Expectations are a funny thing.
Some NBA teams meet them, some exceed them and some don't quite measure up. Then there are the others. The outliers.
The teams that don't even come close to reaching their "potential."
This isn't in reference to the Milwaukee Bucks, who thought they had a possible playoff team on their hands, but really didn't. Nor does this include blatant and deliberate tankers, like the Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz.
These are teams we actually expected something, anything from. Teams that were supposed to do something meaningful.
Teams that have taken initial ceilings, and the expectations they come with, and destroyed them.
*Salary information obtained via ShamSports.
It was distinctly possible that I would put the Detroit Pistons even higher on this list, but then I realized that implies expectations were high for this team to begin with.
Few thought the Pistons had assembled a contender, even in the ghastly Eastern Conference. But they were supposed to be better than this.
At 19-29, the Pistons are on the outside looking in at the East's playoff bubble. The combination of Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond has been a statistical ruin, and the team itself doesn't have an identity—Detroit ranks 20th and 19th in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively.
The team's first mistake was investing roughly $80 million in Brandon Jennings and Smith over the summer. Its second mistake was spending that money under the assumption it could work. And its third mistake is allowing this disaster to remain intact.
This floor-spacing nightmare needs to be disassembled. Shooters need to be acquired in hopes of carrying the Pistons out of last place in three-point percentage. Monroe must be dealt because, let's face it, J-Smoove is immovable and Monroe is as good as gone this summer.
Something must be done. Otherwise this season won't be worth the brick buildings Smith puts up on the regular, let alone the actual $61.9 million Detroit is paying its roster.
There are no words to accurately describe how unpredictable the Los Angeles Lakers' season has been.
Well, almost no words.
Injuries have turned a fringe-playoff team into a Western Conference bottom-feeder. The Lakers are 15 games under .500 and tied for the West's second-worst record.
Even with the uncertainty surrounding Kobe Bryant's health, they weren't supposed to be this bad. But other players—or rather, almost all the other players—have been hit with the injury bug, and it's left them without an identity, searching for different ways to find direction.
Their second-ranked pace is indicative of a Mike D'Antoni-coached outfit; their 22nd-ranked offense is not. Misfits have become prominent parts of the rotation, and while always interesting to watch, the Lakers have fallen out of playoff contention less than 50 games into the season.
What did we expect of a team pining for summers 2014 and 2015, when plenty of star free agents would be available for the taking? Not this.
"It was bizarre," ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin wrote following the Lakers' victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers after Robert Sacre was allowed to stay in the game after committing six personal fouls. "It was extraordinary. It was par for the course for this topsy-turvy Lakers season."
The fact any of this can be considered "par for the course" is what's most disappointing of all.
This season was supposed to be different for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Much different. In many ways it has been, which is why the 2013-14 campaign has been so disappointing.
Despite Kevin Love remaining (relatively) healthy and posting video-game stat lines, and despite ranking in the top 10 of both offensive and defensive efficiency, the Timberwolves are one game under .500, motioning toward a 10th straight lottery finish.
That's absurd. And heartbreaking. And annoying.
The Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are the only other three teams registering top-10 efficiency marks on both sides of the floor. Together, they make up three of the Western Conference's four best records.
Minnesota, meanwhile, is 4.5 games back of a playoff spot, lumbering through rumors of Love's inevitable departure, the most recent of which was brought to us by ESPN's Chris Broussard (subscription required), who was told the All-Star power forward is good as gone in 2015.
A bench that ranks 26th in scoring has killed the team. Depth in general is an issue. After Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic (injured) and Love, it's a roster-wide struggle. Ricky Rubio still drops flashy dimes, but he's inconsistent, and his personal scoring acumen is broken.
Extended displays of postseason-worthy basketball have been played, but the Timberwolves are still here, 8-21 against teams above .500, on the outside looking in at everything they wanted this season to represent.
Resurgences have never been so weak.
After beginning the season 9-19, the Brooklyn Nets have gone 12-6, putting themselves within striking distance of a favorable playoff spot. It doesn't matter that they still rank in the bottom half of offensive and defensive efficiency, or that their core consists of aging veterans and a point guard made of glass.
The Nets have arrived.
Chew on that for a second. The 21-25 Nets have arrived. The seventh-place Nets have arrived. That doesn't sound right.
Because it's not right.
Brooklyn was supposed to rival the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers. It was supposed to contend for a title, and no matter what it does from here on out, it's not going to do that.
The Nets remain a nine-figure disaster, capable of nabbing a top-five or -four playoff spot, but they're not contenders. Though they're 2-0 against Miami, they're 0-4 when facing Indy. Try picturing them outlasting either of those two in a seven-game series.
You can't, because it's won't happen.
Losing has become standard in New York.
Never mind the Nets for a second—it's the New York Knicks who have been especially horrible. They're 11 games under .500 and 2.5 games back of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.
Coach Mike Woodson, the defensive specialist who isn't, has guided them toward a 23rd-ranked defense. Inconsistent performances from J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Andrea Bargnani (before his injury) haven't helped matters. The team as a collective is in disarray, dropping winnable games left and right, most recently to the Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers.
Luckily for the Knicks, they don't play in the Western Conference. Just as losing has become standard in New York, terrible is standard for the Eastern Conference. There remains a strong chance they sneak into the playoffs.
But they weren't supposed to "sneak." They were supposed to just be there. Instead, they're wasting the best version of Carmelo Anthony—who's averaging a near double-double—they've ever had.
New York is playing so bad, Anthony, who was once a lock to re-sign, is now a flight risk. Being that the Knicks' livelihood is tied to his return, their incompetency has repercussions that extend well beyond one botched season.
Now that's disappointing.
Cleveland wasn't expected to win a title this year, but it wasn't suspected to become an incubator for dysfunction and disorder, either.
There's nothing hot-and-cold about the Cavs' locker room, though. It's just cold. Per the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd, Cleveland has regressed into a hostile environment, where Kyrie Irving doesn't care, Dion Waiters is disruptive and the players don't trust Mike Brown.
Toss in a report from ESPN's Chad Ford that alleges Irving already wants out, and the team's decision to fire general manager Chris Grant, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, and things cannot get any worse...right?
Irving and the Cavs have hit rock bottom. No, they're lower than rock bottom, having now inhabited some hellish underworld where the sun doesn't shine and inescapable mayhem is the only thing on the menu.
That's where a loss to the short-handed, technically-don't-have-enough-bodies-to-play Lakers will get you. That's where benching Irving will get you. That's where a 16-33 record and another lottery appearance will get you—especially when you were supposed to make the playoffs.
"I'm still in my rookie contract and I'm happy to be here," Irving said of his future in Cleveland, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst. "And I'm pretty sure I'm going to be here for a long time."
And we should all be pretty sure the Cavs are going to be here—slogging through self-inflicted shambles—for a long time too, unless they find a solution to their ever-growing list of problems.