Outside of the two true title contenders, the NBA is in a period of transition.
One need look no further than the bottom of the Western Conference standings, where a sub-.500 team made the postseason in a conference that used to require 50-plus wins for a playoff berth.
Teams that were championship contenders five years ago are on the verge of rebuilds, and the also-rans of yesterday are on the rise. So while the top of the playoff field might look familiar next season, the rest of the league could be in for a major shake-up.
Here are three 2017 NBA playoff teams we expect to see in the lottery next year, and two more that could be in trouble.
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Had the 2016-17 season gone on for one more week, the Bulls would have missed the NBA playoffs.
The red-hot Miami Heat would have taken their place, of course, and the Heat are the clear choice to surpass Chicago in the standings next year. They're far from the only team that should be better than the Bulls in 2018, though.
The Detroit Pistons could rebound from a down year from Andre Drummond, the Charlotte Hornets were better than their 36-46 record, and the New York Knicks remain a wild card with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. There's always an outside shot the 76ers take a step forward next year, as well, believe it or not.
Frankly, we'd rather bet on Philadelphia to make the playoffs than Chicago, and it's not close — with or without Dwyane Wade.
As the market for Paul George heats up next season, someone is going to pounce before the trade deadline. It could be the Lakers, the Celtics, or a sleeper contender like the Heat, but come February, George will no longer be a member of the Indiana Pacers.
Once he's gone, the Pacers can begin to rebuild around Myles Turner and whatever young talent they receive in return for PG-13. And if Turner turns out to be as good as he's looked so far, Indiana might be back in contention before we know it.
They just won't be anywhere near the playoffs in 2018.
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"A ring. Nothing else. I just want a ring."
Kyle Lowry wrote the Raptors' fate with that simple answer following Toronto's sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers. While he followed up by saying he's confident he could win a title anywhere, his best bet is to look elsewhere as a free agent this summer.
Without Lowry, the Raptors are a lottery team, through and through. DeMar DeRozan will put up 30 points a night, Toronto will win 30 games, and Masai Ujiri will be on the phone every day trying to find a trade partner take DeRozan.
And LeBron James will add one more shattered and broken franchise to his resume.
So those three teams almost certainly won't make the postseason next year. But what about ...
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Los Angeles Clippers
The likeliest outcome for the Clippers this summer involves everyone coming back for another go at it because Blake Griffin and Chris Paul can make the most money if they re-sign in Los Angeles.
If either one is sick of the other, or if they want a legitimate shot at title contention, then all bets are off for Doc Rivers' squad.
Let's say Griffin flees to Oklahoma City, and J.J. Redick decides it's time to move on, leaving Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan to lead L.A. back to the postseason. That pick-and-roll duo is probably good enough to ensure a playoff berth ... unless Paul suffers another midseason injury.
Should Jordan end up leading the Clippers, either because of Paul's health or his departure in free agency, get ready for Los Angeles to plummet to the bottom of the West.
He's a fine complementary piece, but if he's your No. 1 option, you're closer to contending for the No. 1 pick than a title.
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Oklahoma City Thunder
We understand why you're giving us that look, Russ. You carried the Thunder on your back this past season with a historic triple-double average, and you could be better than ever next season.
Even if you are technically a better player, though, you could take a step back due to sheer regression. And if you do, Oklahoma City will struggle. No one else on the Thunder showed they can step up when Westbrook needs some help — not consistently, anyway.
Combined with an improved bottom of the Western Conference, the Thunder might fall to the lottery next year, which wouldn't be the worst thing. It would give the team a chance to restock on young talent around the (likely) MVP.
Or the Thunder could figure out a way to add Blake Griffin. That's an option, too.