The Truth Hurts: 10 Franchises in Need of a Reality Check
A good friend tells someone an uncomfortable truth he or she does not want to hear. As long as the other person listens to reasons, positive changes will result from the difficult conversation.
These teams need a strong-willed ally to sit them down and deliver tough love.
It's often harder to assess a situation from within. Biased players, coaches, front-office executives and fans will try to optimistically see the bright side. Yes, perhaps that late draft pick will have an All-Star season while the veteran on his last leg turns the clock back to 2009. Probably not, though.
Many franchises on this list face a crossroad. Their current rosters aren't built for a title run, and some are headed for future catastrophe without some forward-thinking transactions.
After repeating the same mistake throughout the 21st century, there's little hope for one highlighted organization learning its lesson. For another team, it's too late to reverse an ill-conceived blunder.
For anyone associated with these 10 teams, pull up a chair and take a deep breath. This won't be easy to hear, but they need to hear it.
Reality Check: They won't find a new quarterback better than Tyrod Taylor.
After firing head coach Rex Ryan, the Buffalo Bills benched Tyrod Taylor during the final game of their 2016 season. According to Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB, the team made the decision before axing Ryan, who had promised the 27-year-old that he'd start throughout his coaching tenure.
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Bills don't intend on picking up a $15.5 million option bonus they must accept or decline by March 11. The option would guarantee Taylor $30.75 million over five years, so exercising it would signal a long-term commitment Buffalo does not appear willing to make.
On one hand, it's understandable to doubt Taylor as a franchise fixture under center. No team attempted fewer passes than the Bills during his two years as the starting quarterback, and he barely cleared 3,000 passing yards each season. Can he thrive in a less conservative system?
Or perhaps he just needs the opportunity and a healthy Sammy Watkins to open up the aerial offense. During those two seasons, he averaged a healthy 62.7 completion percentage with 7.42 yards per pass attempt. Besides, he also accumulated 1,148 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground.
Where are the Bills going to find a Plan B who can equal or exceed that production? E.J. Manuel or Cardale Jones isn't the answer. They shouldn't bank on Washington letting Kirk Cousins slip away, and they'd have to reach for any passer at pick No. 10. Tony Romo could, at best, offer a short-term solution.
"It seems like insanity that they're not going to pick up that option," Fahey said. "I know he's not really viewed as a traditional passer and maybe it's a style thing, but his positives largely outweigh his negatives."
New head coach Sean McDermott will likely want to hand-pick his starter, but good luck finding someone better than Taylor.
New York Knicks
Reality Check: Aside from Kristaps Porzingis, they're a trainwreck.
For the past three years, the New York Knicks have trotted out bad basketball teams. After exuding patience early in his tenure as team president, Phil Jackson reverted to mishaps reminiscent of classically catastrophic Knicks clubs.
He committed two cardinal Knicks sins over the offseason. First, he acquired the oft-injured Derrick Rose five years after his MVP campaign. (Dwight Howard and LeBron James both had better 2010-11 seasons, but a Knicks section isn't a place welcoming of logic.) Then he signed Joakim Noah—a 31-year-center who averaged 4.3 points in 29 games last season—to a four-year deal that immediately incited laughter and tears in the Big Apple.
Even during a hot start, their abysmal defense and negative scoring margin hinted at trouble. Regression has tackled them hard, as they have lost 14 of the past 18 games to drop outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture at 18-23.
This downfall has presented palm-striking highlights, such as head coach Jeff Hornacek disgustedly turning away from a Carmelo Anthony isolation jumper and Rose mysteriously no-showing for a game without notifying the team.
On Sunday, the Knicks scored eight points during the third quarter of a 15-point loss to the Toronto Raptors. Following yet another embarrassing defeat, Anthony entertained the possibility of waiving his no-trade clause in the above quote, via Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, illustrated by Bleacher Report.
Hey, it's not all bad. They have Kristaps Porzingis. Many teams also in dire straits yearn for such a young franchise cornerstone, and they have plenty of time to salvage a playoff bid.
But if Anthony is willing to consider moving, the Knicks need to entertain offers. No more short-sighted moves in hopes of crafting a 45-win team. Instead of desperately trying to expedite their time frame, they need to slowly lay the foundation for a bright future led by the Unicorn.
Reality Check: Make some big moves or gear for a rebuild.
At first, the Toronto Blue Jays were going to receive this reality check. They didn't need the lecture, however, about needing Jose Bautista to remain an American League competitor. According to MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez, they're reaching a deal to retain their star slugger.
Toronto needs his power to keep up with the Boston Red Sox, who added ace Chris Sale to a formidable lineup. Boston is especially operating with urgency to contend now as the New York Yankees stockpiled their farm system last summer. They will have cash to spend on big-time free agents following the 2018 free agency.
One possible target: Manny Machado. Since his arrival in 2012, the Baltimore Orioles have made three postseasons. They now, however, face a crossroad. Their current roster isn't poised to contend in 2017, so they need to make some splashes or shift to a long-term approach.
They may want to follow the Blue Jays' lead and try to bring back Mark Trumbo. He reaches base at a below-average rate and doesn't offer anything defensively, but he also belted 47 home runs last season. Nobody else is treating him like a superstar, so they shouldn't have to overpay.
The rotation could also use a tune-up behind Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman and Dylan Bundy. Good luck, however, locating an upgrade on the open market.
Maintaining the status quo won't keep them in contention. Based on their plus-29 point differential, they overperformed by notching 89 victories, which the Blue Jays also earned with a plus-93 run margin. If they craft a contender, maybe it's time to see what Tillman and Adam Jones fetch on the trading block.
And oh yeah, put Zach Britton in the game already. Even if it's not a save situation.
Reality Check: Have a slice of humble pie.
Once a fresh breath of air for expressing themselves beyond cliches, some of the Seattle Seahawks have turned in to bullies incapable of handling defeat.
When asked about criticizing his coaching staff for running on the goal line, cornerback Richard Sherman threatened to "ruin" a reporter's career. He then decided reporters no longer deserved the "privilege" of his weekly press conference.
Following Seattle's 36-20 divisional-round loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Michael Bennett took out his frustrations on Q13 reporter Bill Wixey, who inquired about the defensive line's lack of pass rush. He responded with a profane tirade, per the Seattle Times' Jayson Jenks and Bob Condotta:
Get out of my face now. Don’t tell me I didn’t do my job (expletive). OK, exactly. Get the (expletive) out of my face. Like I said, get out of my face. Don’t play with me. Don’t play with me. I just put my heart on the (expletive) field. Don’t (expletive) play with me. Get the (expletive) out of my face then. Try me again, see what happens. I ain’t one of these (expletive) out here. Don’t try to tell me what I didn’t do (expletive).
He also asked Wixey, who was treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2009, what he knew about overcoming adversity.
Star safety Earl Thomas, who watched a top defense crumble after he broke his leg, instead targeted an AFC team still playing football. In a tweet, captured by the B/R graphic above, he questioned the New England Patriots' validity due to a soft schedule.
As noted by ESPN's Field Yates, the NFC West combined to tally an NFL-low 23 wins.
The Seattle Times' Matt Calkins lamented their decay into unlikable villains: "They were once a brash collection of misfits. They are now a dismissive group of egomaniacs. They were once known for the resolve they showed in victory. They are now known for the grace they lack in defeat."
Reality Check: It's time to build a young team around Jimmy Butler.
After missing the playoffs last season, the Chicago Bulls should have charged at a red cloth labeled "Rebuild." They embarked on the proper path by trading Rose and letting Noah join him in New York.
Then they took a demonstrative detour by signing Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade.
The recently benched point guard has proved more trouble than he's worth. Although always a jump-shooting detriment, Rondo's 36.7 field-goal percentage strays far below his previous career low of 40.3. Wade, struggling to handle the rigors of a full season, also sports a personal-worst field-goal percentage (42.8).
There is one major bright spot: Jimmy Butler. He has increasingly looked more comfortable as the team's main man, registering 24.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.8 steals per contest.
Yet Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher terrified Bulls fans by reporting that Butler "is available for the right price." Although the 27-year-old star ranks third in win shares behind former Oklahoma City Thunder stars James Harden and Kevin Durant, per Basketball-Reference.com, Bucher said the Bulls remain uncertain about building around him.
Would they rather trust the 35-year-old Wade?
Last in three-point makes, attempts and percentage, they desperately need perimeter shooting. The problem existed before they acquired three of the worst shooters (including Michael Carter-Williams) to man their backcourt.
The best-case scenario for these Bulls is sliding into the Eastern Conference's No. 5 seed and pulling off a first-round upset before getting ousted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since they are also far from assured a playoff slot, they should focus on giving their youngers players minutes.
And this should go without saying, but Butler is their clear building block.
Reality Check: They're not a legitimate playoff contender
After jumping to 14-7-1, the Ottawa Senators have fallen to 22-15-4 with league-average play befitting their portfolio. They trail the Philadelphia Flyers for the Eastern Conference's final wild-card spot by two points, but fans shouldn't expect a Stanley Cup playoff push.
Despite their strong defense, they have still scored two fewer goals than their opponents all season. They can blame their No. 26-ranked scoring offense, which according to Hockey-Reference.com, wields an 8.6 shot percentage.
Per NHL.com, their 48.11 Corsi percentage rates below all but four NHL squads. None of those bottom-four clubs sport a winning record.
Their playoff chances hinge on great goaltending from Craig Anderson, who has submitted a 93.5 even-strength save percentage this season. The 35-year-old hasn't posted such a high mark since the 2012-13 campaign, so expect some regression Ottawa can ill afford.
The Senators have also etched out close calls by winning three of four shootouts. They're not allowing themselves much margin for error to survive the crowded Eastern Conference.
Reality Check: Moneyball needs a rewrite.
Intelligent teams can overcome heavy spenders, but what happens when the richer adversaries are also smart?
As the Oakland Athletics have discovered, there's no formula to defeat opponents loaded with dollars and intelligence. Just think back to the Moneyball movie's ending, which essentially follows Billy Beane's tale of overcoming a stacked deck with "Oh yeah, the Boston Red Sox picked up on their practices and won the World Series with way more money."
What a feel-good Hollywood ending.
An appreciation of on-base percentage is now taught in Baseball Analysis 101. Oakland can no longer steal low-contact, high-OBP sluggers unless they're deeply damaged goods. Now that the market has caught up, they need to find a new inefficiency to exploit.
This is difficult to do in an era where all 30 teams employ advanced statisticians. One area the Athletics overlooked—defense—has become the new terrain for opportunistic clubs searching for bargains.
Following three consecutive playoff appearances, they have twice finished last in the American League West. Aggressive dealing has backfired; they traded Addison Russell for pitchers on expiring contracts (Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel) and sold low on Josh Donaldson right before his MVP season.
With baseball enjoying a golden era of information, it's tougher for a small-market club to consistently find the misfit toys. In order to return to the top, they will need to replicate the part ignored in the film: player development.
Reality Check: Peyton Manning can't carry them anymore.
Following three consecutive 11-5 seasons, the Indianapolis Colts have twice gone 8-8. They have numerous holes surrounding Andrew Luck, whose NFL-high salary creates tough cap challenges. It will take experienced front-office minds to spread out their limited resources to repair 2016's third-worst defense and shaky offensive line.
Owner Jim Irsay, however, is reportedly interesting in making the biggest splash to appease his fanbase.
According to Schefter, Irsay tried unsuccessfully to lure ESPN broadcaster Jon Gruden away from Monday Night Football. The former head coach denied discussing the role.
"I know nothing," he told Schefter. "I've told people, I'm not coaching. I'm a broadcaster, I'm not a coach.”
Per Fox Sports' Jay Glazer, he has also pursued Peyton Manning to lead their football operations. One problem with these rumors: Head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson remain under contract.
Onlookers always praised Manning's off-the-charts football acumen, so he may have a keen eye for talent. There's also a clear precedent for a franchise quarterback again saving the day in John Elway taking charge of the Denver Broncos and signing Manning.
Of course, not all legendary players translate their greatness to the boardroom. Just ask Michael Jordan.
Targeting Manning this soon feels more like a PR move to generate buzz. That's not to say he would fail, but he'd face a steep challenge requiring a Hall of Fame performance off the gridiron.
Reality Check: They're not trying to tank, but they're tanking.
The Dallas Mavericks have missed the postseason once over the last 16 seasons. Even in the outlier year, they broke even at 41-41. They have no interest in the draft lottery, but they should following the 2016-17 campaign.
They're still resisting the losing path. A healthy Dirk Nowitzki has led them to two straight victories. If all their veterans stay fit, they could vault up the Western Conference standings.
As head coach Rich Carlisle told the Washington Post's Tim Bontemps earlier in January, he has every intention of his team playing postseason basketball.
"Well, we're going to try to win," Carlisle said. "We're a championship organization. We're not in this for pingpong balls or any of that kind of stuff. We have veterans who care, and so we have every intention of doing everything possible to make a run for the playoffs."
Owner Mark Cuban has also written off any tanking effort, saying it's only beneficial when a draft class features transcendent stars, according to ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon. While this year offers a deep prospect crop, there's no clear-cut No. 1.
Despite the Mavericks' best intentions, ESPN.com's Basketball Power Index gives them a 1.5 percent probability of reaching the postseason. Overcoming the odds would diminish their draft capital and probably set up a first-round feud with the Golden State Warriors.
That's not ideal. Luckily, their optimal efforts won't rob them of a high lottery pick. Along with scoring an NBA-worst 95.7 points per game, they rank No. 25 and 22 in offensive and defensive rating, respectively, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Their veterans are healthy now, but far too many of their key contributors have already celebrated their 30th birthday. While refusing to tank will remove them from the top-pick conversation, they should still yield a top-10 choice without any trouble.
Los Angeles Chargers
Reality Check: Los Angeles doesn't want them.
Chairman Dean Spanos officially announced the Chargers' move from San Diego to Los Angeles on Thursday. They also released a new logo, which they quickly ditched following scathing criticism on social media.
On Saturday night, Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers fans united in harmony to boo them.
Did the Staples Center crowd disapprove of the new insignia, or do Los Angeles citizens simply have no desire to welcome another NFL franchise? They just opened the doors to the Rams, who went 4-12 with a 1-7 record at their new home. Now they're saddled with another subpar team replacing a more illustrious national game.
Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke sent Spanos and the Chargers a clear message once news of the relocation broke: "We. Don't. Want. You." He proceeded to ridicule the move, claiming he hasn't met a Chargers fan in the city.
"Wow, just what we need, the return of a professional sports team with no buzz, no tradition, few local fans north of south Orange County, limited success and an owner who just stole them away from a place where they were loved unconditionally for 56 years."
Spanos, whose family has a $2.4 billion net worth, according to Forbes, took the greedy route when San Diego voted against building him a new stadium. Now he'll pay the price when his team plays in a 30,000-seat soccer stadium in front of fans with no allegiance to his squad.