Why Mediocrity Is the Worst of All Worlds in Modern NBA

Justin HussongContributor IIIMarch 12, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 09:  Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks defends against Brook Lopez #11 of the Brooklyn Nets at Philips Arena on March 9, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The underdog is the essence of the sports fan's existence. With them comes a lovable unpredictability and shock value that the favorites simply cannot match. In the NBA, star power is so prominent that, sometimes, the underdog gets overlooked to the point where we all assume the alpha dog will win. It is not a prediction. It is not an assumption. It is a formality.

In Major League Baseball, nine different teams have won the last 12 World Series. In the NFL, three of the last six Super Bowl champions have been wild-card teams. The Los Angeles Kings just won the Stanley Cup as an eighth seed. March Madness? We've all thrown our brackets out in two days...but that's why we love the underdogs.

There is no place for the underdog in the NBA. As much as the analysts and the fans try to rationalize it and give credit where credit is due, most of the league wallows in a state of mediocrity hiding behind a smokescreen of lies in order to sell tickets.

Pitching to the fans that a championship is in your future is strictly a marketing ploy. In reality, it is false hope. The chances of the majority of the NBA winning a title are so minuscule that it is not worth even getting hopes up.

Maybe that all came across as a rant, but sometimes, the truth hurts. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have won 33 of the 66 NBA championships. How much fun is that? Out of 30 teams, two have half of the titles. Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls won six, Tim Duncan and his San Antonio Spurs dynasty won four.

Without going too far into hypotheticals, LeBron James will likely carry the Miami Heat to another three or four titles. You may not like it, but it's almost inevitable. This is his league, and he is the best player.

The point is that it hurts to be a fan of one of these other teams. LeBron, Shaquille O'Neal, Duncan, Kobe Bryant or Jordan have been in every NBA Finals since 1996. There is an entire generation of teenagers that knows nothing else other than seeing these players win.

While occasional upsets may happen such as the 2011 Memphis Grizzlies upsetting the top-ranked Spurs in the first round, or the 2007 Golden State Warriors doing the same to the 67-win Dallas Mavericks in Round 1, upsets are few and far between.

The most telling statistic of all is that, since the New York Knicks magical run to the finals in 1999 as a No. 8 seed, no team seeded lower than fourth has reached the finals. 

All this goes to show how mediocrity is the most painful state for a franchise. It leaves no hope whatsoever for a fanbase. The team may win their fair share of games and might even make it past round one of the playoffs, but that's it.

The negative impact that this has on the league is that it causes teams to tank. While GM's may convey confidence, they know that they are not winning a title without a superstar. The 2004 Detroit Pistons were an aberration that comes around once every few decades.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Orlando Magic have all made NBA Finals appearances as the result of being among the absolute worst teams in the league.

LeBron, Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant turned into such phenomenal players that it was a foregone conclusion that sustained excellence would be in their future. Teams simply will not find that kind of talent, selecting in the middle of the first round.

The Clippers were the laughingstock of the NBA for years. One day, they won the draft lottery, and Blake Griffin fell into their laps. His jaw-dropping dunks helped entice Chris Paul to come to town. Now they have the makings of a title contender.

Take the Atlanta Hawks for instance. For years, the Josh Smith, Al Horford and Joe Johnson triumvirate brought exciting, winning basketball to a franchise clamoring for success. They made the playoffs five years in a row until Johnson was dealt to the Brooklyn Nets last season.

They won as many as 53 games in 2009-10 and advanced to the second round three out of five seasons. However, they never made it to the conference finals, as each time they were ousted by the superior Magic, Bulls, Celtics and Cavaliers. Two of the three trips to the semifinals resulted in painful sweeps.

Durant's Thunder making it to the finals last year represented a passing of the torch. It was the first time a team, other than the Spurs, Lakers or Mavericks had reached the NBA Finals since the Malone and Stockton Utah Jazz team in 1998.

During that time, so many good teams in the Western Conference had their hopes dashed time and time again. It shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone, that was just the pecking order.

Kevin Garnett's Minnesota Timberwolves. Chris Webber's Kings. Carmelo Anthony's Denver Nuggets, Steve Nash's Suns. All these teams were phenomenal and a step above mediocre for years. They only lost because they did not have enough star power.

Possessing one of the absolute top-tier players in the NBA is a surefire recipe for success. Surround him with one or two borderline Hall of Famers and you are in business. Other sports have it more difficult. Just last year, the Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Duke Blue Devils, USC Trojans and Vancouver Canucks all fell flat on their faces after loading up with superstars in their respective sports.

As this season unfolds and few surprises come along once again, the majority of the league continues to wallow in mediocrity with little chance of getting past the first round of the playoffs.