We have a fair idea of the NBA hierarchy in 2020, with the Bucks and Los Angeles squads currently standing as the league’s top teams. But how will things look in five years? The league landscape looked far different in 2015, back when Cleveland won the East and the Spurs still had Kawhi Leonard. A half-decade can feel like a lifetime in the NBA, especially given the rapid rate of turnover from franchise to franchise.
So who is slated to run the league in 2025? Let’s assess the state of the NBA in our five-year power rankings.
30. Cavaliers – Things may continue to be bleak in Cleveland. There’s no discernible track record of success outside of LeBron James’ tenures, and the current roster isn’t stocked with top-tier talent. My faith in Dan Gilbert is limited.
29. Pistons – The current roster is only mildly intriguing, and Detroit isn’t exactly a destination. Perhaps the Pistons can allocate their resources more efficiently after Blake Griffin’s contract expires.
28. Hornets – Charlotte went through a disastrous draft stretch in the early 2010s, but perhaps the tide is turning. Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington are both promising forwards, and second-year guard Devonte’ Graham could be the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2019-20. There’s still a pretty low ceiling on this group, but perhaps there could be increased respectability for the franchise in the next decade.
27. Kings – De’Aaron Fox is overlooked as one of the league’s top young guards, and Marvin Bagley is a quality scoring threat. But the Vivek Ranadive era has been anything but smooth, and Luke Walton may not be a long-term option. Let’s proceed with caution on Sacramento’s future.
26. Timberwolves – Minnesota may plummet toward the bottom of the rankings if Karl-Anthony Towns departs before 2025. The Timberwolves have no real track record of signing impact free agents, and lottery luck can be fickle. My faith in D’Angelo Russell is minimal, but if Towns sticks around, there is a solid floor as the young center enters his prime.
25. Knicks – On one hand, the last 20 years have been largely a disaster, and the young talent is not exactly bankable (though R.J. Barrett has promise). But location keeps New York as a major free-agency player. And maybe those sell-the-team chants actually come to fruition by 2025.
24. Wizards – There may be more reason for optimism than originally assumed. Bradley Beal appears to be in Washington for the long haul, and Rui Hachimura showed promise as a rookie. Perhaps John Wall will never return to his peak form. Regardless, Washington could become a playoff stalwart with any semblance of talent around Beal in coming seasons.
23. Spurs – The Spurs’ slide continued in 2019-20, and their 22-year playoff streak will likely end this season. What will the franchise look like after the Gregg Popovich era? The future remains murky. San Antonio hasn’t been able to stock young talent without a lottery appearance, and DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge aren’t getting any younger. San Antonio may need a hard pivot to stay afloat in the Western Conference.
22. Magic – Orlando has a stream of solid players in the frontcourt, but there’s no discernible star on the roster, and point guard remains a question mark. Perhaps Markelle Fultz lives up to his potential as the top pick, but that ship has likely sailed. The Magic are still looking for their next franchise anchor.
21. Bulls – Perhaps Chicago could lure a star in free agency under new leadership, and there are some intriguing young pieces on the roster. It’s hard to have much faith in the Bulls after the last few years, but let’s put at least a few eggs in Arturas Karnisovas' basket.
20. Hawks – There’s legitimate talent here to form an Eastern Conference contender over the next half-decade. Trae Young could be in the running for All-NBA honors if he can be any better than the league’s worst defender, and the John Collins-Clint Capela frontcourt is intriguing. Let’s stay optimistic for the next stage of Young’s career.
19. Pacers – There doesn’t seem to be a real pathway to Finals contention, although Victor Oladipo returning to his pre-injury form would certainly help matters. Regardless, this is a quality franchise with a high floor. Don’t expect the Pacers to sink in the 2020s.
18. Trail Blazers – Portland has continued to spend heavily in recent seasons, and its roster isn’t exactly flexible in the near future. But I’ll continue to bet on Damian Lillard, even in his mid-30s. Portland should stay near playoff contention if Lillard continues to play at an All-NBA level.
17. Suns – It’s been a rough decade for Phoenix, but the Booker-Ayton duo should bring the franchise into playoff contention throughout the 2020s. Ayton’s development of late has been especially intriguing. He’s averaging 21.2 points and 11.9 rebounds per game in his last 15 contests, showing off his precocious offensive arsenal. If Ayton can evolve into a true No. 1 pick, perhaps Phoenix could creep toward Finals contention in 2025.
16. Thunder – Oklahoma City will always be plagued by its market size, but a stockpile of picks should help Sam Presti rebuild with aplomb across the next decade. And with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander already in the backcourt, Presti may already have his next franchise cornerstone.
15. Grizzlies – Ja Morant could ultimately prove to be the jewel of the 2019 class, and Jaren Jackson Jr. could challenge Trae Young as the best non-Luka player in the 2018 draft. The Grit-N-Grind era delivered seven playoff appearances in the 2010s. Morant and Co. are already ahead of schedule, and Memphis’ ceiling is as high as nearly any team in the West.
14. Jazz – Utah is one of the league’s sturdiest franchises, and Donovan Mitchell is a legitimate building block. But will the Mitchell-Rudy Gobert duo last across the next decade? There’s reason for skepticism, and for more than the recent coronavirus-induced spat. Utah could look to deal Gobert for a more versatile player in coming seasons. Perhaps the move vaults Utah to the Finals, but it could set the franchise back as it looks to build around Mitchell.
13. Pelicans – The sky's the limit for New Orleans, who is stocked with young talent. Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram made significant strides in 2019-20. Let’s hope Zion Williamson can stay healthy.
12. 76ers – Philadelphia is the ultimate boom-or-bust franchise. There’s one scenario where Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons find a way to coexist, then terrorize the East for the next decade. The more likely scenario? A pair of frustrating playoff exits, then a painful divorce. Philadelphia could still move forward with one star, though breaking up Embiid and Simmons would represent a major missed opportunity.
11. Rockets – The economics of this roster are certainly troubling, and the recent financial woes for owner Tilman Fertitta doesn’t do the Rockets any favors. But as long as James Harden is around, count Houston as a playoff contender. The Beard can carry even a middling roster to the playoffs, even in the West.
10. Nets – The first year of the Kyrie Irving era was anything but smooth, but there’s too much talent here to knock Brooklyn out of the top 12. Brooklyn will remain contenders as long as they have a healthy Kevin Durant on their roster, though that is, of course, no guarantee
9. Nuggets – Nikola Jokic has brought the Nuggets back into perennial playoff status, and Jamal Murray is signed long-term as his running mate. Murray’s growth will be critical for Denver moving forward. Ditto for Michael Porter Jr. If the aforementioned youngsters become All-Stars, we could see the Nuggets in the Finals. If they falter, Jokic’s prime will be wasted.
8. Raptors – Masai Ujiri has done a masterful job shaping this roster, even if Fred VanVleet cashes out and leaves in free agency. Perhaps a reset is on the way when Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol see their contracts end, but don’t count Toronto out of the 2021 free agency chase. Could Giannis Antetokounmpo consider moving north of the border? If he does, vault Toronto to the top of these rankings.
7. Heat – Miami has built beautifully in recent years, acquiring a stockpile of young talent headlined by Bam Adebayo. Can they lure a free agent in the 2021 class? Pat Riley always has a plan up his sleeve. Giannis Antetokounmpo could be enticed if things go south in Milwaukee.
6. Warriors – 2019-20 was a bit of a disaster for the Warriors, but let’s not discard them as contenders in the Western Conference for years to come. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson shouldn’t fall off a cliff in their production. A top-three pick is on the way. Andrew Wiggins remains a wildcard, but it’s hard to bet against this franchise after a half-decade of dominance.
5. Mavericks – Dallas is certainly in contention for the top spot on our list, largely thanks to phenom Luka Doncic. The Slovenian sensation may win multiple MVPs in the next decade. Can he reach multiple Finals? That may depend on Mark Cuban finally reeling in a third star alongside Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
4. Celtics – Boston never landed Paul George, Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis, but Danny Ainge has to be pretty satisfied with his decision making entering the next decade. Jayson Tatum is an emerging superstar, and Jaylen Brown projects to be a perfect two-way sidekick. Perhaps Kemba Walker isn’t a true No. 1 option, but he will thrive as a complimentary piece. Boston should certainly make the Finals this decade.
3. Bucks – Milwaukee is in a similar spot to the Cavaliers in LeBron James’ first tenure, and the franchise could collapse if Giannis bolts. But the Bucks have done a far better job building around their transcendent star compared to the late-aughts Cavs. It’s not a lock Antetokounmpo stays in Milwaukee. But if he inks a long-term extension, the Bucks will remain in the top five of our list for years to come.
2. Lakers – Will LeBron still be on the Lakers in 2025? It’s tough to project, but Anthony Davis and Los Angeles isn’t a bad place for a franchise to start. Jeanie Buss has stabilized the franchise after a rocky stretch. Things are looking up for the Lakers in the next decade.
1. Clippers – There’s of course some risk with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George potentially entering free agency in 2021, but it’s hard to see the pair splitting town so soon after engineering this dynamic duo. Los Angeles has two stars, a perfect location and an owner with an endless flow of cash. What else could you ask for?