The Darkest Timeline? 10 Sports Teams Living Nightmarish Scenarios

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2017

The Darkest Timeline? 10 Sports Teams Living Nightmarish Scenarios

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    The Brooklyn Nets have paid the price for making flawed win-now moves.
    The Brooklyn Nets have paid the price for making flawed win-now moves.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    In an alternate timeline, Tom Brady never escaped the bench and Tim Tebow won seven Super Bowls. Kevin Durant stayed with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the New York Yankees went broke.

    The idea of multiple dimensions isn't new to science fiction fans. That made it a natural target for Community, a cult-classic comedy that frequently subverted genre paradigms during its six offbeat seasons.

    In one of its most revered episodes, "Remedial Chaos Theory," pop culture junkie Abed Nadir introduces the concept of a dice roll creating six different timelines. Viewers watch each one unfold, one of which steers drastically from the rest into catastrophe. 

    This darkest timeline fortunately was not the one occurring in the show's preferred dimension, but several sports teams haven't benefited from the same luck. Instead, they're living in the universe where an unnerving troll doll stares into their soul as the room burns.

    Constant losing and personnel turnover. Few resources and/or assets to fix their flaws. Impatient fans losing hope. These factors make up the darkest timelines for the following 10 franchises.

Arizona Coyotes

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    The Arizona Coyotes' fortunes could have changed if they won the 2015 draft lottery and snagged Connor McDavid.
    The Arizona Coyotes' fortunes could have changed if they won the 2015 draft lottery and snagged Connor McDavid.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    In another timeline, the Arizona Coyotes have Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

    Despite finishing the 2014-15 season with the NHL's second-worst record, they slid to third in a draft lottery with two premier prospects at stake. The Edmonton Oilers hit the jackpot instead, landing a transcendent talent who currently leads the league in points.

    Arizona also would have gladly settled for Eichel, who has registered 21 points in 26 games for the Buffalo Sabres this season. He faces the burden of always getting associated with McDavid, but the center should embark on his own stellar career.

    Taken with the third pick, Dylan Strome has yet to score a goal in the NHL. It's far too early to write off a highly touted 19-year-old, but his former OHL teammate (McDavid) has set the bar ridiculously high. 

    Failing to snag their knight in shining armor, the Coyotes again sport the NHL's second-worst record in 2016-17. In a highly competitive league, they're 14 points away from escaping from last place in the Pacific Division.

    Although they will receive another chance to win the draft lottery, there's no prospect like McDavid or Eichel in this year's class. If only they had rolled a one two years ago.

Brooklyn Nets

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    The Nets have the NBA's worst record, but the Boston Celtics can swap first-round draft picks.
    The Nets have the NBA's worst record, but the Boston Celtics can swap first-round draft picks.Elsa/Getty Images

    Of all the timelines, the Brooklyn Nets' is truly the darkest.

    After dropping 19 of their last 21 games, they're running away with the NBA's worst record at 9-36. Don't expect them to escape the basement, as they also hold the league's lowest average point differential (minus-8.9) while ranking No. 28 in both offensive and defensive rating, per Basketball-Reference.com.

    Although Brook Lopez has stayed healthy, the 28-year-old center is not a credible franchise cornerstone. He's surrounded by a bunch of semi-interesting players but nobody the organization can confidently pencil in as future starters.

    Worst of all, impatient management Britta'd the team's future by gifting the Boston Celtics multiple first-round picks for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. A year after inheriting Brooklyn's No. 3 spot, they'll receive better odds of winning the lottery.

    As for the Nets' haul, neither veteran lasted two full seasons. Their full year together ended in a second-round exit.

    New general manager Sean Marks inherited a hopeless mess. How does one fix a team devoid of talent and draft picks? He essentially must bide his time until 2019, when they'll own their own first-rounder for the first time since 2013.

Colorado Avalanche

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    The Colorado Avalanche haven't won in regulation since Dec. 11.
    The Colorado Avalanche haven't won in regulation since Dec. 11.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    The Colorado Avalanche have been the opposite of Batman this season.

    They haven't won in regulation since Dec. 11, compiling 17 losses and two overtime wins over the nightmarish stretch. Since starting the season 9-9 with back-to-back road victories over the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets, they're 4-22-2.

    Ranking last in goals scored (2.0) and goals allowed (3.4) per game is a terrible formula. Only two players, Matt Duchene (15) and Nathan MacKinnon (11), have netted double-digit goals. Jarome Iginla's climb up the all-time leaderboard has stalled with just six tallies. 

    Over 20 points behind every team besides Arizona, Colorado needs to start planning for 2017-18. The club started by trading veteran forward Cody McLeod to the Nashville Predators, and it should remain active before the deadline.

    According to ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun, general manager Joe Sakic would entertain offers for anyone besides MacKinnon and rookie Mikko Rantanen.

    The once dominant organization hasn't won a playoff series since 2008, and it must let that drought expand in order to rebuild a proper contender.

Cleveland Browns

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    Robert Griffin III was the Cleveland Browns' latest failed quarterback acquisition.
    Robert Griffin III was the Cleveland Browns' latest failed quarterback acquisition.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Since reviving in 1999, the Cleveland Browns have a grand total of two winning seasons and one playoff berth. They have spent six seasons (and a movie?) stuck in the AFC North's cellar, reaching a new nadir with one win in 2016.

    Maybe they found a quarterback in one of the other timelines. In this one, however, they have filed through enough passers (26) over the past two decades to inspire a "We Didn't Start the Fire" spoof. None since Tim Couch have lasted at least three years.

    At their current hiring rate, another parody listing every head coach may prove necessary. Hue Jackson marked the franchise's fifth hire in eight years. None were given more than two seasons to repair the dysfunction.

    Cleveland also hasn't ranked higher than No. 24 in scoring since going 10-6 with 25.1 points per game in 2007. This timeline would be a brighter one if a Cam Newton or Andrew Luck was available in this year's draft, but they have no such luck.

    By stockpiling picks, the Browns have at least loaded up on chances to reverse their misfortune. For all the focus on their quarterback woes, they need way more than one guy to turn this team around.

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Philip Rivers' Chargers will move to Los Angeles after a 5-11 season.
    Philip Rivers' Chargers will move to Los Angeles after a 5-11 season.Leon Bennett/Getty Images

    Based on the reaction to the San Diego Chargers relocating to Los Angeles, owner Dean Spanos should make a felt goatee and embrace the darkness.

    A fan egged their (former) team facility. San Diego moving companies have refused to accept their business. Everyone mocked their first attempt at a logo, which bordered on plagiarism.

    The people who are supposed to be their new fans booed them relentlessly. New head coach Anthony Lynn began his introductory press conference by almost saying "San Diego."

    An angry heckler crashed their celebratory rally. Even a church ridiculed them. After suffering 11 losses during their final season in San Diego, they're taking many more during the offseason.

    That's what happens when an owner from a family with a $2.4 billion net worth moves his team because the city won't buy him a new stadium. Now they get to play in a 30,000-seat soccer arena before rooming with the Los Angeles Rams.

    By the time the Inglewood stadium opens in 2019, Philip Rivers will be 37. The quarterback has started every game for each of the past 11 seasons, but they can't count on him leading the Los Angeles Chargers for long.

Miami Heat

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    The Miami Heat lost LeBron James and their entire Big Three after four seasons together.
    The Miami Heat lost LeBron James and their entire Big Three after four seasons together.Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Nobody outside of South Beach will feel sympathy for the Miami Heat, who won two of their four straight NBA Finals appearances behind LeBron James, Dywane Wade and Chris Bosh. Their dominance couldn't last forever, but few fans thought they would all be gone by 2017.

    After bringing his instant dynasty mix to Miami, James went back to the Cleveland Cavaliers. With his departure, the Heat were no longer streets ahead of the Eastern Conference. They weren't cellar-dwellers either, falling one win shy of a 2016 Eastern Conference Finals showdown against James.

    Their status abruptly changed. Heat doctors wouldn't clear Chris Bosh, who dealt with two episodes of blood clots. His NBA future remains uncertain, but the Heat appear unlikely to let the All-Star risk his health on the court.

    That only left Wade, the original member who successfully recruited James and Bosh in 2010. Instead of giving him a lifetime-achievement contract, the Heat played hardball. Either calling their bluff or doing what they had hoped all along, the veteran guard bolted to his hometown Chicago Bulls.

    And that's how a team went from a Finals mainstay to 16-30 behind leading scorer Goran Dragic. The Heat better nail this year's first-round pick and then tank harder than Community's fourth season, as they owe the Phoenix Suns their top-seven protected 2018 selection from the Dragic trade, per RealGM.com.

New York Jets

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    Ryan Fitzpatrick followed a breakout year with a disastrous 2016.
    Ryan Fitzpatrick followed a breakout year with a disastrous 2016.Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

    The New York Jets gave fans a brief respite from sadness in 2015. They entered the final week boasting a 10-5 record fortified by a five-game winning streak. One more win and they would return to the playoffs for the first time since improbably lugging Mark Sanchez to two conference championships.

    Just when they appeared to turn a corner, chaos struck. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three late interceptions in a 22-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills, reminding everyone of the flawed passer who vanished during their hot streak.

    Yet he still played well enough throughout the season to merit a new contract. The unfortunate ending carried over into a putrid 2016, during which he notched a 56.6 completion percentage. Head coach Todd Bowles tried giving the quarterback job to Geno Smith and Bryce Petty, but injuries to both led him right back to the underwhelming veteran.

    Eric Decker got hurt, and Brandon Marshall couldn't replicate 2015's instant chemistry with Fitzpatrick. Following a triumphant return to the Meadowlands, Darrelle Revis seemingly lost his talent while filming an NFL Space Jam reboot.

    Losing stinks enough before adding the cruelty of false hope. The way the Jets constantly toy with fans' emotions, Troy Barnes definitely couldn't handle rooting for them. 

Oakland Athletics

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    Sonny Gray posted an alarming 5.69 ERA last season.
    Sonny Gray posted an alarming 5.69 ERA last season.Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

    Don't anticipate a happy ending to Moneyball unfolding soon.

    Once a perennial postseason contender, the Oakland Athletics have finished last in the American League West twice in a row. No longer holding an intelligence edge on richer competitors, their current situation feels like Jeff Winger going from a promising law career to Greendale Community College.

    In 2014, they entered the All-Star break with a 59-36 record and plus-145 run differential. Having endured six five-game American League Division Series losses—and one American League Championship Series sweep—the organization mortgaged their future to finally expunge their postseason demons.

    The gamble failed. A second-half spiral relegated them to the Wild Card Game, where they blew a 7-3 lead against the Kansas City Royals.

    This one-game playoff exit cost them Addison Russell, whom they traded in early July for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Per FanGraphs, the young shortstop has since accrued 6.9 WAR during two seasons with the Chicago Cubs.

    Admitting defeat, they retooled by trading star third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays. Prospect Franklin Barreto could still salvage some value from the deal, but there's nothing fun about watching someone win MVP honors for another squad.

    Who does that leave on their current roster? Sonny Gray was their top producer in 2015, but he unraveled with a 5.69 ERA last season. Meanwhile, the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers are tangled in an arms' race for division supremacy. It may take a while before Oakland contends again.

San Diego Padres

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    The San Diego Padres paid a steep price to acquire their best player, Wil Myers.
    The San Diego Padres paid a steep price to acquire their best player, Wil Myers.Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    The San Diego Padres missing the postseason is as commonplace as an elaborate Dean Pelton costume or cringe-worthy Senor Chang pun. They haven’t reached the playoffs since 2006 or won a playoff series since losing the 1998 Fall Classic to the Yankees.

    Still searching for their first championship, the Friars have festered in mediocrity for years. After finishing five seasons within the 71-77 victory range, they changed things up with a 68-94 campaign. Without much offense or pitching, they’re far from the .500 path.

    A rare bright spot to their 2016, Wil Myers collected 28 home runs and stolen bases apiece during his first season uninterrupted by injuries. Despite his past health struggles and late-season stumble, they signed the 26-year-old to a six-year, $83 million extension.

    And in order to acquire him, they needed to give up Trea Turner and Joe Ross.

    Not devoid of hope, outfield prospects Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe should receive considerable playing time in 2017. Anderson Espinoza, acquired for Drew Pomeranz in a trade that later sparked controversy, could turn into their ace down the road.

    Yet they don’t have the best history with youngsters. Ever since banking their future on Khalil Greene, Tim Stauffer and 2004 No. 1 pick Matt Bush—who made his MLB debut for the Rangers last season—the Padres haven’t received notable production from a first-round pick. Renfroe could buck that trend, but excuse skeptics who still see a depleted roster and little hope of an upcoming respite.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Colin Kaepernick had another subpar season for the 2-14 San Francisco 49ers.
    Colin Kaepernick had another subpar season for the 2-14 San Francisco 49ers.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The San Francisco 49ers made the NFC Championship Game in each of Jim Harbaugh's first three seasons as head coach. Since he left to Michigan, they have gone 7-25. A steady top-five defense ended 2016 last in yards and points allowed.

    The team's doldrums feels a lot like Community without showrunner Dan Harmon—except the 49ers can't count on a reunion. Blaming a coaching change for their downfall, however, undercuts a string of misfortunes that befell the roster after his departure.

    In the span of months, Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Justin Smith and Anthony Davis all retired. Davis returned to San Francisco after a year, only to retire again. Free agents Mike Iupati and Frank Gore—both vital members of Harbaugh's offense—signed elsewhere. An arrest prompted the team to release promising pass-rusher Aldon Smith.

    With the wounds still fresh, Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab labeled their 2015 offseason the worst in NFL history.

    "I couldn't find another example of a team having so many various factors resulting in so many huge hits to the roster. ... I could not find one offseason that was a reasonable comparison to what has happened to the 49ers."

    So of course they stink. Colin Kaepernick's regression from revolutionary dual-threat to replacement-level starter certainly hurt their cause, but losing Harbaugh didn't sting as much as losing seven key players.