It’s the middle ground where you don’t often want to be as an NBA franchise. If you’re not actively competing for a deep playoff position, or conversely, for a high lottery pick, what are you actually trying to achieve? Some NBA owners and front offices are comfortable with competing for a playoff spot and earning
It’s the middle ground where you don’t often want to be as an NBA franchise. If you’re not actively competing for a deep playoff position, or conversely, for a high lottery pick, what are you actually trying to achieve?
Some NBA owners and front offices are comfortable with competing for a playoff spot and earning a little extra revenue in spite of a first-round playoff exit. For fans, though, where does the hope derive from?
5 NBA teams that are too good to blow things up, but too bad to win an NBA championship this season
If suitable success isn’t present nor imminent, they at least want a model of how success will be achieved and a timeline of when to expect it. For the bottom NBA teams, that usually corresponds with the addition of a high draft pick who the future can be built around.
But then there are others in the dark realms of the NBA stratosphere, stuck trying to compete without ever making too much noise. Simultaneously, their endeavors to be successful often prevent them from having access to top-end talent.
Through just over a month of the NBA regular season, it’s already becoming apparent who those franchises are. Here are five NBA teams teetering on the edge, most requiring a major trade in order to either become legitimate contenders or to completely blow up the roster and start again.
Portland Trail Blazers
This position isn’t an unfamiliar one for the Trail Blazers, as harsh as that sounds, given they’ve made the playoffs in six consecutive seasons.
Their 11-11 record isn’t appeasing fans, though, nor will it appease their star point guard Damian Lillard, whose future in Portland was the source of debate during the off-season.
With Lillard as the focal point and CJ McCollum pairing with him in the backcourt, the Trail Blazers will always be a competitive team capable of being a threat on any given night. The question mark has always been about what ceiling this team has with that duo as their two best players.
History suggests, outside of their Western Conference Finals appearance in 2018-19, that there’s a limit on what this team can produce. They’ve been eliminated in the first round four of the past five seasons, with nothing about this season so far suggesting that things will be any different.
The Blazers need to try something else, particularly before Lillard takes matters into his own hands and potentially requests a trade.
Since their memorable battles with the Miami Heat in the first half of last decade, the Indiana Pacers have been bang on average. Never good enough to be anywhere near a championship contender, but never bad enough to earn a super high pick in the NBA Draft.
Following seven seasons of finishing between fourth and ninth in the eastern conference, including five first-round playoff exits, the Pacers have slipped to 13th in the East with a 9-14 record so far this season.
Their biggest issue is health and the subsequent lack of continuity. Sure, a starting five of Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, T.J Warren, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner sounds pretty good on paper, the problem is we’ve never actually seen that five together on the floor, with Warren continuing to recover from a foot injury.
Until they see what a fully fit roster can produce, it’s unlikely we’ll see any major changes. But even then, what’s this team trying to achieve?
Regardless of how many good players they may have, this is a stars league, and the Pacers simply don’t have the superstar talent to build a championship contender around.
We know how poor this organization has been for over a decade, having not made the playoffs since the 2005-06 season. This current Sacramento Kings team is bad as well, sitting 11th in the west with an 8-14 record, and having already fired Luke Walton as a coach.
There’s enough talent there though to win some games and to entice ownership and the front office to continue pushing for a playoff berth. For that reason, I suspect they’ll be lucky to get a top-five pick at the NBA draft lottery. Maybe that’s a good thing, given their drafting record in recent years has been mediocre at best.
There are just so many question marks on this team. What’s their future guard rotation look like with De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, and Davion Mitchell? What are they doing with Buddy Hield whose been in trade discussions for what feels like forever? What about Marvin Bagley III, who went from out of the rotation to getting minutes since Walton got the ax?
All the question marks probably wouldn’t exist if they’d just taken Luka Doncic over the aforementioned Bagley. That’s just one of a number of blunders for a franchise still seeking their big-time superstar.
New York Knicks
This one may be controversial, especially since they finished as the fourth seed in the East last season. Full credit to Tom Thibodeau, since his arrival the Knicks have become a tough, respected team.
They’re still one big move away from being a legitimate contender, though, lacking the firepower and talent to compete with the likes of Milwaukee, Brooklyn, and a fully fit Philadelphia. They’re currently 11-10 and seventh in the east, a mark I’d expect them to sit around for the remainder of the season.
The big news has been the complete removal of Kemba Walker from the rotation, however, if we’re being honest, his addition was never going to lift them to any heights greater than last season.
As good as Julius Randle was last season, he’s never going to be the number one guy on a championship team. That’s ultimately the problem for the Knicks – they don’t have that guy on the roster at present.
R.J Barratt, Immanuel Quickley, and Obi Toppin are all talented young players, but do any of them project to be All-NBA guys that are top 10-15 players in the league?
Although the Knicks may be stuck in this middle-of-the-road phase, they can explode out of it if patient enough. They have the mid-tier contracts and young talent that could be exchanged for a superstar at some point in the future.
Okay this one, I acknowledge, is a little different. Unlike the other four NBA teams previously mentioned, the Boston Celtics have a potential superstar on the roster in Jayson Tatum. Perhaps you could also put Jaylen Brown in that category, given his two-way ability.
There’s just something off about this team. On paper, they should be good enough to compete for the Eastern Conference Finals, but so far, under new head coach Ime Udoka, they’ve stumbled to 12-10. More concerningly, there have been obvious chemistry issues that culminated in some fiery post-game comments from Marcus Smart earlier this season.
We all just expect Tatum will become that ‘number one player on a championship contender’ type of player, but as the season progresses, I’m not sure that’s happening anytime soon.
We do have to appreciate that he and Brown are still so young, but it’s still disappointing to see the regression this team has made after making the Eastern Conference Finals three times since the 2016-17 season.
The Celtics squandered a potential dynasty in the making, now looking like nothing more than a team making up the numbers come playoff time, should they get there.