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Three NBA Teams Stuck in the Middle

Apr 12, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) during the second half of a NBA Play-In game against the Chicago Bulls at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

NBA teams are mainly split into two categories: competitive and rebuilding. However, there are some teams stuck in the middle. They aren’t ready to contend for a title and often miss the playoffs. But at the same time, they have just enough talent not to be one of the worst teams in the league. The direction of these teams is often confusing, and there’s always a strong chance of them starting a rebuild. Here are three NBA teams stuck in the middle. 

Three NBA Teams Stuck in the Middle

1. Chicago Bulls (40-42)

Following a disappointing 2022-23 season in which the Chicago Bulls lost in the play-in tournament, many expected the team to hit the reset button this offseason. Instead, they elected to run it back with their core players and made little changes to their roster. Chicago hopes to replicate their success in the 2021-22 season, where they finished sixth in the East. But that’s an uphill battle, given last year’s down season, Lonzo Ball’s injury, and the more competitive Eastern Conference. 

The Bulls’ roster has a few glaring flaws, including three-point shooting and bench depth. Offense, in general, is a weakness for this squad. Last year they ranked 23rd in offensive rating and dead last in three-point attempts. These stats will likely stay the same this year, given that Chicago is essentially bringing back the same roster. The core of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic is solid but not enough to compete or even guarantee a playoff spot. The ceiling for this team is likely the seventh seed, while the floor is outside of the play-in. This puts Chicago in an awkward situation. If things don’t go their way this year, there’s a strong chance they will enter a rebuilding phase. 

2. Toronto Raptors (41-41)

Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby trade rumors have dominated the Toronto Raptors news circles for over a year. After the departure of Fred VanVleet this offseason, many people believed the team would pull the trigger on a trade and start a rebuild. Toronto had a disappointing season last year and failed to make the playoffs. The Raptors have some hope, with Scottie Barnes developing, Dennis Schroder being a solid VanVleet replacement, and lottery pick Gradey Dick projecting to be a very NBA-ready prospect. Additionally, the hiring of Darko Rajkovic could help shake things up in a positive way.

However, with the loss of VanVleet and no significant roster improvements, the ceiling for Toronto feels like the sixth or seventh seed. And missing the play-in tournament entirely seems like an equal possibility. Ultimately, it’s tough for this roster to make any real noise in the East. The Raptors have some solid young players, and a rebuild feels inevitable in some ways. With Siakam and Anunoby as pending free agents next year, the team could look to kickstart a rebuild mid-season and trade both expiring contracts.

 3. New Orleans Pelicans (42-40)

The New Orleans Pelicans might not be the first team that comes to mind as a team stuck in the middle. They have a promising young squad with the upside to be somewhat competitive in the West. Last year the Pelicans got off to a hot start and briefly controlled the first seed in December. However, injuries plagued the rest of their season, and they fizzled out, eventually missing the playoffs. Leading up to the draft, there was a lot of buzz that New Orleans was considering trading Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, fully bottoming out and starting a rebuild. While these moves didn’t happen, it’s clear the Pelicans organization is upset with Williamson, and you can’t blame them. 

The Zion era has undeniably been a disappointment. He appeared in 114 in four years in the league. The Pelicans have made the playoffs once in those four years, a season where Williamson was out with a foot injury. When the big man does play, he’s unbelievably talented and one of the most dominant players in the league. However, injury and lifestyle concerns are central to his career so far. It’s important to note there’s still a ton of upside with Williamson and this Pelicans team. Ultimately, this is a make-or-break season for New Orleans. If Williamson and Ingram stay healthy, the Pelicans could find themselves in the playoffs. This could lead them to keep the two young stars and attempt to build a more competitive roster around them. But if the Pelicans have another disappointing year, they could clear house and begin a rebuild. 


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