NBA Power Rankings, way-too-early edition


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NBA free agency doesn’t begin until 6 p.m. ET on June 30, but that isn’t stopping us from taking stock of the league immediately following the Toronto Raptors‘ impressive run to the franchise’s first NBA championship.

It’s early, some might say way too early, but our panel (a group of more than 40 reporters, insiders and editors) already is looking ahead to next season and ranking all 30 teams heading into a pivotal offseason.

Note: These rankings are based on which teams voters think belong higher heading into the 2019-20 season, taking into account potential player movement and the draft. Title odds for 2019-20 were provided by Caesars sportsbook. ESPN.com’s Malika Andrews, Kevin Arnovitz, Tim Bontemps, Tim MacMahon, Royce Young and Ohm Youngmisuk contributed the following information.

1. Milwaukee Bucks
2018-19 record: 60-22
Result: L, Conf. finals
2020 title odds: 6-1

Ticktock. While the Bucks might check in at No. 1 in our way-too-early list, Milwaukee is on the clock. Roster evaluations began mere days after being eliminated from the Eastern Conference finals by the Raptors. Over the next 2½ months, decisions will be made on the contracts of Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, Brook Lopez, George Hill and Nikola Mirotic. Re-signing Lopez is a priority, league sources told ESPN. During the first week of June, the team agreed to a contract extension that will keep general manager Jon Horst in Milwaukee for the next three years. Every move Milwaukee makes is done with the ultimate goal of signing All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo to a supermax contract in 2020. — Andrews


2. Toronto Raptors
2018-19 record: 58-24
Result: W, NBA Finals
2020 title odds: 8-1

The champs at No. 2? Despite their improbable run to a title, the Raptors now face one of the biggest offseason questions in the NBA: Can they retain Kawhi Leonard? If they can, they’ll have a legit shot to repeat. If not? Well, they’ll be shifting into a new era. Toronto has several key players — Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet — who will be on expiring contracts next season, allowing team president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri the flexibility to either let their deals expire and have oodles of cap space next summer or flip them for future assets and speed up a rebuild. How those decisions play out will, of course, be greatly influenced by Leonard’s looming decision, with the general consensus being he will either remain in Toronto or sign with the Clippers next month. Ujiri also will have his own opportunities to consider as the Wizards are preparing a massive offer to him, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. — Bontemps


3. Philadelphia 76ers
2018-19 record: 51-31
Result: L, Conf. semis
2020 title odds: 12-1

It’s been a long month in Philadelphia, where the Sixers could only watch as the team they pushed to the absolute limit in the Eastern Conference semifinals — the Raptors — went on to win the NBA title. Still, it shows how high Philadelphia’s ceiling with this current group is — and it makes the decisions that hang over the Sixers during the next few weeks all the more fascinating. That begins with what to do with Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, the two stars Philadelphia traded for this season and who will be unrestricted free agents on June 30. Philadelphia spent a lot of capital to acquire Butler and Harris, but it now will have to spend a huge amount of money to retain them both in free agency. And even if the Sixers do keep them both, they’re going to have to spend more money to retain JJ Redick, another huge piece of what Philadelphia did over the past two seasons, and fill out the bench. — Bontemps


4. Denver Nuggets
2018-19 record: 54-28
Result: L, Conf. semis
2020 title odds: 20-1

Coming off the smashing success of the 2018-19 season, the Nuggets enter the next phase of a developing contender, and it’s the hardest one: expectations. The Nuggets seemed to come out of nowhere to finish second in the West, but now they’re going to rank high on every preseason list and have the burden of expectations to realize those rankings. They’re still young, and they still have to sort through some significant offseason questions (Paul Millsap‘s future being the main one), but if 2018 first-round pick Michael Porter Jr. can get healthy and fulfill some of his own expectations, he might be the biggest addition the Nuggets can make this offseason. — Young


5. LA Clippers
2018-19 record: 48-34
Result: L, Round 1
2020 title odds: 6-1

Who knew that the Clippers would be the best team in L.A. last season? After trading their leading scorer and rebounder in Tobias Harris, the Clippers still made the playoffs with a band of gritty role players and young prospects in what could have been Doc Rivers’ best job as coach. Now the Clippers are entering their biggest summer looking to add at least one superstar in free agency with Kawhi Leonard having been linked to the Clippers all season. LA also will be eagerly watching what happens up north with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and their respective injuries. The Clippers could add two max players but would have to trade Danilo Gallinari to do so. The heart of their defense, Patrick Beverley, is a free agent but they have plenty of tough-nosed pieces to surround a star. — Youngmisuk


6. Golden State Warriors
2018-19 record: 57-25
Result: L, NBA Finals
2020 title odds: 3-1

The Warriors’ season ended in the worst way imaginable with their dynasty literally falling apart. Kevin Durant’s ruptured Achilles and Klay Thompson’s torn ACL punctuated a painful ending, and Golden State now enters its most uncertain offseason. The devastating injuries to Durant and Thompson potentially have a major impact on free agency. What will Durant do and how will his Achilles injury impact the balance of power in the NBA? If Durant opts out of his contract, will the Warriors commit to a five-year, $221 million deal to keep Durant or does he leave for say the Knicks, Nets or Clippers to the four-year tune of $164 million? Then there’s Thompson, who injured his ACL just weeks before he was set to become one of the most coveted free agents. The Warriors still need to make Thompson, who could re-sign with the Warriors for up to $190 million, a priority on June 30. DeMarcus Cousins, Kevon Looney and Quinn Cook are also among the Warriors’ free agents. Even if the Warriors can keep Durant and Thompson, they will have to somehow fortify the rest of their team with minimum contracts and a late first-round pick. –– Youngmisuk


7. Houston Rockets
2018-19 record: 53-29
Result: L, Conf. semis
2020 title odds: 10-1

General manager Daryl Morey is turning over every rock — and probably hurting a few feelings in the process — to try to figure out how to get the Rockets over the huge hump known as the Warriors. Houston will continue to aggressively explore the trade market, but there’s a decent probability that the Rockets’ starting five will remain intact, in which case Morey must make good use of the $5.7 million midlevel exception and minimum deals to build a contender-caliber bench. Owner Tilman Fertitta has committed to use the midlevel after not doing so last summer. — MacMahon


8. Los Angeles Lakers
2018-19 record: 37-45
Result: Missed playoffs
2020 title odds: 9-2

The offseason got off to a tumultuous start with Magic Johnson’s resignation and explanation of his feeling of betrayal by Rob Pelinka. In the Magic aftermath, Pelinka now is in charge with Kurt and Linda Rambis also helping make Lakers decisions with Frank Vogel now the head coach. The offseason objective has been clear — acquire a superstar. Pelinka already is in hot pursuit of Anthony Davis. Armed with a new asset in the fourth overall draft pick to throw into any package that could include young prospects such as Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, Pelinka is trying his best to secure Davis now even if the All-Star big man’s intentions to sign with the Lakers as a free agent in the summer of 2020 have been made clear. If Davis cannot be acquired via trade this summer, Pelinka will see if he can trade for another All-Star while dangling the potential combination of the lottery pick and a young core player. In free agency, the Lakers have one max spot to find help for LeBron James. Max free agents such as Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Kemba Walker are on their radar. It remains to be seen how Thompson’s ACL injury impacts free agency and the Lakers’ chances. — Youngmisuk


9. Boston Celtics
2018-19 record: 49-33
Result: L, Conf. semis
2020 title odds: 12-1

Six months ago, Boston looked as if it had the brightest future of any team in the league. Now? That future is much more muddled, beginning with Kyrie Irving’s impending free agency. His declaration that he was going to return to Boston, “If you’ll have me,” at a season-ticket holders event feels like a lifetime ago — as does his commercial saying he hopes no one else will ever wear No. 11 again for the Celtics. Whether Irving decides to remain also could have a huge impact on Boston’s pursuit of Anthony Davis, as it will make it far tougher to give away long-term assets for Davis if Irving departs. The Celtics also have three first-round picks in this year’s draft, plus the potential of Al Horford having to decide whether to pick up his player option for next season and Terry Rozier hitting restricted free agency. To say it will be an eventful summer in Boston is an understatement. — Bontemps


10. Portland Trail Blazers
2018-19 record: 53-29
Result: L, Conf. finals
2020 title odds: 30-1

The Blazers surpassed expectations and finally broke through the wall to validate what they’ve been building around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. And now, it’s about capitalizing on the momentum. They have been one of the most stable organizations over the past eight years and are set to remain so, with extensions for GM Neil Olshey and coach Terry Stotts in place and a likely supermax for Lillard on its way. Jusuf Nurkic‘s recovery is critical to any next steps for the 2019-20 campaign, but fortunately, the Blazers are finally getting some air to breathe from the money spent during the cap-spiked 2016 summer of spending. — Young


11. Oklahoma City Thunder
2018-19 record: 49-33
Result: L, Round 1
2020 title odds: 30-1

For the first time in nearly five years, the Thunder enter an offseason without any sweeping superstar questions and no worry of losing a cornerstone. They are stable; they have their core in place. That’s a plus, sure, but in spite of that, the Thunder aren’t riding anything other than profound disappointment into the summer. The Russell WestbrookPaul George pairing still possesses plenty of promise and potential, and there were moments when they flashed their power. But both George and Westbrook are spending their summers getting healthy, while the front office sorts through the financial burden of a gargantuan luxury tax bill for a roster that has won only four playoff games since 2016. — Young


12. Brooklyn Nets
2018-19 record: 42-40
Result: L, Round 1
2020 title odds: 18-1

Brooklyn was already an intriguing team heading into the summer — and that was before the Nets swung a huge deal with the Hawks, sending Atlanta their 2019 first-round pick and a protected 2020 first-round selection to dump Allen Crabbe and create the ability to get two max players in free agency next month. Now there is rampant speculation that Kyrie Irving could be headed to Brooklyn. This is the first time since the franchise moved to Brooklyn that the Nets and Knicks are going toe-to-toe in free agency. Meanwhile, D’Angelo Russell will be one of the more interesting restricted free agents this summer. Russell was an All-Star this season, but he remains a polarizing player. Still, he is a young guard who has shown an ability to shoot from 3-point range and create his own shot. — Bontemps


13. Utah Jazz
2018-19 record: 50-32
Result: L, Round 1
2020 title odds: 20-1

Opting for continuity a year ago didn’t pay dividends for the Jazz, who won 50 games but were eliminated in the first round, a disappointment after advancing to the West semifinals during each of the previous two postseasons. Utah needs another offensive creator to ease the burden on Donovan Mitchell, which is why point guard Ricky Rubio is unlikely to return. Potential free-agent targets include D’Angelo Russell and Tobias Harris, but Utah would have to decline a $17.7 million option on power forward/center Derrick Favors to have that kind of cap space. The Jazz also could rekindle trade talks for Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley. — MacMahon


14. Indiana Pacers
2018-19 record: 48-34
Result: L, Round 1
2020 title odds: 75-1

The Pacers are determined to be more than a scrappy, resilient, heartwarming story next season. After losing their franchise player, All-Star Victor Oladipo, to a season-ending quad injury in January, Indiana clawed its way to a playoff berth before being swept in the first round by the Celtics. Domantas Sabonis was consistently reliable coming off the bench for the Pacers, earning him a spot as an NBA Most Improved Player Award finalist. Indiana has seven free agents it will need to make decisions on, including Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic. Signing Bogdanovic — who emerged as a key part of the Pacers’ offense — will be a priority for Indiana. They also will seek a wing to replace Tyreke Evans, who was disqualified from the NBA for two years for violating the league’s anti-drug program. Whatever moves it makes, Indiana must keep in mind it might not start the 2019-20 season with Oladipo, as the team still has not provided a timetable for his return.Andrews


15. San Antonio Spurs
2018-19 record: 48-34
Result: L, Round 1
2020 title odds: 50-1

The Spurs just keep on Spurs-ing, and while there are plenty of questions on how they can reclaim space in the upper tier of the West, they remain stable. They dealt with significant injuries last season, but the core of coach Gregg Popovich, big man LaMarcus Aldridge and guard DeMar DeRozan was enough to produce another postseason berth. There’s an obvious need for more talent, but the biggest steps forward are getting Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV healthy and pushing the development of the other young talented players on the team. — Young


16. Sacramento Kings
2018-19 record: 39-43
Result: Missed playoffs
2020 title odds: 75-1

GM Vlade Divac hired coach Luke Walton to help the young Kings take that next big step. While an independent investigation into an accusation of sexual assault surrounds Walton, the Kings enter a pivotal offseason. Like he was tasked to do before LeBron James arrived in L.A., Walton will look to develop a promising young core led by De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley. The Kings will wait to see if Harrison Barnes opts into a $25 million player option. Also, Willie Cauley-Stein can become a restricted free agent. If Barnes opts in, the Kings have $21.3 million to play with in free agency, and they could free up to $38.4 million to improve the roster, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. — Youngmisuk


17. Dallas Mavericks
2018-19 record: 33-49
Result: Missed playoffs
2020 title odds: 35-1

The Mavs are optimistic that they will be able to end their playoff drought at three seasons now that their rebuilding period has produced a young one-two punch they can build around in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. Dallas plans to re-sign restricted free agent Porzingis to a max deal and lock up springy center Dwight Powell to an extension this summer. The team’s brass is debating whether the Mavs’ significant cap space would be better spent on one star (Kemba Walker or Tobias Harris?) or two or three starter-caliber role players. — MacMahon


18. New York Knicks
2018-19 record: 17-65
Result: Missed playoffs
2020 title odds: 12-1

No team outside of the Warriors was impacted more by Kevin Durant’s ruptured Achilles than the Knicks, who saw their dream scenario for 2019-20 scuttled before the offseason even began. Now instead of pairing KD with another star free agent — and then potentially swinging an Anthony Davis trade to create the NBA’s next superteam — the Knicks could choose to play the waiting game. They could still sign Durant, then remain flexible with their cap space while he works his way back for the 2020-21 season. Or, in a scenario that must frighten Knicks fans, New York could miss out on Durant and not trade for Davis, meaning they dealt away former franchise player Kristaps Porzingis to create two max spots to sign two very good — but not great — players. Meanwhile, the Knicks wound up with the No. 3 pick in last month’s NBA draft lottery, probably setting them up to take Duke star RJ Barrett — if they don’t use that pick as the foundation of a Davis deal instead. — Bontemps


19. Detroit Pistons
2018-19 record: 41-41
Result: L, Round 1
2020 title odds: 200-1

Playoff loss after playoff loss, first-year Pistons coach Dwane Casey would climb the step to Detroit’s dais and compliment the Bucks — the Pistons’ first-round playoff opponent — and their depth. Detroit’s lack of depth, Casey said, was what was hurting his team. Ultimately, it was part of what led to the Pistons’ being swept in the first round of the playoffs. This summer, the Pistons’ priority will be to build out their bench on a budget that stays below the luxury tax. — Andrews


20. Orlando Magic
2018-19 record: 42-40
Result: L, Round 1
2020 title odds: 75-1

The Magic surprised the East last season by cobbling together an elite defense down the stretch to propel themselves into the postseason for the first time in seven seasons. The Magic will improve to the extent that their young talent does — namely Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, Markelle Fultz and Mo Bamba. Though there is optimism about the future, planning for it won’t come without some difficult choices. Their All-Star center, Nikola Vucevic, who will turn 29 soon after the new season starts, enters free agency with the expectation of a payday. Should Orlando invest heavily in the frontcourt, where they already have a trove of talent and prospects? Orlando needs to upgrade its backcourt, where D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier and Fultz are on the books. — Arnovitz


21. Atlanta Hawks
2018-19 record: 29-53
Result: Missed playoffs
2020 title odds: 100-1

There are few teams in the league more optimistic about the future than Atlanta. With Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter, the Hawks have a talented and young foundational core under a head coach in Lloyd Pierce who has demonstrated an acuity for player development. And there’s more help on the way: The Hawks will select three of the first 17 picks in the upcoming draft, have additional future first-round picks in the hopper and also hold plenty of financial flexibility going forward to absorb contracts safety-pinned to additional assets. Atlanta might still be a couple of seasons from qualifying for the postseason, but there’s a strong sense that Atlanta has a chance to assume its rightful place down the road as a destination for NBA stars. — Arnovitz


22. Miami Heat
2018-19 record: 39-43
Result: Missed playoffs
2020 title odds: 200-1

For the fifth consecutive season, the Heat finished with between 37 and 48 wins, solidifying themselves as a team with enough organizational competence and stability to be respectable, but not enough talent to truly contend. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of money on the books in Miami without a ton of upside. With their pursuit of Jimmy Butler last season, the Heat are aware they need to add to a young core of Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo. Goran Dragic reportedly told the Heat he will exercise his option on next season and Hassan Whiteside is expected to do the same, an indication that the $46 million they’re collectively owed next season is greater than their market value. Similarly, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Dion Waiters are on the books for another couple of seasons. — Arnovitz


23. Minnesota Timberwolves
2018-19 record: 36-46
Result: Missed playoffs
2020 title odds: 100-1

It’s a fresh start for the Wolves with a new front office and Ryan Saunders officially taking over the roster. But there still are plenty of questions ahead — and not a lot of great options to answer them. On the surface, there’s a foundation of youth. But it comes with the complication of Andrew Wiggins‘ contract and the relation of his value to it, as well as Karl-Anthony Towns‘ supermax that has him tied to the Wolves for the next few years. What will team president Gersson Rosas’ approach be? Will he tweak around his two young foundational pieces or go for a full-on rebranding of the roster? — Young


24. New Orleans Pelicans
2018-19 record: 33-49
Result: Missed playoffs
2020 title odds: 60-1

Winning the lottery — and the right to draft Zion Williamson — essentially assured that the Pelicans would be relevant despite Anthony Davis’ strong desire to be traded. New Orleans already had taken a significant step in the right direction by hiring David Griffin, the architect of Cleveland’s title team, to run the front office. With Williamson and Jrue Holiday in the fold, a return to the playoffs is a reasonable goal if Griffin gets good value in a Davis deal, assuming Griffin is unable to convince the perennial All-Star to have a change of heart. — MacMahon


25. Washington Wizards
2018-19 record: 32-50
Result: Missed playoffs
2020 title odds: 200-1

When it comes to degree of difficulty, the Wizards’ current cap management ranks near the top of the NBA. The Wizards are a lottery team with an aging core and no prospects with anything approaching All-Star potential at present. To complicate matters, John Wall is owed $171 million by Washington over the next four seasons — but he won’t return to the court from a ruptured Achilles tendon until midway through next season. Wall might have the league’s least portable contract, but Bradley Beal, with two years remaining on his deal, could be coveted by contenders. Do the Wizards cut bait and move Beal? This is the most challenging question facing a Wizards team that still is without a permanent lead basketball executive, although it has Toronto’s Masai Ujiri in its sights, and that still has little financial flexibility. — Arnovitz


26. Charlotte Hornets
2018-19 record: 39-43
Result: Missed playoffs
2020 title odds: 200-1

A cloud of uncertainty and a messy salary spreadsheet make for a foggy future in Charlotte. The most vital decision begins with the free agency of All-Star Kemba Walker. By being named to the All-NBA third team, Walker now is eligible for a five-year, $221 million contract from the Hornets. Yet investing nearly a quarter of a billion dollars into a guard who will turn 34 near the conclusion of the term is fraught with all kinds of risks. Unfortunately, that’s not the only liability for Charlotte on the horizon. The Hornets are locked into Nicolas Batum for another two years and $53 million, with hefty, eight-digit pay stubs next season for Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller. Between the cost restraints and Walker’s status, it’s hard for Charlotte to draw up a clear vision. — Arnovitz


27. Memphis Grizzlies
2018-19 record: 33-49
Result: Missed playoffs
2020 title odds: 100-1

It’s time for the Grizzlies to say goodbye to the final piece of the Grit ‘n’ Grind era by trading point guard Mike Conley. Such a deal should give Memphis financial relief and assets (draft picks and/or young players) to aid its rebuilding process. Conley’s replacement will arrive on draft night, assuming that the Grizzlies use the No. 2 overall pick on Ja Morant, a dynamic athlete who can be a franchise pillar for the foreseeable future along with last year’s lottery pick and All-Rookie selection Jaren Jackson Jr. — MacMahon


28. Phoenix Suns
2018-19 record: 19-63
Result: Missed playoffs
2020 title odds: 200-1

Phoenix’s biggest move of the offseason already has happened with the hiring of Monty Williams. Williams is the latest head coach to try to steer the Suns in the right direction, after Igor Kokoskov lasted just one season following a 19-63 campaign. The Suns will try to add more help around Devin Booker by either keeping or trading the sixth overall pick in the draft. They need to upgrade at point guard but have no significant cap space available, unless they make a trade or let restricted free agent Kelly Oubre Jr. go. Williams also will look to continue the development of last year’s first overall pick, Deandre Ayton. — Youngmisuk


29. Chicago Bulls
2018-19 record: 22-60
Result: Missed playoffs
2020 title odds: 75-1

The Bulls must determine who are the key players who can be cornerstones of their franchise’s rebuild. The team set out to answer that same question in the 2018-19 season. Instead, injuries provided more puzzles than answers. The Bulls replaced head coach Fred Hoiberg with Jim Boylen, and they stumbled through the regular season. Now, Chicago is in the market for a point guard. They could acquire a guard with their No. 7 draft pick, but it’s likely the Bulls will seek a more seasoned free agent to help lead their young core of Wendell Carter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine. — Andrews


30. Cleveland Cavaliers
2018-19 record: 19-63
Result: Missed playoffs
2020 title odds: 100-1

All of the Cavaliers’ struggles in their first season after LeBron James left for Los Angeles came with a silver lining in a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA draft. Unfortunately for Cleveland, it ended up with only the No. 5 selection in what’s widely considered a two-player draft. The Cavaliers could return a core of Kevin Love, Cedi Osman, Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr. and second-year point guard Collin Sexton, who dramatically improved over the second half of last season to receive second-team All-Rookie honors. They’ll also have a new coach in John Beilein, who bolted from the University of Michigan for one last coaching challenge in his career. GM Koby Altman has proved that he’s almost always willing to make a trade, so don’t be surprised to see JR Smith‘s contract moved or another roster reshape in some way before September training camp begins. — Andrews

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