We have created a year-end team portfolio ranking for the NBA. The exercise is to evaluate every team as if they were a portfolio of assets to determine which is most valuable in terms of their on-floor capabilities.
The only considerations are talent, age, cap flexibility and future draft picks with the goal being to eventually compete for and win the NBA Finals. An older team already contending is more highly valued than a younger team with a ton of talent that may not get there, but the younger team with upside is a better bet than an older team that’s currently better but without the upside.
There is no consideration given to team location, history, head coach, general manager or owner. The exercise is to isolate the conditions of the assets to assess their value.
The NBA has an ever-changing landscape but this creation of a hierarchal ranking gives a look to how we would pick their collective situations at the end of 2016. Last year's rankings are in parenthesis, which you can also read here.
30. Brooklyn Nets (30): The Nets are two years away from being two years away but at least they’re fully on that rebuild path now. Brooklyn still won’t keep their own first round pick for two more years with a swap this year and an outright giveaway in 2018. Even though it is relatively far less problematic, Brooklyn also owes their second round pick in each of the next four drafts and those would essentially be de facto first rounders in the 30s.
Brook Lopez has remained healthy and has even improved his game as a perimeter shooter over the past year, which typically would provide trade value but there’s not an obvious partner for a center with his skill-set. Hopefully that can change for Sean Marks in the summer to grow the asset base.
29. Dallas Mavericks (29): Props to Mark Cuban for thinking big in free agency from 2012 until 2015, rejecting the tank plan outright and pragmatically signing the likes of Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams while also trading for Andrew Bogut to buttress the final seasons of Dirk Nowitzki. It hasn’t worked and they’ll be in the lottery this year, which will likely yield their point guard of the future.
28. Orlando Magic (16): The post-Dwight Howard rebuild has been defined by a lot of good yet not great young players who also haven’t made each other better. It is difficult to see Aaron Gordon or Evan Fournier becoming All-Stars but at least they’re legitimate NBA starters while Elfrid Payton is destined to be a career second unit point guard and Mario Hezonja may return to Europe before his second NBA contract based on his current trajectory.
The Magic gave up a lot to acquire Serge Ibaka in a walk year and will either need to double down on it with a new contract, or write off the loss altogether of Victor Oladipo and a lottery pick.
If the Lakers don’t convey their pick to the 76ers this season, the first rounder Orlando is owed from the Dwight trade converts into second rounders this year and next.
27. Miami Heat (18): Miami re-signed Hassan Whiteside in the offseason but a recurrence of Chris Bosh’s health issues and the departure of Dwyane Wade have created a quagmire with the direction of the franchise in the short-term. Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson are younger pieces but they are more complementary than foundational.
The Heat owe unprotected first round picks to Phoenix in 2018 and 2021, which becomes problematic if they take a big step backwards. It is possible they recoup one of those picks by trading away Goran Dragic.
26. Atlanta Hawks (24): The Hawks are an astonishingly old team with Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver in walk years. Regardless of whether Millsap leaves in free agency or signs a multi-year deal at the age of 32 this summer, the Hawks don’t have any comforting options on how to move forward regarding him.
Atlanta will receive a valuable high second round pick from Brooklyn this June and a future first rounder from Minnesota. Otherwise, this team is an aging Dwight Howard, a league average point guard in Dennis Schroder and Hawks University.
25. Phoenix Suns (17): Eric Bledsoe has returned from his meniscus injury but hasn’t regained that All-Star level of play while Devin Booker remains more about counting stats and how good he could conceptually become than actual efficient scoring and shooting. There’s no way to guess what Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender will be at this point.
The picks from the Heat could increase substantially in value with free agency becoming a less realistic plan for Miami. The logjam issue with Brandon Knight will become magnified when the 76ers get the Lakers’ pick.
24. Detroit Pistons (11): Andre Drummond entered the NBA as a highly productive, athletic big man where projecting out eventual probable improvement made him such a promising future superstar. But Drummond is still largely the same player who is dominant on the glass but not an impact player on defense and rudimentary on offense.
Stanley Johnson has had a problematic second season while there are both issues with Reggie Jackson’s fit both on and off the court. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will be a free agent this offseason and will undoubtedly be extremely expensive.
Stan Van Gundy has done well assembling a roster in the image of the way he wants to play, but there is a dearth of true difference makers.
23. Sacramento Kings (23): DeMarcus Cousins is a singular talent and a singular personality. With so much attention on Cousins’ personality and the aggressively messy nature of the Kings’ front office, the quality of his play is perennially undersold. A team could win big built around Cousins with merely a replacement level supporting cast, but he hasn’t even had anywhere close to that level of support since coming into the league in 2010.
The unprotected 2019 first rounder owed to Philadelphia looms over Cousins’ future with the franchise as that would be the first draft following his currently scheduled free agency.
22. Chicago Bulls (15): It is remarkable to consider how close the Bulls were to rebuilding by trading away Jimmy Butler, yet ended up signing a pair of former All-Stars who clog up their spacing. It hasn’t worked outside of the fluky first part of the season. Butler is 27 and can become a free agent in 2019 with the distinct possibility of not qualifying for the supermax extension before then.
Robin Lopez is on a solid contract but Taj Gibson is about to become a 32-year-old free agent looking for the biggest contract possible. Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott are destined to each become one-way bench scorers.
21. Memphis Grizzlies (25): The combination of lightly protected first round picks in 2017 and 2019 and the long-term, big money contracts Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons are signed to feels like an inescapably disastrous combination. But Gasol and Conley are still playing at All-Star levels when healthy and they’re one of this season’s true success stories.
20. New York Knicks (22): The Knicks continue to awkwardly straddle the line between continuing to try to win now around Carmelo Anthony and winning long-term around Kristaps Porzingis. It’s certainly possible to do both but it is an unquestionably difficult balance to strike and there’s nobody realistically on the roster that will help Porzingis long-term.
The Knicks are also holders of the worst contract in the NBA in Joakim Noah. Fortunately in the first time in forever, the Knicks don’t owe any future first round picks.
19. Los Angeles Lakers (28): The Lakers fortuitously kept their pick to select Brandon Ingram and have also seen encouraging development from D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. to jump up from 29th a year ago. The four-year deals to Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov that were categorically overpays do restrict their options in free agency to add a max player to the young mix. The possibility of the Lakers keeping their pick one more time is similarly as critical as it was last year to give them one more foundational piece before they begin competing for a playoff spot in earnest in 17-18.
18. Washington Wizards (13): John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter seem to have the talent and complementary skill-sets to make them one of the best point guard, shooting guard and small forward combinations in the game, so it’s nearly inconceivable for them to be so consistently fraught with issues. Their struggles are yet another argument for intangibles remaining impactful and tough to calibrate.
Washington was on a multi-year path for Kevin Durant cap space in 2016, yet it was spent instead on now troublesome contracts for Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith. Wall could go on a playoff run as a two-way superstar so that can never be discounted even though there are limits on how this team can improve around him.
17. Denver Nuggets (21): A year ago it was going to be Emmanuel Mudiay and Jusuf Nurkic but now it’s Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic as their 1-2 punch. Denver has had Danilo Gallinari in fake trades for years and are running out of weeks to execute one for either a draft pick or a younger player to match the timeline of Murray and Jokic.
The Nuggets have had an influx of extra picks over the past few years and are owed one from Memphis this June to add another potential rotation player.
16. Charlotte Hornets (27): Kemba Walker has entered that Mike Conley strata where he’s clearly one of the league’s best players to never make an All-Star team. Like Walker, Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are signed long-term on reasonable deals. Marvin Williams has fallen off since last season but at least he took less money on his new deal.
15. Portland Trail Blazers (26): The Blazers have impressive depth and most of it is signed long-term for better or worse. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are signed through 2021, which gives them time to balance out their roster and eventually upgrade on the defensive end of the floor. Portland may be in cap hell but they have banked on their player development formula where their players outplay their expected talent level and could yield a favorable return.
14. Indiana Pacers (19): Paul George is a two-way star on the wing and Myles Turner is on his way to being an equivalent as a big. The rest of the roster is muddled but you can get very good again quickly with that type of combination anchoring a roster. The ability for the Pacers to extend George on a supermax entirely changes the calculus of the franchise long-term. A difficult decision awaits this offseason on Jeff Teague.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (3): The loss of Kevin Durant dropped them 13 spots from last year but they withstood the turmoil by extending Russell Westbrook by one season on his current deal and will now benefit from the supermax as the Pacers will with George. Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo are signed long-term while Domantas Sabonis has shown decent promise as a rookie. The structural issues of how they’ve been built with their lack of shooting has been covered up by the excellence of Westbrook.
The Thunder have relied heavily upon the draft since 2007 but they owe first round picks in 2018 and 2020, albeit heavily protected ones should they decide to hit the restart button without Westbrook.
12. Boston Celtics (10): While the Celtics successfully signed Al Horford and drafted Jaylen Brown in the offseason, the team-friendly deals of Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas are now a season shorter from last year and their ability to trade for a true franchise player to play with that excellent collection of role players has effectively been taken off the table due to the supermax. Instead of turning a fringe contender into a sincere title contender, the blockbuster trade the league has waited for may never come, which would force the Celtics to pivot to a slower path where a young core coalesces more slowly.
The Celtics will get a probable top-5 pick in a deep draft due to their pick swap with the Nets and will get their final one in 2018. There’s still a ton of potential for a title contender to be constructed by Danny Ainge, but there’s now serious doubt about what recently felt like an inevitability.
11. New Orleans Pelicans (8): Anthony Davis already wasn’t going anywhere for several seasons and that will be extended out even further with the supermax extension, which he will certainly qualify for after missing out on the Rose Rule. The Pelicans have squandered the early part of his prime with a number of win-now moves that haven’t worked out due to injuries and a general misidentification of talent. Buddy Hield as a high lottery pick has been a continuation of that tendency as it was previously with Austin Rivers.
Omer Asik and Solomon Hill are on bad contracts, while Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans will be free agents this offseason.
The ways for the Pelicans to improve the supporting cast around Davis are limited, but he’s good enough to transcend just about any set of teammates and maybe they eventually luck into one that actually merits Davis’ talent.
10. Utah Jazz (9): This will be Utah’s first playoff season with this group but it will precede an uncertain offseason with Gordon Hayward and George Hill becoming free agents. Rudy Gobert is now signed long-term and that will give them some level of confidence in making a decision on Derrick Favors, who has been unable to stay healthy lately. While Dante Exum has disappointed as a high lottery pick, finding Rodney Hood in the twenties one year after they drafted Gobert in the twenties has been a nice trade off, as was the excellent trade of their 2016 lottery pick for Hill.
9. Houston Rockets (6): James Harden as an unstoppable offensive playmaker that also makes his teammates better as a dedicated facilitator has become clear this season under Mike D’Antoni. The load he carries on offense is immense and the plug and play nature of putting even one-dimensional shooters and roll men around him maximizes their impact. The core is all under team control for at least two more seasons with Patrick Beverley in particular being on one of the league’s best contracts.
8. Philadelphia 76ers (12): With even just marginally more refinement and good health, Joel Embiid’s size and natural feel for the game on both ends of the floor makes him a player capable of becoming the best player on a title contender. Embiid combined with Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and whatever happens with Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel gives Philadelphia a great base to work with.
While the core of what they have now could grow into a playoff contender with time and cap space, everything they do will be amplified by their own draft pick in 2017, the Lakers’ pick in either 2017 or 2018, and Sacramento’s completely unprotected pick in 2019. It is difficult to envision a scenario where the 76ers aren’t going deep into the playoffs very year during the entirety of the 2020s.
7. Milwaukee Bucks (14): The jump Giannis Antetokounmpo took in the second half of 15-16 and the first two months of this season is practically unprecedented. Antetokounmpo just turned 22 and is on a below max deal as one of the top-15 players in the game right now and a possible MVP candidate in the near-future with his value on both ends of the floor. If you’re building a franchise from scratch, Antetokounmpo is one of the first handful of players coming off the board.
Jabari Parker has been bouncy attacking the rim a full two years removed from his ACL tear and has also shot the three better. When the Bucks get Khris Middleton back from his hamstring injury, they will have one of the NBA’s best big three’s. This team isn’t far away from challenging in the Eastern Conference.
6. Toronto Raptors (20): The Raptors re-signed DeMar DeRozan to a five-year, $139 million contract, which felt like a perilous proposition at the time, but its not an issue at all with how he’s become an even better playr in 16-17 and the ominous supermax. Toronto will have a similar contractual decision to make this summer with Kyle Lowry. The full extent of how special the pairing is of DeRozan and Lowry has crystalized and there’s no way they can break it up at this point.
Toronto is one of the league’s deepest teams, which has been a specialty of Masai Ujiri during both of his general manager tenures. There are limited minutes players on the Raptors that would be regulars on virtually every other team in the league.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves (7): The outlook has become decidedly more sober than it was in the offseason when Tom Thibodeau took over the franchise as they have underachieved on defense, but Karl-Anthony Towns remains well ahead of schedule while Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine remain very much unfinished products.
Minnesota drove Kris Dunn off the lot when his value was much higher in June and his disappointing rookie season complicates what they decide to do with Ricky Rubio.
While Towns’ best future is at center next to a floor spacing 4, the contract extension they signed Gorgui Dieng to in October is immensely tradeable should they decide to go in that direction with their big man rotation. Seeing actual progress this season in terms of wins and losses would have been preferred, adding even one more lottery pick will matter long-term.
4. San Antonio Spurs (4): For as good as we knew Kawhi Leonard was in the summer of 2015 when he signed his extension, he become an even better player on offense than even his most optimistic supporters expected. Adding pieces around Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, assuming Aldridge remains long-term, is an easier proposition than a lot of teams face with players of that caliber due to the way they function as hubs on offense and Leonard’s wing defense.
3. Los Angeles Clippers (5): Nothing is for certain with the Clippers as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick approach free agency with DeAndre Jordan following in 2018. For all of their playoff disappointments, this core has been underappreciated by some and should linger in the title chase for another two or three years.
The Clippers haven’t drafted and developed a rotation player since Doc Rivers’ regime started and that’s generally problematic but it weirdly makes their pair of owed first rounders slightly less of an issue.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (2): At the age of 32, LeBron James has perhaps become underrated in terms of both how good he remains and how many peak seasons he has left in his career. James’ performance in The Finals was a reminder on both counts. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love don’t have player options until 2019 while even James decided to skip one offseason of free agency in 2017 for the first time since returning to Cleveland. The pieces will remain in place long-term with everyone signed on multi-year deals.
1. Golden State Warriors (1): The Warriors have a pair of MVPs who completely change the geometry of an offense in Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry to go with All-Stars functioning as role players in Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The talent of those four players, along with how well they complement each other and the number of prime years remaining in their careers makes their position in the top slot exceptionally secure even as Durant and Curry hit free agency this summer. Thompson and Green don’t hit free agency until 2019 and 2020 in which they will remain below max players under even the old salary cap world.