Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Your NBA Team Sucks - A Glass-Half-Empty Season Preivew (Part I)

Hey. Charlotte Bobcats. You Suck.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

Welcome to the first edition of "Your NBA Team Sucks." Deadspin has done an NFL version, but we've gone ahead and borrowed the idea for the NBA. We aren't going as in-depth as Deadspin does with their NFL series - ours is broken into three parts, outlining 10 teams each. And, in the interest of fairness and positivity, we're going to follow it up with another three-part series "Your NBA Team Is Awesome" once this is finished.

The list runs in reverse order of last year's standings, so Part I will cover Orlando through Portland, Part II will cover Philadelphia through Golden State, and Part III will cover Brooklyn through Miami. Let's get started.

Orlando Magic

They won 20 games last year, the fewest in the league. They got the No. 2 pick in the draft and used it on Victor Oladipo, a shooting guard with limited ball handling and passing skills. Naturally, he’s going to start at point guard.

Just about the entire roster is playing out of position – neither Moe Harkless nor Tobias Harris are natural small forwards – they’re both better suited as small-ball power forwards, but they can’t both do it at the same time. Nikola Vucevic was seen as the key piece in return for Dwight Howard, but even Howard playing through a nagging back injury still grossly out-played him.

Also, they’re paying $35.8 million combined to Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis, Al Harrington, Quentin Richardson, and Jason Maxiell. All of those guys suck. Some aren’t even on the roster anymore.

Worst-Case Scenario: Harkless and Harris never gel together, Oladipo being forced into a square hole at point guard damages him irrevocably, Arron Afflalo continues to regress defensively, Jacque Vaughn's clothes go out of style, Orlando wins 14 games. 

Charlotte Bobcats

They’re less than 18 months removed from the lowest winning percentage in NBA history. In order to remedy this suckitude, they signed Al Jefferson, a big man who can’t defend or stretch the floor, for $41 million for three years. Last year, Jefferson played on a .500 team and that .500 team was nearly 10 points better per 100 possessions when he wasn’t in the game.

Bismack Biyombo, their top pick in the 2011 draft, has played two full seasons and doesn’t seem to be able to catch a basketball thrown to him. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, their top pick in the 2012 draft, needs to be licensed for a deadly weapon in order to attempt a jump shot, as so many of his shots last year careened off the side of the backboard and killed spectators. Cody Zeller, their top pick in the 2013 draft, was booed at the team’s draft party. Michael Jordan, the team’s owner, seems convinced he can still play in the NBA and is the type of narcissist that would actually attempt a comeback.

Worst-Case Scenario: Cody Zeller is just another white stiff and his prowess running the floor becomes totally negated by his inability to finish around the basket. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist still can't shoot, Bismack Biyombo still can't catch the ball, Michael Jordan attempts a comeback and plays well enough (by his standards) that he insists on coming off the bench for 16 minutes every night. Kemba Walker becomes discouraged and evolves into this generation's Stephon Marbury. 

Cleveland Cavaliers

The three lynchpins of the team (Kyrie Irving, Andrew Bynum, Anderson Varejao) have combined to miss 220 games over the last two seasons. They had the No. 4 overall pick in consecutive drafts and each time took a clearly inferior player to a selection shortly thereafter (Tristan Thompson followed by Jonas Valanciunas; Dion Waiters followed by Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, and Andre Drummond). That bodes well for their No. 1 overall pick from the 2013 draft, Anthony Bennett, who was projected by nobody as the top overall pick.

They hired Mike Brown to coach the team, the same Mike Brown they fired three years ago. Also the same Mike Brown that was fired five games into last season by the Lakers. There is no precedent of a coach being fired by two teams in three years, returning to the team that fired him the first time, and producing an NBA Championship. It’s never happened.

Worst-Case Scenario: Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum bump knees on opening night and both are lost for the season. Dion Waiters is thrust into a prominent role and we learn he's nothing more than J.R. Smith with worse shot selection. Tristan Thompson continues to be a dominant force on the offensive glass, but only because he can't make a shot at the basket and pads his stats by constantly rebounding his own misses. Anderson Varejao retires from the NBA and joins the cast of a live-action Simpsons theater troupe, playing Sideshow Bob and Disco Stu.

Phoenix Suns

The team won only 25 games last season and somehow enters the following season with less talent than they had before. Three of their top four scorers from last season have since left town, one of them traded to Indiana for two bench players who couldn’t get minutes on one of the worst bench units in the league. They also traded their most valuable trade asset (Jared Dudley) to the Clippers in exchange for a prospect (Eric Bledsoe) who shares a position with (supposedly) their best player and (supposedly) the centerpiece of their franchise (Goran Dragic).

Also, they have a rookie coach.

Worst-Case Scenario: Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe clash, each inhibiting the other's development. Jeff Hornacek can't tell Marcus and Markieff Morris apart, which causes a rift in the locker room surrounding the two twins, who are tired of being compared to each other. Gerald Green and Shannon Brown try to turn every practice into a dunk contest, eventually landing on Alex Len and fracturing his foot again.

New Orleans Pelicans

After making a huge splash on draft night and in free agency, the Pelicans now have five legitimate starting-caliber NBA players… and one of the worst benches in recent NBA history. Al-Farouq Aminu (who was declined a team option three years into a rookie contract) and Austin Rivers (had arguably the worst all-around season in NBA history last year) are the two centerpieces of the second unit. Anthony Morrow (traded or waived three times in the last two years) is also prominently involved.

New owner Tom Benson purchased the team and promptly demanded the team be a contender as soon as possible, in the process ignoring things like future draft picks and cap flexibility, a move that has almost zero track record for success in professional sports.

Worst-Case Scenario: Anthony Davis continues to struggle with the intricacies of NBA defense, which results in New Orleans' starting unit only producing slightly positive results. Those slight positives in the starting lineup combined with the overwhelming negatives of the bench send the Pelicans tumbling towards the basement of the Western Conference.

Sacramento Kings

When you have a big man who is a former top pick and is a productive offensive player, but has shown absolutely zero ability to either (a) play anything that could even be remotely identified as NBA defense, or (b) act like an adult, obviously the best decision for the future of the franchise is to offer him the most expensive contract extension allowable under league rules.

And when the team is littered with guards and forwards who seem to have no redeemable qualities as basketball players other than scoring in bunches, obviously the best way to spend a lottery pick is on an athletic guard whose skill set outside of scoring the basketball is just about non-existent.

Worst-Case Scenario: In an effort to shoe-horn all of their young pieces into the starting lineup, Ben McLemore is assigned to play point guard. The embarrassing defense doesn't improve, and McLemore's inept point guard play submarines the offense as well. DeMarcus Cousins fakes an injury as soon as his contract extension kicks in, then retires to pursue a music career.

Detroit Pistons

When Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond are all on the floor together, the Pistons will have four offensive players who don’t need to be guarded outside of 10 feet. Detroit’s base offense will be Brandon Jennings dribbling around the perimeter for 16 seconds and then haphazardly throwing the ball off someone’s face.

And it’s not like the team is going to have an elite defense to mask their embarrassing spacing on offense. Their backcourt is Jennings (train wreck) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (a rookie), and their big men are Monroe and Drummond, neither of whom understand NBA defense yet (and may never). Other than acquiring names, the Pistons haven’t really done anything to improve the team.

Worst-Case Scenario: Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey become embattled in such a feud over who will be allowed to take more ill-advised shots that they actually start a fist-fight. Assistant Coach Rasheed Wallace becomes so overcome with emotion that he knocks out every player on the roster and has to come out of retirement to play while the team recovers from subsequent injuries. Andre Drummond and Jennette McCurdy get back together, but break up again shortly thereafter, sending Drummond into a tailspin he never fully recovers from. 

Washington Wizards

Let’s not forget that this is the same team that started last season 4-28. Let’s also not forget that they’re coached by a guy who has never won more than 39% of his games in a season (and has a career winning percentage of .336). While we’re at it, let’s remind ourselves that the only respectable part of this team last year was their defense and their best defensive big man (Emeka Okafor) is out “indefinitely” with a neck injury. Even with John Wall in the lineup their offense was painfully bad last season. If Okafor is out, their defense could be just as bad.

Worst-Case Scenario: Emeka Okafor can't get healthy, and the Wizards' defense never returns to 2013 form. Management places an emphasis on the development of Jan Vesely and force the coaches to play him major minutes. One of Vesely's shot attempts rebounds off the backboard with such violence that it hits John Wall in the head and gives him a concussion, benching him for the season. Washington loses 60 games.

Minnesota Timberwolves

There is no reality in which the Timberwolves will have an above-average defense this season. Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic are both decidedly minus defensive players. Kevin Martin may in fact be the worst defensive player in the league (and is a serious contender for worst defensive player ever). Unless you think that Ricky Rubio and Alexy Shved can anchor an NBA defense, there isn’t much to speak of.

It also has to be mentioned that Kevin Love has missed 106 games in the last four seasons, 64 of them coming last year. Pekovic missed 20 last year and 19 the year before. Chase Budinger is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Ricky Rubio tore his ACL 19 months ago. Kevin Martin might as well be made of Papier-mâché. The only guys on the roster that have been consistently healthy in their careers are Derrick Williams… and that’s it. That’s the whole list.

Worst-Case Scenario: Kevin Love once again struggles with injuries, frustrating Nikola Pekovic to the point that he assaults Minnesota's training staff. The resulting investigation and trial produce the biggest controversy in Minnesota sports since the Kevin McHale/Joe Smith salary cap-tampering scandal. A season that began with postseason hopes once again ends with under 30 wins.

Portland Trail Blazers

Speaking of injuries, No. 10 pick C.J. McCollum already has a broken foot. He broke the same foot he did as a senior in college, which forced him to miss most of the season. The timetable for his return has not been set. I wouldn’t be too worried though, it’s not like Portland’s former lottery picks have scary histories of lower-body injuries or anything. I’m sure McCollum will shake it off in no time and have a prosperous career.

Until he does though, the Blazers still have a horrific bench. Thomas Robinson seems promising until you realize he’s been traded twice in the year since he’s been drafted, hasn’t played well in any of his stops, and that’s probably not a coincidence. Robin Lopez is a slight upgrade over J.J. Hickson, which is kind of like being slightly taller than Peter Dinklage. Mo Williams misses 30 games a year even when he’s not playing for Portland (so it will probably be 60 this year), and Meyers Leonard, well, kind of sucks.

Worst-Case Scenario: Damian Lillard, already 23 years old, fails to develop quickly enough to get Portland into the postseason. LaMarcus Aldridge demands a trade mid-season and Luke Babbitt takes over his starting role. C.J. McCollum's foot never heals properly, he signs with the Clippers, sending the Portland franchise on a downward trajectory for the next several years. Eventually he signs with the Celtics and plays 6th man for one of the greatest teams in NBA history.

Coming Tomorrow: Part II

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