A lot can change over the course of a year. In the NBA that is extremely true. Players are traded, sign elsewhere or, retire. Sometimes, players that had the hot hand just one season earlier are shells of their former selves. For these five teams, Playoff success has come often over the past number of seasons.
However, they are all in major jeopardy of missing the 2018 postseason. Only 16 teams can make it to the NBA’s “second season” and for these five, their chances are looking slim.
5. Utah Jazz
After a very successful 2016-2017 campaign the Jazz come into the 2017-2018 season barring some major changes. During the past summer, the team lost George Hill and All-Star Gordon Hayward. Although the team lost two members of its core they did rebound nicely. Ricky Rubio was acquired from Minnesota and if he can play at the level he did at the end of the 2016-2017 season the Jazz could be in for big things. A healthy Rodney Hood will also need to build on his impressive play from last season as well.
Utah still has a very strong chance at making the Playoffs in the 2017-2018 season. There are two reasons that they wound up on this list. First, as we already discussed, the team lost two extremely important members of its core during the summer. Even though the Jazz may have capable rotation players, the loss of Hayward has the potential to hurt them the most this upcoming season. Secondly, three out of the five teams in the Northwest Division went out and made a big move(s) to bolster their roster this offseason. Minnesota went through a bit of an overhaul lead by the acquisition of Jimmy Butler, Denver signed Paul Millsap and, Oklahoma City swiped Paul George from the Pacers.
As previously noted, the Jazz still have a very good chance at being a competitive team in the Western Conference and make the postseason. Much like the next team on our list, their failure to make any substantial upgrades and bet their future on their existing players may hurt them in the long run. Only time will tell.
4. Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers have been on a slow decline for about the past three seasons. Ever since their 54-28 record in the 2013-14 season, Portland has been unable to reach that same level of success. Part of their decline is ultimately due to the fact that the franchise has since lost notable stars Wesley Matthews and LaMarcus Aldridge. The 2014-15 season saw Portland finish 51-31 and being eliminated in the First Round of the Playoffs. In 2015-2016, the Blazers finished with a respectable 44-38 record, but the team was eliminated in the Western Conference Semifinals for the second time in four seasons. Last year, the Blazers finished at 41-41 and were manhandled by the Golden State Warriors in the First round.
Portland’s future is very much in flux. Damian Lillard is just one year removed from setting a career high in scoring with 27 points per game but, he will need help from the players around him. CJ McCollum is also going to need to have a big year along with Jusuf Nurkic. Many teams below the Trail Blazers in the standings at the end of last season made massive moves this offseason.
Minnesota added Jimmy Butler, New Orleans may finally be able to put everything together and, Denver added Paul Millsap in hopes of finally solidifying themselves as a postseason threat. On paper, Portland appears to have a strong roster but only time will tell if their failure to make any significant upgrades will hurt them in the long run.
3. Atlanta Hawks
Oh, do the Atlanta Hawks ever wish they were back in 2014 when the team went 60-22. The past two seasons have marked a changing of the guard in Atlanta. Long tenured stars such as Jeff Teague and Al Horford left in the summer of 2016, Kyle Korver has since been traded and, Paul Millsap signed with the Denver Nuggets this summer. Now the Hawks are in a transitional phase all while trying to stay competitive. Last season saw Atlanta return to the postseason for the Tenth consecutive year(Second longest Playoff appearance streak) with a 43-39 record. Although the team would end up being eliminated in the First round they finished 5th in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks are very much going to feel the absence of Paul Millsap this upcoming season. Although the team does not have a true All-Star they do have some very good quality starters. Dennis Schroder is coming off a career across the board and Kent Bazemore is always improving. Rookie John Collins is also coming off a very impressive showing at NBA Summer League and could very well end up being an impact player for Atlanta this upcoming season. What remains to be seen however, is if the Hawks have enough firepower to still be competitive in the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta may be going through a transitional phase at the most opportune time as the Eastern Conference became much weaker as a whole this offseason. The Hawks 10-year Playoff streak may be in less trouble than we think.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
The summer of 2017 marked the end of an era in Memphis. Longtime members of the Grizzlies Zach Randolph (signed with Sacramento) and Tony Allen (free agent) are no longer with the team. Memphis has been hovering around the bottom of the Western Conference for quite some time now. During the 2015-2016 season, the team finished 42-40 and was swept in the first round. Last season, the Grizzlies finished Seventh in the Western Conference once again with a record of 43-39 but, ultimately lost in the first round.
Another big part of the Grizzlies decline is the fact that their franchise centerpieces are not getting any younger. While Marc Gasol may have set a new career high in points per game with 19.5, one has to wonder how much longer he can shoulder this type of load. At 32 years of age, Gasol is not getting any younger and has not played in over 80 games since 2014-15. Chandler Parsons is coming off an extremely disappointing as well as, injury riddled season. Although he may be 29 years of age, Mike Conley is coming off an outstanding career year and, his stellar play will be key for the Grizzlies. Tyreke Evans could also be in for a bounce back year.
Currently, the Grizzlies have 16 players listed on their depth chart. The team may have a new core group of players but, they may still lack the necessary talent to stay afloat in a talent rich Western Conference. Due to the fact that a number of teams below Memphis in the standings made major upgrades and because the Grizzlies did not, it seems very likely that the team's seven-year postseason streak will come to an end this year. However, Memphis has proved time and time again that we should not write them off right away. In the words of Kevin Garnett, “anything is possible.”
1. Chicago Bulls
Things are getting messy in Chicago. Trading Jimmy Butler was the big sign that the Bulls were hitting the reset button. As the offseason progressed, Chicago watched as players such as Taj Gibson, Rajon Rondo and, Michael Carter-Williams took their talents elsewhere. Nikola Mirotic also still remains unsigned. It also seems very likely that Dwyane Wade is headed for an ugly breakup with the team. Rumors have been swirling that his teammates are unhappy with the situation and would rather see the former All-Star leave. Also, when Wade made the decision to return home, he probably was not expecting the Bulls to blow everything up and move into rebuilding mode.
Chicago did a solid job of acquiring new talent along with draft picks to help shape their future. Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine were acquired as part of the blockbuster trade with Minnesota. Both of the former Timberwolves will look to have bounce back years. Dunn had a less than stellar rookie campaign and LaVine is coming off of an ACL injury. However, both young talents have a very good opportunity to be impact players for Chicago in the future. New rookie Lauri Markkanen should also develop into a nice big man with an even better shot. Denzel Valentine will also have a bigger opportunity to prove himself.
However, the Bulls are in rebuilding mode and everything they do is directly related to their future. In the present, the Bulls are very thin and likely do not have the means to once again sneak back into the Playoffs once again. If Chicago’s 41-41 record from a year ago is any indication, this team may be sinking and sinking fast. A postseason appearance from the 2017-2018 Chicago Bulls seems quite unlikely.