Note: No teams that have already won a title were considered, so the Cubs and the Seahawks and the Warriors (among others) aren’t eligible even though they’re obviously set up well for the future.
No 7: Oakland Raiders
The Silver-and-Black have been popping up on lists like this for a little while now, but it wasn’t until 2016 that that potential turned into actual progress. The current weak link appears to be the coach, but even Jack Del Rio has shown improvement as of late. Everything else appears to be covered: they have a mature young QB in Derek Carr who appears to have the goods talent-wise, talented young skill players on both sides of the ball like Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack, and someone who knows what they are doing calling the shots on Draft day (Reggie McKenzie).
No 6: Edmonton Oilers
Apparently picking #1 overall 19 drafts in a row is actually a good thing. Okay, it was only four out of six drafts, but it felt like 19, especially to other NHL bottom-feeders who kept coming up short in the lottery. After a miss or two drafting at the top (paging Nail Yakupov) the Oilers ended up with Conor McDavid in 2015, and in 2016 finally started to show some progress, starting the season with a winning record and looking like a legitimate playoff team.
No 5: LA Lakers
Yeah, so that Luke Walton guy can coach. And Byron Scott really, really can’t. More importantly, after several years of drafting in the Top 10, their young talent looks legit and poised to dominate the future. Anyone who advocated trading D’Angelo Russell in the wake of Snapchat-gate should be glad their advice was ignored. He appears to be a James Harden/Manu Ginobili hybrid with a game perfectly suited to the modern NBA. Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle also look like long-term studs, with Ingram possessing super-duper-star potential. Throw in Jordan Clarkson, a rejuvenated Swaggy P, and the surprisingly feisty front court combo of Larry Nance Jr. and Tarik Black and the Lakers are looking at the second best young core in the league.
No 4: Dallas Cowboys
Sports are weird. By all traditional metrics Tony Romo should be a better QB than Dak Prescott. However, Prescott clearly possesses some sort of playmaking/winning gene that is hard to quantify, and as a result, the Cowboys look like actual contenders for the first time since Skip Bayless was spending his days calling Troy Aikman gay. Toss in Ezekiel Elliott and a young, dominant offensive line and the ‘Boys may have too much momentum for even Jerry Jones to fuck up.
No 3: Cleveland Indians
To anyone who paid attention to the baseball playoffs, their talent and guile is apparent. They also have a top-3 manager in Terry Francona, an ace and star reliever both in their primes (Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller), a core of players on team-friendly deals (Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Carrasco), and two young studs just getting started in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. The Tribe also sport a decent farm system, but they are more of a win-now than win-later team.
No 2: Boston Red Sox
You may have heard of Mookie Betts. He is an excellent bowler who just happens to play a little baseball and finished second in the AL MVP voting this season. In addition to Betts – a bona fide stud – the Red Sox feature future superstar Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, all-world defensive ace (and decent hitter) Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field, and in 2017 they will add infielder Yoan Moncada and outfielder Andrew Bientiendi (two of the best prospects in all of baseball, with Moncada ranked #1) to their lineup. At that point they will have at least 5 young studs on rookie contracts starting for them, which in turn will free up money to make much needed improvements to their pitching staff.
No 1: Minnesota Timberwolves
This one is fairly self-explanatory. In case you aren’t an NBA League Pass nerd, take it from me: Karl Anthony Towns is THE future and a probable top-15 all-time player. Yes, you read that right. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN does a great job of breaking down why in this ESPN Magazine piece. Beyond Towns they have Andrew Wiggins, whose improvement as a 3-point shooter should be extremely scary for the rest of the NBA, as well as young players like Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine who haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of their potential. Throw in young promising role players like Shabazz Muhammed and Gorgui Dieng and a top-8 coach in Tom Thibodeau and the T’Wolves have the most promising young score since Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka got together in tornado country.