Life has seven deadly sins.
NBA basketball has but one: Being stuck in mediocrity.
The side effects are excruciating. Teams are caught languishing in the late lottery slots year after year, stuck trying to make fanbases feel good about early-round exits year after year. Contenders constantly pick at the bones of the mediocre clubs, tearing away the isolated All-Star talents and leaving little in the way of valuable draft picks behind. That is the case with these seven teams stuck in the NBA’s Spin Cycle of Purgatory.
San Antonio Spurs
What? The Spurs? On this list?
Must be a mistake, right? Nope. You’re thinking of the old Spurs, the Legacy Spurs of San Antonio. That’s not these Spurs. No, these are The Leftovers. The one’s left behind. It may be sacrilege to say but it must be said. The Spurs as we knew them are dead.
The San Antonio Spurs missed the NBA Playoffs. Again.
San Antonio had a streak of 22 years of playoff basketball broken last season. Unless they make some drastic moves this offseason, Popovich is looking at a three-year drought come next summer. As the highest-paid coach in the league, that is an unacceptable result. The End of Popovich is near, and that was before the Team USA losses starting piling up. In fact, if Las Vegas set up a betting line the smart money would be on Popovich never winning another NBA Playoff series.
Think about that: No More Playoff Pop.
The Spurs have lost too much while the rest of the league has caught up. The Spurs versus the SuperTeam was a nice narrative for the past two decades and five titles. Those days, and those Spurs, are dead and gone. The league is not as top-heavy anymore, in playing or coaching talent. The Spurs are very young on the court and very old on the coaching bench Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, and Lonnie Walker are a promising young trio but Popovich will likely not be around to see them playing on their second contracts.
Back to betting lines: There is a very good chance Popovich surprises the NBA with a retirement after these Olympics. Not expected but it would not be a surprise. A year into the future, according to a few whispers from trusted sources, I’d lay odds at closer to 30% than 3% that the Spurs have a new head coach after this next season.
The Chicago Bulls mostly stood pat last offseason but at the end of the year, they seem to still be running in place. At least the Bulls can see the end to all of the bad decisions of GarPax Era. That particular corpse had been festering, creating a stench on Madison Avenue that was downright maddening at times. Too much potential was seeming Dying on LaVine. Now Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley are in charge of resurrecting what was once one of the marquee franchises in the NBA. Reading through all the reports and rumors of the offseason, it seems like Chicago is still just throwing ideas on the wall and hoping one sticks.
I mean, trading for Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan? Those are things a team can do, sure. Not sure if they should since it requires such a hit to the cap sheet. Those moves are not enough to convince even the players in that locker room. Lauri Markkanen is just the most vocal, telling a Finnish reporter, “I want a fresh start to my NBA career somewhere else.”
The Bulls might have already messed up their post-GarPax era fresh start. They spent $85 million on an unproven point guard and traded away the 8th pick of the 2021 NBA Draft for Nikola Vučević. Chicago will need more than a cast-off All-Stars, Ball, and Lavine to compete for a top-6 seed next season. They have options in free agency but Chicago is no longer a destination city. In fact, it never was unless Jordan was in uniform.
That’s why the Bulls are left looking at the second tier of free agents. Alex Caruso come on down! The price is right at 4 years, $37 million. Or is it? Caruso looked great next to LeBron but Lavine? Zach Lavine wants to play with Lonzo Ball but will any of those moves really be enough? The team still fills limited, almost stagnant, even after adding Ball.
In the NBA, you either tank to move down to the bottom quick or make moves to push towards the top of the standings. Having a respectable season is fine for a year but locking into some of these moves would doom Chicago to the slow death of early-round exits and late lottery picks pairing with salary cap inflexibility. They’d almost have the same ‘feel’ as the Washington Wizards on the court…when Jordan was an owner. A sideshow spectacle that is hardly relevant after the All-Star break.
The Orlando Magic as an attraction were akin to a discount store magic set next to Disney World. The Orlando Sentinel declared the only good thing about this season was that it was over. Watching these Magic compared to the top tier teams was similar to suffering through your least favorite nephew fumble through an open mic night magician set after seeing David Blaine in Las Vegas.
The Magic lost more games to injuries than any other team. They dealt away Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon, waving the white flag on the season. It was miserable to endure but did lead to a great draft pick. Add in a new coach and you’ve got a clear line of demarcation between eras. It was about time to pull the plug on the old Orlando, those Magic had been on life support for years.
Orlando is hoping Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony can pull off the incredible difficult trick of making the Magic relevant again. Mo Bamba and Wendall Carter Jr. still have to prove their worth. Suggs will have time to grow into the All-Star role waiting for him in three years but will Orlando wait that long? Will any Magic fans still be paying attention to the act? Better injury luck with Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz will give new coach Jamahl Mosley a better chance at putting out a competitive team. If not this whole dream of a new day will go up in smoke.
Are these still the post-LeBron years in Cleveland? It feels like it. I mean, Kevin Love is still in town. The Cavs still have to clear their cap sheet of what remains from their championship season. Past that, The Cleveland Cavaliers have very few picks going forward and even fewer ideas on how to compete.
They don’t owe any lottery picks but they have no extra picks to help speed up the rebuild. Trading away Colin Sexton is the best path to finding a better future, but who’d want to sign up for that rebuilding project as a free agent? Keeping Sexton, Darius Garland, Issac Okoro, and Jarrett Allen together one more year would at least help ease Evan Mobley into the professional life. Mobley has the talent to lead the Cavs back to the playoffs in a few years but until then, what? The fans are still stuck in Cleveland, probably hoping the Browns don’t disappoint yet again. But they are the Browns the same way the Cavs are the Cavs without LeBron. Cleveland remains dreary Cleveland.
Cleveland will be under pressure to hit every draft pick and find a way to fleece a team in a trade to move up in the standings the next three years. Unloading Kevin Love and Larry Nance Jr. will clear space and refresh the roster. The Cavs have already acquired Ricky Rubio and could make a few moves to push for a playoff play-in spot but should they? Sure, paying Sexton would cost a bit too much but he could be moved at the trade deadline. Win-now moves might bring some energy to the team and some fans back to the arena but short-term sacrifices could kill any hopes of sustained success this decade.
Much like Chicago chasing off GarPax, Washington is trying to exorcise the ghosts of Ernie Grunfeld. The Wizards took a chance on Russell Westbrook and were rewarded with a playoff appearance. Yea, that’s not a good thing. Washington was on pace to land a top-5 NBA Draft pick before going 17-6 to end the season as the Eastern Conference’s 8th seed. It was a breath of fresh air but the Philadelphia 76ers suffocated Washington in the first-round series.
The Washington Wizards already shipped off Russell Westbrook, who was supposed to help elevate Bradley Beal in a way John Wall never could. Whether Beal gives the new front office a chance to build around him is immaterial. There is no real path to contention for the Wizards before Beal’s contract is up. He could leave for free next summer, forgoing his Player Option to sign one more big contract before turning 30 years old.
Beal does not have to force his way out. It would be best for everyone to find a suitable trade, though, without an extension with his new team, the swap wouldn’t net the greatest return. Either way, his eventual departure will be the final nail in the coffin on this era of Wizards basketball.
The Sacramento Kings, well, the Kangs got No Clothes. Disagree? Hey! Don’t Fox with Me Buddy!
Sorry. Old Cow Palace habits die hard. Last year’s Kings rolled over easy. De’Aaron Fox got burned out trying to be a leading star but fell short of All-Star status. Buddy Hield flamed out as an elite shooter. The Kings fell short of the playoffs. Nothing much is new. At least Tyrese Haliburton looks like a competent pickup, that is new from the Sacramento draft room.
Maybe this last season was the death of the old Kangz. They’ll be Kings proper with the trade for Tristan Thompson and drafting of Davion Mitchell. Buddy Hield may be gone soon but he will net a helluva return. Tired of the bumbling and fumbling of the bag executives of old, Sacramento really stocked the brigade full of competent mercenaries to get this empire in order. I mean, look at the Woj Bomb that announced the new regime:
New Kings GM Monte McNair is reshaping his front office, hiring former Hawks GM Wes Wilcox as assistant GM, Philadelphia’s Phil Jabour as VP of Player Personnel, and OKC’s Paul Johnson as Director of Basketball Operations, sources tell ESPN.
That’s a cleaning of the house.
Only one problem: Hield is the dollar and the Kings will be getting quarters and nickels back in a trade. Fox is 18 months away from forcing his way to a contender. The rebuild will be around Halliburton, Marvin Bagley, and draft picks to be named later. Then what’s left for Luke Walton to coach as a lame duck?
Same ol’ Kangz.
First, our hearts go out to Karl Anthony-Towns and his family. Their loss through the pandemic has been well documented, he has spoken on it, and just fucking get you shots and wear a mask for compassion’s sake.
KAT has been loyal to Minnesota to a fault. He recruited his friend DeAngelo Russell to town and there was hope in the land-o-lakes of playoff basketball. Then the injuries piled up and the losses mounted. The skeleton crew squads lost 45 of the first 65 games. To bite a rhyme: Life was tough, KAT and DeRuss could only do so much.
This season showed the Death of The Big 3 in Minnesota. Russell, Anthony-Towns, and Anthony Edwards just does not work as a unit. That Big 3 plus any other two lineup was outscored by 9.3 points per 100 possessions, making it one of Minnesota’s worst. Russell had to get bumped to running the second squad before the T-Wolves starting winning games at the end of the season.
Minnesota looks like they’ll run it back for the most part. Russell and Malik Beasley could be a decent backcourt. Edwards on the wing and KAT doing KAT takes care of most issues on the wings and low block. They just need a competent four to fill out what seems to be a playoff starting five. They’ve already traded Ricky Rubio away for Taurean Prince to help strengthen the reserve rotation.