Hornets filled their hole at point guard by signing Terry Rozier. He struggled at first, but as of late, he is averaging 18.3 points per game to go along with 4.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Combine that with the emergence of second-year shooting guard Devontae Graham, who is averaging nearly 19 points per game to go along with nearly 8 assists. As long as these young players keep improving, the Hornets could have a real one-two punch at the guard positions.
The emergence of the two guards is coming at a great time, as well. Charlotte is finally getting freed from their questionable veteran contracts. Multiple players are on expiring contracts, including Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo, two centers that are both owed over $10 million. If they decided to, the Hornets could put that money towards a big free agent in the 2021 offseason. If you add in the fact that the Hornets have another currently-improving rookie in P.J. Washington, this looks like a team that could be a force to be reckoned with in a few years … as long as they play their cards right.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
Almost everyone agrees that the Thunder are in a rebuild. Last offseason, they were hit hard by free agency, losing both of their star players to other championship-contending Western Conference teams. They were expected to be in a rebuild this year. However, that has simply not been the case. The Thunder have far exceeded expectations and are currently 23-17, which is good enough for seventh in the West. Players like Shai Gilegous-Alexander, Dennis Schroder, and Chris Paul have made big impacts on the court, as well as big man Steven Adams. But these players may not be the biggest asset that Oklahoma City has. This team has a total of 15 draft picks over the next seven years and if general manager Sam Presti drafts well and these emerging players that are currently on Oklahoma City’s roster continue to improve like they have been, this team certainly could bring home a championship trophy in five years.