If you want to succeed in major competitive sports, especially in the National Basketball Association, you’ve got to learn how to deal and handle pressure, as you’ve got to compete against top-tier franchises and players on a nightly basis for the ultimate prize.
Nobody’s safe in the NBA and pretty much everybody’s expendable to say the least, with coaches and GM’s always on the hot seat regardless of how good they’ve fared in the past or how much they’ve given the franchise.
And even though all franchises are under a lot of pressure entering this year, there are 5 franchises that are heading towards major crossroads this campaign, being 5 teams under the most pressure of them all this campaign.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers are on the verge of a major overhaul this year, as they’ve already lost one of the main pieces of their big three in Kyrie Irving when he demanded a trade in the offseason, and all reports point towards LeBron James also heading out the door at the end of the campaign.
Cleveland is coming off 3 consecutive trips to the finals and even if LeBron tells hem that he’s in fact going to leave, they just can’t trade him, especially if he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent. With Isaiah Thomas in the same situation, they have to try and win the title to convince both stars to say, or at least hope the Nets get a very high 1st round pick this year so they kickstart another rebuilding process with the pick Brooklyn owns them after this incredible run.
4. New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans parted ways with one of their biggest prospects in Buddy Hield, as well as Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and a 1st and 2nd round pick for this upcoming Draft in order to land DeMarcus Cousins to play alongside Anthony Davis for a couple of campaigns before he enters free agency.
This experiment has worked out pretty well so far on an individual level, with Boogie playing the best ball of his career, but if the Pelicans fall short of the postseason once again, they’re very likely to lose DeMarcus for free at the end of the campaign, and considering how crowded the Western Conference is, reaching the playoffs is no piece of cake for sure.
3. Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards have really improved on a yearly basis and they’re looking like one of the most solid squads in the Eastern Conference right now, especially in their home court, but they’ve constantly failed to thrive in the playoffs with the East completely dominated by LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers.
So, with the Wizards keen to make an Eastern Conference run this season and after John Wall inked his signature on a major extension, frustration may force the All-Star point guard to force his way out of the nation’s capital if they don’t at least make the ECF this campaign, and that would represent a major blow for the team’s future after they’ve built their squad around Wall.
2. Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers are in a very similar position to the Washington Wizards, having an All-Star point guard in Damian Lillard but lacking the kind of support cast to go the distance in the postseason, something that takes away a lot of attractive for top-tier free agents that would like to head towards RIP City.
Lillard is as loyal as they come, and he’s unlikely to demand a trade if the Blazers don’t make the WCF this season, but the team’s front office may want to explore their options and consider moving him if they don’t succeed this year, entering yet another rebuilding process that would take them further away from contention.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
After making all that noise during the offseason, no team is under more pressure than the Oklahoma City Thunder right now and their OK3 trio featuring Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, especially considering the fact they gave away a lot of young assets and role players in order to have a one year rental in both All-Star forwards.
After a third of the campaign, the Thunder hasn’t really clicked and the lack of chemistry between the three players is obvious. Besides, they don’t have enough talent on the bench to try and make a push in the playoffs. So, if they don’t turn things around pretty soon and go the distance in the postseason, they’re facing the risk of losing George and Anthony for nothing after giving away that much for them.