It's unfortunate that the competition in the NBA has been run through a filter, leaving the rich to play for winning and the poor to play for nothing. At least it's a league where a losing record won't be tolerated for the playoffs. Well, at least in one conference. But it's good to know that the Indiana Pacers can't magically have home court advantage.
The NBA's lack of league-wide talent has led to eight different franchises with championship banners since 1984, a sad number for a league that swears to hold the key to amazing. The most amazing part is the lack of parity and how the league hasn't addressed it.
So while the affluent whine and cry this summer about not making enough millions of dollars, most teams will be left to rebuild on the backs of the salary cap and luck, whichever way she may swing.
The rebuilding process is a tricky one. Not all teams who are playing poorly need to rebuild, and not all teams that are playing well need to stay put. It's not only about who a team is, but where that team is going.
Here's eight franchises that need to rebuild, if they haven't already begun:
There isn’t a more stagnant organization in the entire NBA than the Atlanta Hawks. They’ve been the benefactor of a crap conference while being slightly better than the competition.
The Hawks have hit their ceiling, so to speak, when it comes to their potential (only the second round of the playoffs). They’ve made it as far as anyone could have expected them to, barely—they got pushed to 7 games by the Milwaukee Bucks a year ago.
Then, they got scraped by the team that would go on to get scraped by the Boston Celtics, the Orlando Magic. While that may be an unnecessary and confusing way to put it, the point is that they were two tiers away from the top of the conference last year. And now, you can add the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls to that last.
The Hawks have also dug their own grave by signing Joe Johnson to a deal that makes us all wonder if a lockout is the worst possible scenario for the NBA.
Johnson may be the best overpaid player in the NBA, minus Andrei Kirilenko, but he’s not a superstar worthy of a monstrous contract.
Basically, the Atlanta front office has cemented themselves into an area where they cannot adjust. They have an aging good player who can’t ever earn what they’re paying him. This is only the beginning of their problems. But they are on a long, long road of being de-rooted from relevancy while never winning anything in the process—“anything” meaning Eastern Conference champions.
If mediocre is the standard of good in the NBA, then Atlanta is the best.
Many see the Sacramento Kings as about to hit the light at the end of a decade-long tunnel. But the realistic view of this team is that they’re always on the verge of getting the lights knocked out of them by another opponent. They’ve officially become the punching bag of the Western Conference, replacing the always interchangeable Los Angeles Clippers and Minnesota Timberwolves.
DeMarcus Cousins is a weak player, mentally. Believe it or not, that’s where toughness matters the most in the NBA. He’s like a young John Starks wrapped in an over-sized and over-praised body.
And Tyreke Evans is the worst kind of combo-guard to have. He can’t run an offense but also can’t shoot the ball. He’s shooting less than 40 percent from the field for the season and is turning the ball over almost as fast quickly as he dishes out dimes.
If you’ve been bored or have lost the remote and accidentally watched the Kings play this year, then you’ve seen arguably the most selfish bunch of individual basketball players the NBA has to offer with just barely 15 assists per night. They’re stale and fragmented.
The Kings are not in the worst position though. They have many coveted pieces that other teams may want, giving them more opportunity to rebuild faster.
Also, after getting the number-five pick last year, they’ll probably be flirting with that same number, if not better, this year.
The NBA world may have been humming a different tune about the Houston Rockets had Yao Ming been able to remain healthy—or just get healthy in general.
The Brittle Wall of China underwent season-ending foot surgery for the second time in two years, which is sad. Some will remember him as the second-most hyped player in the last decade, sitting quietly unnoticed behind LeBron James.
Others will remember the first time he faced Shaquille O’Neal, the most anticipated matchup of the millennium. And the very, very few will remember Yao blocking Shaq’s first three shot attempts.
Those days are long gone.
The worst part for the Houston Rockets is that they’re far from rock bottom, but they will get there. They currently do not have many desirable pieces that teams would like to trade for. They also are just mediocre enough to hit the end of the lottery draft.
If this team was in the Eastern Conference, they would convincingly make the playoffs.
The Phoenix Suns have about as much gas as Grant Hill and Steve Nash combined. While we aren’t sure as to how much gas that is, there are two things that are certain. One, Hill and Nash will always fool us and outplay what their gas gauge says. And two, it will never be enough gas to get the Suns over the hump.
It’s hard to believe that this is the same franchise that went to the Western Conference Finals last year. Everybody knew that the loss of Amar’e Stoudemire has hurt the Suns, much to the New York Knicks delight, but nobody thought it would hurt this much.
The irony behind the absence of Stoudemire is the speculation that his numbers were due to inflation—the Steve Nash factor. But it’s been quite the opposite.
Not only is Amar’e Stoudemire having a career-defining year while simultaneously making the Knicks relevant and playoff contenders, but the Suns are on the verge of having their first losing season since 2003-2004.
Nash is doing just fine by the way.
The Suns need to rebuild. Hopefully they can do this while keeping Steve Nash, who has made it clear that he wants to remain in Phoenix.
Everybody looks at the Golden State Warriors’ youth and possibilities, but neither will manifest into a winning season for them. While they are relatively young and talented, it’s not playoff-caliber talent.
If Allen Iverson cannot win a championship with the Coach of the Year, the Defensive Player of the Year, the Sixth Man of the Year, and an MVP season from himself—in a much weaker conference—what puts peoples’ faith in Monta Ellis? He can’t even make the Warriors contenders for the playoffs.
Monta Ellis is a poor man’s Allen Iverson. He’s a high-volume shooter who scores a lot of points, just like A.I. But he doesn’t lead his team to victory. Yes, there are given nights when Ellis can go off and be unstoppable, but he’s rarely that player, and slightly more than rare is how often Golden State wins games.
The Warriors’ roster isn’t something to build from. Sure, Stephen Curry may be a great point guard some day and he’s very skilled, but he’s not in the upper-echelon of PGs the league has to offer.
What’s worse for Golden State is that they’ve made an honest attempt to build a different culture than they’ve had, even going as far as to get rid of the all-time wins leader, Don Nelson. But it hasn’t changed anything.
The Warriors are on pace to win eight more games than they won last year, but that may be even worse for this franchise, pushing them to the end of the lottery.
Joe Dumars has gone from General Manager extraordinaire to the most questionable mover and shaker in the business. And it all could have been avoided—at least temporarily—if he had paid better attention during the 2003 NBA Draft.
Maybe it goes back to Darko Milicic, perhaps not. Either way, the Pistons have plummeted faster than him, and Darko’s finally experiencing some relative success in the league. It’s blatant to see that Dumars potentially lost seven good years with Carmelo Anthony though.
Don’t forget that this is the guy who traded for Rasheed Wallace mid-season in 2004 and brought the Larry O’Brien trophy back to Detroit for the first time in nearly two decades. Making a significant move just before the trade deadline and winning the championship in the same year is a rarity.
So if missing out on ‘Melo was the beginning, then Tracy McGrady is the end, and Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva are the cream filling middle in a very stale, but expensive, desert.
Maybe moving Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson is the meal.
What’s obvious is that Joe Dumars has repeatedly dumped this organization down the drain and has answered to nobody for it, piggy-backing on his own work in an NBA that doesn’t exist anymore.
Talk about a team that went from pretty darn good to breathtakingly mediocre in a matter of months, the Charlotte Bobcats are almost dead in the water. After winning nine more games last year than they did in 2009, the Charlotte Bobcats are on pace to have their worst team since 2006 when they went 26-56.
The Bobcats have lost very good low post players in consecutive years, sending Emeka Okafor away for Tyson Chandler, then moving Chandler away last summer for seemingly nothing. The NBA hasn’t been as bone dry at the center position in 20 years than it is now, and the Bobcats have given away two.
And they lost Raymond Felton to free agency last summer to the New York Knicks.
It appears that Michael Jordan is trying to cut his losses and gain his sanity simultaneously. First, he showed fellow North Carolinian and head coach Larry Brown the door. Now, there are murmurs about Gerald Wallace heading to Cleveland to cut salary—and, just to top it off, Stephen Jackson may have caught Mark Cuban’s eye with Caron Butler’s recent knee injury.
If both Wallace and Jackson end up elsewhere, that would leave only Boris Diaw as the remaining starter from last year’s playoff run.
The Bobcats appear to be heading for the lottery. Time to rebuild and to ask a very fair question: Does Jordan know what he is doing?
While this pick is obvious, it is also sad. The Cleveland Cavaliers have been the cream of the crop for teams over the last decade that have built from the ground up and flourished in success. Love him or hate him—maybe that should be reversed these days—LeBron James was Cavs basketball and took the franchise as far as he could.
The Cavaliers record is putrid (8-32), and don’t expect that to change this season, including whether or not they obtain Gerald Wallace from the Charlotte Bobcats before the February 24 deadline.
What’s awful about the Cavaliers record is how they are losing. Over their last three games, they have lost by an average of 35 PPG, including a 55-point loss to the defending champions. Cleveland has also dropped 23 of its last 24 games and 13 straight.
It’s hard to find a ray of hope for this team right now. Yes, they may get rights to the first pick in the draft, but next year’s season is up in the air. The Collective Bargaining Agreement could set this franchise even further back, leaving the richest to be and the bottom feeders to rot.
What the NBA world should be hoping for is that the Cavaliers’ fans continue to support this organization as they have in recent years.