With LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers celebrating the 17th title in franchise history, it’s never too early to turn our eyes to what the next NBA season could hold.
With that in mind, ESPN, based on the votes of 40 reporters, insiders and editors, has compiled Power Rankings looking ahead to the 2020-21 campaign.
You’ll have to look outside the Top 10 to find the previous champions, as the Toronto Raptors, despite finishing the 2019-20 regular season with the second-best overall record, are 11th on the list.
Three key members of the Raptors championship team, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, are all free agents and could leave huge holes to fill on the roster.
The 26-year-old VanVleet started in all 54 regular-season games he played this season for Toronto, surpassing his previous career high of 28, and could parlay his career year of 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per game, into a massive pay day.
There have been persistent rumours, but no confirmations, that Gasol will play the season in Spain rather than return to the NBA
Ibaka, who became a key member of the team and an important playoff performer both during the title run and this year, could also cash in as well.
Head coach Nick Nurse was voted Coach of the Year this season and rewarded with a multi-year, contract extension. However, team architect and president Masai Ujiri has yet to re-up, leaving him with one year left on his current deal.
The Raptors find themselves behind two teams that finished last year with losing records, though both are expecting a huge bump from injured players returning to the fold.
Last year’s worst team, the Golden State Warriors are sixth on the ESPN Power Rankings, and the Brooklyn Nets, who will finally get Kevin Durant on the court next year, are 10th.
Here is a look at some of the other notable teams on the ESPN Power Rankings list:
– Not surprisingly, the defending champion Lakers lead the list. LeBron James remains under contract, but Anthony Davis arrived in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans holding the ability to opt out after one season. Their priority will be to get him under contract and continue to build the roster around two of the best players in the league.
– Neither a surprising playoff upset, nor a coaching change could keep the Los Angeles Clippers from the No. 2 spot in the rankings. After the Denver Nuggets came back from a 3-1 deficit to bounce the Clippers, Doc Rivers was fired and the search for a new bench boss continues.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George hold player options for the 2021-22 season, so the time is now for the Clippers. Montrezl Harrell, Marcus Morris and JaMychal Green all enter the offseason as free agents.
– The top-ranked team in the Eastern Conference is the one that finished the 2019-20 season with the best record across the entire league. The Milwaukee Bucks are No. 3 on ESPN’s power rankings list. After another monster season from Giannis Antetokounmpo, he was recognized with his second MVP and first Defensive Player of the Year award. The Bucks were eliminated in the conference semifinal round of the playoff for the second year in a row, this time falling to the Miami Heat. Antetokounmpo is eligible for a supermax contract extension this off-season and his decision to commit or wait will play the biggest hand in the future of the franchise.
– Canadian Jamal Murray teamed with Nikola Jokic to make the Denver Nuggets one of the stories of the NBA bubble. The Nuggets are No. 4 in the power rankings, after falling in the Western Conference finals to the Lakers.
– The Golden State Warriors, as previously mentioned, will try to return to full health next season and will be helped by the addition of the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. They are ranked sixth on ESPN’s list. With Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson at full strength, the Warriors, who were the NBA’s worst team last season, can finally show what they will look like in the post-Durant era.
– The defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat find themselves all the way down at No. 9 in ESPN’s rankings. Jimmy Butler put on a star-making performance in the NBA Finals and Bam Adebayo cemented his place as one of the great young players in the league, before suffering an injury.
Click here for ESPN’s complete 30-team rankings.