The NBA will look much different in 2025 than it does today. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and most of the players who dominated the NBA on and off the court during the 2010s will either be retired or near the end of their careers. In five seasons, the league will be ruled by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and the teams that are best prepared for the future.
My aim in this exercise was to assess which NBA teams would be either elite, middle class or pushovers in 2025. In placing teams in six tiers, from strongest to weakest, I considered these factors:
TALENT/FUTURE ASSETS (50 possible points): This is, by far, the most important category. I took into consideration the current age of the team’s best players, the anticipated improvement of its young players and the number and projected return on the team’s future first-round draft picks.
COACHING/FRONT OFFICE (30 possible points): I considered in-game coaching ability, talent development, drafting, free agency, roster construction and front office-coaching synchronicity.
ORGANIZATIONAL LEADERSHIP/APPEAL (20 possible points): This takes into consideration the owner’s impact (good or bad) as well as the city's location and organization’s reputation.
"Educated guesswork," of course, is involved with every team except one. And there are millions of unanswerable questions: Will Giannis stick with Bucks? Will Zion remain with the Pels? Could LeBron take over as coach/GM of the Lakers, draft Bronny, and coax D-Wade out of retirement? The one certainty: Until James Dolan sells, the Knicks will stink.
Talent/future assets: I fully expect Luka Doncic to have a LeBron James-Giannis Antetokounmpo level of impact on his team. Thus, he’s all Dallas really needs to score highly in this category. Kristaps Porzingis is gravy (50/50).
Coaching/front office: Rick Carlisle is one of the league’s premier coaches and Donny Nelson is a very good executive (28/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Early in his ownership tenure, Mark Cuban was perhaps a little brash and outspoken for his players’ liking, but he has dialed that down and become an asset. Dallas’ organization is strong. Mostly warm weather and no state income tax make it an optimal free-agent destination. (15/20).
SCORE: 93 points
Talent/future assets: In 2025, the Nuggets should have an organically grown star trio of Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray in their primes -– it doesn’t get much better than that (50/50).
Coaching/front office: Head coach Mike Malone has done a nice job developing talented, young players, and president of basketball ops Tim Connelly is excellent at identifying talent all over the NBA Draft (27/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Owner Stan Kroenke lets his front office and coaching staff run things how they see fit. The organization has a decent reputation and could become a destination for middle-tier free agents (15/20).
SCORE: 92 points
Talent/future assets: While their long-term outlook isn’t quite as great as it was the summer they acquired Kyrie Irving, the Celtics should still be in awesome shape in 2025 with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, both of whom will be in their absolute primes at 26 and 28, respectively. Having two extra first-round picks and Kemba Walker won’t hurt either (45/50).
Coaching/front office: The Brad Stevens-Danny Ainge connection is on the level of the Eric Spoelstra-Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich-R.C. Buford bonds, and elevates the team’s long-term potential tremendously (30/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Boston’s ownership group is one of the league’s best, and the organization and fan base obviously are appealing to free agents as demonstrated by the signings of Al Horford, Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker in recent years (16/20).
SCORE: 91 points
Talent/future assets: With Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and a whole slew of young talent and future draft picks, the Pelicans are built to compete for the 2020s. They should have two of the top-10 players in 2025 and one of the more talented rosters in the league if they play their cards right. (50/50).
Coaching/front office: Alvin Gentry may not be head coach in 2025. No worries. Executive VP of basketball ops David Griffin has already amassed one of the most impressive stockpiles of assets in the league as a result of the Anthony Davis trade. (25/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: New Orleans is clearly a football city and not a huge free-agent destination, but the organization will have a ton of appeal if Zion stays healthy -– this kid has that type of impact (15/20).
SCORE: 90 points
Talent/future assets: The 2015-2019 Warriors were truly light years ahead of the rest of the league. The 2025 Warriors? They’ll still be ahead of most of the league, but the chances of them ever assembling a roster like they had last decade are damn near impossible. In five years, Steph Curry will be 36 and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will be 34. Golden State must play its cards right with assets it acquired from the D’Angelo Russell trade and hit big with its own 2020 draft pick (40/50).
Coaching/front office: With head coach Steve Kerr and president of basketball ops Bob Myers at the helm, Golden State has the model NBA program; that should continue in five years. (30/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Owner Joe Lacob is more than willing to spend big money on the team, its facilities and free agents, and the opportunities that come with playing the Bay Area are tough to beat (20/20).
SCORE: 90 points
Talent/future assets: With a core of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks and Justise Winslow, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team in a better situation than Memphis in terms of young talent (50/50).
Coaching/front office: Coach Taylor Jenkins and executive Jason Wexler have done an excellent job early in their tenure together in Memphis, so they deserve benefit of the doubt (25/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Although Memphis isn’t an overly attractive destination for free agents, the Grit-N-Grind mentality of the organization should appeal to middle-tier free agents, especially with potential superstars in Morant and Jackson Jr. in place. (15/20).
SCORE: 90 points
Talent/future assets: The Thunder has a franchise cornerstone (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) and control of 15 first-round draft picks (11 picks and four pick swaps) between 2020 and 2026 (50/50).
Coaching/front office: Freed from the limitations of coaching headstrong franchise player Russell Westbrook, Billy Donovan is looking like a top-10 coach. And GM Sam Presti has one of the best eyes for talent in the league (28/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: OKC’s organization is well run and its home fans may be the loudest in the league. Unfortunately for the Thunder, Oklahoma City is one of the least desirable cities for NBA players. But don't feel bad for owner Clay Bennett -– he moved this team from Seattle (12/20).
SCORE: 90 points
Talent/future assets: In five years, the Heat should have Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn in their primes. Miami hopes to have a big-time free agent from the summer of 2021 as well (40/50).
Coaching/front office: Even though it is almost a certainty that Pat Riley will no longer be in the picture by 2025, the line of succession (Erik Spoelstra) is already in place. Expect the Miami Mafia to still have one of the most ambitious and well-run organizations in the NBA (30/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: South Beach is right up there with LA and New York when it comes to preferable NBA cities for players, and owner Mickey Arison is one of the premier owners in the game (18/20).
SCORE: 88 points
Talent/future assets: The Lakers probably won’t have LeBron James in 2025 (or at least not a prime LeBron), but they’ll still have a 31-year-old Anthony Davis, plus presumably at least one other star player and ring-hunting veterans (45/50).
Coaching/front office: The Frank Vogel-Rob Pelinka marriage has worked wonderfully, but they can’t be given the same benefit of the doubt as the top combos (25/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Jeanie Buss seems to have turned the corner as an owner. Plus, the team has a family-type appeal, on full display after Kobe Bryant’s death. The Lakers are the league's most famous franchise and a highly desirable destination for free agents (18/20).
SCORE: 88 points
Talent/future assets: The Bucks are the team with the most variance in this exercise because of the uncertainty of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s forthcoming free agency. However, Milwaukee has done a much better job courting him than Cleveland did with LeBron, so the odds seem in the Bucks’ favor that they’ll still have the most unstoppable player on the planet (45/50).
Coaching/front office: Mike Budenholzer is one of the best coaches in the game, and as likely as any coach to still be with the same organization five years from now. Jon Horst likewise appears destined to be an executive worthy of long-term employment (27/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Milwaukee’s ownership group is going to be under more of a microscope in the near future, but it has done nothing to warrant a poor grade. Like any small-market team, it will always face an uphill battle in free agency (15/20).
SCORE: 87 points
Talent/future assets: Utah has a great program, seemingly always above average in all facets. In five years, Donovan Mitchell will be a 28-year-old superstar in the middle of his prime, and Rudy Gobert should be an effective, 32-year-old rim-runner and protector (40/50).
Coaching/front office: Quin Snyder is routinely labeled as a top-five NBA coach, and executive VP of basketball ops Dennis Lindsey has a similar reputation as a decision-maker and talent evaluator (30/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Utah’s ownership group does a nice job with this small-market team. Although Utah will never be a free-agent destination, it's appealing to good role players who want to play for an upstanding organization with selfless stars. (15/20).
SCORE: 85 points
Talent/future assets: With Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, the Raptors are probably only one more high-level player from being a perennial contender for the first half of the decade (40/50).
Coaching/front office: Head coach Nick Nurse and president of basketball ops Masai Ujiri are so good that the Raptors get a slight demerit because each could be lured away by a franchise with deeper pockets and resources (28/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Toronto’s ownership lets Ujiri be the face of the franchise, and the organization has enough appeal to lure decent free agents –- just not superstar free agents from Los Angeles (17/20).
SCORE: 85 points
Talent/future assets: In five years, Kawhi Leonard will be 33 and Paul George will be 34 –- old by NBA terms. The Clippers' success will depend on their infrastructure and ability to attract free-agent talent. (The Thunder have nearly every L.A. first-round pick between now and the end of time.) (35/50).
Coaching/front office: The Doc Rivers-Lawrence Frank coach-GM combination is one of the best in the NBA. They have clear vision of what kind of roster to construct. (28/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Steve Ballmer is one of the richest people in the world and one of the more committed owners in the league. While they aren’t the Lakers, the Clippers have been a damn good destination for free agents since Ballmer took over (20/20).
SCORE: 83 points
Talent/future assets: In 2025, Joel Embiid will be 30 and Ben Simmons will be 28; both should be near the top of their games. However, it is unlikely that both will be on the Sixers then because they don't mesh on the court. That being said, the team should be able to acquire a hell of a trade package for whichever player it chooses to deal (45/50).
Coaching/front office: Head coach Brett Brown probably isn’t long for Philly, and that’s actually probably a good thing as he seems to have plateaued. GM Elton Brand could very well remain the top decision-maker if he figures a way out of this Embiid-Simmons conundrum (20/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: The 76ers have a solid ownership group and a city with some decent appeal and recent history of attracting free agents, so expect the team to be near the top of the league (15/20).
SCORE: 80 points
Talent/future assets: Though the Spurs’ sideline may look a lot different in five years, the organization and Spurs’ culture is built to last. Lonnie Walker IV, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White will be in their respective primes in five years, and will need to make a leap for the Spurs to get to that elite class of contenders (35/50).
Coaching/front office: Expect Gregg Popovich to be in the front office again in five years, replaced as head coach by either Becky Hammon or Tim Duncan. That sounds like a nice succession plan to me! (30/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: San Antonio is one of the least desirable NBA cities to live in for most players, but the organization’s culture and strong fan base appeal to some. (15/20).
SCORE: 80 points
Talent/future assets: The Pacers should continue to be an above-average to fringe contender for the foreseeable future. They have one of the deepest, and surprisingly youngest, rosters in the league. In five seasons, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner will be in the middle of their primes. Plus, Victor Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon should still be solid players (35/50).
Coaching/front office: Nate McMillan and Kevin Pritchard are a strong head coach-GM combination and project the stability and vision that should keep the team from falling out of the playoff picture (30/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Indiana’s basketball culture, solid ownership and fans make it a fun place to play basketball, but the appeal of playing in the epitome of a flyover state is pretty low (10/20)
SCORE: 75 points
Talent/future assets: As bad as the Hawks are this season, they still have the toughest thing to find: a young superstar (Trae Young). In five years, a combination of Clint Capela, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and whomever they draft should make for a solid roster around Ice Trae (40/50).
Coaching/front office: Their team vision is clear: Coach Lloyd Pierce and GM Travis Schlenk want to be the next Warriors. But their execution has left a little to be desired (15/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: The ownership stays out of the way, and The Trae Young Effect should help make the Hawks a free- agent option -- especially if he can become a better distributor (15/20).
SCORE: 70 points
Talent/future assets: Assuming Devin Booker hasn’t bounced, the Suns should actually have one heck of a duo in prime Booker and early-prime Deandre Ayton in 2025 (40/50).
Coaching/front office: Monty Williams, in his first season with the team, is an above-average head coach. Perhaps he and GM James Jones will stabilize the organization. Oh, how they could use stability. (20/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Phoenix should be a great city and place to play –- Charles Barkley sure enjoyed his time there -– but the Suns have one of the worst owners in basketball, Robert Sarver (10/20).
SCORE: 70 points
Talent/future assets: In 2025, Damian Lillard will be 34 and on the final year of his contract, making $54.25M. The Blazers are banking on him still being an effective player then. A lot of the team’s standing in five years will depend on the development of Anfernee Simons (who will be 25), Nassir Little (24) and Zach Collins (27) (35/50).
Coaching/front office: Terry Stotts and Neil Olshey have a good head coach-GM rapport; however, it’s unclear if the Paul Allen successors will have the same type patience if the team can’t get over the hump and routinely contend (20/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Portland is a lower-middle tier destination for players, but it had a strong organizational culture during the late-Paul Allen’s regime. It should carry over as long as Dame is around (14/20).
SCORE: 69 points
Talent/future assets: The T’Wolves will certainly have offensive firepower in 2025 with Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, who will be 29 and 28, respectively. It’ll be vital for Minnesota to surround those two with good 3-and-D wings (40/50).
Coaching/front office: Ryan Saunders hasn’t shown a whole lot as a head coach, but president of basketball ops Gersson Rosas has definitely shown some potential as a decision-maker. He has deftly ditched the bad contracts he inherited (20/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Glen Taylor isn’t the best owner, but he isn’t the worst either. Unfortunately, Minnesota isn’t exactly a free-agent destination, so the team must do whatever it can to ensure that it keeps KAT and Russell happy (5/20).
SCORE: 65 points
Talent/future assets: The Bulls have young talent -- see Coby White (19), Wendell Carter (20), Lauri Markkanen (22) and Zach LaVine (24) -- but they so clearly lack a superstar that it’s extra-difficult to project where they'll be in 2025. Will they swing a trade for a superstar or persuade one to sign with them? (35/50).
Coaching/front office: Jim Boylan is not the coach of the future and Gar Forman/John Paxson are not the front-office fixtures this team needs. Thus, the 2025 coach/GM combo has to be better. In theory, at least. (10/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Although the Bulls haven’t been able to attract a marque free agent, Chicago is an amazing city and owner Jerry Reinsdorf oversaw six championships in the Jordan era (18/20).
SCORE: 63 points
Talent/future assets: If we’d done this exercise last season, the Nets would have a much higher score as they had young talent, a strong culture and ample cap space. Now they have 31-year-old Kevin Durant recovering from an Achilles injury and 27-year-old Kyrie Irving recovering from whatever YouTube conspiracy is on his mind at the moment. This team is suddenly built for the next two-three years, and that’s it (25/50).
Coaching/front office: Again, if we did this exercise last season, head coach Kenny Atkinson and GM Sean Marks would receive top marks for building a strong NBA program. Now? Yikes! This is the KD-Kyrie-DeAndre program (15/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Brooklyn has a lot going for it as a destination. Joseph Tsai has already put more effort into owning the team than Mikhail Prokhorov ever did, so there is at least some organizational appeal. (17/20).
SCORE: 57 points
Talent/future assets: Enjoy the present as much as you can, Rockets fans, because the future is going to get dark. In 2025, James Harden will be 35 and around the 40,000 career minutes mark. He’s going to fall off at some point, and it could get ugly. It’s unlikely that any other player on the current roster will still be on the team (25/50).
Coaching/front office: Daryl Morey is an excellent executive and Mike D’Antoni is a very good coach. But because of the negative economic impact of Morey’s China tweet and D’Antoni’s lameduck contract situation, there’s a strong possibility neither will be in Houston in 2025 (15/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: In less than three seasons as the owner, Tilman Fertitta has flashed all the red flags when it comes to bad NBA owners. He's headstrong, cheap and relishes being in the spotlight. With no state income tax in Texas and a good nightlife scene for NBA players, Houston will always have appeal. But the Rockets must have a strong roster to attract good free agents. Don't see that being the case in 2025 (10/20).
SCORE: 50 points
Talent/future assets: In five years, I expect the Magic to be on the same hamster wheel of mediocrity they’ve been on since Dwight Howard left in 2012. Unless Aaron Gordon, Markelle Fultz or Jonathan Isaac unexpectedly develop into All-NBA players, the Magic will finish anywhere between fifth and 10th in the East every season until 2025 (25/50).
Coaching/front office: Steve Clifford and Jeff Weltman make for a blah coach-GM combination, and it won’t matter who is in those positions in 2025 if the team doesn’t have a franchise player (13/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Orlando is an attractive location for celebrities, so it should be a great free-agent destination. And there's no state income tax in Florida. But something seems to be lacking. (12/20).
SCORE: 50 points
Talent/future assets: Considering that the Wizards’ only contract guaranteed through 2022-23 is Rui Hachimura’s, it’s nearly impossible to project where they'll be in five years. Will 31-year-old Bradley Beal be on the back end of his prime? Or perhaps he’ll have demanded a trade four years earlier. Maybe they’ll have lucked into a superstar in the draft (20/50).
Coaching/front office: The current coach, Scott Brooks, is more likely to be in a player development role with another franchise than a head coach for the Wizards by 2025. GM Tommy Sheppard only took over for Ernie Grunfeld last season, so there are no guarantees that the head coach-GM roles will be stable (5/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Washington definitely has some appeal as an NBA city and sports town, and owner Ted Leonsis isn’t afraid to spend money to win (15/20).
SCORE: 40 points
Talent/future assets: A lack of talent surely won't be an issue for the Kings in 2025 as they’ll have De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley in their early primes. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic will be 32, but they should still be solid contributors (37/50).
Coaching/front office: Luke Walton hasn’t shown a ton of ability as a head coach the past two seasons with the Lakers and Kings. Sadly, Walton’s performance has been sublime compared to Vlade Divac’s front-office tenure. He's easily one of the worst decision-makers the NBA has ever seen. (1/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: And as sorry as Walton and Divac are, the man signing their checks, Vivek Ranadivé, has made the Kings’ organization the laughing stock of the NBA during his ownership tenure (1/20).
SCORE: 39 points
Talent/future assets: The Knicks’ fortunes will be largely tied to whether James Dolan still owns the team in 2025. If he's still in charge, they are doomed. Neither RJ Barrett nor Mitchell Robinson is a franchise player, but that's still better than a bucket of nothing. (25/50).
Coaching/front office: In five years, coach Mike Miller and GM Steve Mills probably won’t be around. Unless the Knicks can get a Masai Ujiri-type of executive, they may still be treading water. (5/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: See above. Dolan is one of the least competent owners in sports. Sure, it's New York, but why would free agents even consider playing for such a poorly run team (9/20)?
SCORE: 39 points
Talent/future assets: One would think the Cavs would be in a better position five years from now than they are today. At least two of the Collin Sexton-Darius Garland-Kevin Porter Jr. trio should develop into above-average starters, and the team will almost certainly draft in the top five at some point between now and 2025 (15/50).
Coaching/front office: John Beilein seems a little too sluggish to last five years, and owner Dan Gilbert has never given a GM a second contract, so things don’t look stable on those fronts (5/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Gilbert isn’t afraid to spend money, but he’s not thought of highly around the league. Cleveland won't attract top-tier free agents any time soon. (5/20).
SCORE: 25 points
Talent/future assets: PJ Washington, Devonte’ Graham and Miles Bridges should be above-average role players, but the Hornets lack a premier superstar. Charlotte must hit in the draft or it will continue to miss the playoffs. (15/50).
Coaching/front office: Head coach James Borrego comes from the Spurs’ lineage and seems to have embraced analytically-driven basketball -– both good signs. President of basketball operations Mitch Kupchak, on the other hand, hasn’t done much to inspire confidence (5/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: Although playing for Michael Jordan seems like it could be a draw for free agents, he’s done a poor job running his franchise since acquiring the team. The Hornets are unlikely to land any top-tier free agents. (5/20).
SCORE: 25 points
Talent/future assets: The only potential impactful players on the roster are rookie Sekou Doumbouya and former journeyman Christian Wood. The Pistons probably will have at least one top-five pick in the next five years, but there are no guarantees they’ll land a franchise cornerstone (13/50).
Coaching/front office: Dwane Casey is a decent coach, but he’s not working with a full deck of cards on this roster, so there’s no guarantee he’ll be around in 2025. The front office has no major track record and will be tasked with having to figure how to blow up the roster. (7/30).
Organizational leadership/appeal: The Pistons’ ownership does a decent job staying out of the limelight, but free agents aren’t exactly clamoring to sign with Detroit (5/20).
SCORE: 25 points
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