Last week, I wrote a post about four teams that will be making a comeback in 2019 (which you can read here). These are teams that I had selected to improve on their 2018 numbers and make a playoff push next year. But, like they say, what goes up must go down. For teams to slip up into the rankings, there must be some teams that fall out of contention. While the league as a whole is getting more talented and is producing a high level of quality basketball, there are not enough spots for every team to make the postseason, or even their own pre-set expectations. Here are four teams that will slip and fall in 2019.
It is no secret that LeBron James is one of the best active players in the NBA. What he does for his team is irreplaceable and this is incredibly so for the Cavaliers. He has been their core, both on the court and off it, and is a man that has a very important decision to make this summer. He is a free agent at the end of this season and could once again depart for greener and warmer pastures. While we are months away from any decisions, fans and players on the Cavs have been concerned about James’ plans. Him leaving town would have an obvious effect on the team and they would likely go back to being the basement dwellers they were from 2010-2014. Now, I am of the belief that James will stay in Cleveland (which is a topic for another post), but even if Cleveland keeps the King, his ruling will only take the team so far. The Cavaliers are in a much worse place after the Kyrie Irving trade. And while they were able to get some decent additions at the trade deadline, their mass does not equate to what Irving brought to this team. Cleveland still have players like Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith to support James but they do not have much else. The players they acquired at the deadline, like Jordan Clarkson and George Hill, have massive contracts that will weigh heavily on Cleveland’s ability to add to this team. The one thing to look forward to this offseason is the top pick they receive as a part of the Irving deal. They own the right to the Nets pick and it looks like it will be a top ten pick. This will be key to the future of the Cavs organization. If they can hit on this prospect, they will gain back some value they lost for Irving and will have a young player to build around and mold with James (if he stays). All in all, Cleveland still has what it takes to make the playoffs with James but with some of the problems surrounding this team and the realistic prospect that he may leave, I would lower any expectations of this team in 2019.
Los Angeles Clippers
After making the blockbuster trade of 2018, the Los Angeles Clippers have yet to find success in a Blake Griffin-less world. This year they have gone 14-10 since his departure and have slid out of the postseason consideration. The Clippers still have some solid players on their team going forward but they are not the force that they were just a few seasons ago. DeAndre Jordan has a player option for this upcoming offseason and could choose to leave the team via free agency. While he may not be in their future plans as a 30 year old athletic center, his talent level would be missed. Lou Williams is having a renaissance year but is not a franchise level talent. Los Angeles does have a bright young player in Tobias Harris but he can’t be relied on to be their go-to guy. With little direction to go in terms of being a Western Conference contender, I see the Clippers committing to a full rebuild. They have two first round draft picks that should be around the back of the lottery (thanks to the Pistons) and will use both of these guys as a foundation for the future. While it is rumored that the Clippers will attempt to be a big time free agent player in 2018, the likelihood of a star like LeBron or Paul George going there seems slim. If a big star wanted to come to L.A., why wouldn’t he just go to the Lakers and join their core versus going to this messy situation? More than likely the Clippers will look to establish future success by building through the draft and tanking in 2019.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Similarly to the Clippers, the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to be at a crossroads come this offseason. Their 2018 campaign has not quite worked out as well as they had planned but they will still likely make the postseason. They are currently slotted at the fourth seed facing the Pelicans, which would be an interesting matchup for this team. Matchups aside, the Thunder were expected to be a Warriors and Rockets level team with the addition of George and Carmelo Anthony, but they have largely failed in this aspect. George is having an up-and-down year and Anthony has yet to really make an impact on this team. Their incumbent star in Russell Westbrook has been having a similar season to what he did in 2017 but is not having quite the same impact as he did back then. Oklahoma City has been a streaky team, being able to beat the Warriors one night and then lose by double digits to the Mavericks in the same week. This inconsistency will likely be the downfall of the Thunder’s title chances and will have them searching for answers in the offseason. George’s free agency, like LeBron’s, will be a big question that will have a major effect on the power structure of the NBA. If he were to go elsewhere (like I personally see him doing), it would leave a massive hole for this team to fill as they have sacrificed a lot of their depth to bring in these star players. If he were to stay, I’m not sure what the rest of the team would look like around him. The Thunder have a very high payroll and it is unknown how they will deal with being so close to the salary cap and luxury tax. Now, with the loss of George and Anthony (who technically has an Early Termination Option on his contract) they would be back to a normal level, but with the Thunder’s inability to recruit free agents in the past, would they be able to recover from a talent perspective? Whether the Thunder choose to make big moves or keep things consistent in 2019, things are not looking very promising for this team. The Thunder have the top level talent to compete, but just too many questions to have my confidence next season.
San Antonio Spurs
While the San Antonio Spurs are one of the most consistently excellent teams in recent sports history, they are coming dangerously close to losing their mojo. Through all the muddy Kawhi Leonard drama there is a reality we as NBA fans must begin to accept, the Spurs are on their way down. The last of the Tim Duncan era Spurs stars are dying off career-wise. Both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have averaged around 20 minutes per game this year and Parker is the only one that has started a game between the two. Both players are also not under contract after this season and it is very likely that one, if not both, players seriously consider retirement. If they were to leave, it would leave not just a void on the roster but one on the hearts of the fans and organization. This is adjacent to all that has swirled from the Leonard lull. It is unknown how he truly feels about the organization and what his future as a Spur holds. If he is to stay, we will likely be surrounded by the worst supporting cast he has ever had. The Spurs will need to make some major moves in the offseason and it unclear how or what will be done. All in all, with the West getting better and too many questions to answer, look for the Spurs to also falter in 2019.