Fans of most NBA teams can at least appreciate the upward trajectory of their favorite young players.
Hawk fans have the Trae Young. Pelican supporters have Brandon Ingram (and soon Zion Williamson). Grizzlies supporters include Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
But some franchises have given their fans almost nothing to cling to in the midst of their futility. The Magicians, Cavaliers and Knicks, for example, are not only bad guys now, but they might be bad guys for a while. While these teams remain a ping pong ball from securing a dynamically transformative option no. 1, the complex web of their deficiencies makes it difficult to accumulate faith in their future.
Here’s a mid-season look at the challenges facing three of the NBA’s most depressed teams:
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Cleveland Cavaliers (10-26)
So often with constantly bad groups, culture stands out as an obstacle to progress. Cleveland may have the most toxic culture in the NBA. From anonymous children’s trash to veterans to anonymous trash to new coach John Beilein to explosions between players and general manager Koby Altman, there are few things to take comfort in the last two years.
The Cavaliers will get worse before they improve. Kevin Love could negotiate a mid-season deal, and Tristan Thompson is ready to hit free agency. Trusted scorer Jordan Clarkson has already been sent to Utah.
When the eventual holders of the team title leave, the role left behind will probably try to avoid the last place in the East. Second-year guard Collin Sexton has disappointed his teammates with his style of play. Rookie guard Darius Garland is 6-1 lower and is shooting 40.3% from the field. Rookie forward Kevin Porter Jr. made positive strides in December but suffered a knee injury Sunday and was unable to leave the field without help.
The Cleveland core will either stick under the Beilein watch from the new one in the NBA or undergo a coaching change at a central development stage. Neither option inspires hope right now. So unless Altman gets a game-changing swap comeback for LOVE AND hits the lottery jackpot, don’t expect the Cavaliers to come back anytime soon.
Washington Wizards (11-24)
The years of front-office mismanagement have predicted Washington from the perennial Eastern Conference playoff participant in a team that should probably get the best draft pick. The Wizards have a worst 116.2 defensive rating this season and allow over 120 points per game. Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre, capable of complementary pieces capable of defending multiple positions, negotiated last year for a group of players who are no longer with the organization. John Wall, who signed a long-term contract, has not played since December 2018 after suffering a serious injury from Achilles. Davis Bertans, Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura have also been neglected.
This remained Bradley Bill as the overrated shepherd of a substrate – an unfair burden for a talent of all the stars that comes to his top. He averages 27.8 points per game with a usage rate of 32.2%. Others need to accelerate.
Of today’s Wizards outside of Beal, only Bryant and Bertans have consistently looked like they belong in an NBA starting lineup. Both are now injured. The same is true of Rui Hachimura, who in his brief pre-career has not shown enough touch behind the arc to be effective (though he has time to improve there). Maybe Troy Brown Jr. is a player who can stick. Maybe Moritz Wagner is a player who can hang around. But the sum of the parts is not enough or promising.
Washington’s dismissal of longtime President Ernie Grunfield last April was a necessary step towards restoring the barren roster. Still, the Magi appear to be at the beginning of a major rebuilding cycle that could take at least three years and possibly involve an unpopular Beal trade.
New York Wins (10-26)
New decade, same Knicks.
Since launching in free agency, New York has built a roster to succeed in 1980, not 2020. Except for Marcus Morris, the team has virtually no threat perimeter. He is last in free throw percentage (68.8), 28th in goal percentage (43.2) and 23rd in 3-point shooting (34.5). His trio of point guards (Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina and Elfrid Payton) shoot a combined 30.3 percent from behind the arc.
Second-year center Mitchell Robinson, 21, seems to be a strong piece to build around. So far, RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox have not. Without a permanent coach to provide leadership or a respected owner to improve the organization’s long-term outlook, things are bleak at Madison Square Garden.
But hey, maybe next year will finally be the one the Knicks can persuade another star to come to New York.