Tuesday, October 14, 2014

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

These are two of the best players from a terrible Sixers team last year. One of them is no longer with the team. He wasn't replaced, either. It's going to be a long year.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

We’re back.

After a long, eventful offseason, the NBA calendar is just about ready to turn over, and that means it’s time to be cynical and take pot-shots at every team in the league. That’s right, it’s the return of Your Team Sucks.

Deadspin perfected the idea for the NFL, last year we adopted it for the NBA, in three parts. Part III of last year’s glass-half-empty preview (with links to Part I and Part II) can be found by clicking this blue underlined thingy. This year’s list runs in reverse order of last year’s standings (with a few exceptions - notably Cleveland and Miami, which we’ve saved for the end), which means we’ll start with the teams that already obviously suck, before working our way up to the teams whose suckitude flies a bit under the radar.

Milwaukee Bucks

So, they went 15-67 last year, fired their coach, and signed Jason Kidd. This is the same Jason Kidd who thought he was too big-time for the Brooklyn Nets after being handed the highest payroll in NBA history and only being able to muster 44 wins out of them. For all we know, Kidd could just be a terrible coach who has no idea how lucky he was.

Milwaukee effectively adds Larry Sanders back into the folds after he missed 59 games last year, and they nabbed Duke’s Jabari Parker with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. But Parker is a rookie and Sanders is a limited offensive player at best. They were dead last in defensive efficiency last year - getting Sanders back will improve that, but not substantially. On the other hand, they were 26th in offensive efficiency, and I don’t see any reason that will improve.

Worst-Case Scenario: Jason Kidd’s well-known curmudgeon-ness doesn’t sit well with a young roster. Sanders continues to goof off, Brandon Knight’s development is stunted as he butts heads with Kidd, Parker just looks around awkwardly, finally realizing that the friendly confines of Duke University are fairly atypical. He grows despondent and requests a trade by mid-December.

Philadelphia 76ers

Holy. Mother. Of. God.

They’re entering the season with Jason Richardson as their highest-paid player. That’s not a joke. Their current payroll projects at just over $35 million, which means they have roughly $27.5 million in cap space. The salary cap has gone up every year for as long as the salary cap has existed, yet Philadelphia is the lowest-payroll team of the last ten years. They don’t even care about winning. In two straight years, their highest pick in the draft has been a player that will not play for them that year. Nerlens Noel missed all of last season, Joel Embiid is projected to miss all of this season. They currently have nine players on the roster with cap hits of under a million dollars. This team re-defines suck. Seriously. Look at this. That’s an NBA roster. Not a D-League roster. Not a Summer League roster. An NBA team is entering the season with *that.*

Worst-Case Scenario: It’s tough to say what Philly’s worst-case scenario actually is. They might lose 70 games, but it seems like that’s what they want. Their worst-case scenario would probably be to go 35-47, but that seems laughably impossible given their roster. In reality, their worst-case scenario is probably that the league’s draft lottery gets a total overhaul mid-season and they’re the only team that votes against the plan.

Orlando Magic

They took Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton with their two first-round draft picks, which gives them two more players who absolutely cannot shoot to add to a roster that already finished in the bottom third of the league in three-point shooting last season. Oh, and their best three-point shooter? Arron Afflalo? They traded him to Denver. Their offensive spacing is going to be an absolute nightmare, and their defense won’t be much better with a roster littered with inexperienced players. The elder statesmen of the team are Luke Ridnour and Channing Frye, but Frye is expected to miss some time with a sprained MCL. Teams with no veterans who can’t shoot or consistently create offense usually aren’t very good.

Worst-Case Scenario: Gordon, Payton, and last year’s top pick Victor Oladipo engage in a shooting contest after practice to work on their form. They miss so badly that the balls ricochet back and knock each other out. All three miss two months with concussion-like symptoms.

Boston Celtics

With Rajon Rondo returning from his ACL injury, and with Boston adding Marcus Smart and James Young in the draft, and with the Celtics acquiring Tyler Zeller and Marcus Thornton for pennies on the dollar in a July trade that helped Cleveland open up cap space for LeBron, you would think things are looking up in Beantown. But they aren’t. This team sucks.

Rondo can’t shoot. Smart can’t shoot. Young is projected as a top-flight shooter, but shot under 35 percent from three last year in college. Evan Turner is prominently involved, and might even start at shooting guard. Gerald Wallace is still on the roster, as are Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, a frontcourt combo that combined to shoot 618-for-1401 from the floor last year, which bears out to 44.1 percent.

Worst-Case Scenario:
Rajon Rondo re-injures his knee. Marcus Smart takes over at point guard, where he’s hopelessly unprepared. Looking for an offensive punch, Evan Turner is given free reign of the offense, and Boston finishes 31st out of 30 teams in offensive efficiency.

Utah Jazz

They’re rolling back the same exact team from last year. The only changes are that they ditched Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams and added Trevor Booker and Steve Novak. Yahoo.

They drafted Dante Exum and Rodney Hood, but both of those guys are going to have to fight for minutes with Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, and Trey Burke - all former first-round picks, all under the age of 23, and all potentially seen as franchise building blocks. On top of that, they’re being coached by Quin Snyder, a rookie himself, who has bounced around so much over the last ten years (University of Missouri, Austin Toros of the D-League, 76ers’ Player Development, LA Lakers’ assistant, CSKA Moscow assistant, Hawks’ assistant) that it makes you wonder if he’s just a huge jerk that wears out his welcome everywhere he goes. That will probably go over great with a young roster.

Worst-Case Scenario: Snyder is unprepared to be an NBA head coach, Exum, Burks, Burke, Hayward, and Hood squabble over minutes. With the perimeter play such a mess, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter regress, and the Jazz lose 60 games.

Los Angeles Lakers

The only argument for the Lakers not sucking this year is that Kobe Bryant, inexplicably, at the age of 36, following two major injuries in the last 18 months, returns to All-NBA form and the Lakers scrap their way to a playoff berth.

Even if that were conceivable (which it isn’t), the rest of the Lakers’ roster makes that impossible. The Carlos Boozer/Jordan Hill frontcourt combo is one of the worst defensive pairings in basketball, and it isn’t helped by the backcourt of Jeremy Lin, Steve Nash, Nick Young, a washed-up Kobe Bryant, and Wayne Ellington. The defense could set NBA records for futility. Furthermore, they have Byron Scott at the helm, who went 64-166 in three years as the skipper in Cleveland with similar talent in a worse conference. And that was after getting run out of town in New Orleans. And he was hired at the end of July, meaning that he wasn’t around for input when the team made their offseason acquisitions of Boozer and Lin. So basically he’s coaching a team that he had no voice in assembling. That always goes well.

Worst-Case Scenario: Kobe and Nash collide on opening night and miss the entire season. Carlos Boozer and Nick Young become the faces of the team, squashing uprisings from Julius Randle (the rookie in over his head) and Jeremy Lin (the outsider that is seen as a threat to Kobe’s legacy). The Lakers lose 55 games again and begin the search for a new coach for the fourth time in as many years.

Sacramento Kings

They’ve made eight straight lottery picks and they still suck. They had a choice between Isaiah Thomas for about $7 million or Darren Collison for about $5 million and they went with Collison despite a complete lack of evidence to support that decision as an efficient allocation of resources. Also, they still have Rudy Gay.

Worst-Case Scenario: The team sucks so much that in an unprecedented swing, the fans decide that they don’t want the team anymore and they request the team be moved elsewhere.

Detroit Pistons

It’s always nice when you lose 50 games, don’t have a first-round pick because you traded it in a salary dump years ago, one of the centerpieces of your franchise eschews a long-term deal in order to become a free agent next summer, your highest-paid player is coming off a season in which he didn’t seem to care whether the team won or lost, and you hired a new guy to run your front office and coach your team and his first move is to give $19 million to Jodie Meeks.

Worst-Case Scenario: Stan Van Gundy can’t find any of the success he had in Orlando because he quickly discovers that nobody on his roster can actually shoot and Andre Drummond, while enormous and explosively athletic, lacks all the nuanced knowledge that made Dwight Howard a three-time Defensive Player of The Year. Stylistically, the Pistons look like the Magic of yesteryear, but they lack execution and miss the playoffs again.

New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis seems poised to be a breakout star, but with the rest of the roster in various states of decay, it probably won’t matter. Eric Gordon missed 18 games last year. Jrue Holiday missed 48. Ryan Anderson missed 60. All appear to be healthy entering the season, but it seems only a matter of time before one of them gets hurt again and John Salmons is thrust into the starting lineup. Depth was their biggest issue last year, as any injury sent their entire roster into full-blown panic mode. They solved this in the draft by, oh, wait, whoops, they didn’t have a first-round draft pick. Nevermind.

Worst-Case Scenario: Anthony Davis’ freakish limbs become a liability when he falls awkwardly and crumbles like a poorly-designed-and-assembled Ikea desk under too much weight. Ryan Anderson’s defensive deficiencies are on full display for a full season, and perimeter creativity lacks panache without Davis as a pick-and-roll partner.

Denver Nuggets

They won 57 games in 2013 on the strength of their depth and defensive flexibility, so naturally they ditched the three players that offered them that (Andre Iguodala, Corey Brewer, Kosta Koufos) and signed Randy Foye, J.J. Hickson, and other riff-raff that didn’t work out. They dropped 21 games in a year. So they traded to get Arron Afflalo, drafted Gary Harris, and will hope to have Danilo Gallinari back to give them that flexibility again.

Not that it matters. When Randy Foye and Nate Robinson are still prominently involved in your backcourt rotation, and J.J. Hickson is still prominently involved in your frontcourt rotation, and your coach is still Brian Shaw, “defensive flexibility” is not going to be part of your lexicon.

Worst-Case Scenario: Robinson-Foye-Afflalo-Hickson-McGee becomes a featured second unit for the Nuggets and the five-some surrenders 261 points per 100 possessions. Danilo Gallinari hates playing with this team so much that he intentionally tears his ACL again. Ty Lawson silently weeps in the corner.

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