Which teams will be future NBA contenders?

Thanks to the tricky properties of the luxury-tax threshold and the crisis of salary-cap flexibility, tactics such as screen-and-roll defense may seem less important to NBA fans.

Instead of worrying about spacing on offense, we're obliged to develop an understanding of the mid-level exception, base-year compensation and Bird rights.

Sure, we're all aware that the economy could make 2010's Summer of LeBron James a bit less freewheeling, but what's the long-term impact of this financial predicament? Better yet, which teams seem prepared for success over the next few years?

Before attempting to figure out which teams have their ducks in a row, let's take a look at a couple that may look a bit shaky in a few years.

Jumping to the head of that class are the San Antonio Spurs, who — despite financial-related gloom and doom down the line — probably will find a way to continue winning. They look great in the short term, but prolonged greatness will require a great deal of finesse.

A look at the Spurs' books reveals they have $28 million committed to the 2011-2012 season with only three rotation players signed. All but $7 million of that nut is commanded by good, ol' Tim Duncan. It also should be noted that the Spurs will have big tickets Tony Parker and Richard Jefferson falling off the budget in the summer of 2011, with Manu Ginobili's contract expiring the year before.

Antonio McDyess is listed on the payroll for that summer but won't exactly be a steal at $6.7 million.

Anyway, the Spurs must find a way to keep Parker and re-stock the talent base without crippling the franchise through luxury-tax penalties. Based on their history, they could find a gem or two late in the draft.

And the prevailing financial hayride could improve, giving the Spurs and everyone else a fightin' chance of rebuilding a competitive roster.

That's part of the caveat to any future forecast based on the economy. Well, that and unforeseen acts of stupidity capable of destroying one team's currently stable cap situation. See, we never know when a team's personnel sharpies will get a little cuckoo.

For example, the Cleveland Cavaliers decided their 2009 strategy in wooing LeBron back into the fold should include spending precious money on three players (including their own Anderson Varejao) without upgrading their damning lack of mobility at the four and five positions.

Orlando Magic

Orlando has tons of loot committed and low flexibility, but having each of its three best players locked up for four more years is good enough to be listed.

The Why Not Us? List

We'll go through these teams quickly.

The Houston Rockets could be in good theoretical shape by not re-signing Tracy McGrady, but Yao Ming's injury history keeps them lurking on the coast of ranking among the leaders.

The Chicago Bulls owe Luol Deng about $60 million over the next five years and have their backup point guard (Kirk Hinrich) on the books for $26 million over three.

Please note they still have nobody to score inside. But wise use of next summer's cap space (so long, Jerome James and Brad Miller!) could put them on this list.

The Phoenix Suns could have money to spend in a year or two ... if they part company with Amare Stoudemire. But if that happens, they may not have any players to go with anyone willing to sign.

The Minnesota Timberwolves can jump on this list because they have a few potential rotation players on the books for several years at low money. But if Jonny Flynn and Wayne Ellington don't do well as we expect they will, we'll keep 'em here.

Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and Al Thornton can elevate the Los Angeles Clippers while making reasonable money for several years. But the big contracts (and uncertain production) of Baron Davis and Chris Kaman prevent us from becoming prematurely giddy over Donald T. Sterling's crew.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: August 11, 2009