The majority of the playoff teams are already set with five weeks to go in the regular season, so clubs at the bottom of the standings like the Lakers can safely begin to look ahead to next year.
For a handful of teams, the future is extremely bright, and some even seem ready to make a real leap as early as next season.
Here's a look at 6 squads primed to make a big jump in 2018.
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The Bucks could very well sneak into the playoffs this season, but doing so with a sub-.500 record wouldn't necessarily feel like an amazing accomplishment.
Milwaukee should be much better next year, thanks to Giannis Antetokounmpo's emergence as one of the league's true stars. Malcolm Brogdon should get some Rookie of the Year votes, and having Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton healthy for an entire season could have the Bucks move into the middle of the pack in terms of playoff seeding in the East.
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We didn't necessarily believe the hype on the Timberwolves heading into this season, but next year should be a different story. Karl-Anthony Towns probably should have been an All-Star this season with averages of 24 points and 12.3 rebounds per game, and Zach LaVine was lost for the year with a knee injury just before the break.
The young players will have another season under their belts, and Tom Thibodeau will be in year two as their head coach. Make some minor changes to the roster over the summer and figure out a long-term solution at point guard, and Minnesota could be a playoff team in 2018.
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Betting that the Sixers will finally stay healthy next season would be foolish given the evidence in recent years. But if Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are around for the bulk of the season, the playoffs will be a realistic goal for the Sixers, especially when considering that they play in the East.
The Suns are going to miss the playoffs for a seventh straight season, but they were finally patient at the trade deadline, and seem to be building the right way. Earl Watson is playing his youngsters heavy minutes to close out the season, and Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss and Tyler Ulis are all showing signs they can be legitimate threats for years to come.
Adding some role players this summer would certainly help the cause, but as long as Eric Bledsoe can continue to be the on-court leader and the youth movement develops as expected, Phoenix might just surprise some folks and make a bit of a leap next season.
New Orleans Pelicans
Anytime you add a major player at the trade deadline, a team is going to struggle to integrate him over the last two months of the season. That's certainly looking like the case in New Orleans, where DeMarcus Cousins hasn't helped much playing alongside Anthony Davis.
But next year will be different. The Pelicans will have an entire offseason to add the proper pieces around their two All-Star big men, and a full training camp to determine the best ways to utilize them together. New Orleans should finally begin to turn things around next year.
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Los Angeles Lakers
D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram should be the anchors in L.A. for years to come. But even if the youngsters (who are just 21 and 19 years old respectively) don't make any crazy gains next year, the fact that Magic Johnson is now running the basketball operations in Lakerland leads us to believe that there will finally be some decent upgrades coming to the roster this summer -- which should result in the Lakers making a return to the playoffs after missing the postseason for four straight years.