NBA Fanbases Feeling Triggered by Their Team's Offseason
Follow an NBA team long enough, and you get tuned into its rhythms. You see parallels between past moves and present ones.
For some teams' fanbases, this is a painful experience.
Any questionable move by a team with a history of mistakes can induce anxiety, flashbacks, panic and eventually resignation to a "here we go again" fatalism.
Team identities and the fan sentiment attached to them can change. Just look at the Golden State Warriors before and after owner Joe Lacob took over. He helped morph one of the league's saddest operations into a dynasty that now gets every little thing right.
Even the identities that persist for years occupy a spectrum. On the positive side, you have the Los Angeles Lakers' exceptionalism, which breeds blustery optimism at all times. On the negative, there's the doom and gloom that blankets fans of the Sacramento Kings, who've seen gaffes of all sorts during a dozen-year playoff drought.
The real triggering effect happens when teams with a history of a certain kind of misstep—poor drafting, dubious roster-building, insufficient concern for locker room chemistry—make offseason moves that feel ominously familiar.
The following teams put together offseasons that inspire a deflating sense of deja vu.
A reach for Marvin Bagley III at No. 2 overall got the offseason started, creating an immediate groundswell of KAAAAANGZ! cries.
Only Sacramento would reach for a high-scoring prospect whose lack of shooting range and limited defensive acumen made his long-term fit immediately difficult to understand. If Bagley becomes the absolute best version of himself, based on his current tools, he's...Michael Beasley? Amar'e Stoudemire?
That won't cut it in today's switch-heavy, three-obsessed NBA. Big men have to assume more defensive responsibilities than ever in modern schemes, and they have to spread the floor. As of now, Bagley meets neither requirement.
Bagley may develop in unexpected ways, ultimately turning the current anxiety into a false alarm. But this is about how fanbases are feeling right now, and you'd better believe Kings supporters are uneasy—if only because Sacramento passed on Luka Doncic (as well as the opportunity to possibly trade him for Bagley and a future first-rounder).
Throw in the Kings' failure to take on bad money with draft assets attached and an upcoming season in which they don't own their first-round pick (it will go to either Boston or Philadelphia), and you have a buffet of bummers for Sacramento loyalists to choke down.
For years, the Kings have swung boldly when discretion was necessary and generally acted impatiently in their rebuilding efforts. This summer's work was par for the course.
Remember when Marcin Gortat tweeted about a great "team" victory with John Wall sidelined last year? Remember when Wall's response was to throw shade at his teammate in an ESPN interview, claiming Gortat wasn't in a position to talk because the big man got so many "spoon-fed" baskets from Wall?
What about before that in 2016, when tension bubbled up between Wall and Bradley Beal when the former said the pair has a "tendency to dislike each other on the court" in an interview with CSN Washington?
And now Dwight Howard is on this team, along with the notoriously prickly Markieff Morris and unabashedly overconfident Austin Rivers?
Long combustible by nature, Washington is dumping jet fuel on the fire.
Howard has rubbed teammates (and executives and coaches and popcorn vendors, probably) the wrong way at every stop of his career. Sensitive, decidedly unserious and somehow still deeply lacking in self-awareness, Howard is headed into a charged situation.
The wrong fart, cut near the wrong teammate, could set off a bomb.
It might not even take familiarity with Washington's recent history to see trouble coming, though fans of the team must be feeling especially leery. The potential for friction is obvious enough for everyone to appreciate.
Minnesota Timberwolves fans ditched a lot of baggage last year when the team made the playoffs for the first time since 2004, but that doesn't mean they're now anxiety-free.
Unrelentingly committed to veterans (and dismissive of young role players), coach and team president Tom Thibodeau's rotations are short, his minute demands are high and opportunities for player development are sparse. So while draftees Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop profile as useful three-and-D weapons, it's difficult to imagine Thibodeau giving either significant minutes, even on a team starved for wing depth.
The addition of Anthony Tolliver looks fine on the surface since the veteran forward can stroke it from three and has a reputation as a valuable locker room presence. But he doesn't fill the T-Wolves' needs on the wing, and his signing triggered the hard cap.
Thibodeau also brought back Derrick Rose, because of course he did.
The West looks tougher than ever, with LeBron James joining the Lakers and zero sure-fire tanking teams. Another year of wear and tear under Thibs, prefaced by friction between Jimmy Butler and both of the team's best young players, means last year's No. 8 seed has several glaring concerns.
A second postseason trip is far from certain.
If you're a T-Wolves fan, you're still probably more upbeat than you've been in a long time. But it has to be tough to suppress a sense that this team could go south for any number of reasons.
Maybe this unshakable desire to jog on the treadmill of mediocrity is fine for fans of the Charlotte Hornets. If you took a poll outside the Spectrum Center, maybe you'd hear supporters saying, "Oh yes, absolutely! Sign me up for another 38-win season! I love finishing 10th in the East!"
Or maybe not.
The Hornets shuffled the front office (Rich Cho out, Mitch Kupchak in) and swapped head coach Steve Clifford for James Borrego. They also made no meaningful efforts to trim salary or build for the future. As such, your poll would more likely be met with sullen head shakes and resigned sighs.
After overspending on Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in previous offseasons, the Hornets are stuck. Rather than shake up the roster or bottom out, they just keep running it back, which is no fun for anybody.
Things will come to a head when Charlotte resolves the Kemba Walker situation. A free agent after this year, Walker remains the Hornets' only high-value asset. If he walks for nothing, that's bad. If the Hornets re-sign him to a max deal that'll take him into his 30s, that's probably worse.
That they didn't trade Walker last year, when they had more leverage and his value to rival teams would have been greater, says everything about the organization's commitment to short-term thinking. The Hornets just keep kicking the can down the road.
Also, Dwight Howard became Timofey Mozgov became Bismack Biyombo. That's world-class Titanic deck-chair shuffling. It's as familiar as it is sad.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers didn't get younger, didn't add a third star to ease the burden on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum and remain hamstrung by bad deals they can't or won't unload.
A surprising third seed in the West last season, Portland's first-round sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans revealed it wasn't ready for the big time. Despite what should have been a wake-up call, the Blazers didn't substantially change their roster.
GM Neil Olshey let Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton walk for minimum deals, opting to replace them with Seth Curry (fine, but a health risk) and Nik Stauskas (inexplicable). Meanwhile, the roster's most glaring void, forward depth, went unaddressed.
The Blazers still haven't spent their mid-level exception, and you have to think they'd have made a good landing spot for the likes of Luc Mbah a Moute, James Ennis, Treveon Graham or any number of affordable wings. Inaction on that front was just weird.
The unfortunate upshot of all this, in addition to a likely slip in the standings, is that rumbles encouraging the Dame-CJ breakup will intensify. Moving one of the team's two best players seems like the easy fix, and those encouraging a broader teardown will continue to support the idea.
Really, though, the smarter approach would have been putting everyone but Lillard and McCollum on the block (perhaps with picks attached) to find the dynamic backcourt pairing some capable help.
As it is, the Blazers head into this season primed to disappoint because the front office seems committed to the status quo.
Zach Collins, your unlikely star turn has never been more necessary.