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Doomsday Looms for Numerous NBA Teams

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With the offseason approaching, most content in NBA media circles out there will focus their attention on the moves teams could make.

What isn’t being discussed: the potential moves that won’t be made this summer as many teams face an empty draft-pick supply due to prior moves.

Broadly, teams use three avenues to improve rosters— free agency, trades and the draft. For many, draft picks are a massive part of the equation in some capacity— either to facilitate a move or to bring in a player whom that team will eventually re-sign. Unfortunately, doomsday is coming… and that could spell trouble for nearly half the league.

Not including the upcoming 2024 draft, 12 of the NBA’s 30 teams will be out multiple first-round picks starting in 2025. Among the list, nine owe at least three first-round selections beginning next draft (swaps being included). Five teams, or one-sixth of the league, owe four first rounders or more.

The 12 teams — Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Denver, Minnesota, Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles (Clippers) — reside at least in the middle of the pack or higher in the league’s standings. But, each faces a tough path ahead toward improvement due to near-empty draft treasure chests.

Ranked both in tiers and numerically, these are the teams out three-plus first rounders starting next year ranked in order from from least to most concerning future-looking situations:

Tier 5: just something to consider

#12: Boston

  • 2028 first round pick swap (top-one protected) – San Antonio
  • 2029 first round pick – Portland

#11: Denver

Let’s be clear: unless disaster strikes, Boston and Denver will each be fine.

Despite the early-ish postseason exit, the Nuggets will remain viable with Nikola Jokic playing as an MVP. The same goes for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in Boston, a duo which has led the Celtics to the Conference Finals in five of the last seven seasons.

But the issue comes down to long-term affordability. Denver’s lack of depth proved to be an issue in this year’s playoffs. Due to several stipulations, Denver is out half of its available first rounders up to 2030.

As for Boston, an expensive team nears being more expensive with Tatum’s upcoming extension. Like Denver, Boston’s lack of first rounders offer one less option to add cheaper contributors.

Tier 4: cloudy future, but not disastrous

#10: Philadelphia

  • 2025 first round pick – Oklahoma City (with stipulations)
  • 2027 first round pick – Brooklyn (with stipulations)

#9: Atlanta

  • 2025 first round pick – San Antonio
  • 2026 first round pick swap – San Antonio
  • 2027 first round pick – San Antonio

#8: Minnesota

  • 2025 first round pick – Utah
  • 2026 first round pick – Utah/Cleveland
  • 2027 first round pick – Utah
  • 2029 first round pick – Utah (with stipulations)

Three different teams, each with very unique situations.

Philly remains the least concerning between themselves, Atlanta and Minnesota. Though out two firsts with tricky stipulations, the Sixers still have MVP-caliber Joel Embiid (for now) and a gameplan to retool. The lack of draft picks just throws a small wrench into those plans.

Atlanta and Minnesota are more interesting, however. The Hawks just landed the No. 1 pick for the 2024 draft, yet they’re set to face the cost of acquiring Dejounte Murray, who never quite clicked with All-Star teammate Trae Young. It will be tough to reset this offseason with Atlanta not owning its firsts in 2025 or 2027.

As for Minnesota, the T-Wolves just reached their first Western Conference Finals in two decades. Now, it’s a time to celebrate. But later, the Rudy Gobert trade might still come back to haunt the T-W0lves.

Tier 3: this may get ugly

#7: Miami

  • 2025 first round pick – Oklahoma City (protected 1-14 in 2025 and unprotected in 2026)
  • 2027 first round pick – Charlotte (protected 1-14 in 2027 and unprotected in 2028)

#6: Brooklyn

  • 2025 first round pick – Houston (with stipulations)
  • 2026 first round pick – Houston
  • 2027 first round pick swap – Houston

#5: Dallas

  • 2027 first round pick – Charlotte (with stipulations)
  • 2028 first round pick – Oklahoma City
  • 2029 first round pick – Brooklyn

#4: Cleveland

  • 2025 first round pick – Utah
  • 2026 first round pick swap – Utah (and others)
  • 2027 first round pick – Utah
  • 2028 first round pick – Utah
  • 2029 first round pick – Utah

Generally, all of Miami, Brooklyn, Dallas and Cleveland share the same characteristic regarding their futures.

It’s great now, but wow, we’re on standby to hit the panic meter.

Miami’s recent run with Jimmy Butler looks like it’s trending downward. Back-to-back appearances as an eighth-seed mean the Heat have capped out. It feels like Miami’s situation is a close one to monitor.

The same goes for Brooklyn, who won 32 games last year and remain stuck in the purgatory stage of the post-Kevin Durant era. Houston controls most of Brooklyn’s draft the next three years. How will the Nets work around that?

For the last two teams, Cleveland and Dallas, it should be a time of optimism. The Cavs just won their first playoff series since LeBron James left (again). Dallas just made its second Western Conference Finals in three years.

The present feels great, but the future isn’t as assuring. Cleveland is pretty much out all its first-round picks for the next five years. If Donovan Mitchell really does leave, wow does the Cavs’ outlook get really bad really quickly.

A similar scenario applies to Dallas. Luka Doncic remains eligible for a five-year, $346 million super max extension next summer. Dallas’ recent success is a good sign for Doncic to put pen to paper, but until that’s done, the uncertainty remains. Should Doncic leaves, those outgoing picks in 2028 and 2029 become a lot scarier (Doncic has a player option for 2026-27).

Tier 2: approaching scary territory

#3: Milwaukee

  • 2025 first round pick – New York/New Orleans
  • 2026 first round pick swap – New Orleans
  • 2027 first round pick – New Orleans
  • 2028 first round pick swap – Portland
  • 2029 first round pick – Portland
  • 2030 first round pick swap – Portland

#2: Los Angeles Clippers

  • 2025 first round pick – Oklahoma City (with stipulations)
  • 2026 first round pick – Oklahoma City/Philadelphia (with stipulations)
  • 2027 first round pick swap – Oklahoma City
  • 2028 first round pick – Philadelphia
  • 2029 first round pick swap – Philadelphia (with stipulations)

For Milwaukee and the L.A. Clippers, their title windows might have simply closed already.

Injuries derailed both the Bucks and Clippers this postseason, headlined by the absences of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard and Kawhi Leonard. Milwaukee exited the playoff in the first round in back-to-back seasons. L.A. hasn’t reached the conference semifinals in three years.

Regardless of what comes next, each lacks draft capital of any kind. Milwaukee’s first rounders between 2025-2027 remain mostly in New Orleans’ possession due to the Jrue Holiday trade. Portland got two swaps and an additional first so the Bucks could get Lillard. That’s a lot of outgoing capital.

Then there’s the Clippers, who will just now begin to feel the impact of the blockbuster trades to bring in Paul George and James Harden. L.A. doesn’t fully control its whole first-round pick war chest for the next five years, at a minimum.

Tier 1: DEFCON 1

#1: Phoenix

  • 2025 first round pick – Brooklyn
  • 2026 first round pick – Washington/Memphis/Orlando (with stipulations)
  • 2027 first round pick – Brooklyn
  • 2028 first round pick – Brooklyn/Washington (with stipulations)
  • 2029 first round pick – Brooklyn
  • 2030 first round pick – Washington/Memphis

Need we say more?

Phoenix’s salary situation remains a disaster. Bringing in Bradley Beal looks like even more of a terrible decision now, which says a lot considering all the warning signs.

Beal and Durant are each aging deeper into their thirties. Phoenix remains locked into the Durant, Beal and Devin Booker core, whether it wants to be or not. Maybe the title window isn’t closed, but improving without a first-round pick for the next six years will be a tall task and then some for the Suns.

About Dominic Chiappone

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