Can anything be done to fix the NBA‘s perpetual cellar-dwellers? Every year, we revere the teams at the top and laud those that made significant leaps. But the ones in the basement get cursory lip service.
Sure, no one remembers the losers, but winning quite literally can’t be everything to those franchises stuck in the doldrums. They still need to right the ship.
Fixes for the NBA’s Perennial Cellar-Dwellers
It’s been 15 years, but the Kings made the playoffs eight years in a row in the early 2000s; even reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2002. From 2007 to the present day, however, the Kings are owners of the second-worst win percentage in the NBA. Many say they were cheated out of a Finals berth in that ‘02 run.
But they made the playoffs four more times after that. Even if they hadn’t, it wouldn’t excuse what they’ve done since that time. Poor drafting and free-agent signings, bad coaching, and, most of all, shaky ownership have left the Kings as a “struggle franchise” in today’s landscape.
They were trending up when they won 39 games a couple of years ago; a 12-game improvement over the previous season.
But they regressed the next season after firing Dave Joerger due to conflict with Vlade Divac in favor of Luke Walton. The move was widely panned as being on-brand.
That WCF team was unceremoniously parted out with the flashy Jason “White Chocolate” Williams for the less sizzle, more steak player in Mike Bibby. That got them four more regular-season wins and that WCF run. But those good decisions have been few and far between as the Kings repeatedly got rid of and alienated players and hired the wrong coaches.
A Bad Hand
Bad luck (Chris Webber’s knee in ‘03) and silly trades (Kevin Martin for Carl Landry in ‘10) gave way to players like Demarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, and Hassan Whiteside going elsewhere to flourish.
Flash forward to today and it’s the same story of a wayward franchise compounding its issues. They’ve already reportedly offered (and got rejected) 2018 second-overall pick Marvin Bagley in a trade to the Detroit Pistons for rookie Saddiq Bey (19th overall in last November’s draft). Bagley hasn’t been great but this type of deal is emblematic of the team that took him over Luka Doncic.
Luckily, Tyrese Haliburton fell into their laps in this past draft and has made a case for Rookie of the Year before the All-Star break. The problem is Sacramento doesn’t have much around him and their only other (consistently) good player, De’Aaron Fox.
The Kings need to get their leadership in order before reconfiguring their roster. Because it’s never really been about finding talent for Sacramento. It has always come down to the direction of the franchise. That comes from the top down. Unfortunately, the only remedy for that is for those in charge to recognize their short-comings and hire someone to fix them.
Welcome to the vicious cycle.
Now You See Me…
Yet another team that has been on the verge of being a champion (both literally and figuratively) since the late 90s. The Orlando Magic (who own the NBA’s worst winning percentage since 2013) has drafted and subsequently lost two of the most dominant big men in NBA history in Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard.
Unironically, their success and continued failures coincide with the arrivals and departures of the pair.
When Shaq got to Orlando, they were coming off a 21-win season. They won 41 games in O’Neal’s rookie year. The LSU product solidified himself as one of the game’s most dominant forces ever as he made the first of 15 All-Star games; including making the 14 of his first 15 seasons.
The Magic made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history the next year.
Shaq is now a Hall of Famer and three-time champion but most of that is due to his time with the Lakers. All of the rings came outside of Orlando as he won two with the late, great Kobe Bryant and another with Dwyane Wade.
Howard added 15 wins as a rookie. He’s enjoying a career resurgence the last couple of seasons. First during the Lakers title run last season. Now with the 76ers as they try to make a run of their own. He’s coming off the bench these days but was once a terrorizing presence who averaged 20 points and 14 boards at his peak and took the Magic to the Finals in ‘09.
Slight of Hand
In between those two behemoths were two of the NBA’s most dynamic (but injury-prone) players in Tracy McGrady and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway (who was traded for Webber on draft night and overlapped with Shaq).
Grant Hill, Vince Carter, Jason Richardson, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu all would find their way to Orlando at one point or another; never helping them over the hump.
Now, as Thursday’s deadline comes (and likely passes by the time you read this), they’re repeating some of their past in moving star big man Nikola Vucevic. It’s a move many have predicted for years given Orlando’s current roster construction.
Still, with an injured Jonathan Isaac as the team’s most promising player and a pair of injured, young guards in Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz, it’s unclear when the Magic will try to be competitive again despite making the playoffs each of the last two seasons. Granted, last year’s berth was not like the others, it’s still hard to compete as a small-market team.
The Magic have been a playoff team for literally half of their existence. Between the Shaq and Howard eras, they only missed the postseason six times and one of those was Shaq’s rookie year.
Eventually, they have to get back to their surprisingly winning ways.
NBA’s Cellar-Dwellers Bad for a Reason
These aren’t isolated incidents as most teams have spent time as one of the NBA’s cellar-dwellers. It’s also not entirely meant to be cautionary because some poorly-ran team will undoubtedly repeat the mistakes that got these organizations in the positions they’re in. That means it’s also in their power to correct their failures. Again, welcome to the vicious cycle.
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