Why These Contenders Have The Most To Lose This Season
Winning an NBA title is impressively hard. It’s why championship teams usually have multiple generational talents, and why dynasties are so fleetingly special.
Players age and contracts become more expensive. Injuries take their toll. Rivals get better. There’s any number of reasons why a team might fall frame grace rather quickly.
This season is no exception - a few bonafide contenders in 20-21 might be looking at one bite at the apple here. These teams below face unclear futures, ramping up the pressure as the postseason rapidly approaches.
The Los Angeles Clippers
Nothing comes easy for the Clippers, and this season has been alarmingly underwhelming. Having Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the roster immediately and decidedly puts LAC in the contender class in the NBA, but things could change in a hurry.
Currently ranked fourth in offense and tenth in defense, the Clippers truly look like a team that could win it all this season. The bench is a little thin, but this is an experienced, versatile club.
Next year, though, things get dicey quick. Leonard owns a $36 million player option for the 2021-22 season. If LAC comes up short in the playoffs, perhaps Kawhi could take his talents out of Long Beach.
If Kawhi does opt in, though, a new set of challenges emerges. Throw in Serge Ibaka’s $9 million player option, and the Clips could be looking at a $146 million bill for just ten players before the offseason even begins.
Winning, of course, would make it all worth it. And hyper-billionaire owner Steve Ballmer seems ready to pay to keep the team competitive. But no matter how you look at it, the future is unclear for LAC.
The Philadelphia 76ers
I have frequently, on this very website, suggested that the pairing of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons is untenable. As far as I can tell, these two otherwise phenomenal players aren’t complimentary pieces.
Embiid is a true MVP-level player this season. He just turned 27; he should be in the heart of his prime. Things go south quickly for superstar big men, and his already spotty injury history should be cause for alarm.
Does Philly think Ben Simmons is a worthy Robin to Embiid’s Batman? Perhaps not - they nearly traded Simmo for James Harden afterall. Pandora doesn’t just go back in the box, and that could affect how Simmons sees his own future.
Throw in Tobias Harris and already Philly owes $100 million in player payroll to just three guys next season. Three guys that may never coalesce as champions. If Philly again comes up short this year, change may finally be on the horizon.
The Los Angeles Lakers
At the time of this writing, Anthony Davis and LeBron James are both sidelined with injuries, and are both expected to return to action before the playoffs begin.
The so-called Washed King was playing, impossibly, some of his best basketball before this injury. His pal Big Bird, meanwhile, also looked pretty damn good. When healthy, the Lakers will be a very, very real title contender.
Next year, though, it’s fair to offer even a smidge of doubt. James will turn 37, and we’re all just biting our tongue about Davis’ troubling history with the injury bug.
LAL has a bit more financial wiggle room for 21-22 than LAC, but the situation is a little iffy. Dennis Schroder just reportedly turned down a hefty contract extension, and the Lakers may need to replace their starting point guard with $121 million in player salaries already on the books. (Paging Mr. Chris Paul?)
The Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks have at least one more year with their championship cores. The Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics, and Miami Heat might just be a piece away. The Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets could be a problem for years to come.
For the Clippers, Sixers, and Lakers, though, things could get dicey in a hurry.