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Which 2010 lottery teams are most likely to earn a trip to the postseason in 2011?
More than half the teams in the NBA make the playoffs each season, but that still leaves 14 teams on the outside looking in. After all the shakeups this summer, it's likely at least one of the outsiders from 2009-10 will earn a postseason berth next season, so we've ranked the franchises below in order of 2011 playoff probability. Cheer up, Rockets fans, your future is bright.
1. Houston Rockets (2009-10 record -- 42-40)
Without franchise pillars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, it was supposed to be a lost season in Houston. Instead, the Rockets admirably turned it into a winning one, going 42-40 and finishing ninth in the Western Conference.
If Yao, a seven-time All-Star, returns to form this season (and that's a Yao-sized if), don't be surprised when the Rockets catapult back into the top tier of the NBA. The roster has been tailored around the big center with strong complementary pieces, including one of the league's most efficient shot-creators in Kevin Martin and disciplined wings in Shane Battier and Courtney Lee. All things considered, the Rockets have the highest ceiling of last season's non-playoff crop.
2. New Orleans Hornets (2009-10 record -- 37-45)
Last time we checked, Chris Paul still plays for them. In 2009-10, the Hornets were 23-22 with Paul (healthy or not) and 14-23 without their franchise cornerstone. Not unlike the Rockets, whether or not the Hornets make the playoffs next season depends on the health of their star player. And, front office turnover aside, the Hornets have an exciting young nucleus in the backcourt.
Rookie 2-guard Marcus Thornton dropped 20.4 points per game over the last two months of the season and, with Morris Peterson and his $6.7 million expiring contract in Oklahoma City, it's Thornton's time to shine. New acquisition Trevor Ariza allows the Hornets to mix-and-match at the 3 spot; they can run-and-gun with Ariza or get perimeter punch in the halfcourt with Peja Stojakovic. It's worth noting that the lineup featuring Paul, Thornton, Stojakovic, David West and Emeka Okafor outscored opponents about 13 points per 100 possessions last season, lending credence to the idea that Stojakovic can still contribute.
3. New York Knicks (2009-10 record -- 29-53)
Looking over the past 10 seasons, 40 wins is the cut to punch a ticket to the Eastern Conference playoffs. An 11-win improvement may seem a tall order, but after adding Amar'e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike and Ronny Turiaf, the Knicks are a prime candidate to fill the likely vacant spot left by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
With all the new faces in Madison Square Garden, it's easy to overlook Danilo Gallinari's potential for a breakout season. According to adjusted plus/minus data from basketballvalue.com, Gallinari was the most vital Knick last season, posting a team-high 4.4, indicating the Knicks were 4.4 points better than their opponents every 100 possessions when the Rooster graced the court. Just 22 years old, the sharpshooter should thrive with Stoudemire and Felton distracting the defense with pick-and-rolls.
4. Memphis Grizzlies (2009-10 record -- 40-42)
The Grizzlies are banking that organic player development alone will push them into the playoffs next season. Tony Allen was the marquee addition to their roster this summer, but there's enough youth on this squad to expect some internal growth; Hasheem Thabeet, O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley and Rudy Gay will all be 24 or younger next season.
The Grizzlies' young core was remarkably healthy last season, but some growing pains can't be ruled out for 2010-11. If everything shakes right, Memphis could enter into winning territory, but the ceiling isn't much higher than last season's 40-win campaign.
5. Indiana Pacers (2009-10 record -- 32-50)
The Pacers did a pretty good job masking their punchless offense by playing at breakneck speed last season. The second-fastest offense in the NBA won't slow down in 2010-11 but it will be infinitely more potent with lightning-fast Darren Collison firmly in the pilot's seat.
The Pacers will struggle to fill the rebounding void left by Troy Murphy, but they can address that down the road. Indiana probably won't see huge dividends next season, but in one move, its future just got a whole lot brighter.
6. Sacramento Kings (2009-10 record -- 25-57)
Can the Kings become the first team since the Buffalo Braves to boast back-to-back Rookie of the Year award winners? With DeMarcus Cousins around, the chances are quite strong. Cousins has the size and skill to put up big numbers in his rookie campaign, but he'll have to earn his minutes alongside bigs Carl Landry and Samuel Dalembert.
The Kings have certainly beefed up their frontline after allowing the fifth-highest field goal percentage at the rim last season, according to Hoopdata.com. While they added muscle up front, they still miss Kevin Martin's scoring punch on the perimeter. Can they score enough to make some noise? Cousins may be the key.
7. Los Angeles Clippers (2009-10 record -- 29-53)
It's tough to imagine a scenario that has the Clippers making the playoffs for the second time in 14 years. But at least they will have Blake Griffin back (as of now).
More than anything, Griffin's long-awaited arrival means he can eat up shots that would otherwise go to Chris Kaman, who is one of the more overrated scoring big men in the game. Among bigs, only Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Bosh ate up more possessions than Kaman last season (27.1 percent usage rate) and not coincidentally, they each received max contracts this summer. Kaman had the worst offensive rating among big men who played 30 minutes per game last season but shot the rock as frequently as a max guy. Griffin will help make sure that doesn't happen again.
8. Washington Wizards 2009-10 record 26-56
John Wall transforms this franchise's long-term outlook not unlike the way baseball phenom Stephen Strasburg took the Washington Nationals organization by storm -- excitement now, playoffs later. Even with Wall's off-the-charts athleticism and talent, the Wizards are at least a year away from contending for the postseason.
JaVale McGee and Wall could produce a deadly loft-and-finish tandem reminiscent of Tyson Chandler and CP3. But the only other star on the roster, Gilbert Arenas, is a questionable fit alongside Wall, and the talent down low is still too raw to bang with the rest of the league's premier bigs.
9. Philadelphia 76ers (2009-10 record -- 27-55)
The Sixers have over $50 million left on Elton Brand's contract, and the rest of the team's future isn't much brighter.
Sure, Evan Turner could develop into Grant Hill-lite, but he won't get there with Andre Iguodala sapping up his opportunities. Turner and Jrue Holiday represent the light at the end of the tunnel, but this team will be happy just to win 30 games next season, much less punch a ticket to the playoffs.
10. New Jersey Nets (2009-10 record -- 12-70)
Five years is a long time, but new owner Mikhail Prokhorov's championship promise sure doesn't look any better today than it did two months ago.
It won't go down as the worst signing of the summer, but inking the totally replaceable Johan Petro for three years and $10 million is precisely the type of deal 12-win teams cannot afford to make. Brian Zoubek, whom the Nets signed as an undrafted free agent, could probably fulfill his role 10 cents on the dime. That said, with Derrick Favors, Troy Murphy, Anthony Morrow and Jordan Farmar in tow, the Nets can probably double their win total from last season.
11. Detroit Pistons (2009-10 record -- 27-55)
This is when the $86 million owed to Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva really burns. While most sub-30 win teams had enough cap space to chase some prizes this summer, the Pistons had no choice but to stay pat with their bloated contracts.
As any Knicks fan can attest, Tracy McGrady is running on fumes at this point in his career, so that signing shouldn't be treated as anything more than a courtesy flier. Lottery pick Greg Monroe should help bolster the paint, but it's shaping up like another dismal season in Detroit.
12. Golden State Warriors (2009-10 record -- 26- 56)
In letting go Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Randolph and Anthony Morrow, the Warriors unleashed three of the most promising young players on their roster outside of Stephen Curry. In efforts to rebuild, they wisely dumped Corey Maggette's long-term contract for a couple of expiring ones in Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell.
A team built around David Lee and Curry has a promising future but won't make the postseason in 2010-11 -- even if it did sign Harvard and summer league sensation Jeremy Lin.
13. Toronto Raptors (2009-10 record -- 40-42)
After losing Chris Bosh to Miami, the Raptors effectively shifted their franchise into rebuilding mode. Toronto fans, be warned: This will be painful.
Don't be surprised if next season's squad approaches Worst Defense of All-Time territory. The Raptors did nothing to address their league-worst 110.2 defensive efficiency when they netted Leandro Barbosa, Linas Kleiza and David Andersen in the offseason. Youngsters DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis will provide some flash to pacify the fans, but this team is years away from vying for a playoff spot.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves (2009-10 record -- 15-67)
General manager David Kahn has the NBA completely befuddled. He's rolling the dice with unpolished (and largely untalented) youngsters hoping they miraculously click at the same time. Just when he convinces us he's thinking strictly long-term, he hands 29-year-old Luke Ridnour a fully guaranteed four-year deal after a fluke career year so he can play in a system that neutralizes his crafty pick-and-roll attack.
Michael Beasley could bring this team across the 20-win threshold, but that's about the brightest endorsement this Kahn-designed roster allows