Predicting the Most Disappointing NBA Teams This Season
As we near the 2019-20 NBA season, which begins Oct. 22 when the New Orleans Pelicans take on the defending champion Toronto Raptors, nearly every team is sending out handwritten invitations to what promises to be a bumpy bandwagon joyride.
Some fanbases will RSVP and witness the Cinderella-like rise of potential upstarts like the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. Others will respond to teams that sit comfortably above these beleaguered franchises and have their eyes set on the prized Larry O'Brien Trophy.
But which organizations will flop, leaving their fanbases in dismay after they fail to live up to such lofty offseason expectations?
Here are five franchises destined to disappoint in the upcoming season.
After losing two-time All-NBA point guard and six-time All-Star Kyrie Irving in free agency, the Boston Celtics rebounded nicely by adding one-time All-NBA point guard and three-time All-Star Kemba Walker.
Chemistry may play a pivotal role in the continued development of the C's. And after shedding a malcontent or two, the group's bond may have been further forged during the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Despite the United States' collapse, the Celtics may well get off to a fast start if the time spent together by the "core four" of Walker, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown leads to a seamless transition into the regular season.
But what about the loss of Al Horford? The five-time All-Star was so much more than just a vocal and physical leader. His actions, versatility and defensive acumen steered much of the Celtics' success. Losing Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris further depleted a frontcourt now maintained by Enes Kanter, Daniel Theis, Grant Williams, Robert Williams III and Semi Ojeleye.
The C's will likely force Gordon Hayward to the power forward position, where he logged just 13 percent of his minutes in 2018-19, per Cleaning the Glass. They may even need to play Marcus Smart and Tatum at the 4 for extensive minutes.
The fit in Boston is clunky.
As currently constructed, the Celtics will fall short of any expectations that involve hosting a first-round series (barring a shrewd score at the trade deadline). At least they'll still find their way into the postseason in the shorthanded Eastern Conference before being dismissed in the first round.
Disguise and downplay it all you like, but Nets fans are crossing their fingers that Kevin Durant will return this season. Should he make a full recovery and return from his Achilles rupture in 2019-20, the added firepower would almost assuredly put the Nets in serious contention for a championship.
But let's not kid ourselves. Even when he does return, there is no guarantee Durant will ever be the same player again
Take former teammate DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Jennings, Chauncey Billups, Kobe Bryant, Wesley Matthews and Rudy Gay. Each of those players returned to NBA action after an Achilles injury, and each player was never quite the same.
Plus, general manager Sean Marks has already put a halt to any conjecture that Durant will return and spark title contention this year. As he said, per Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press, "With Kevin, I think what we're going to say is the expectations are that he'll be out for the year.
Durant is one of the most talented and intimidating scorers of our generation, if not all time. There hasn't been a player with his sheer size, shooting and playmaking skill coupled with defensive versatility and rim protection. Losing such a player to injury was a devastating blow to the NBA, and one can only imagine what the player himself experiences in such circumstances.
Even if Durant does defy the timetables and return in 2019-20, it's difficult to see him doing so as the surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer we have grown to know and appreciate during his 12-year career.
Without Durant, the Nets will seek to challenge the Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and Miami Heat for home-court advantage in the first round behind the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors. Like the Celtics, they will manage to earn a position in the playoffs before a first-round dismissal ends their season earlier than expected.
Los Angeles Clippers
It's championship or bust for both teams in Los Angeles, and the Clippers have their work cut out for them.
With just two guaranteed seasons on the contracts of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, they need to begin earning goodwill as soon as they can. While the allure of playing in Los Angeles may be enough to hold George, who grew up in the area, panic could ensue should they fall short of expectations.
Though the Clippers carry a wealth of talent—MVP-caliber players like Leonard and George in addition to a solid supporting cast—health and a horrifying Western Conference will decelerate their championship hopes.
Leonard played in just 60 contests during the 2018-19 season, which was enough for the Toronto Raptors to win 58 games in a weak Eastern Conference. How many games can the Clippers win should he take the load-management approach once again? Would it be enough to earn home-court advantage through the first two rounds?
For those who may anticipate Leonard pushing himself harder this season, examine the relatively significant and visible limp he played through en route to his second championship.
The other MVP candidate has his own share of health concerns after undergoing surgery on both a torn labrum in his left shoulder and a torn tendon in his right. ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported George is targeting a November return after sitting out the preseason and all of October.
When he's back on the floor, will he resemble the MVP-caliber player who shot 45.3 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from three-point range before the All-Star break or the worn-down contributor who shot 40.0 percent and 33.6 percent after it?
Both players should be fully healthy and ready to go the distance by the postseason. Regardless of their seeding, they should have enough to challenge in the West but will ultimately fall short to established contenders such as the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and quickly ascending Denver Nuggets.
A disappointing finish could put both George and Leonard on trade watch as they head into the final seasons of their brief contracts.
Los Angeles Lakers
Like their crosstown neighbors, the Lakers have a tremendous amount of pressure on them. With Anthony Davis likely to test the free-agent market in 2020, they must win a championship and win it now.
They will not.
Inspired by criticism stemming from the end of his time in New Orleans, Davis should and likely will put together a spectacular season. He and James will have every opportunity to earn places on the All-NBA first or second team.
However, compared to those of their foremost competitors in the Western Conference, the Lakers are devoid of supporting talent throughout the roster. They will not have enough to overcome the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets.
In addition to claiming the league's third-oldest roster, the Lakers find themselves thin at multiple positions and have question marks at others.
They've pinned their hopes in another stellar plus-minus season from three-and-D standout Danny Green, who will turn 33 in June. They've likewise put faith in fallen star Dwight Howard (34 in December), health concern Avery Bradley (29 in November), Rajon Rondo (34 in February) and Jared Dudley (35 in July).
Meanwhile, Kyle Kuzma is out indefinitely with a stress reaction in his left foot.
Should the squad have any chance of toppling the West, Kuzma will need to ascend and become the group's third banana. Offensively, he has the potential to do so. The Lakers were 4.3 points per 100 possessions better on that end with Kuzma in 2018-19.
But can a defensive frontcourt of Kuzma, James and Davis mesh in clutch minutes against the West's best? Can Dudley hold down the fort in Kuzma's absence?
With little to no cap space or picks other than a $1.75 million disabled player exception, the Lakers have no means of adding additional talent. The most they can hope for is a veteran addition on a minimum or near-minimum contract. For example, buyout candidate Andre Iguodala could become a significant reinforcement.
However, the Memphis Grizzlies would be wise to wait until Dec. 15 before making any decisions about Iguodala's future, as that's when free agents signed this offseason become eligible for trades. They could then seek to recoup something for the 2015 Finals MVP. Why would they buy him out for nothing?
The Lakers have a star-heavy group capable of going deep in the playoffs. But they will need a lot of luck to surpass teams in the West that are deeper, younger and bereft of the drama and expectations that will follow them all season.
San Antonio Spurs
It seems silly to question a team that has reached the playoffs in 29 of the previous 30 seasons, but here we go.
The Spurs will finally, after 22 straight seasons in them, miss the NBA playoffs.
They've positioned themselves to contend for a postseason spot with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge as the foundations for their success. They've got plenty of backcourt depth as Dejounte Murray returns from a torn ACL to join Derrick White, Patty Mills, Bryn Forbes, Marco Belinelli and Lonnie Walker IV. Shrewd contracts signed by Rudy Gay, DeMarre Carroll and Trey Lyles will only help the cause.
But it won't be enough.
The defense is problematic after it finished just 19th in defensive rating during 2018-19—the first time it hadn't placed third or better since 2011-12. The Spurs were 19th in opponents' effective field-goal percentage and 20th in opponents' three-point percentage, per TeamRankings.com.
San Antonio already took fewer three-point attempts than the rest of the league, and it lost Davis Bertans, who finished seventh in three-point percentage among all 2018-19 players who took at least two attempts per game, in a trade with the Washington Wizards.
The Spurs haven't won fewer than 47 games this millennium, but they will do so in 2019-20 while squaring off with a wide variety of talented and ascending teams in the Western Conference.
The Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans will all finish ahead in the standings, effectively ending one of the great runs in modern NBA history.