Race to the NBA's bottom!
By JOSEPH FLYNN
Drama. It's part of the NBA's marketing slogan on TNT. The league produces it in excess even in a down year, and this is no down year. In fact, 2014–15 season promises to go down as one of the most compelling in recent memory. Long-dormant franchises are making a run for the title, a proud old guard is struggling to hang on, and some tremendous basketball is being played. It is undeniably one of the finest dramas on television.
Here's the thing about quality dramas, though - they can get a bit tedious. Yes, "Mad Men" is tremendous and deserving of mountains of Emmy's, but do I really need to watch another prolonged discussion between Don and Peggy about the difference between a storyboard that screams "this product is fucking amazing and you need to have this fucking product!" and one that fails to impress a bunch of forty-something white dudes in grey suits?
Sometimes, it's better to turn off your brain, cast aside your haughty need for quality, and enjoy a fine work like "Walker, Texas Ranger" - available now on DVD at Walmart.
Just look at the review snippet on the cover:
"...never neglects an opportunity to break a violent suspect's kneecap." I mean, really? That was the best critical review they could find? That's freakin' glorious! I'd a movie with that kind of cred seven days a week and twice on Sunday.
So what is the NBA equivalent of "Walker, Texas Ranger?"
The race to the bottom of the NBA standings, of course, and all the promise that comes with it: Guaranteed top-four pick, and a 25.0% chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick.
Now that's entertainment. Good, clean, mindless entertainment - and it's all right there for us, nightly, on a League Pass channel nearby.
This season, the Association has given us several fine candidates for what will amount to the ultimate sports Razzie, but three teams have broken away from the pack in the race for the worst record. Not only do the Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks have the three worst records in the NBA, each has been significantly weakened over the past two weeks; whether through trades, buyouts or injuries.
But who has the lower hand in this basketball bumfight? Let's break down the contenders.
Record: 13–46 (2–4 since trade deadline)
Recent personnel losses: Mo Williams (0.9 win shares), Thaddeus Young (1.6 win shares), Shabazz Muhammad (2.1 win shares)
Recent acquisitions: Gary Neal, Adreian Payne, Kevin Garnett
Remaining opponent winning percentage: 49%
Long considered one of the front-runners for worst record, the Wolves are damn near playing themselves off this list with a robust 5–6 record in February. That is just too darned successful!
Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin all returned from injury in February, and the Minnesota faithful finally got a chance to see what this roster could do. But that momentum was halted somewhat on Feb. 22 when the team announced that sophomore shooting guard Shabazz Muhammad - one of the most improved players in the league - would require season-ending surgery on his finger.
While the Wolves will miss Muhammad and his 13.5 points a game, they can rely on the ever-improving scoring punch of rookie sensation Andrew Wiggins. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 Draft has played exceedingly well of late, and Minnesota fans can keep themselves warm through the long winter by basking in the glow of the Kevin Love trade:
The wild card here is the recent return of franchise legend Kevin Garnett. The Big Ticket provided a huge emotional boost during his Minnesota re-debut - a 97–77 thrashing of the free-falling Washington Wizards on Feb. 25. Garnett has generally been better than the guy he was traded for (Thaddeus Young) when his old bones permit him to take the court.
Of course, the Wolves are claiming that KG's main impact will come in that all-important, ill-defined area of "culture change," even though it's tough to know if such a thing can even be measured. Coach/GM/part-owner/generalissimo Flip Saunders seems to think so, as measured by the number of cell phones found in the locker room toilet.
Per the Pioneer Press:
"As one of our veteran guys told our young guys yesterday, 'Hey, listen, when KG walks in the locker room your phones better be tucked away, because if they're not, they're going to get thrown in the toilet on game night,'" Saunders said.
Color me skeptical. Garnett is one of the fiercest competitors in NBA history, on par with the likes of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. We've already learned from those two that a lack of on-court prowess can quickly give way to, well ... dickishness. Did Jordan change the culture in Washington? Is Kobe changing the culture in LA?
Sure, we're not talking about a playoff run here, or even a climb to .500; we're talking about finishing higher than dead last. The regime in Minnesota doesn't exactly exude competence, but that might not matter with players on hand. The Wolves still have far more talent than either Philly or New York - enough talent even to compensate for their tougher Western Conference schedule.
KG chucking phones into toilets should just be a bonus.
Record: 13–47 (1–6 since trade deadline)
Recent personnel losses: Michael Carter-Williams (-0.6 win shares), K.J. McDaniels (0.5 win shares)
Recent acquisitions: Ish Smith, Thomas Robinson
Recent acquisition, then loss: JaVale McGee, Tim Frazier maybejQuery19105863900177459311_1425483181344?
Remaining opponent winning percentage: 45%
Virtual gallons of virtual ink have been spilled in countless attempts to explain the moves of Sixers GM Sam Hinkie. I will try to limit my scope to merely the rest of this season.
Statistically, K.J. McDaniels and Michael Carter-Williams - especially Carter-Williams-should be easy to replace. They are abominable offensive players, ranking worst (Carter-Williams) and sixth-worst (McDaniels) in the NBA offensive win shares.
But Philly does not win games with offense. Pretty much every player on the team, with the exception of Robert Covington, is horrible on the offensive side of the ball. This is a team that competes with a solid defense, and both Carter-Williams and McDaniels were integral parts of that defensive core.
The problem with trying to predict Philly's record going forward is that it is nearly impossibly to get into the mind of Hinkie. The man is playing tanking chess to the rest of the league's tanking checkers-willingly sacrificing his queen for another team's pawn. He shocked the basketball world by signing former No. 5 overall pick Thomas Robinson, and I honestly have no idea why he did it. Did he simply want to get over the league-mandated salary floor? Does he think Robinson has promise, or does he think Robinson is some kind of secret tanking agent?
And what should we make of the brief Sixers career of evolutionary athletic goofball JaVale McGee? Clearly Hinkie took him on to get a first-round pick from Denver, but why play him for for six games only to release him, recouping none of the $12 million they must pay him next season?
There are literally tens of millions of dollars going into these decisions, but through the haze of endless transactions, the Sixers have never truly wavered in their commitment to short-term losing.
Here's how dedicated Hinkie is to creating a tanking environment: the team hired a mascot who hates the Sixers! Imagine the tanking brainpower needed to search for a bitter Knicks fan to don a Sixers dog costume. Will Franklin run on the court and block a game-winning Ish Smith layup? Will he trip up Nerlens Noel on a fast break?
For all his angles, though, Hinkie may have pit himself against an irresistible tanking force this time.
New York Knicks
Record: 12–46 (2–3 since trade deadline)
Recent personnel losses: Carmelo Anthony (3.1 win shares), Amar'e Stoudemire (2.2 win shares), Pablo Prigioni (1.3 win shares)
Recent acquisitions: Alexey Shved
Remaining opponent winning percentage: 46%
The New York Knicks have won 12 games this season. According to one metric, the trio of 'Melo, Amar'e and Prigioni have accounted for 6.6 of those 10 wins. By win shares, the most valuable Knick left on the roster is ...Quincy Acy! And he isn't even a part of the regular rotation anymore.
Leave aside for the moment the fact that the three best players on this team might be Jose Calderon (an offense-only point guard having a terrible season and will miss at least the next two weeks), Tim Hardaway, Jr. (an offense-only shooting guard having a terrible season) and Langston Galloway (an undrafted rookie).
Leave aside the fact that their best frontcourt player at the moment might be Lou Amundson. Forget all that, and the Knicks still have a weapon of unimaginable losing power.
His name is Andrea Bargnani.
Many observers were surprised when the Knicks didn't buy the Italian albatross out of the remainder of his contract, but here's a novel theory: Bargs is far more than just a terrible basketball player; he is the basketball equivalent of a chain letter. You can't simply throw him away; you need to pass that bad karma off onto someone else. Pay it forward, badly.
The Toronto Raptors lived under a cloud of darkness during much of his tenure, tricked everyone's favorite sucker, James Dolan, into taking him of their hands (for a first rounder, no less!), and are currently cruising to their second straight division title.
Now that the Knicks are stuck with him, they think they might as well give him minutes to guarantee a tanking victory. Naturally, what happens when head coach Derek Fisher rolls with Bargs, giving him his first two starts of the season? New York wins both games - their first back-to-back victories of the entire season.
Apparently, the Knicks held in their possession the Ark of the Tanking Covenant, and in their hubris, they dared to look inside. Here is a quick recap of the last two games from the front office's standpoint:
Even if New York finishes with the league's worst record - a strong possibility given their roster, the curse of Bargs might not be lifted until his contract expires on July 1; AFTER the draft lottery. The guy is a ticket to the worst record, but his very essence of being might have the Knicks drafting fourth.
Hey, teams of the Malaysian National Basketball League, how would you like to get your hands on a former No. 1 overall pick?
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