The NBA trade deadline has passed and most buyouts are close to complete, which means rosters are, generally, set. There were some notable trades at the deadline, like Victor Oladipo to the Heat and Nicolo Vucevic to the Bulls, but the bigger stories were on the buyout market. Star forwards Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge made polarizing moves to Brooklyn. Big man Andre Drummond went to LA to team up with LeBron. Most recently, Boogie Cousins agreed to go to LA, but to team up with newly acquired Rajon Rondo on the Clippers.
There is no better time than right now to look at which teams are title contenders and which teams will hope to win more next season. Here is how we rank the league from top to bottom:
1. Utah Jazz.
Utah did not make any deals at the deadline, but with the best record in the league they didn’t have to. The Jazz win games with a deep rotation and efficiency on both sides of the ball. They are a perfect 20-0 at home on the season and play a majority of their remaining regular season games at home.
2. Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets may have added a handful of former All-Stars for the league minimum, but they still need to show more before they can take our top spot. Kevin Durant looks good so far in his return. James Harden has been playing like an MVP, but we still have not seen him do this in the playoffs. The path to title may not be as easy for the Nets as some want to believe.
3. Philadelphia 76ers.
While Philadelphia has played well without their star big man, their success in the post-season will ultimately be tied to Joel Embiid’s health. To their credit, the Sixers have defended their home court very well all season, winning 20 of 24 games, and currently sit in first place in the East awaiting Embiid’s return.
4. Phoenix Suns.
The Suns, currently second in the West, brought in Torrey Craig at the deadline in exchange for cash considerations. He has exceeded expectations, shooting over 50% from the field and over 45% from 3pt. If they can maintain a high seed, we like Chris Paul to lead this Suns team on a run in the playoffs.
5. Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers have fallen off massively while LeBron James and Anthony Davis are sidelined with injuries. LA brought in Andre Drummond after a buyout with the Cavaliers, but saw him get hurt in his first game with the team. If this team can hold on to a playoff spot, they will be title contenders once LeBron, AD, and Drummond return.
6. Denver Nuggets.
Denver made one of the bigger trade acquisitions at the trade deadline bringing in forward Aaron Gordon from the Magic. Orlando was never ever to maximize Gordon’s talent, who has shown an elite level of athleticism along with ball-handling and playmaking abilities. Gordon will also be tasked with guarding opponents’ top wings like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, or Luka Doncic. This could be the final piece that the Nuggets needed.
7. Milwaukee Bucks.
Jrue Holiday’s 4-year, $160 million contract means that the Bucks have locked up their best three players long term. Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing at an MVP level, but questions remain whether this team had enough depth to really contend for a title. Buyout signing, Jeff Teague should prove valuable towards that end.
8. Los Angeles Clippers.
As we write this, the Clippers are the best team in LA, but they are still the inconsistent team they’ve been since Kawhi joined the team. Recent additions, Rajon Rondo and Boogie Cousins, have played with each other before, but that does not solve the injury and chemistry issues this team is going through. Coach Tyronn Lue has a difficult task ahead for the Clippers to reach their aspirations.
9. Portland Trail Blazers.
Portland struggled with injuries for a large part of the season and their record took a significant hit accordingly, but now with C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic back, this team looks like a contender in the West. Not to mention the production from new addition, Norman Powell, or the MVP-caliber play of Damian Lillard.
10. Dallas Mavericks.
Luka Doncic has developed a stepback 3-point shot that rivals James Harden. Unlike Harden, Luka has been taking his stepback 3s at a record setting distance, 27.3 feet, which is the deepest in NBA history. This improved jumper has made Luka even more difficult to guard, but the real story might the development of backup point guard, Jalen Brunson, who looks like one of the league’s best bench players.
11. New York Knicks.
New York has hovered around .500 all season. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, since it currently has them firmly in position to qualify for the play-in tournament, and the Knicks were not expected to be this good. The Knicks can attribute much of their success to the noticeable improvement of Julius Randle, who credits his development to his time playing alongside Kobe Bryant.
12. Boston Celtics.
Boston has underwhelmed this season, but they seem to have drafted and developed another solid player in “Time Lord”, Robin Williams III. Since joining the starting lineup in late March, Williams’ passing has stood out and could be the spark this starting unit has needed alongside Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Off the bench, new addition Evan Fournier has already shown himself to be a useful scorer. Another playoff appearance that falls short of the Finals seems to be ahead for the Celtics.
13. San Antonio Spurs.
Even after buying out LaMarcus Aldridge so he could join the Nets, Coach Popovich has the Spurs fighting for a playoff spot in the West. There is some surprise that the Spurs were not bigger sellers are the trade deadline, with Demar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, and Patty Mills all set to hit free agency in the offseason.
14. Miami Heat.
Bringing in Victor Oladipo at the trade deadline reinforced Miami’s clear intention of contending this season. The Heat have struggled with injuries throughout the season, but Jimmy Butler continues to look among the league’s elite when he is healthy. Also keep an eye on Duncan Robinson, who is starting to look like one of the league’s best shooters from deep.
15. Indiana Pacers.
Domantas Sabonis won the Skills Competition, becoming on the sixth big man to do so. Guard T.J McConnell is fun to watch on both ends of the floor, but the Pacers still do not look like real title contenders this season. Caris LeVert is back and healthy, after a cancerous mass was found on his kidney when he was traded from the Nets, which is great to see.
16. Charlotte Hornets.
Jordan’s Hornets have been an exciting team to watch so far this season, but now with both LaMelo Ball and Gordon Heyward sidelined for extended periods of time with injuries, their playoff aspirations are severely hampered. If “Scary” Terry Rozier can shoulder this team for what could be six weeks, the Hornets may still find themselves in contention.
17. Atlanta Hawks.
Trae Young gets most of the attention out of Atlanta, but Clint Capela deserves some too. Capela has been great on both ends of the floor for the Hawks and could be the second best player on the team.
18. Golden State Warriors.
Golden State are not the team they once were. They could be the worst team in the league when Steph Curry does not play. The Warriors have hopes for next year with Klay Thompson expected back healthy, and a lottery pick in the draft, but there are still a lot of holes in this roster.
19. Memphis Grizzlies.
Ja Morant is the real deal. The Grizzlies hit big with their young point guard, and time will tell if they are able to surround him with enough talent to be true title contenders. For now, this is a formidable bunch of young players who play well on the road. It looks like things are heading the right way in Memphis.
20. Toronto Raptors.
Toronto were unfortunate to deal with some corona related issued during the heart of the season and lost a handful of games as a result. There was some speculation that the team could part ways with longtime point guard, Kyle Lowry, but now that the rumors are behind them, the Raptors need to find wins and fast to compete in the East.
21. New Orleans Pelicans.
A host of injuries has led New Orleans to bring in Isaiah Thomas on a 10-day contract. Great news for the veteran guard, but the Pelicans need to keep their young core healthy. And with recent reports about empty promises from management, the Pelicans need to make sure they keep young superstar Zion Williamson happy. In the meantime, there just might be enough here to get this team in the playoffs in the East.
22. Washington Wizards.
Russell Westbrook is already the franchise leader in triple-doubles and he keeps compiling them up. The problem is that they are not resulting in wins. It’s not Westbrook’s fault though. The Wizards have been hampered by injuries all season, including Bradley Beal. Rui Hachimura is a player to watch and could be a key piece for Washington moving forward.
23. Sacramento Kings.
Sacramento have played some exciting basketball with young players, most notably De’Aaron Fox, but Coach Luke Walton will need more talent to make this team a true contender in the West. Scoring is not the issue, but this King’s team ranks near the bottom in too many defensive categories.
24. Chicago Bulls.
Chicago made one of the bigger trades at the deadling, acquitting Nikola Vucevic for some contracts and two future first round picks. Together, Vucevic and LaVine should be enough to get this team into the playoffs, but the team has been off to a terrible start since the trade.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers.
Andre Drummond was bought out and Kevin Love is back from a calf injury, but it won’t mean much for the Cavaliers this season. Collin Sexton and Darius Garland are good NBA players, but this team needs much more to contend for more than another lottery selection.
26. Detroit Pistons.
Blake Griffin is gone, and dunking again, but this Pistons team still does not look headed in the right direction. The Piston’s defense is a major problem and Jerami Grant’s shooting has dipped. This Detroit team as a whole seems to be looking towards next season.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves.
First overall pick, Anthony Edwards, has been a bright spot in an otherwise mostly bleak season for the Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns has played well when heathy, but the Wolves can’t seem to keep him and DeAngelo Russell on the floor. It will be interesting to see what new coach, Chris Finch, can do with a full off-season, but there’s little to look forward to in Minnesota before then.
28. Orlando Magic.
Orlando were big sellers at the trade deadline, sending out Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon in exchange for a handful of draft picks. Now, eyes are on rookie guard Chuma Okeke, who has shown some quality play on both ends of the floor.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder.
After agreeing to sit Al Horford for the remainder of the season, Oklahoma City are making it no secret that they are contending only for a better lottery pick. Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been playing at a high level. To nobody’s surprise the Thunder have drafted another quality player. Let’s see how they use those 34 picks over the next 7 years.
30. Houston Rockets.
Victor Oladipo didn’t work. John Wall isn’t looking much better, when he’s eve available to play. Christian Wood seems like the only bright spot on this team and that was evident when the Rockets set a franchise record for consecutive losses without him. Houston needs this season, and James Harden, further behind them.