NBA Restart - Those Who Didn't Make It
In some of the best news of recent memory, the NBA board of governors decided to approve a 22-team format for the restart of the season late next month. The full details on the agreement can be found here in an article written by our savior Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, but the basic information is that the top 8 seeds from both the East and the West Conference will be invited along with teams within six games of the playoff picture including New Orleans (more Zion), Portland (Playoff Dame), San Antonio (any Pop magic left?), Sacramento (the scary underdogs), Phoenix (D-Book might drop 70 again), and Washington (never trade Beal). While this is fantastic news for fans and players alike, that means there are eight other teams whose season is officially over, and their seasons must be memorialized. Therefore, the 2019-2020 NBA Season graveyard has its first members, and it’s only fair to give them the send-offs they deserve.
Golden State Warriors - It was no secret this season was going to be an experiment for the Dubs after everything that occurred last season. Once Steph Curry went down early and the team began running line-ups full of G-League guys and rookies, it quickly went from experimental to very disappointing. Watching Draymond Green try to lead guys like Jordan Poole and Damion Lee through the rigor of the Western Conference was a far cry from the past few years, and now they find themselves at the top of the lottery odds after going 15-50. The acquisition of Andrew Wiggins in exchange for D’Angelo Russell at the deadline was an interesting move but ended up being rather inconsequential due to the suspension of the season, so the jury is still out as to how effective it will be. All-in-all, it was a lost season in the Bay Area, and what they do with their top-five guaranteed draft pick will be a major conversation piece for the next couple months. The return of Curry and Klay Thompson next season should result in a very different level of success, because without them this roster is at best a borderline playoff team. How the mighty have fallen.
Cleveland Cavaliers - The 2018 Finals feel like an absolute eternity ago, and this is even greater proof. The Cavs are drafting in the lottery for the third year in a row, the last two in their own draft spot, and this season was an absolute mess to say the least. The hiring of Michigan legend head coach John Beilein crashed and burned incredibly fast, and the team never found a groove before or after his firing. Collin Sexton made a leap, and the rookie duo of Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. looked promising, but leaders such as Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love did not bring the play needed to compete in the East. There was progress, finishing with a record of 19-46 (same amount of wins as last season in far less games), but the negatives of the seasons far outweighed the positives. Consistency in the true post-Lebron era is needed for Cleveland to have any success in the future, and this season provided nothing consistent for players and fans alike. The acquisition of Andre Drummond at the deadline was a bit of a head-scratcher, but the sample size is still too small to judge the results. Another high draft pick could be the catalyst needed, but a big trade or free agent signing is badly needed if the Cavaliers want to return to prominence any time soon.
Minnesota Timberwolves - It all started out so well. Through the first five games of the season, the T-Wolves were 4-1. Andrew Wiggins looked like he had turned a corner, Karl Anthony-Towns was playing like an MVP candidate, and the “Look out for Minnesota” train got some steam. They proceeded to go 15-44 the rest of the season, KAT missed a lot of time due to injury, and the front office had an absolute fire sale at the deadline resulting in an almost entirely new roster, including the aforementioned Wiggins-Russell swap. Minnesota is banking on being competitive soon after locking down KAT to a massive contract where he is poised to make around $31 million a year for the next 4 years, and dumping Wiggins for Russell didn’t do much for their cap space, so a hit in the lottery is needed. Head coach Ryan Saunders seems to have the support of the players and the front office, but one more mediocre season and he is most likely gone. One thing T-Wolves fans can celebrate is the rumored Towns/Russell/Devin Booker team in the works is ⅔ complete, which might be the trio needed to take Minnesota to the top.
Atlanta Hawks - The Hawks were not a good team this year, just to make that clear from the start. They went 20-47, couldn’t stop anyone on the defensive side of the ball (28th in the league in Def. Rating, dead last in Points Allowed), and had multiple 10-game losing streaks at different points throughout the season. But, the beginnings of a competitive team began to show, especially towards the end of the season. After the all-star break the Hawks went 5-6, including impressive wins over Dallas and Miami. Trae Young is one of the most entertaining players in the league to watch while he pours in 30 a game, John Collins is working his way up into the top level of bigs in the league, and other young guys like De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, and Kevin Huerter looked solid as the season went on. Another lottery pick in hand is a very good thing for this team and they have the liberty to dangle it as trade bait when the time comes. The odds of this team looking exactly like it does now when the Hawks are truly competing are slim, but Atlanta fans have reason to be excited.
Detroit Pistons - For the Pistons to be as mediocre as they have been in recent memory is actually quite impressive. With only two trips to the playoffs in the last eleven seasons, both resulting in first round exits, they’re never quite bad enough to pull a really good draft pick but they’re also never really competing, and the 2020 season was no different. The regression from last season to this season was immense, a lot of which can be attributed to Blake Griffin missing a lot of time with injury and Andre Drummond being sent to the Cavs in one of the weirdest trades in recent memory. Detroit finished 20-46 after going an even 41-41 last year, and the Dwane Casey experience is quickly losing supporters. Christian Wood was a bright spot jumping into the leadership and scoring role as the roster fell apart around him, Luke Kennard was really impressive when healthy, and the Derrick Rose renaissance was in full-swing with a 6MOY campaign going strong, but the flaws of this team ran far too deep. Too good to tank, not good enough to win anything, Detroit has a long way to go.
New York Knicks - The Knicks were better this season than they were last season, which is not something that has been true for a while in New York. After missing out on the two best draft spots and all big free agents, Knicks fans packed it in and prepared for another season of disappointment, which seemed imminent after a 4-18 start before the firing of David Fizdale. There was improvement after that, going 17-27 under interim head coach Mike Miller for the rest of the season and finishing 21-45, but the damage was done. Julius Randle is a good player, but he’s not the future of the organization with guys like RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson on the roster who have both shown flashes in their young careers, and the choice on a head coach for next year still hasn’t been made. The front office has some tough decisions in the near future about who to build around and who to let go, but the ownership still has not changed, and the Knicks are still the Knicks, so fans are understandably struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Their draft pick this year will most likely be mid-lottery, and in a relatively weak draft class that won’t be worth much, so the development of guys like Barrett, Robinson, and Kevin Knox is more important now than ever before.
Chicago Bulls - One of the more interesting dynamics in the NBA over the past couple seasons was the Bulls fandom vs. the Bulls front office, in which the fandom pretty much despised the front office. Now, the GarPax reign of terror has been partially broken up, but the remnants remain. Jim Boylen is somehow still the head coach of this team despite multiple reports of “star players” (*cough* Zach Lavine *cough*) unhappy with him at the helm, and if The Last Dance taught any lessons, it was that the first responsibility should always be to take care of your players. There are no Michael Jordans or Scottie Pippens on this roster, but the point still stands. Ending up with a 22-43 record and a lottery pick was right around expectations for this team, but the Bulls have too much talent to begin a full rebuild now. Lavine, Lauri Markannen, Coby White, and more are either really good or going to be good soon, so the direction for the Bulls is trending upwards, but it can’t happen without everyone on the same page. This season was one of moderate change for the Bulls, and next season needs to be one where the results are seen.
Charlotte Hornets - Year One with no Kemba Walker and the Hornets took a very expected step back, but were not as bad as originally anticipated. The emergence of Devonte’ Graham as a legitimate scoring threat and Terry Rozier playing somewhat close to what someone of his pay grade should have were both welcome surprises in Charlotte, and the continuing development of Miles Bridges and PJ Washington are encouraging, but after four seasons with no playoff appearances those things only go so far. 23-42 is not ideal, but considering their over/under on wins in the preseason was 23.5 for a full season they performed well above expectations. Just a couple games behind the Wizards in the East for an invite, this season could be considered a relative success for the Hornets despite not being in line for a great draft spot and missing post-season play. To avoid cycling back into mediocrity, head coach James Borrego needs a strong season next year to attract some buzz, but if things keep trending the way they are right now for Charlotte there could be playoff basketball back in North Carolina very soon.