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2018-19 Record: 19-63
Larry Nance Jr., Cedi Osman and Collin Sexton, plus a fully healthy Kevin Love and a top-six prospect, makes for a semi-interesting nucleus in the Eastern Conference. It still doesn’t feel like a noise-maker.
Love’s return from left foot surgery this past season did not harsh the Cavaliers’ tank, and surrounding him with youngsters won’t portend a monster turnaround even if one of them is Zion Williamson.
And then Cleveland has to reconcile the pesky matter of…everyone else. The rest of the supporting cast isn’t winning anyone over with their talent, and the expiring contracts of Jordan Clarkson, JR Smith ($3.9 million partial guarantee) and Tristan Thompson will be on trade or buyout watch. Love could join the chopping block, too.
Improving upon their 19-win mark is absolutely on the table, particularly if the Cavaliers hire a young, next-gen head coach who instills offensive structure. But too much about their immediate outlook is in limbo to peg them for a sizable jump.
2018-19 Record: 33-49
A revamped front office. A new head coach (eventually). Mike Conley. Jaren Jackson Jr. Kyle Anderson. C.J. Miles. Potentially Avery Bradley (non-guaranteed), Jonas Valanciunas (player option) and Delon Wright (restricted). This year’s first-round pick (if it falls inside the top eight).
Left untouched, the Grizzlies have the personnel to talk themselves into making another (failed) run at one of the Western Conference’s final playoff spots. They will resist that annual tug-of-war. I think.
Overhauling the front office and coaching staff suggests they’re committed to starting over. Even if they aren’t, Conley is the glue holding their massive bounce-back together, and he doesn’t sound like someone who wants to invest any more of his prime in their balancing act.
2018-19 Record: 39-43
Considering a 12-to-15-win spike from the Kings is tough when they don’t have a first-round pick. They’ll have max cap space—and then some—but it isn’t yet clear whether they’re a free-agent destination.
Fringe playoff contention is their gift and curse. The Kings’ outlook is bright. They have a nice stable of young talent and a lean cap sheet. By hovering so close to .500 in the West, though, they’ve made it much harder to finagle another single-season explosion.
2018-19 Record: 32-50
Bradley Beal’s future has little to do with the Wizards’ exclusion. He played himself into All-NBA candidacy this year. Going on 26, he’s young enough to weather whatever storm of graduality Washington is about to endure.
John Wall‘s availability is instead the determining factor. His recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon should end up costing him more than half of next season. The Wizards may elevate their floor without him, but their ceiling isn’t nearly as high.
Reinforcements aren’t on the way. Washington has a ton of key players entering free agency. Trevor Ariza, Thomas Bryant (restricted), Jeff Green, Bobby Portis (restricted) and Tomas Satoransky (restricted) are all set to hit the open market. The Wizards will have to pony up just to preserve the skeleton of a 32-win core.
That doesn’t spell good times.