Continuing an NBA tradition, the league's best teams will take the floor against one another on Christmas in an unparalleled display of brilliant, luminous star power. Oh, and the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers will play, too.
I know this is the time of year when we're supposed to be thankful, but unless you've got a warped sense of gratitude, it's hard to feel any appreciation for the way so many of the league's hype-fueled franchises have fallen flat.
Things were supposed to be different for the Knicks, Bulls, Nets and Lakers, and we were supposed to enjoy watching them do battle on the league's annual holiday showcase.
But a green-tinged, bitter, creepily terrifying cartoon character with a heart two sizes too small snatched up some of the NBA's best gifts. And no, I'm not describing Pierre the Pelican—although he comes frighteningly close to meeting those grotesque specifications.
I'm talking about the Grinch, that mean-spirited curmudgeon who stole a whole bunch of the fun from NBA fans' Christmas stockings.
This one hurts the most, so we'll get it out of the way quickly, tearing it off like a Band-Aid.
First-aid references are sadly appropriate here, too, because the Bulls are one banged-up bunch.
Chicago was supposed to be the Miami Heat's biggest challenger in the Eastern Conference. In fact, many expected the Bulls to pick up right where they left off when Derrick Rose was last healthy, meaning they'd boast the league's best defense alongside a top-five offense.
Championship hopes were real.
But the Grinch never let the Bulls get going. He hobbled Joakim Noah to start the season, made Rose rusty and knocked Jimmy Butler out of the rotation for a while. Then, he really stuck it to fans by blowing out Rose's "healthy" knee, sidelining him for the year with a torn meniscus.
The Bulls are now hoping to play respectable ball before either blowing up the roster after the season or clinging to the pipe dream that Rose might somehow be able to help them in an unlikely playoff run five months from now.
Thanks a lot, Grinch.
Cutting Down the Nets
The only thing worse than watching the Bulls on Christmas will be seeing them square off against the equally underwhelming Nets.
Once thought to be a fringe title contender, Brooklyn has been brought down by age and injuries. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce haven't been themselves, Andrei Kirilenko has provided nothing of value and Jason Terry has been missing in action.
Plus, Deron Williams has struggled to find his form after returning from an ankle injury.
As if those troubles weren't enough, the Grinch struck a death blow just a week before the holidays, knocking out Brooklyn's best player for good:
To top things off, Jason Kidd has been overmatched all season. And his insecurity reached an embarrassing boiling point when he "reassigned" capable assistant Lawrence Frank a few weeks ago.
The Nets are hemorrhaging money and have surrendered a ton of their future draft picks in the effort to win in the present.
Now, the same Bulls-Nets matchup that gave us a remarkably exciting, triple-overtime thriller in last year's playoffs will be a little less exciting. Instead of two determined teams fighting tooth and nail to advance, we'll watch a pair of rival zombie clans shuffle around the hardwood as they decompose before our eyes.
Yeah, probably. Let's move on; the Grinch's hit list isn't over yet.
Purple and Gold and Black and Blue
The Lakers' hopes weren't quite as high as the Nets' or Bulls' were, but L.A.'s inherent frailty made even the most modest goals difficult to attain.
Los Angeles put all its eggs in the Kobe Bryant basket, hoping its fallen hero would return from a ruptured Achilles to animate a team of castoffs and has-beens. In the early going, Lakers fans were probably surprised to see their team playing decent ball.
Buoyed by a lack of expectations and Mike D'Antoni's equal-opportunity offense, the Kobe-less Lakers started the season 10-9.
Then Bryant returned, looked like a husk of a shell of a shadow of himself and promptly incurred a lateral tibial fracture on his already weakened left leg. Now, the Lakers are stuck waiting, hoping to unload what few assets they have left and praying Bryant can ever play effectively again.
While they're doing those things, they'll be writing hefty checks to Bryant for $48.5 million over the next two seasons. Yikes.
Have I mentioned that the Grinch also robbed us of Steve Nash after just a few disappointing November games?
Merry Christmas, Lakers fans! Your gift is a thorough beating at the hands of a healthy, committed, ruthlessly dominant Miami Heat team. And for what it's worth, D'Antoni doesn't even really care if you tune in.
Per ESPN's Dave McMenamin, the defiant coach said:
Why would I be discouraged? We're fighting with a bunch of good guys that played well before, and they'll play [well] again. If [the fans] are discouraged, then, you know, find another team to root for. I'm all right. We're not going to give up. Are you kidding me? Discouraged? That's not even fair to these guys.
Apparently, the Grinch didn't make off with D'Antoni's feistiness. He did, however, abscond with the coach's grip on reality.
The Grinch and James Dolan in Cahoots?
This one's tricky, because it's unclear whether the Grinch is represented by CAA. If he's not, there's no way he would have been allowed on the premises at Madison Square Garden, which makes it difficult to pin all of the Knicks' many failures on him.
But even if we can't blame the Grinch for ruining the Knicks, James Dolan will do nicely as a stand-in. Really, they have a lot in common: joylessness, insecurity, the insatiable desire to meddle. Thanks to those shared traits, Dr. Seuss' arch-villain and the Knicks' maligned owner are equally skilled at ruining what would otherwise be a happy holiday season.
The Knicks won 54 games last year, and while their record indicated more quality than was actually on the roster, expectations were still high heading into the 2013-14 season.
But then Dolan (or possibly the Grinch—again, we can't be sure) imported Andrea Bargnani and made the mistake of giving J.R. Smith financial security. A general malaise settled over the organization, and coach Mike Woodson could no longer convince his players to entertain even the briefest dalliances with team basketball.
The result is that the Knicks are 9-18 in one of the weakest conferences in NBA history. Right now, they're out of a playoff picture that features no fewer than five teams with losing records.
A different chaotic news story emerges from New York every day. Questions continue to pile up, and answers are only getting harder to find.
And now, Carmelo Anthony is nursing an ankle injury as the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder come to town for a Christmas tilt.
So thorough is the Knicks' misery that it almost seems like Dolan and the Grinch actually banded together to burgle the organization's holiday cheer.
It's Not All So Bad
Hey, injuries, unrealistic hopes and terrible management decisions are part of NBA basketball. It's a shame that they've conspired to sink four of the league's most promising teams, but there's no use whining about it now.
Besides, we've got enough elite talent and exciting storylines to ensure that Christmas can still be a happy holiday. We'll get to see the San Antonio Spurs take on the up-and-coming Houston Rockets. And the Golden State Warriors will renew their budding rivalry with the Los Angeles Clippers.
So, take heart:
All is not lost, as B/R's Bryan Toporek points out.
The Grinch was busier than ever this year, but even he couldn't do enough to ruin a great NBA Christmas.