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Ranking the urgency for rebuilding Western Conference teams to make playoffs in 2021-22 NBA season

NBA

The NBA Western Conference is habitually stiff, which leads to a handful of legitimately competitive teams missing the playoffs. At the moment, there are six teams in the conference that are rebuilding and/or trying to turn a corner with a young core. Those teams are the San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets.

Some of these teams’ NBA rebuilds will inevitably flop while one or two succeed. With that in mind, some of them are up against the clock more than others.

Here’s how the six NBA teams rank when it concerns the urgency for them to make the Western Conference playoffs this season.

NBA rebuilders

6) Houston Rockets

The Rockets went from a championship contender to an abruptly rebuilding team. It’s really something how quickly things can change in the NBA. As for the Rockets’ 2021-22 outlook, they have an experimental campaign on deck.

Head coach Stephen Silas has a bevy of players to be enthused by. Christian Wood has become one of the better scoring big men in the NBA. Rookie Jalen Green has a keen scoring ability. Kevin Porter Jr. showcased an ability to both facilitate and score off the dribble last season. Jae’Sean Tate flashed some promise. Rookies Alperen Sengun and Usman Garuba figure to get reasonable run.

This season is about the Rockets’ young core defending at a competitive level and building offensive cohesion. They’re not a team that’s going to be fighting for an appearance in the NBA Play-in Tournament.

5) Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have compelling young players and trade assets for days. Now they need to identify players to build with outside of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Candidates to generate such confidence in the organization include Darius Bazley, Luguentz Dort, Aleksej Pokusevski, Josh Giddey and Theo Maledon.

Bazley is an athletic frontcourt player who could see a spike in production. Dort is a composed wing scorer. Pokeusevski is a skilled, lengthy big man. Giddey is a slick passer. Maledon is a smooth, two-way player. This team has few veterans holding down rotation roles, opening the door for all of the aforementioned players to grow more productive and impactful.

Oklahoma City has to make tangible progress, as they were the 14th seed in the West last season. That said, making the playoffs isn’t a necessity for the long-term well-being of their rebuild.

4) San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are the sneaky NBA team in this conglomerate of playoff hopefuls. What they have going for them may not be electric, comparatively speaking, but it’s quietly making progress and has upside.

Dejounte Murray and Derrick White are each capable ball-handers who are continually improving scorers. Keldon Johnson is a budding wing. Center Jakob Poeltl has become a reliable inside player. Lonnie Walker has made strides over the last two seasons. Drew Eubanks came to life towards the end of last season. Rookie Joshua Primo is an efficient shooter. Head coach Gregg Popovich has a lot of people who can score and defend in the halfcourt at his disposal.

Simultaneously, the Spurs are reaching a point where they have to make tough roster decisions if they once again fail to reach an NBA best-of-seven series. Their day of reckoning likely won’t come in a year, but continued playoff shortcomings could lead to a significant retooling trade or two within the next two years.

3) Sacramento Kings

Two years ago, the Kings were an emerging force in the West. On the contrary, they’ve regressed in back-to-back NBA seasons. Entering year three of running the show, Luke Walton and the Kings have to climb the ladder in the West.

This is an NBA roster with top-heavy talent that has been highly productive but collectively lost many close games and squandered individual growth. De’Aaron Fox is a superb scorer. Tyrese Haliburton does a little bit of everything on both ends of the floor. Center Richaun Holmes has only improved with age. Buddy Hield is a proven shooter. Rookie Davion Mitchell is a two-way player who gives the Kings considerable guard depth.

Sacramento has possessed the talent to make the NBA playoffs for three years, and them failing to do as such in the expanded playoffs adds insult to injury, as it’s their 15th consecutive season without a playoff appearance. If the Kings don’t finally get over the hump, it could be time to commence a roster overhaul.

2) Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves are an enigma but one with proven youth on their side. With a healthy Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, a second-year Anthony Edwards and the emerging Malik Beasley, the T-Wolves have the offensive arsenal to be a hassle.

Towns is a well-rounded and efficient scorer. Russell can score and shoot off the dribble at a high level. Edwards and Beasley have been fearless NBA scorers of late. Youngsters Josh Okogie, Jake Layman and Taurean Prince have had their moments in years past. Patrick Beverley is a proven defender and shooter.

This team has experienced NBA players in their 20s who have a lot to prove. Towns and Russell are supposed to be a stellar one-two punch. Another disappointing season in the standings puts Minnesota in a position where they’re inclined to move the pair of 2015 first-rounders in an attempt to truly rebuild. At some point, they can’t keep going forth with this effort.

1) New Orleans Pelicans

Zion Williamson has a precarious standing with the Pelicans’ organization. There were rumblings about Brandon Ingram not being on the same page with the coaching staff and/or front office last season. The Pelicans essentially swapped Lonzo Ball for Devonte’ Graham at point guard in the offseason. New Orleans has to make the playoffs this NBA season.

Like the bulk of these NBA teams, the Pelicans have an extremely enticing nucleus. Williamson and Ingram are high-level scorers. Graham and rookie Trey Murphy III are efficient shooters. Jonas Valanciunas scores inside and out. Young guards Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr. have speed and a knack for getting inside off the dribble. Josh Hart is a gritty, rebounding guard. From a talent standpoint, this is a playoff roster that has come up just short of the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

The Pelicans’ frontcourt is too formidable and their roster as a whole is too deep to miss the playoffs again. With matters appearing fluid, a bumpy season could lead to the Pelicans moving their premier scorers.