How 5 Promising NBA Teams Blew Their Chance in 2013-2014
At the start of each NBA season, we have a pretty good idea which squads will be poised for contention or—at the very least—postseason relevance.
The fun part comes with trying to predict who’s ripe for the next-level leap, from doldrums to divisional powerhouse, also-rans to all-star-laden teams of tomorrow.
By the time spring rolls around and the playoff picture crystallizes, however, we’re almost always left with a good grip of genuine head-scratchers—the franchises of which so much was expected, and from which so little was delivered.
Today, we’ll look at the five biggest disappointments of the 2013-14 NBA season—promising teams that fell flat on their faces—taking into account preseason expectations and how such palpable promise gave way to truly putrid regular-season performances.
Beyond Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers weren’t exactly bursting with All-Star talent heading into the season. But with Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters and Andrew Bynum rounding out the rotation, Irving at least had a decent enough supporting cast to make crashing the Eastern Conference playoff party a distinct possibility.
Fast-forward five months, the Cavs are facing yet another post-LeBron James campaign devoid of postseason hope.
You name it, it went wrong: injuries (to Irving and Varejao in particular), a roster dice-roll that came up snake eyes (Andrew Bynum), a flagrant lottery strikeout (Anthony Bennett), rumors of internal squabbling between Kyrie and Waiters, piqued talk of firing head coach Mike Brown (after inking a five-year, $20 million contract prior to the start of the season).
Taken together, Cleveland’s mishaps and missteps have not only relegated them to another year of irrelevance and faint hopes of draft-day salvation. They may have further jeopardized its chances of holding on to Irving, who is expected to far exceed his $9.7 million qualifying offer at the end of next season.
Chalk it all up to just another footnote in Cleveland’s long dissertation on disappointment.
When Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL in a game against the Dallas Mavericks last April, few doubted the lasting impact the injury would have on the Denver Nuggets.
One year later, Gallinari is still sidelined and Denver—darlings throughout last season—has looked intermittently rudderless and uninspired.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, even without Gallinari's steadfast versitility. Following the controversial firing of George Karl (the 2013 NBA Coach of the Year Award-winner, mind you), the Nuggets brought aboard veteran Phil Jackson assistant Brian Shaw to help re-imagine Denver’s high-octane offense.
Only, that hasn’t happened. Like, at all. From NBA.com (subscription-only media stats).
|Season||ORtg (Rank)||TS% (Rank)||Assist Rate (Rank)|
|2012-13||107.6 (5th)||.549 (7th)||17.9 (7th)|
|2013-14||103.4 (15th)||.536 (17th)||16.5 (18th)|
Learning the triangle is never easy, so chalking up Denver’s shortcomings to adjusting to a new coach and new system—to say nothing of devastating injuries to J.J. Hickson, Nate Robinson and JaVale McGee—doesn’t seem like too big a copout.
At the same time, there’s an inherent risk in shoehorning your player to fit a particular mold. Just ask Andre Miller, who feuded with Shaw and was eventually included in a three-team trade deadline flotsam exchange.
Looking at Denver’s roster, something has to give—either Shaw will have to relent and develop a more malleable offense, or the front office must begin the process of trying to fill out the roster according to the triangle blueprint.
Whatever the ultimate approach, the Nuggets have some serious regrouping to do after their hard regression this season.
To be fair: Not everyone was on board with Detroit’s decision to reel in Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith this past offseason—at least to the extent that the moves would actually put them into the playoffs.
Still, there were plenty of reasons for optimism: With Smith, Jennings, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond—himself poised for a second-year breakout—the Pistons boasted one of the most intriguing quartets in the league.
But “intriguing” does not a good team make.
After a lackluster 21-29 start, the Pistons parted ways with first-year coach Maurice Cheeks in what amounted to a collective “No mas” and another lost season under embattled general manager Joe Dumars.
What’s worse, interim coach John Loyer doesn’t look long for the bench, either.
With management in shambles and the team’s roster in need of some extra tender love and care, Detroit’s near-future prospects—somehow—look worse than even a year ago. Still, guided by the right coaching hand, the Pistons have more than enough youth and talent to begin forging their way into the Eastern Conference fray.
It just might be a year or two later than most expected.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: This is the year Kevin Love leads the Minnesota Timberwolves to the play…
Yeah, you’ve heard this one before.
Here’s ESPN’s preseason power-rankings capsule on the Wolves:
Fearlessly predicting Love, Rubio and Pekovic will log more than the 13 minutes of court time they shared as a trio last season. With Adelman back and Kev Martin/C. Brewer coming in, you'd go ahead and call this a playoff team, too, if you knew the Wolves could finally stay reasonably healthy.
Guilty as charged, ESPN. Guilty as charged.
Yes, the Wolves have had to deal with a few nagging injuries—most notably to Pekovic—but the real issue, once again, was with the team’s consistency at both ends of the floor.
And it certainly hasn’t helped having Love’s forthcoming free agency loom over the franchise like an ominous thunderhead. Sadly, most expect K-Love to leave the Land of 10,000 Lakes sooner rather than later, with the Los Angeles Lakers being the most oft-cited destination for the former UCLA product.
Which is what makes the team’s latest lost season so tragic: Had they made good on their palpable playoff promise, maybe Love considers bolting down stakes through the end of his current contract, giving the only team he’s ever known a fighting chance of retaining his services.
Now, with dreams of a postseason berth just another pipe dream, Wolves fans are understandably starting to ponder life without Love.
New York Knicks
Yes, the New York Knicks have surged back into the playoff race behind some of their best team basketball in a calendar year.
No, they should never have been in this position to begin with.
After a rejuvenating 54-win campaign a year ago, the Knicks entered the 2013-14 season to somewhat tempered expectations. With a number of conference rivals having reloaded their roster holsters, most expected the Knicks to crater a handful of games at most.
But then a handful turned into a lot.
It started off innocently enough: A loss on the road to the Chicago Bulls, a home dud against the San Antonio Spurs—your typical early-season rust.
But then two losses turned into three, then four, then nine. Before you knew it, the Knicks were reeling, with key players—including Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton—racking up injuries left and right. Two wins forward, three losses back, on and on until New York faced a self-imposed ultimatum: Win out, or go golfing.
Even if the Knicks somehow manage to save playoff face, even given the franchise-rejuvenating potential of the Phil Jackson hire, it’s hard not to view this as a lost season—particularly in light of the decision facing Carmelo Anthony, who is expected to opt out of the last year of his contract and test unrestricted free agency.
Still, for this season anyway, the Knicks have something the four other teams on this list don’t: hope of actually making a playoff statement.
Speaking to Marc Berman of the New York Post following the Knicks 92-83 win over the Utah Jazz Monday night, Tyson Chandler put to words the optimism many a Knicks fan are beginning to feel, saying, “I always thought we’d really give our ourselves a shot of making the playoffs. I still believe if we get in there, somebody’s going to be in trouble.’’
Remember 1999? New York sure does.