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Stuck In The Middle: The 14 NBA Teams Who Won't Win A Title

Here are the 14 teams that could make the playoffs, but we won't see them getting past their respective conference finals.

Edited by Taylor Bartle

Scott Halleran

Every year, most teams go into the season thinking they have a shot at a championship.  It is their job to have that goal, and should strive for it, but in the NBA only a handful of teams have a legitimate shot at achieving the dream each season.  These following 14 teams do not have a chance to win it this year.

Rank Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank Average Rank
20 13 23 19.1

Losing Lance Stephenson was a big blow for the Pacers and knocked them down a notch in the improved Eastern Conference.  When the Pacers lost Paul George for the season that sealed any chance at being competitive in the upper half of the East.  They'll be lucky to make the playoffs. They will need big years from Roy Hibbert, David West, and C.J. Miles.

Rank Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank Average Rank
19 14 26 18.6

The Nuggets are going to be vastly improved compared to last year.  They are going to be healthy and they are going to be incredibly deep 1-5 across the bench.  For the Nuggets to be back in the playoff talks in the West, they are going to need a big jump from Kenneth Faried and for him to be more than just a high energy forward.  It's time for him to start putting things together and become a complete player.  Having Arron Afflalo back is going to help the Nuggets wing defense and I'm looking forward to the energy pairing of NatTy Ice (Nate Robinson and Ty Lawson) on the court at the same time.

Rank Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank Average Rank
18 14 20 17.1

Last season the Hawks were banged up, bruised, and limped into the playoffs.  They came pretty close to knocking out the #1 seed in the East, the Indiana Pacers, before falling in the decisive seventh game.  Their defensive force in Al Horford will be back in the paint, Jeff Teague will have another year under his belt, and Mike Budenholzer will have another year to develop the young guys and dark horse Rookie of the Year candidate Adreian Payne.

Rank Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank Average Rank
17 12 20 15.9

This is going to be a big season for the Pelicans.  They are going to need to be healthy, especially their guard trio of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, and Tyreke Evans.  Then we have Anthony Davis who is on the verge of being a mega ultra star in the league and a threat to go 25-15-5 every night he is on the floor.  Again, he has to stay healthy.  Yes, the theme of the New Orleans Pelicans is going to be, stay healthy!  Davis should be better protected as a power forward with the addition of Omer Asik in the offseason.

Rank Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank Average Rank
16 11 15 15.5

The Jason Kidd experiment ended badly and the Nets brought in a real coach to lead the team.  How is Lionel Hollins going to be able to mold the vets that are Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez? Hollins will definitely get the defensive mind set ratcheted up.  With Johnson aging, the main scoring load might have to fall on to Lopez most nights.  Can Lopez be trusted to lead the Nets with his injury history?

Rank Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank Average Rank
15 11 18 15.4

Steve Clifford turned the Hornets into a defensive minded team and they made the playoffs. The signing of Lance Stephenson to lock down the two guard spot is a big addition.  He gives the Hornets more defense and some needed scoring.  Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson will help carry the scoring load, but the bench is a mess.  They'll need rookies Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston to step up and score some points.

Rank Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank Average Rank
14 9 20 15.3

This is going to be the season that Erik Spoelstra earns his money.  There are a lot of questions that are surrounding the Heat.  Will they be a better team?  Can Luol Deng and Danny Granger come close to replacing LeBron James?  Who is going to be the go to scorer, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade?  Can Shabazz Napier or Norris Cole supplant Mario Chalmers as the starting point guard?  The Heat are going to be an intriguing team to watch this season.  Playoff team for sure, but they won't win their fifth straight Eastern Conference championship.

Rank Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank Average Rank
13 9 17 12.8

Was last year an aberration or did Jeff Horncek do one of the one of the best coaching turn around jobs in modern NBA history?  Goran Dragic turned into a top tier point guard, Gerald Green found his niche, the Morris Twins are solid role players, they got a steal in the draft in T.J. Warren who could potentially start this season, and Eric Bledsoe is coming back healthy and paid!  The Suns are going to be a fun, dangerous team this season.  Not quite a championship team, but they could be be on the brink of something special.

Rank Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank Average Rank
12 7 15 12.0

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozen form one of the five best backcourts in the league.  They have the best backup point guard in the league in Greivis Vasquez (okay, I'm extremely biased on this), and an extremely underrated power forward in Amir Johnson.  Jonas Valanciunus will be asked to contribute a bit more offensively and defensively this season, and the same thing with Terrence Ross.  The bench is pretty deep and can hold their own, but not where it can sustain a couple injuries to major starters.  I really want to see how Bruno Cabaclo does in his rookie season.

Rank Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank Average Rank
11 8 15 11.6

Age has really snuck up on the Memphis Grizzlies.  Zach Randolph has all of a sudden turned 33 (I was shocked too), Tony Allen is 32, Tayshaun Prince is 34, and they went out and signed Vince Carter who will be 38 years old in January.  Marc Gasol is still in his prime, while Mike Conley is just entering his.  For the Grizzlies to be more than a dangerous low seed that scares the #1 or #2 through six or seven games in the first round, they are going to need some of the younger guys like Quincy Pondexter to stay healthy and contribute big minutes off the bench this season. We'll also get to see if Jordan Adams can break through the logjam at the two and get some minutes from the old guys.

Rank Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank Average Rank
10 6 14 10.4

Last season the Wizards made the second round of the playoffs in Randy Wittman's first ever winning season as a head coach.  With the experience gained and the signing of Paul Pierce to give them that veteran leadership there is no reason to think that the Wizards can't make the next step and lose in the Eastern Conference Finals.  With Bradley Beal out, Glen Rice Jr. is going to get some meaningful minutes to start the season. Same with Otto Porter Jr. backing up Paul Pierce.  He'll benefit from Martell Webster still out with a nagging back injury.

John Wall should be better compared to last year as well and Marcin Gortat will be a full offseason more comfortable in the Wizards system.

Rank Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank Average Rank
9 7 15 10.2

Dirk Nowitzki should have his picture in the dictionary next to a picture of the word "selfless."  When most star players have a chance at one last pay day they'll take the absolute max they can get.  Not Dirk though, he took well below market value to leave the Mavericks cap flexibility to sign Chandler Parson and bring back Tyson Chandler.  I'm incredibly nervous about their guard situation and the depth in general.  Rick Carlisle is one of the better coaches in the game and should get the absolute most out of these guys.

Rank Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank Average Rank
8 6 10 7.8

Not sure how the Rockets are going to improve upon last year when they lost two major role players in Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin and replaced Chandler Parsons with Trevor Ariza.  Daryl Morey must have some real confidence in that young bench to not try to swing a deal after missing out on Chris Bosh.  James Harden will have to improve his defense, while Dwight Howard will have to improve his offense and free throw shooting, for the Rockets to improve and not fall out of the playoffs in the tough west.  Again, that bench of Isaiah Canaan, Troy Daniels, Nick Johnson, Clint Capela and Donatas Motiejunas leaves a bit desired.  Kevin McHale is going to have put his best coaching foot forward this season and work some magic.

Rank Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank Average Rank
7 5 10 7.7

The Blazers have quietly built a dangerous team.  They have their stars in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, both of whom have improved their games. Aldridge improved his range, while Lillard has worked with Gary Payton on his defense.  Behind those two are very good complimentary starts in Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum, and Wesley Matthews.  Two seasons ago their bench was considered the worst ever in the history of the NBA, last year it was just the worst in the NBA.  Hey, that's improvement in my book and it should improve even more this coming year.  With the additions of Steve Blake and Chris Kaman, it not only gives the Blazers a veteran presence on the bench, but also gives them solid reserves who can play multiple positions. C.J. McCollum is going to have a full training camp under his belt this season, missing the first part of last year with a Jones fracture. If the Blazers can improve up on their 18th overall ranking on defense from last year they should definitely win a few second round games this coming playoffs, but they're not quite at a championship level yet.