Unless they stop trying to win, not even the New Jersey Nyetswill make me feel any better about this sucky season.
Last night, as I was flipping around the games and jotting things down in my WotN notebook, I came to a jarring realization. Namely, I didn't give a crap. Not about the night's games, and barely about the current season.
I know this site is devoted to the best of the worst of professional basketball, but I'm not actually as pessimistic about the NBA as I might seem. I actually get a kick out of bad basketball and try (believe it or not) to attack my various "worst of" posts with a sense of whimsy. As this season has progressed, doing that has become more and more difficult. I seriously haven't felt this "blah" about my favorite sport since the mid-90s.
So here's where I try to explain why...1. The New Jersey Nyets:
As of last night, the Nyets are 7-61 on the season and 30-101 since Devin Harris said "We knew we were going to be a playoff team"
back in December of 2008. From getting bought by Russia's richest man
, to the 0-18 start, to the ongoing historic losing
, to the epic sad faces of Brook Lopez
, the Nyets have been a comic gold mine all season. And yet...
...this campaign of tragic comedy seems destined to disappoint. Earlier this season, I predicted a late-season "run" by the Nyets that would allow them to surpass the win total of the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers
, a.k.a. the worst team of all time. And that's when this Nyets team will become just another bawful team. Henry Abbott alluded to this yesterday on TrueHoop
The Nets are knocking on the door of history, threatening to displace the 9-73 Sixers as the worst team in NBA history. And my half-joking thought is: They might as well go for it. If you finish with ten or eleven wins, you're as miserable as ever, but didn't even make the record books. But if you just win seven or eight ... well, at least you have something to remember the season by, and you'll give sportswriters a reason to call you for the rest of your days.
My thoughts exactly! Which is why I just know
the Nyets are going to ruin things by winning 10 or 11 games. As the leading provider of the best of the worst of professional basketball, I would love to wax philosophic about getting to watch the worst-ever NBA team slip on banana peels for a full season. But I promise you I won't want to spend much time talking about how I watched the Nyets almost
make bawful history.2. The Washington Wizards:
The return of a healthy Gilbert Arenas was supposed to help the Wizards return to prominence this season. Well, if not prominence, then at least to the playoffs. After all, Abe Pollin invested a lot of money in Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. The 2009-10 campaign was supposed to be the payoff for those payouts.
But then Pollin fucking died. About a month later, Arenas had a Mexican standoff with a teammate in the Washington locker room. Next thing you know, Arenas -- who made a bad situation worse by denying wrongdoing, criticizing David Stern (who hadn't even leveled any punishments yet) to the press, and then making finger guns in a team huddle before a game (see the banner) -- and his gun-toting teammate (Javaris Crittenton) were suspended indefinitely, and Arenas pleaded guilty to the felony of carrying an unlicensed pistol outside a home or business (his sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 26).
As if all that wasn't bad enough, the team began to spiral downward in a big way, which led management to cut salaries -- goodbye Butler, goodbye Jamison -- in order to jump start the rebuilding process. About the only silver lining for Wizards fans is that it looks like Andray Blatch might actually be pretty good...assuming this isn't one of those classic "Player X padding big stats for an awful team" situations.
I can't even laugh at this situation anymore. It's just sad.3. The Indiana Pacers:
To borrow a line from a popular YouTube video
, Pacers games look like a Scooby-Doo ghost town. Kokomo High School basketball games draw better crowds, if not in size, then at least in spirit. To say Indianapolis has given up on the Pacers is like saying Russia is starting to rethink the Cold War.
It's hard to believe this was one of the semi-dominant teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Heck, Indy had the best record in the league in 2003-04 and appeared to be the best team in the league early in the 2004-05 season. Then Ron Artest went mad -- well, madder
-- and the Pacers were effectively dead. But not a clean and quick movie dead, where somebody like John Cena snaps their neck and they just drop to the floor. No, this was (and is) a real death, where the Pacers are all gasping and flopping around, kind of drowning in their own blood.
Will this team still be around in five years? Seriously. Remember, it once took a telethon to save this team
. I don't think that'll work again.4. The Detroit Pistons:
Let's be honest: It was fairly obvious at the time that Joe Dumars had lost his damn mind when he spent over $90 million on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Remember, this is the same guy who the previous season had swapped the heart and soul of his team (Chauncey Billups) for a certified locker room cancer (Allen Iverson). No matter how you scrutinize it, the Billups-for-Iverson trade was a bad basketball decision.
But hey, it freed up a lot of cap space, right? Win! Score! That's what today's NBA is all about...cutting salary for future consideration. Which is fine, I guess, if you have big-time aspirations. Say, a LeBron James or a Dwyane Wade. But no. Dumars' plan was Gordon and Villanueva, two guys the Pistons bring off the bench. Who spends $90 million for role players? This guy:5. The New York Knicks:
Cut every salary possible -- essentially tanking the season in the process -- and pray to the Basketball Gods that LeBron James will decide he wants to join a once-proud team that recently set a franchise record by clinching their ninth consecutive losing season
That's it. That's their whole plan. But what makes this lunacy even more lunaticalous is that the Knicks-Lebron storyline has dominated
NBA headlines since last
season. It's been dissected and discussed from every possible angle. There have been rumors and shoe hoaxes
and all sorts of other random tomfoolery.
And guess what folks: We're in for several more
months of this garbage. Until King Crab signs with somebody
, we're going to have to keep having this saga jammed down our throats. All I can say is that I'd hate to be a Knicks fan come July when they have to go to Plan B and overspend to sign Joe Johnson and re-sign David Lee.6. The Philadelphia 76ers:
Well, they invested $160 million in Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand, which effectively killed their salary situation for a long, long time. It's bad when a team pays franchise player money to a non-franchise player, and it's downright crippling when they spend it on two
And don't give me that crap about how Brand used to be a franchise player. Elton was a 20-10-50 guy
with the Bulls and he had a similar resume with the Clippers. And when the Clippers had that one good season, it had much more to do with Sam Cassell, who was playing for a contract and wanted to show Kevin McHale he'd made a mistake in trading Sam-I-Am for Marko Jaric. Which was both true and false. Cassell helped Kevin Garnett win an MVP and make it out of the first round for the first time, but the Timberwolves were undone the next season because Sam spent most of the year moping around due to the fact that Kevin McHale didn't give him a contract extension. Cassell giveth, and Cassell taketh away.
But he gave to the Clippers enough to make Brand an MVP candidate. Seriously, Elton got more MVP points in 2006 than Tim Duncan
, which makes me want to kick a kitten. Sure enough, the Clippers started to stink again after Cassell re-upped. Then Brand got hurt. Then he stabbed the Clippers (and, apparently, Baron Davis) in the back by running off to Philly.
Ironically, it's the best thing that ever happened to The Other L.A. Team. Brand has been a huge bust and the 76ers are going to have to spend the next several seasons waiting out their mistakes. Of course, they tried to trick their fans by re-signing Allen Iverson earlier this season only to get pulled into Iverson's personal meltdown. A.I. won't be back. Probably ever. And the Sixers -- who entered the 2008-09 season as a potential championship contender -- are destined to suck indefinitely.7. The Chicago Bulls:
The Bulls were never going to be a great team this season. But Chicago management was banking its future on the development of Derrick Rose and a bunch of expiring contracts. If Windy City Stags could just show a little improvement -- say, a sixth or seventh seed and a good showing in the playoffs -- then surely a big name free agent would want to jump on the bandwagon this summer. The Bulls' bigwigs were so sure of this that they sent John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas to fellow playoff hopefuls to ensure there would be ample cap space to dole out a max contract.
Then injuries hit. Derick Rose (sprained wrist), Joakim Noah (plantar faciitis), and Luol Deng (calf strain) are all out. And, due to Kirk Hinrich serving a one-game suspension for making contact with an official and James Johnson getting punished for showing up late to practice, the Bulls recently had to trot out a starting lineup of Brad Miller, Taj Gibson, Flip Murray, Acie Law and Jannero Pargo. With predictable results, I might add.
But the problem runs deeper than that. The Bulls actually spent most of this season in the top 10 in Defensive Efficiency. But without a healthy Joakim Noah, the Bulls have forsaken defense. Or maybe the defense has forsaken them. It's hard to tell at this point. But just check out the points allowed over the last 12 games: 101, 110, 111, 100, 116, 105, 122, 132, 111, 108, 104, 113. Last night, the Mavericks were still shooting around 70 percent into the third quarter. And despite taking most of the fourth quarter off, Dallas still shot nearly 53 percent for the game.
I wonder if LeBron James is already thinking about notching his 29th career triple-double against the Bulls on Friday night. I wouldn't be surprised.
After losing nine straight, the Bulls (31-36) are now 2.5 games behind the Raptors (33-33), who beat the Atlanta Hawks in Toronto last night. The Raptors are sitting on the eighth and final Leastern Conferece playoff spot, and right now, that appears to be the only spot Chicago has a realistic shot at.
Remember when, just nine losses ago, it looked like the Bulls might challenge for the fifth seed?
These injuries might prove catastrophic, not just to the team's playoff hopes, but to their offseason hopes as well. It's an open secret that the Bulls have been lusting after free-agents-to-be Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. But it'll be hard to make a strong pitch to those guys if their teams make the playoffs and the Bulls don't. Plus, I read yesterday
that Wade "plans to speak with several upcoming free agents, like
Chris Bosh and
Amare Stoudemire about their plans and encourage them to sign with Miami."
Add that disturbing news to the recent rumors that the Knicks might be targeting Joe Johnson
and Carlos Boozer now wants to stay Utah
...and let's not forget the Milwaukee Bucks -- who, thanks in part to the stellar play of John Salmons, have risen to fifth in the East -- have the option to switch draft picks with the Bulls this year. Chicago's pick is top 10 protected, but it seems most likely the Bulls will end up with the 11th pick while the Bucks will be in the high teens
Management's gambit might end up dooming the Bulls for years to come.8. The Toronto Raptors:
This team is built around a second-banana who thinks he's a franchise player (Chris Bosh) and two soft, white Euro players (Andrea Bargnani and Hedo Turkoglu). All things considered, it's a minor miracle they're even .500. Welcome to the Leastern Confernece, folks.
Of course, Bosh has the chance to escape the frozen North this summer, and unless he loses his mind for money -- which isn't an impossible scenario -- he's going to bolt for Chicago, Miami or New York. Seriously, if anyone can give me one really good reason (other than a few extra million dollars) why Bosh would stick it out in Toronto, I would love to hear it. Yeah, that's what I thought.9. The Miami Heat:
They have been the NBA's leading Bipolar Girlfriend Team this season. Up one week, down the next. First they rock, then they suck, then they rock aga...wait, no, they suck agai...damn it! Can anybody figure this team out? Is Dwyane Wade up there with Kobe and LeBron? Is Michael Beasely on his way to becoming one of the top forwards in the league or should we start mentally preparing for his future as "The Next Shawn Kemp Only Not Nearly As Good"?
There's no way to know. But we can be sure that this team is a first-round exit waiting to happen. And if Pookie decides to leave, they could be next season's New Jersey Nyets.10. The Charlotte Bobcats:
The Bobcats are having their best season ever
. They are 35-32. What does that tell you?
The 'Cats are a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. They beat good teams -- seven of the last nine against the Lakers and three out of four against the Cavaliers this season -- but they lose to bad teams (twice to the Knicks, Nyets and Pacers and once each to the Bulls, Clippers, Pistons and Sixers).
We've seen this out of Larry Brown teams before. For details, see the new Reggie Millar biopic Winning Time
. This Bobcats squad might give somebody a scare in the first round of the playoffs. That's their ceiling, but people are getting all excited about it. Why? A few years from now, when the Bobcats suck again and Larry Brown is coaching somewhere else -- hell, he's already rumored to have inquired about the Clippers job
, it's just his nature to leave a good situation -- nobody will remember this season.
Oh, and don't give me this "Michael Jordan is going to rock as the owner of this team." Look, MJ has always been a disinterested executive. It's just not his thing. Golfing, gambling, going out with his posse...those are Jordan's "things" at this stage of his life. Yes, he has apparently been more involved the past couple weeks, but can we expect that to last? And even if it does, this is the same guy who wasted a number one overall draft pick on Kwame Brown, sullied his own legacy by coming back to play for the Wizards (failing to make the playoffs in two depressing seasons), traded Rip Hamilton for a soon-to-be-washed-up Jerry Stackhouse, wasted the third overall draft pick on Adam Morrison, etc. MJ was probably the greatest basketball player who ever lived, but his golden touch didn't extend beyond the basketball court.11. The Milwaukee Bucks:
They fleeced the Bulls out of John Salmons, immediately went on an 11-1 run and moved from sub-.500 to the fifth seed in the Leastern Confernece. Andrew Bogut took a break from high-fiving himself
to become one of the better centers in the league, Brandon Jennings is learning to pass the ball, and the Bucks as a whole are buying into Scott Skiles' "bust your ass on defense and outhustle the other team" system. It's all clicking in Milwaukee, which will inevitably lead to unreasonable expectations for the 2010-11 season. Just wait. It'll be all, "Once they get Michael Redd back, they'll be even better. This was a season to build on!"
But no, no it won't be. Look, I've seen this before. Hell, the same thing happened last season when the Bulls obtained Salmons and then rocketed into the playoffs. This chemistry spike won't last. Michael Redd, once he returns from yet another knee surgery, still won't be a true franchise player. Salmons -- assuming the Bucks hold onto him -- will revert to form. Bogut, for all his improvement, probably won't be a franchise player. And the Milwaukee players will eventually tire of Skiles' taskmaster tendencies. It'll happen. It's just a matter of time.12. The Atlanta Hawks:
The Hawks are enjoying one of the best seasons in franchise history. They're going to win 50+ games and might even make it to the second round of the Leastern Conference playoffs.
But that's where the dream is going to end.
Let's exercise a little intellectual honesty, shall we. Take a look at this roster
. Go on. Do it. Now tell me, does that look like a championship roster to you? (And I mean an NBA championship, not a title in some YMCA league.) It's not. The Hawks are, at best, a second-tier team. They don't even quite qualify for "Almost" Team
status. Which isn't to say they don't play hard or aren't entertaining as hell. But Joe Johnson is Robin without a Batman.Now look at their salary situation
. One of two things is going to happen this summer. Either 1) Joe Johnson is going to walk and the Hawks -- who have almost $50 million in confirmed salaries next season -- won't be able to replace him, or 2) Atlanta will re-sign Johnson (probably to a max or near-max contract) and thereby put themselves into salary cap purgatory. Either way, they're fucked.13. The Boston Celtics:
ANYTHIIIIIIING IS POSSSSIBBLLLEE!!! Well, except the Celtics actually winning a championship this season. Most people who follow the NBA have already written Boston off as a title contender, and with good reason. Generally speaking, champions need to have both talent and "it." The C's have the talent, but the "it" is missing. And it's been missing pretty much all season, even if Boston's hot start
-- 23-5 after beating Orlando on Christmas day
-- fooled people into thinking otherwise.
Remember what Rasheed Wallace said when somebody asked him whether this Celtics squad could surpass the 1995-96 Bulls by winning 72+ games? If not, here's a reminder
: "Oh definitely. Definitely, playing with [Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen], also combining that with the guys we have on the bench, I think we can definitely can. Me personally, I think we can get that Bulls record. You know we have the talent for it. We have the will for it and...I think we have the defense for it." When the guy asked if he could use that quote, 'Sheed said: "You can. Because honestly, I really do feel that. That was a good team. They had some HOFs on there, but we have a few on this team, too."
This isn't quite Devin Harris' "We knew we were going to be a playoff team" stat curse, but it's close. And it hasn't help that Wallace has been an out-of-shape bust who's shooting 28 percent from downtown
I don't know if 'Sheed is responsible for the loss of chemistry, but that's the biggest problem in Boston. I'm serious. It's not the age, or the injuries, or the fact that Kevin Garnett has earned a starting spot on the Chris Webber One-Legged All-Stars. It really comes down to the fact that this team is not into it. I don't know if it's boredom, complacency, laziness or whatever, but people waiting for the Celtics to turn it on for the playoffs are going to be bitterly disappointed.14. The Orlando Magic:
On Tuesday night, I took part in the ESPN Daily Dime online chat, which is something I do from time to time, so stop by sometime. It's actually a lot of fun. Anyway, somebody asked me whether Lakers fans should be worried about their on-and-off play as of late. I said with a fair amount of confidence that the only team the Lakers really need to worry about is the Cavaliers.
A commenter immediately contradicted me, saying that the Magic could beat the Lakers and used Orlando's recent home victory
over The L.A. Team as proof of that. I countered that the Magic swept the season series
against the Lakers last season, but that that hadn't meant a damn thing in the NBA Finals. Someone countered my counter by pointing out that this Orlando team is different
because they have Vince Carter. Vince Carter!
Sadly, that person was being completely serious. What can I say? I feel genuinely sorry for anybody who sincerely beleives that Vinsanity is going to be a difference maker come playoff time. And I'm talking about the kind of pity I usually reserve for the mentally disabled and French people. Vince Carter barely ranks above Knee-Mac in the list of people I fear least in the postseason. I just don't think this Magic team is as good as last year's version, and last year's version came up short.15. The Cleveland Cavaliers:
I think we can all agree that Danny Ferry has actually done a pretty kickass job of surrounding LeBron James with championship-caliber talent. He upgraded last season's 66-win squad by adding Shaq, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon, and then he transformed Zydrunas Ilgauskas into Antawn Jamison, only Ilgauskas will be back in a few days. Add those guys into the mix with Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, Delonte West, J.J. Hickson and Boobie Gibson, and King Crab clearly has the best supporting cast of his career...and maybe even the best supporting cast in the league.
And yet what's the bigger story: The possibility that the Crabs might win the frachise's first-ever championship or the chances that King Crab might scurry off to New York (or somewhere else) this summer?
The fact that it's the latter -- and by a lot -- is the
reason I'm doing this post. The 2009-10 season has become a footnote to the already legendary Summer of 2010. Will LeBron leave Cleveland for the Big Apple? Will 'Bron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh combine like Voltron to form a superteam somewhere? Where will everybody else -- Amar''''''e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, et al. -- end up? Fans and experts are about 147% more excited about this summer than they are about this season, and it's been that way most of the year. And I'll be damned if it doesn't feel like some of the players feel that way too.
Personally? I don't think the outcome is going to live up to the hype. At most, maybe, say, Bosh will join Wade in Miami. I foresee that as the biggest possible shakeup. If the Crabs go on to win a title, I can't believe LeBron will skip town. I'm not sure it matters all that much what crappy teams end up overpaying for Boozer, Johnson and STAT. Those guys aren't going to cause a huge shift in the balance of power by signing with the Bulls or Knicks or whoever. So, in the end, all the cost-cutting and hand-wringing will most likely be for naught.
And, of course, there could be a lockout in 2011
Labels: 30 Reasons This Season Kinda Sucks