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NBA Pyramid Rankings: Los Angeles Lakers Are Heavy Favorites For The 2021 NBA Championship

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NBA Pyramid Rankings: Los Angeles Lakers Are Heavy Favorites For The 2021 NBA Championship

The 2020 NBA Championship was an extremely interesting time to watch the NBA. Everything was different: the year 2020 took care of that. The players were stuck in a bubble with no chance to see their families for most of the bubble, due to Coronavirus restrictions. That, and the fact that the courts had no in-person fans, made it a transitionary time for the NBA.

LeBron James has recently said that he considers his win of the 2020 NBA Championship as one of the hardest championships to win in history. He wouldn't necessarily be wrong; the mental taxing of both being away from loved ones and the stress of the game itself in combination must have been an agonizing experience to go through.

But now, it's a new year. More and more teams are hungry for their rings, and LeBron James will have to fight off challengers to his throne. Big offseason moves are mostly done for the majority of teams, and recent news has been mostly players signing huge extensions to stay with their teams. The machinations of GMs are done, and it's time to rank the NBA teams in tiers according to their ability to compete in the rankings next season. We can analyze who is likely to spend the year developing players and hoping for a good pick, and who could have a championship-winning season.

Tanking Teams - Oklahoma City Thunder, Sacramento Kings, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers

These are all teams that have limited short-term contention ability and are the most likely teams to be in the lottery next season.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are definitely in a rebuild, signified by the trading of most of the veterans who helped the team make the playoffs last year. The Thunder also drafted Aleksej Pokusevski, a promising unicorn prospect who needs to develop.

The Sacramento Kings could possibly compete with the Hield-Fox duo if they were in the Eastern Conference. Alas, they're stuck in the West, where there are already plenty of good teams. They drafted a highly-hyped prospect in Tyrese Haliburton, so this will definitely be more of a transition year where they develop their core.

The Detroit Pistons allegedly had the worst offseason moves of 2020, so there's no surprise that they're on the list of tanking teams. After trading away Luke Kennard, it looks like prospect Sekou Doumbouya will be the one leading the Pistons in the future.

The Knicks struck out on trading for or signing a star during free agency, and proceeded to draft Obi Toppin. They're most likely going to stick to the development of their young prospects like Mitchell Robinson, and trading contracts to create cap space for the future.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have two former All-Stars on the roster, but that isn't getting them anywhere. Expect them to trade veterans Andre Drummond and Kevin Love while focusing on developing Collin Sexton and Isaac Okoro.

Sleepers - Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Hornets

This section contains the teams who have a chance to surprise you during the season but will most likely be in the middle of the pack in terms of rankings.

The Memphis Grizzlies are going to give Ja Morant all the touches. Jaren Jackson Jr. is most likely going to miss the start of the season, making a playoff push harder for the young Grizzlies if they can't win during the beginning of the year. They could make it to the playoffs, but this is probably a development year.

The San Antonio Spurs are a curious case. If their rookies can improve from the Spurs vaunted development system, then the Spurs could make the playoffs, as they also have former All-Stars, DeMar Derozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. It all hinges on how the Spurs' young talent looks next season.

The Minnesota Timberwolves brought in D'Angelo Russell to Minnesota to pair with Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns is still a transcendent center, but with the quality of the roster beyond their two established stars, expect the Timberwolves to fall just short.

The Charlotte Hornets drafted mesmerizing point guard LaMelo Ball and signed former All-Star Gordon Hayward. Combine that with the presence of a player like Devonte' Graham, and they could upset one of the lower playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference for a spot in the postseason.

Playoff Contenders - Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls

These teams are likely the 6th to 8th seed. They are probably going to make the playoffs, but not much further than that.

The Utah Jazz recently signed Rudy Gobert to a $205 million dollar extension. The extension will keep the Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert duo together, but how far can they go? They lost to the Nuggets in the first round last season. They'll make the playoffs, but the improvement of their stars is what will define them.

The Phoenix Suns traded for veteran point guard legend Chris Paul. Paul should be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio and will catapult Ayton's development. With Booker's continued presence and two elite players behind him, the Suns could easily make the playoffs.

The Portland Trail Blazers' notable acquisition of the offseason was Robert Covington. He can help them guard the good forwards of the West while spacing the floor. With Nurkic's return for a whole season, expect a Trail Blazers renaissance.

The main appeal of the New Orleans Pelicans is the young duo of Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. The two are a great fit on the court together, and with young point guard Lonzo Ball, they could make it to the playoffs. They could have made it last year but had an awful bubble, so they're on the list of playoff contenders this year.

The Atlanta Hawks are probably one the most improved teams on this list. Their moves for Gallinari and Rondo are good on paper, and if the veterans have the desired impact on the roster, then Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks are making the playoffs.

The Orlando Magic are consistently good defensively. They have a good center in Vucevic, though they lost Jonathan Isaac for the season. If Markelle Fultz and Aaron Gordon can each take a step forward, then perhaps they could remain in the hunt for the playoffs.

The Chicago Bulls have an elite shooting guard in Zach Lavine. He's a known quantity. With coach Billy Donovan taking over, players like Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are bound to have better seasons than they did under Jim Boylen. Combine that with natural improvement for their young players, and they could be a playoff contender.

Playoff Teams - Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers

All of these teams comfortably make the playoffs. They might not make it far beyond the second round, but they're solid playoff teams.

The Toronto Raptors have a big three in Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Kyle Lowry. After losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol during the offseason, the Raptors will have to bank on internal improvement from their young players in Siakam and VanVleet to give them a better chance in the playoffs.

The Houston Rockets are definitely a playoff team with James Harden, John Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins. While James Harden could still get traded, as of this moment that is a solid playoff team, and that's without mentioning big man Christian Wood.

The Washington Wizards have two superstars in Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. As we've seen before, two stars are usually enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Whether they can go further than just making the playoffs will be determined by how Beal and Westbrook mesh on the court.

The Boston Celtics have a developing young core of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum. They are a stout defensive team, and the addition of Kemba Walker when he comes back from injury should be a huge boost to their offense. The Celtics are always good on paper: now they just have to put it together.

The Philadephia 76ers have new coach Doc Rivers and new GM Daryl Morey. They acquired shooters like Danny Green as well. They are always going to be a playoff team with the Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons duo, but the improvement of Simmons will determine how far they go in the postseason.

The Golden State Warriors are buoyed by the return of point guard Stephen Curry. They have put athletic young players like Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins around their superstar. It's a different Warriors team than their dynasty: but they are still slept on due to their versatility on defense and the scoring of Curry.

The Dallas Mavericks have an MVP level talent in Luka Doncic. While they will probably fare better in the postseason once Kristaps Porzingis returns, he is out for part of the year. Since this is a regular-season ranking, the Mavericks make the playoffs solidly as a lower to middle seed but could surprise and beat seeds higher than them when the postseason actually hits.

The Indiana Pacers are nothing short of consistent. They just keep getting quality players and developing them. The offense this year will likely focus on their biggest scorer in the bubble, T. J. Warren, and their All-Star, Domantas Sabonis. The Pacers will almost always be a playoff team at the very least.

Championship Contenders - Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat

These are the teams with a realistic chance to win the championship. They are the true contenders, but not necessarily the favorites.

The Brooklyn Nets have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving back this year, Both have looked good this offseason, and the Nets will clearly be in contention if Durant plays like his MVP days. Lots of fans are hyped for the Nets, and for a good reason: two offensive superstars who can score from anywhere are playing together.

The Milwaukee Bucks convinced Giannis Antetokounmpo to stay in Milwaukee. That alone makes them a contender, and with the addition of Jrue Holiday, expect some big things from the Milwaukee Bucks. Unlike years past, they have a clutch player in Holiday, and that could be the difference-maker.

The Los Angeles Clippers lost in the second round last year, but they still have two superstars. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are both still on the Clippers, with George recently signing an extension. Montrezl Harrell left, making defining other players' roles easier on the offensive end. The Clippers could actually develop some chemistry this year and truly compete for a championship.

The Denver Nuggets were the team that came back to win two series where they were 3-1 down. One of those series was against the Clippers. The Nuggets have risen from dark horse status to true contender status. Nikola Jokic is an MVP candidate, clear and simple, and his running mate Jamal Murray is a stellar point guard.

The Miami Heat have made the Finals last year on the back of Jimmy Butler. Jimmy Butler is the biggest game-changer for the Heat, and he could hit another level this season. With young players like Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro improving, the Heat could reach the Finals once again.

Overwhelming Favorites - Los Angeles Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers not only won the championship this season, but they also made some prudent roster moves. Dennis Schroeder will be an amazing third option behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis, while Harrell can be a great scorer off the bench or as a starter. They got worse defensively due to the departures of Dwight Howard and Danny Green but got way better offensively.

Schroeder and Harrell are both slightly below All-Star level and are both underrated. The Lakers' acquisition of both while still having their superstars makes them the overwhelming favorite for the NBA Championship. They want to go back-to-back, and they very well could. LeBron James is also the defining X-factor: until someone can beat James on the Lakers, his team stays as the overwhelming favorite.

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