Five Teams On The Rise

The start of training camp is just days away.

There are 30 teams that believe deep down this is the year they do it. This is the year that it all comes together. This is the year that they win it all again in Miami, finally win it in Oklahoma City or finally break through and make the playoffs in places like Sacramento, Detroit and New Orleans.

The power of positive thinking will be on full display around the league when players convene for the initial stage of the 2012-13 season.

Not all of those hoop dreams will be realized, though, and there will no doubt be teams that are convinced they are prepared to take that next step this season when they simply are not.

But we’re focusing on the positives today, peering into our crystal ball and trying to identify the teams with the goods to make good on whatever promise they’ve shown in recent seasons, Drafts and in the offseasons (in free agency and trades).

There are no guarantees, of course. Injuries and other unforeseen issues can alter the fate of a team at any time.

We’ve checked the radar, though, and the skies are clear for HT’s Five Teams On The Rise … five lottery teams with a chance to move into the realm of playoff contention:

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS, 21-45 last season

They were supposed to go away for five or six years after the departure of Lebron James and rebuild quietly. Then Kyrie Irving showed up and forced us all to reconsider. The roster is slowly but surely being fortified to surround a budding star like Irving with a supporting cast capable of making a little playoff noise at some point in the near future.

Anderson Varejao looked like his usual pesky self in London during the Olympics and Tristan Thompson showed significant promise last season as well. They’ll form the foundation of a frontcourt rotation that will include rookie center Tyler Zeller and rugged workman Samardo Samuels.

The only thing that worries us about the Cavaliers is whether or not rookie Dion Waiters is ready to assume his role as Irving’s backcourt sidekick. We were a bit surprised to see him picked where he was in the June Draft, but we were forced to reconsider when a handful of coaches and two league executives we trust gushed about him after the Draft.

Bottom line: With the fearless Irving as the ringleader (he learned from the best in Las Vegas this summer), the Cavaliers have a fighting chance this season.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS, 31-35 last season

Bucks general manager John Hammond was the league’s Executive of the Year in 2010 for a reason. If he believes that the Monta EllisBrandon Jennings combo is the key to getting this team back to the playoffs, we’ll ride with him. And it’s not like we needed to be convinced. Ellis has always been on our most underrated list and Jennings continues to do his thing without the respect he deserves for the improvements he’s made since entering the league.

Hammond wasn’t afraid to recognize that Andrew Bogut wasn’t the right fit for the franchise, a move that will either look like a disaster or pure genius depending on how things for turn out for Bogut and the Golden State Warriors this season. The Bucks, instead, are opting for the big-man-by-committee approach this season with Sam Dalembert, Drew Gooden, Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh and rookie John Henson manning the paint.

Ersan Ilyasova was a bit of a revelation last season and should give Bucks fans another dose of hope about this season and the future of the franchise. It’s not often a team stumbles onto a gem like Ilyasova, an unselfish worker bee who is effective on both ends of the floor with the range to shoot from deep and the size and versatility to guard as many as three different positions.

Bottom line: The pressure is on and Bucks coach Scott Skiles usually does some of his best work in those situations.


Before Ricky Rubio went down last season the Timberwolves looked like a team that might be a year ahead of schedule, in terms of making a legitimate attempt at crashing the Western Conference playoff party. He won’t be back until sometime in December, but there is reason to believe that Rick Adelman‘s team is ready to take the next step this season, whether Rubio is ready to resume his playmaking ways right away or not.

Having a revitalized Brandon Roy to balance the floor for All-Star power forward Kevin Love is going to be extremely fun to watch. And Roy also gives the Timberwolves another clutch shot-maker at the end of games, too. Love is poised to take yet another step on his path to becoming the most complete power forward in the game (yes, we said it), and he’ll have plenty of help up front from rugged types like Nikola Pekovic, Greg Stiemsma and HT fave Dante Cunningham.

The added bonus this year for the Timberwolves come in the form of improved depth. Aleksey Shved, Andrei Kirilenko and Chase Budinger will help upgrade the backcourt and wing rotations. And when Rubio returns, they should have everything covered.

Bottom line: If Derrick Williams finds his niche this season, this team becomes extremely dangerous.

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS, 21-45 last season

The youth movement in the Big Easy is in full swing with No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, rookie guard Austin Rivers and the highly underrated rookie Darius Miller ready to lead the Hornets’ youth brigade. We saw enough from Davis and heard enough from his Olympic team coaches and teammates in London to know that his defensive presence will make an immediate and dramatic impact for the Hornets, who have been solid in that phase under Monty Williams.

Don’t forget about Eric Gordon, who has the ability to score at an elite level and be the alpha dog offensively that this team will need. Gordon’s a pro’s pro, so we’re not concerned about their being any lingering issues from his restricted free agent summer. And dating back to his high school days (when he played summer ball alongside Derrick Rose), Gordon should have no problem sharing the spotlight or the backcourt load with another big time guard.

The addition of Ryan Anderson gives the Hornets another offensive dimension they didn’t have last season. There is some talent, largely unproven, to help fill out the rotation on the wing but no one we’re ready to count on for big things just yet.

Bottom line: Robin Lopez and Jason Smith have to be ready to help carry the load down low so Davis can grow his offensive game and body as quickly as possible.

PHOENIX SUNS, 33-33 last season

We’ve already explained what could be in store for Goran Dragic this year as he replaces Steve Nash as the head of the Suns’ snake. Are we gambling that a two-month stint of wicked play from Dragic in Houston last season means he’s ready to run his own show on a full-time basis? Sure. We’re doing the same thing the Rockets did when they let Dragic get out of town and put their money on Jeremy Lin‘s two-month stretch in New York being a preview of what’s to come. Call us crazy if it all goes up in smoke this season.

This team is full of cast offs, from Michael Beasley to Luis Scola, who have every right to play with huge chips on their shoulders this season. Spite has often served as one of the great motivators in league history (see the 2004 title-winning Pistons, a team full of guys who were tossed aside at one time or another in their careers). If he has nothing, Suns coach Alvin Gentry will have that rallying cry for his troops.

If Marcin Gortat‘s evolution continues without Nash around facilitate the process, there’s another key piece this team will rely on as they groom rookie Kendall Marshall for a potentially starring role. Don’t sleep on Markieff Morris, who could be in for a breakout season of his own.

Bottom line: This is our one stretch on the list, but there’s something about this mismatched crew that intrigues us. If Beasley finally decides to play up to his potential, look out.


  1. chigchig says:

    i can see GSW and the bucks making a push.. I will put washington as the maybe coz they have the pieces.. much of the season last year the cavs and sota were in the hunt for the 8 so if they stay healthy theye have a chance for sure..

    In no particular order
    East: mia, bos, ind, phi, atl, chi, nyk, bkn, possibles bucks/wash/detroit
    West: lal, lac, okc, sas, den, utah, mem, minni, possibles warriors or dallas

  2. 80sFan says:

    The Cavs are on the rise?

  3. samdon jennings says:

    I’m a fortune-teller too. Check this out: Eric Gordon will win the scoring title. Bam. How you like me now? Go Bucks..

  4. SUN says:

    i think the wolves are much better and i love Roy, but i dont believe theyll b anything past the 8th seed
    Raptors are good but itll take a couple more years to make the playoffs
    Suns they will do their thing with Dragic leading the way. I hope Beasley can live up to the expectations so he wont be a waste for us and i just want a higher draft pick in the lottery than 13 or 14 Go Suns!
    NOH wont make the playoffs despite having the possible rookie of the year in Davis.
    Last Dallas isnt that bad. They have a much better center in Kaman and Collison wont b as good as KIdd but he’ll help and Oj Mayo is an improvement from Jason Terry

  5. roman jordan says:

    I really think the wolves will make their way into the playoff this season, they’ve put together a really good team..the bucks are very intresting as well even if, if you ask me, as Gooden and Dalembert aren’t getting any younger (and beside that they are pretty lowly players) and Udoh still has got a lot to prove, they should have acquired a better player in the paint, however if the Ellis-Jennings combo works they may have a pretty good chance to get a playoff seed..the rockets, instead, will sink next season..with Kevin Martin alone carring the load ( Jeremy LIn is utterly unable to do it)..

  6. Owenhart says:

    I like the idea of AK47 at MIN, but still hopes will be on Derrick Williams also we’ll see if Roy can still play on the same lvl before he got injured. He’s a clutch player… 🙂

  7. D Lion says:

    Kyrie Irving is definitely a great young PG and Anderson Varejao is underrated, but I don’t see the Cavs making the playoffs this year. However, I do think they will be in the conversation, along with the Pistons and Raptors, and possibly the Wizards. I also don’t see the Hornets in the playoffs. Sure, they are a rising team, but I think it will take their totally revamped lineup a litt;e while to figure each other out. Both teams have definitely gotten better, but I think other teams may have been more appropriate for this list.

  8. The NBARulezz says:

    let me tell you

    East: Miami,BKN,Boston,IND,NYK,CHI,Atlanta 8 wil be TOR,DET,WIZ
    West:LAL,OKC,SAN,LAC,DEN,DAL,WOLVES. 8 will be like PHK or JAZZ

  9. Raps218 says:

    people think that anthony davis is going to be a star. I however do not. i think he will be a tyson chandler/marcus camby. He has potential but i dont see him getting beefy and strong. honestly i see him being injured every year because this isnt college. Now he has to play 82 games + with the big boys. he might do better at PF. and austin rivers wont be a star. He will be the poor mans doc rivers. Also raps are in it to win it. playoffs will happen. Dwayne casey was one of the best things to happen to toronto. Our defense is looking very nice and we made quality moves this year along with JONAS and i think terrence ross with viw for rookie of the year. he looks really special

  10. Hornets go to the playoffs get eliminated in the first round. Lakers and Miami Heat finals.

  11. genius says:

    i’m a fortune teller and i predict west:LAL,OKC,SAS,DEN,DAL,LAC,MEM,MIN
    WEST FINALS:LAL vs SAS lal wins
    EAST FINALS:MIA vs BOS bos wins
    2012-2013 NBA CHAMP “LAL”

    • Erin says:

      I agree with you on a lot of the teams possibly making the playoffs, I think you’re wrong with who’s going to win. I bet Lakers fans tend to forget that in 2004, the Lakers had basically the same team they have now and they got swept in the Finals. (Gary Payton, Kobe, Karl Malone and Shaq.) Part of me thinks that’s what’s going to happen again this year. If they make it to the finals, I don’t think they’ll end up winning.

  12. yoyoyoyo says:

    in that list i like the twolves and hornets
    eric gordan is a beast and anthony davis who will be Rookie of the year there both future allstars playoffs might be out of reach this season but definatly good things to come

  13. Burner says:

    Alright, listen here. Hammond has done an excellent job with the Bucks and I trust him fully. It is nearly impossible for any teams to get by MIA, LAL, OKC and all those dream teams cause the NBA is only about entertainment now and the competitive level is diminished. But, the Bucks are one to contend. They have Jennings and Ellis, pretty solid and underrated back court. They have Udoh,Dalembert, Gooden and Pryzbilla for bigs. And you throw in Henson, Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute who is a defensive stud, I like what we have working. Our D is gonna be one of the best in the league, cause of our lineup and Skiles, my only concern is scoring.. But Ellis and Jennings are playmakers and Ilyasova and Dunleavy can both shoot as well. Watch out for the Bucks, trust me.

  14. Cody says:

    I’m wondering if all of you saw that this is teams on the rise, they’re not all likely to contend. They might not compete for a playoff spot, but NOH and the Cavs will be fun to watch. Rivers is a little hyped up, but he knows how to handle himself, he’s got talent, Davis is a star in the making, Gordon is a rising star as well and having Ryan Anderson is a plus. Miller might even be a really good piece. This is coming from a guy that doesn’t like any of the teams on this list.

  15. Erin says:

    While I do agree with a lot of the statements about each team, I also disagree with some. The Raptors have improved, but I think they’ll need another year or two. Washington and Cleveland are also up there, but I doubt they’ll make the playoffs. I do follow a lot about what happens over the summer so I think the standings go as follows:
    EAST: Miami, Boston, Brooklyn, Indiana, Philadelphia, New York, Milwaukee, Chicago. I’m putting Chicago last because while they’re still a great team, they don’t have as much defensive power as they did last year. They let Asik go and he was one of their better ones. And their without Rose for about half the season, which I don’t think helps their chances.
    WEST: San Antonio, Oklahoma City, L.A. Lakers, Denver, L.A. Clippers, Minnesota, Utah, Dallas. I don’t have Memphis on there because contrary to what people said about not liking O.J. Mayo, he helped their team a lot and I don’t think they’ll be nearly as good without him. It also depends on how healthy Randolph is. I bet people forget the huge lead they blew in the playoffs….. I also put Dallas last because they have gotten worse this off season. They do have some nice additions with Mayo and Collison, but Collison’s not anywhere close to Kidd.

  16. David says:

    i dont think the raptors have what it takes, calderon is one of the most underrated points in the leauge while i like derozen. . they still are not good enough to compete in the playoffs,, even if they did make it

  17. David says:

    idk about raptors,but its like this, East,MIA,BOS,IND,NYK,BKN,PHI,MIL,CHI, wiz,cavs, will be major improvements but most likely no playoffs,,West OKC,LAL,SAS,DEN,LAC,MEM,MIN,HOU or mayb DALLAS at eightt, ,

  18. D.Grec says:

    Im geussing the Raptors aren’t on this list because you feel they don’t have what it takes? Or is it because you haven’t been following them lately? We made some huge moves. Getting Kyle Lowry was one of the biggest acquisitions of the whole summer. Then we go and sign one of the best up and coming players, who will only shine with the amount of playing time time he’ll recieve, Landry Feilds. Last the biggest story might be our kid from lithuania . We have high hopes for him, and from what iv’e seen so far, he’s ready to make those hopes a reality. In all honesty the Raptors should have made this list mainly because we did so many positive things this summer. Rather then take steps back, we made positive strides forward.

  19. mario says:

    I ll keep an eye on suns n wolves. Dragic will show what he can do this year, Scola is consistent n Beasley is the barometer of this team. If he takes the game seriously n is determined to work this team is already in the playoffs. But truth is u cant count on him right now. I d love to c Schumbert or/and Jeremy Lamb in this team as shooting guards n McGee as the center. Wolves now.. It s all on Roy. If he can stay healthy n put around 20ppg this team can cause some serious trouble. Pekovic will be even better this year, Kirilenko is a very good all around SF, Love is Love, Rubio lets hope he ll pick it up where he left it before his injury, Williams i like him but he needs to step it up. Good complementary cast, one healthy superstar, one not so healthy superstar n a questionmark in Williams. Lets c.

  20. Tim in Surrey says:

    Does anybody else find it disturbing that Brandon Roy said he essentially had the platelet-rich therapy performed on his knee BASED ON HIS AGENT’S RECOMMENDATION? I think that’s a very, very bad idea, no matter how it turns out.

  21. Skeletor says:

    ” … finally break through and make the playoffs in places like New Orleans.. ”

    Er, yes.. it’s been a whopping drought for the Hornets hasn’t it? 16 long months since they played the Lakers in the first round..

  22. Melvin says:

    Hornets just overrated, David and Rivers are not ready to bring Hornets to playoffs.
    Maybe few more years LOL.

  23. valters says:

    what about the wizzards their roster has improved majorly with additions of NENE ariza, Bradley Beal and Emeka Okafor with wall leading the way i think they have a pretty good chance of reaching the playoff’s if wall does step it up a bit

  24. Anonymus says:

    Why does everyone question Rivers. This kid can score heavily, and you should never underestimate someone who has the desire to be great. He will work hard and will be a star in the future

  25. shakenbake says:

    Why do people think that the lakers will rule the west in the next decade. dont get your hopes up laker fans coz dwight wont resign nash and kobe will just be good for another year or two. haha!

  26. bobbii says:

    detroit is going to the playoffs. they have a young twin towers in monroe and drummond. and knight is a cannon. i give them 7th seed.

    • Cody says:

      Monroe is on the rise, but Drummond has to show he promise first, Daye will have to prove himself finally, Prince is in the decline, Knight is a future star and Stuckey is a talent too, but the playoffs are out of the picture.

  27. luis says:

    no raptors at all?

  28. joobypls says:


  29. miggyPH says:

    Poor list for me. I think the warriors and twolves will fight for the last playoff spot in the west. In the east i can see that wizards teams sneak in for the last playoff spot.

  30. tyrone says:

    Clevelabd will need another year or two before making the playoffs while Detroit’s Drummond is questionable cause he could be a bust like Waiters. Rivers is questionable. While Raptors should have a brght future. Phoenix would probably have a good chance at being the 8th or 7th seed at best. Bobcats would need to make like a 37 game improvement from last year to even think about making to the playoffs. This should be a fun season.

  31. RJ says:

    No Raps. What happened Sekou? 😦

  32. D-TOWN says:

    Once again Detroit gets no love at all. They have a good mix of youth and experience. They have about 4 young building blocks that have had some early success. To me MIL is nice but overstocked in the paint with 4 7 foot shot blockers that will not get the time they need. They are garbage on the wings and have an all star back court. To me DET TOR and SAC are the next 3 teams in line for a playoff spot. I think SAC has so much talent but always come up short. DET is my team but are not quite ready yet. TOR is unnoticed as a complete team, stacked at all positions.

    • One of the king's subjects says:

      I know what the Pistons need, and that is a point guard who can be all-star material. Look what Billups did for the pistons. Eastern Conference Finals almost every year since they won the chip in ’04. The season he left, Pistons barley made the playoffs. I’m telling you, they need a point guard who was a leader who is mature and can play like Mr. Big Shot.

  33. Abz says:

    What??? Raptors are better than Atlanta, Milwaukee, NOLA, Washington. Its okay though, I prefer the Raps being the dark horse that way we can shut up all the so called “experts” when the playoffs come around.

    • chigchig says:

      how can u say the raps are better then a team that has been in the playoffs the last 5 years? the raps have sniffed playoffs once in however long and they lost the reason for that (bosh) to miami.. good luck with kyle lowry leading u to the playoffs

  34. boss says:

    i still cant believe houston let goran dragic

  35. David says:

    Detroit gets no type of recognition. NOLO arent gonna do anything in a revamped west coast. LAL, LAC, SAS, OKC, MINN. pleaseeeee. and PHX is gonna be straight but thats all built around DRAGIC hype. as far the east. u guys are a joke. MIL, and CLE over TOR or DET. stupid

  36. Stu.D says:

    I like all of these teams; and I like watching young teams on the rise but I see one, if any of them making the playoffs. East: MIA, CHI, BOS, NJN, PHI, NYK, ATL, IND
    I appreciate that Atlanta is probably the wekest on that list, but is still a far better team than most of the ones listed above
    Here again Dallas is probably the weak link here but can anyone really see Dirk not making the playoffs; as much as I love the Twolves, the Mavs are still only one year removed from a championship.

    • Realist says:

      i can’t see the bulls making any better than the 5th seed…
      East: Miami, Ind, Bos, Phi, NYK, Chi, NYN, Atl
      West: OKC, SA, LAC, LAL, Den, Dal, Mem, Min
      I know it’s a stretch the Clippers beat out the lakers, but there’s way too may variables in laker-land and all the Clippers did is add depth and expierence. I also think Denver will do much better w/ Iguodala.

    • Bryan says:

      I would take Milwaukee and Cleveland, even Toronto over Atlanta. Despite their record the last few years, Atlanta’s crumbled when the playoffs came around. Josh Smith is an all-star calibur player but even with joe johnson the hawks stayed between the 5th and 8th seed. Without Johnson, Smith should be the leader, but with the way he’s seemed to be scrutinized in ATL I do not know if they trust him enough to let him have that much responsibility. Cohesion could also be a problem.

      • chigchig says:

        hawks were in the top 4 for 3 of those playoff years, they lost jj and got another 2 scorers in harris and williams and lost marvin who was borry.. if anything now teague horford and josh step up.. i dont think theyll be better but still middle playoff team easily

    • dattebayo says:

      Minnesota will get the 6th seed or higher, Dallas, Phoenix and Utah will be fighting for that 8th seed this time around…

      • TJShayde says:

        Minnesota will snag the 5 I predict, and out of the three you have fighting over the 8: I see Utah snagging it. And despite a comment earlier saying something to the effect of “could anyone NOT see Dirk making the playoffs??” Yes, yes I can. Cuban gambled on the Dwight Howard and Deron Williams lottery and lost big. He sold off too many championship pieces to make it really a relevant point that they are one year removed from winning it all.

  37. Joseph says:

    The warriors over new orleans and cleveland for sure. are you kidding??? NO and cleveland are not making playoffs even if they improve a lot. phoenix, minn, and milwaukee are reasonable but cmon the dubs have got to be on here. even if they dont make playoffs they are definatelly going to improve a heck of a lot. i see the raptors improving a bit too.

  38. prince says:


  39. Jordan says:

    Wow raptors should be there………SMh

  40. dattebayo says:

    I see the Wolves improving, Phoenix might do better as well. Even though everybody says the East is the weaker conference, I don’t see the Bucks getting in the playoffs. And Cleveland? please.

    Bulls, Celtics, Nets , Knicks, Heat, Pacers and Philly, that leaves one spot open for the Bucks, Wizards or Atlanta.

  41. andre says:

    first sentence is rather incorrect. bobcats enough said.

  42. Gman says:

    no love for the Raps.

  43. John dough says:

    What about the Warriors? Wouldn’t you think a healthy Bogut, Lee, Curry combo with a great bench might have more of a breakout year than the bucks or young hornets???

    • ChrisMKE says:

      Exactly. I live in Milwaukee, love the Bucks and follow their every move and as much as I’d like us to be, we’re really not a team on the rise. I guess if you define rising as possibly making the 8th seed if everything goes right only to watch Ellis (who is anything but underrated) walk for absolutely nothing. And your right, John Hammond was the Executive of the Year in 2010 for a reason. The reason was Andrew Bogut playing insane before snapping his arm at the elbow.

      I’d much rather have the GSW’s team than ours.

      Although, If we just play Jennings, Harris and Henson as much as possible then I could get on board with what they’re doing. Otherwise, it’s just typical middling Milwaukee Bucks basketball

      • They can Rise all they want….but the lakers are still gonna be champions in the next decade or so hahahaha!

      • Bryan says:

        I don’t think we saw enough from Ellis as a Buck last year to say whether he is or isn’t underrated. We saw flashes of what made him a fan favorite in golden state last year and Jennings and Ellis could work if they learn to play together. I too live in Milwaukee and know how great it is for the city when the Bucks are doing well and I think some of the Bucks left from 2010 realize it too. I think Hammond has done whats necessary in a league made of “dream teams” to make this a competitve team. As far as small markets go, and how they’ve faired recently (okc excluded), we should be happy as Bucks fans that our team can at least be somewhat competitive.

  44. steppx says:

    why NOLO? And why do people keep saying Rivers…HE WAS AWFUL IN SUMMER LEAGUE….he’s all hype….god when are some independent journalists going to actually have an original opinion.