9. Oklahoma City Thunder
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander vaulted onto first-team All-NBA last season, and the Thunder are arguably the deepest young team in the league. OKC is looking to make their first playoff appearance with this core and could quickly be in the title picture with the assets to acquire a superstar plus the depth to withstand the trade.
Verdict: Just starting to open and could be wide through the rest of the 2020s.
8. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies have made three straight playoff appearances, but have won just one series. Ja Morant is a superstar but must serve a 25-game suspension to open the season. Can Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. keep them in contention? Memphis has plenty of young talent and feels on the verge of taking that next step.
Verdict: Partially open, but there are questions.
7. Miami Heat
The Heat were in the NBA Finals last season. Jimmy Butler is a superstar who has helped them win the Eastern Conference twice since 2020. Miami is rarely the favorite and eager to add more talent. Still, do not count them out. Bam Adebayo plays a key role, but how much does losing Max Strus and Gabe Vincent hurt?