Management at the NBA level has been remarkably good for the last few years, but there are still teams who set a new standard for dysfunction and depression.
Every year in the NBA, there are awful teams that seem to stay around the bottom of their conferences for a few years before gradually moving up the pecking order. But amidst those teams, are ones that for whatever reason, can’t begin their ascension and are stuck in a state of desolation. Let’s rank them.
#5. Miami Heat
Best under-25 player: Justise Winslow
Core problems: Terrible cap management, slightly below average talent, unclear vision
Antidote for 2018: Get rid of some of the terrible contracts
This take sounds ridiculous right now. Coming off of a 30-11 run to finish last year, the Miami Heat seem destined to work their way into the bottom of the Eastern playoffs after retaining all of their core players from that run. But that’s where things get really dicey for the Heat.
Last year they relied on a ragtag group of later prime players and former lottery picks to conveniently make massive improvements in their games in contract years.
Then Pat Riley decided to break the bank on a team that didn’t make the playoffs nor had any track record that these improvements were legitimate. Take James Johnson for example, a 30-year-old player who made a massive leap to become the Heats Swiss Army knife, conveniently in a contract year and was rewarded with a hefty contract.
Maybe those improvements are legitimate, and he can be the same player he was last year but that possibility doesn’t seem high enough to warrant the $50 million gamble the Heat took on him.
That contract is symbolic of the core issues with this team. Even in a depleted East, the Heat might have just invested an immense amount of money on a team that could quite feasibly miss the playoffs. They’re essentially a more volatile and unpredictable version of the Trail Blazers.
#4. Indiana Pacers
Best under-25 player: Myles Turner
Core problems: No real vision for the future, unwillingness to tank, lack of youth talent
Antidote for 2018: Myles Turner rivals the usage of Russ last year
Let’s take a look at some of the Pacers’ offseason moves for one second:
- Traded Paul George to OKC for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis
- Gave money to Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, and Cory Joseph
- Drafted T.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbogu
As you move down this list, the moves don’t seem like they were made by a team that barely made the playoffs in 2016. The Paul George trade should have signaled an impending rebuild focused around youth and the draft.
But instead of the more logical move of tanking, Kevin Pritchard turned around and acquired guys who aren’t good enough to drag the team from the pit of despair but aren’t bad enough to cost them any wins.
Bogdanovic, Collison, and Joseph may not be game changing talents, but they are still valuable NBA players who can contribute to wins. As crazy as it sounds, those aren’t the guys the Pacers should be filling their roster out with.
The team should be filled out with young talent and guys who can grow around Myles Turner, not older vets who’ve hit their peak.
For years the Pacers have ran on the treadmill of mediocrity, and their unwillingness to get off of it should strike fear into the heart of Pacers fans everywhere.
#3. Atlanta Hawks
Best under-25 player: Dennis Schröder
Core problems: No core building blocks, no clear vision for the future, no real assets
Antidote for 2018: Fire everyone
Someone needs to introduce the Hawks to Sam Hinkie. They have been stuck in NBA purgatory since the early 2000s, not quite good enough to be real contenders, but not quite bad enough to get any blue chip talent through the draft. They are easily one of the most prideful teams in the NBA, almost to a fault.
They adamantly stand by their best player, Dennis Schröder, despite the fact that he’s not nearly enough to lead them to contention in the East and is closer to his ceiling than one would like him to be.
Atlanta is a really interesting case in that their problems aren’t organizational. Coach Budenholzer is a Pop disciple and the team has generally run itself well over the last two decades, and the team culture has been top-10 in the league for just as long.
Their big problem stems from their dearth of talent and assets. The Hawks just don’t have the assets to acquire blue chip players via the draft, nor the clout or location to acquire them in free agency. Similarly to the Nuggets, they have almost exclusively attained their talent through the draft or trades but they don’t have that “luxury” right now.
They own most of their future draft picks, but none of them project high enough in a particularly bad Eastern Conference to make a major impact. There is a real possibility that they will struggle to be much more than a middling playoff team through the next decade.
The Hawks do have interesting young talent. Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry are really interesting modern wings who could prove to be valuable rotation players in time. But that’s really all they are at this point.
Neither of them project to be anywhere near star-level and both carry glaring weaknesses that cap their potential. In the future, they could prove to be good players, but they aren’t exactly building blocks for the future.
#2. Chicago Bulls
Core problems: GarPax
Antidote for 2018: Fire GarPax
The Bulls could easily wind up as No. 1 on this list just because of the sheer amount of talent that moved in and out of the organization this year. The crown jewel of the Jimmy Butler trade, Zach LaVine, is coming off an ACL tear and given how much he relies on his athleticism, there’s no telling how he looks when he comes back.
The point guard situation is a disaster, and their best option is probably former Summer League superstar Kris Dunn who is coming off a horrendous rookie season and has disappeared into anonymity since entering the league. Maybe Lauri Markkanen is Dirk 2.0, but it’s much more likely that he’s just a reincarnation of Ryan Anderson.
Even if you think that the talent on the roster still has potential, the front office is one of the worst in the Association. Gar Forman and Jim Paxson have zigged in a league where everyone else is zagging, but entirely in a great way.
They have invested a lot of money and assets into point guards who can’t shoot and have refused to tank for years, despite the dire need for talent.
Most puzzlingly, they have failed to give head coach Fred Hoiberg talent that would maximize his coaching skills. At Iowa State, he ran an elite pace-and-space offense with an affinity for the 3, but the Bulls have given him players completely ill-equipped to run that system.
#1. Orlando Magic
Best under-25 player: Elfrid Payton
Core problems: Lack of core building blocks, unwillingness to tank, terrible draft success, weird cap management
Antidote for 2018: MOVE TO SEATTLE
Does anyone really care about the Magic anymore? They’re still somehow in recovery from the Dwight Howard ordeal five years later, they’ve whiffed on every single lottery pick they’ve had, and the product since Dwight has been almost unwatchable.
The best young guy they have is probably Elfrid Payton, but he likely won’t be much more than a mid to low-tier starting point guard. Maybe Aaron Gordon can tap into the potential that made him so intriguing coming out of Arizona, but that is almost impossible in Orlando.
Like most other teams on this list, they haven’t shown a willingness to tank, but unlike most other teams, they don’t have a franchise cornerstone or even a top tier young guy. They’ve always gone after trendy role players who don’t have a chance to live up to the money that the Magic gave them (see: Biyombo, Bismack).
The team genuinely doesn’t want to be bad, but neither has the tools nor the willingness to escape the purgatory they’ve found themselves in.
Perhaps the guys most emblematic of the organizational issues the Magic have are Mario Hezonja and Bismack Biyombo. Hezonja was supposed to be an athletic 3&D wing who could be more, but Orlando’s mismanagement of his development has tanked his confidence and most importantly, his trade value.
Biyombo on the other hand, was given a massive contract after beating up the Cavs’ big men for Toronto for a few games in the playoffs and was seen as a potentially high end role player. He wasn’t.
In his first season with the team, he fell off the radar for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that the Magic don’t understand how to use him. The Magic need a fresh start, a purge from their old life if you will.
Which brings us to Seattle; Seattle has been missing a basketball team since the Sonics became the Thunder, and wouldn’t it make sense for Orlando to at least think about tearing it down and starting over in a city like Seattle?
Think about it, Seattle having an NBA team makes way more sense than Orlando having one. Granted, it wouldn’t solve all of their organizational problems, they still employ Mario Hezonja and Bismack Biyombo, but the offer of a clean sheet is enticing, and the Magic should at least consider it before trying to justify keeping Shelvin Mack this time next year.