Editor's note: This is the fourth installment of a weeklong series examining how the "Big 3" model is used in the NBA and its short-term and long-term impact on the league.
A lot is going to change in the next four years, and that's as true in the NBA as it is in real life. By 2016, teams will be discussing whether to extend the contracts of the most recent draft class. Some kid will be finishing his freshman year of college, earning the attention and drool of NBA scouts targeting the next big lottery prize. Heck, by then Seattle might have a team again and some other town will be left in the lurch.
As part of our "Big 3" series, I was asked to identify groups who have the potential to grow into the equivalent of what we are seeing now in Oklahoma City and Miami. I thought projecting current rosters out to 2016 -- the length of a first-round rookie's contact -- would be the way to go.
This accomplishes a couple of things. It gives you a glimpse of the relative ages of each team's building blocks. The younger, the better. It also shows just how the league can change in a relatively short period of time, even in a theoretical world in which teams hang onto the same players year after year.
Using a basic aging pattern table, I forecast the playing time and Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for every player who will play or might play in the league this season. If a player is currently unattached, I placed him with his most recent NBA team.
Remember the 20/50 rule of thumb we established the other day to identify possible championship-caliber teams following a "Big 3" model? That was based on the percentage of scoring those teams tend to get from the top of their roster. Since I'm using WAR here, I'll offer you a new standard: 25/13. If a team has a combined projected WAR of 25 for its top three players and has a 13-WAR player on top of the heap, it has the kind of big three construction we've been talking about all week.
This is important to note, because the more interesting teams down the list have that potential 13-win player in hand. That, of course, is the most difficult piece to acquire, so those teams have a leg up in the rebuilding process, even if they are missing a key piece or two. Also complicating matters is the fluctuating fate of Dwight Howard, who would easily put a team into a "Big 3" state.
Keep in mind that projecting the value of players four years from now is great fodder for discussion, but these same projections could look much different a year from now.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (49.3 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: Kevin Durant (20.9) | Russell Westbrook | James Harden
No surprise that the league's youngest and most exciting core projects to lap the field in a few years. 2. Los Angeles Clippers (38.9 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: Chris Paul (17.1) | Blake Griffin | DeAndre Jordan
You'd like to see Jordan replaced as the third guy, but even so, the Clippers have the pieces to go places you never thought this franchise would go. The question: Can they stop themselves from messing this up?
3. New Orleans Hornets (38.8 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: Anthony Davis (16.0) | Ryan Anderson | Eric Gordon
If Davis is as good as his projection, the Hornets have made the vital first step toward big-time contention, especially if Anderson proves to be a good fit alongside him. And don't forget about Austin Rivers, who currently doesn't project well but might in the not-too-distant future.
4. Miami Heat (36.7 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: LeBron James (22.5) | Dwyane Wade | Chris Bosh
Will the Heat keep their Big Three intact past the players' current deals? They will be getting long in the tooth by 2016 but still awfully good.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves (30.4 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: Kevin Love (18.4) | Ricky Rubio | Nikola Pekovic
The upside of the Wolves' young core isn't exactly Thunder-like, but it's close enough to be really exciting if you're a Minnesota fan. Of course, that is if Love decides he wants to stay put.
6. Atlanta Hawks (28.1 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: Josh Smith (12.8) | Lou Williams | Al Horford
This is a team in flux, though Horford's projection is held down by his injury-marred 2011-12 season. Williams might not be a true core piece, but he'll help. Smith showed signs of elite performance, but also petulance.
7. Utah Jazz (26.0 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: Paul Millsap (10.4) | Al Jefferson | Derrick Favors
The Jazz have a growing collection of shiny pieces, but it's a mystery how all of these redundant parts will get on the court at the same time. Still, it's better to have talent than not.
8. Indiana Pacers (25.5 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: Paul George (10.5) | Roy Hibbert | Danny Granger
If the Pacers don't uncover that superstar scorer, it remains to be seen how far they can go with a roster full of second and third options.
9. Detroit Pistons (24.9 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: Greg Monroe (15.3) | Andre Drummond | Brandon Knight
This assumes that our optimistic rookie projection pans out for Drummond and that Monroe continues his development into a franchise player, but it sure looks as if the Pistons are positioned to take a leap in the next few years.
10. Milwaukee Bucks (24.9 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: Brandon Jennings (11.5) | Ersan Ilyasova | Monta Ellis
This looks like a pretty good projection for the Bucks, but if Jennings tops out at 11.5 WAR, he's not the franchise centerpiece you typically find on a championship team.
Notable Sacramento Kings (24.8 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: DeMarcus Cousins (11.6) | Isaiah Thomas | Thomas Robinson
This age-based method of production is probably too optimistic for Thomas, but the Kings have plenty of time to find a perimeter stud to go with a promising pair of big men. The Kings thought Tyreke Evans was that guy, but perhaps trading him could net them that perimeter threat.
New York Knicks (17.9 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: Carmelo Anthony (6.8) | Tyson Chandler | Jeremy Lin
The little-discussed fact about the Knicks' hodgepodge of a rebuilding effort: Not only are the pieces ill-fitting, but they aren't even that young. They will have to keep spending Park Avenue money just to remain in the NBA's middle class.
Denver Nuggets (24.6 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: Ty Lawson (9.3) | Kenneth Faried | JaVale McGee
For things to be any different for Denver than they are now, it has to find a higher upside top scorer. The Nuggets might not epitomize depth, but someone has to distinguish himself. Danilo Gallinari looked like that guy until an ankle injury hampered him.
Boston Celtics (20.9 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: Jared Sullinger (8.4) | Rajon Rondo | Paul Pierce
It's doubtful that Sullinger will pan out to be the top player on a contender, and it's doubtful Pierce will still be playing in 2016. But there's little doubt Rondo is part of a trio somewhere else.
Washington Wizards (13.6 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: John Wall (8.3) | Bradley Beal | Kevin Seraphin
Hey, I like the Wizards' base of Wall and Beal and think their projections will improve greatly in the next year. However, the presence of Seraphin in this group underscores the folly of trying to shortcut past real rebuilding by acquiring the likes of Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.
Brooklyn Nets (16.9 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: Deron Williams (7.9) | Kris Humphries | Joe Johnson
Chances are in four years Williams will be no better than a third wheel on a good team, Johnson will be a massive financial sinkhole and Humphries ... he probably won't even be in Brooklyn next season.