2019-2020 NBA Season Review – Part 1 – Which Teams Need A Lot Of Help?

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With the coronavirus pandemic showing no signs of slowing—despite the impatient blustering of that man who is masquerading as the leader of the free world—it will likely be months before usual activities resume. Though the world will be forever changed by COVID-19 (and not just because of the lives lost and altered), right now there is a ton of waiting—waiting until the virus runs its course.

Among the things I’m personally waiting for is the return of NBA basketball, in whatever form. The news lately from NBA circles has ranged from the inspiring (players donating to charitable causes and assisting arena workers with finances) to the repulsive (the principal Governors of the Philadelphia 76ers attempting to cut employee salaries at a time when millions have lost their jobs). But today, I want to look back at each NBA team’s season BC (Before Coronavirus).

We will take a look at 15 teams today, then 15 teams tomorrow. Some teams will be grouped with a few of their fellow franchises in a category, while others are in a class of their own … for better or worse.

There’s Garbage, There’s the Rats and Roaches Eating the Garbage, Then There’s James Dolan

New York Knicks: As a Portland Trail Blazers fan, I’ve been worried on occasion about the team’s ownership situation. The late Paul Allen’s family currently hold the Blazers in trust, and though no scuttlebutt about a sale has been mentioned, a sale will happen eventually. The Blazers are worth a shade under $2 billion, according to Forbes; Jody Allen will cash in at some point.

When I do think about the Governorship of the Blazers, my fears about a poor choice of buyer (imagine a hothead like Houston’s Tillman What’s-His-Name, or a cheap SOB like the Sixers’ Josh Harris owning the Blazers. Yuck.) are assuaged by the assurance that no governor, NO person, can be as bad as that thin-skinned, spoiled, supremely privileged and overall trash human being James Dolan.

Fallen is Babylon…For Now

Golden State Warriors: Just last year, the Warriors were putting the finishing touches on the defining dynasty of the 21st Century. Sure, Shaq and Kobe dominated the early 2000s, and the San Antonio Spurs have been consistently good (with spikes of excellence) throughout Tim Duncan’s illustrious career, but neither of those franchises have changed the way NBA teams operate as dramatically as the Warriors.

A year after they were poised to try for the first three-peat since those early 2000s Los Angeles Lakers, the Warriors are currently the only team in the Association mathematically eliminated from postseason play. Losing Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to injury, and Kevin Durant to free agency, would do that to a team as capped-out and top-heavy as this one.

Golden State will be a threat next year. It will be jarring to see 15,000 technocrats pretending to watch a basketball game as they conduct business inside San Francisco’s latest golden house of opulence during playoff basketball, instead of 15,000 rabid loyalists making a dilapidated arena in Oakland shake like an earthquake.

Franchises Without a Plan

Cleveland Cavaliers: Trading for Andre Drummond is not desperate, or a reach, or even a steal—despite the pittance Cleveland gave up for him. It’s just sad. Sad that the worst non-Golden State team in the NBA traded for a player whose presence is as conducive to winning as cake is nutritious. The Cavs have either been a joke or Michael Jordan’s plaything for their entire existence, except when LeBron James was around. And he left. Twice.

Most folks leave Cleveland once. They got lucky.

Detroit Pistons: As for the team that traded Drummond, I suppose it’d be more fair to say that their plans have just been bad instead of accusing them of having no plan at all. They might finally be starting on a full rebuild, but as long as the oft-injured and aging Blake Griffin is around, with that albatross of a contract, the Pistons will be hamstrung. Hopefully they’ll stop giving in to the temptation to chase the 8th seed and two games of sweet playoff revenue.

Phoenix Suns: Has Robert Sarver ever had a plan beyond being as cheap as possible? Probably not. Any success the Suns ever had was in spite of their leadership, not because of it. The fact that there has been a lot of success in the Valley of the Sun over the last 50 years is more due to the caliber of players that have played there (a short list: Paul Westphal, Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, Dan Majerle, Larry Nance, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Amare Stoudamire, Shawn Marion) than anything.

Minnesota Timberwolves: It’s not that the Wolves don’t have a plan. It’s that their plan is basically “don’t piss off Karl-Anthony Towns,” and they’ve already failed. Their decision-makers seem like intelligent men, but Towns is a mopey teenage girl in a 7-foot man’s body.

Odds are 4-1 Towns is the next talented player on a crappy team to force his way to Big Market Franchise X.

The Growing Pains of Youth

Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young may be putting up beefy stats (30-4-9, with 47/36/86 shooting splits on a very high volume of shot attempts), but it doesn’t matter as long as the Hawks are so undisciplined on defense. Young is the scrawniest dude I’ve seen on an NBA court this side of Muggsy Bogues, and about as effective as poor Muggsy on defense.

The eventual hope for GM Travis Schlenk and Co. is that as Atlanta’s youngsters gel, and the front office uses their oodles of cap space on solid professionals with experience, things will get better on defense as Young’s teammates get better at covering for him, and helping him out on the other end so he doesn’t become Short James Harden. The fear is that Young spends his days putting up stats that look like Young Jordan, but having the same impact on the game as Monta Ellis because he gives all those points back on D.

(Random story about Bogues: When I had NBA Live on my Super Nintendo as a kid, I would always make Muggsy jump center at the start of the game. And he actually won the tip sometimes! Inspiring stuff for a skinny white boy with a penchant for getting beat up at school.)

Chicago Bulls: Another Eastern Conference team with young gunners and an aversion to defense. Between Zach Levine, Coby White, and the disappearing acts of every other player around them, the Bulls resemble a Parker League squad instead of an NBA team.

I wrote that just to see if the mere energy behind that statement would cause Bulls coach Jim Boylen—an infamously intense man—to pop a blood vessel in wrath. At least his team should have a good shot at avoiding illness—they’ve been practicing social distancing on defense for five months.

Random Flotsam and Jetsam, Eastern Edition

Charlotte Hornets: Sure, Devonte’ Graham is a very nice story; he’s replaced Kemba Walker more capably than the man Jordan overpaid to replace Walker, Terry Rozier. Graham is the only reason why the Hornets are not really bad.

Unfortunately, Graham’s emergence might cause the Hornets to kick the Can of Rebuilding down the road ever further, and with Rozier and Nicolas Batum sucking up cap space, Malik Monk not figuring out NBA basketball, and an overall lack of impact talent on this roster, Charlotte badly needs a hard reset. Graham is poised to repeat the Kemba Experience in Buzz City, and it ain’t gonna be pleasant.

Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal may take the lion’s share of the credit for hauling this sorry-ass excuse of a team to ninth in the East (probably too much credit), but I’ve been most impressed with Davis Bertans, who’s shooting 42% from three while averaging 15 points a game.

The Latvian stretch-5 is making just $7 million this season and will command over twice that on the free market—whenever that period comes. The cash-strapped Wizards won’t be able to afford him, that’s for sure.

Interestingly enough, there’s a team that may need scoring from the 4-spot next season that plays in Portland….

Random Flotsam and Jetsam, Western Edition

Sacramento KANGZ: KANGZ gonna KANGZ it up. All I have to say.

San Antonio Spurs: I’ve already expressed my doubts, on multiple occasions, about this team in general and the futures of its veteran players and legendary coach in particular. So instead of offering ruminations about those subjects for the 10,953rd time, allow me to pose a question: How does Marco Belinelli always find his way back to this team!?

Fringe Playoff Teams This Year, What About Next Year?

New Orleans Pelicans: Before the coronavirus pandemic shut the league down for the near future, Zion Williamson was one of the big stories. It’s easy to see why; the rookie sensation is some unholy cross between Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson, with the potential to someday slide right between those legends on the All-Time Greatest Players Scale.

Whenever next season begins, it will be Zion’s first full NBA season ever, and easily the most games he’s played as an adult. Whether the Pelicans pace him through it (their handling of him has been approvingly cautious so far) or fail to rein him in will be a fascinating thing to watch.

Portland Trail Blazers: There are very few positives that can be found in a global pandemic bringing the developed world to its knees, but I might have found one. The Blazers have been hit extremely hard by the injury bug, and even though these players may not be able to practice with the team or see their doctors, the extra time to heal can only be a boon.

Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and especially Rodney Hood get more time to recover, and with the start of the next season looking like it will be pushed back significantly, the chances of Portland fielding a fully stocked roster for Opening Night look better.

Memphis Grizzlies: The current 8th seed in the West, the Grizz are another team that could benefit from a long break from play—many of their players are young, and not used to the rigors of an 82-game schedule yet. While more veteran teams may come back cold, Memphis might return refreshed.

Or the layoff will ice them just like every other team. Who really knows? I just miss watching them play, and miss basketball in general. There are only so many playthroughs of Skyrim one can do, after all.

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Jared Wright is a Portland Trail Blazers writer for Oregon Sports News, though he also writes about other stuff when the mood takes him. He also apparently enjoys talking about himself in the third person. He lives in Southeast Portland.

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