The Squad: The NBA’s Most Disappointing Team
Every new season brings with it surprises, be it the return to form of a slumping player, the impact of a rule change or the reclamation of tights as an item of men’s clothing. (Before LeBron and Kobe broke them out, the last male celebrity to rock those was Shakespeare.) This year, the biggest surprise has been the poor performance of teams that everyone from armchair aficionados to paid experts expected to do damage, and we at HoopsVibe decided that needed discussing.
In what is set to become a regular feature, we’ll be addressing issues such as this one as they arise, with each writer chipping in with their quick take on the situation. Let us know who you think is closest to the mark by dropping a comment in the box at the bottom of the page or by finding us in the forum where you can grill us directly.
The NBA’s Most Disappointing Team ’07-’08
In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I’m a Miami fan before we begin, and consequently my gut instinct is to bemoan the poor performance of the Heat. That said, my vote has to go to Chicago, whose slow start to the season runs counter to conventional logic. With all of their major pieces returning and another year’s experience under their belts, you’d think the Baby Bulls would have matured a little and found a way to win some games. Not so evidently, as they stumbled out of the gate and now find themselves dead last in the division with a 7-13 record. So what in the world went wrong? I’m not sure, but I hope for the sake of their fans that somebody in the Windy City figures it out, and soon. Besides which, if things don’t pick up, girls are barely going to be impressed when I tell them that I’ve played against two of Luol Deng’s brothers, and that makes it personal.
Although the Chicago Bulls have been bad this year, they started off the season poorly last year. As a result saying that the beginning of this season has been shocking would be a little like pretending to be surprised when lewd pictures of Paris Hilton surface. Similarly, although the Miami Heat have been atrocious this season it’s not like they were a great championship level team last season either. Anyone who thought the team was going to magically get younger and faster is probably currently trying to figure out why the state won’t let them develop that land they bought in the Everglades from that guy they met at the Greyhound station.
The Houston Rockets, however, were a team that people had very high hopes for. Many felt they were the better team in last year’s first round playoff matchup with Utah and after last season they added a highly-touted international player, signed a former all-star, changed to a more offensive-minded coach who seemed to suit their personnel, and were banking on one more year of improvement from Yao Ming. Before the season began, John Hollinger of ESPN made them his pick for the 2007-2008 NBA championship ahead of the Spurs, Suns, Mavericks, and Celtics. Instead they look rudderless and have hovered around .500 most of the season despite (by Rockets standards) good health. Who’s betting on T-Mac to break his first round playoff loss streak now?
Being a Rockets fan, it would be easy to point to their slow start as the most disappointing in the league. However, I have factored in the adjustment period for the new coach and a really tough early season schedule. It would be similarly easy to point to one of the struggling Eastern Conference teams. I’ll go off the beaten path, though.
The Dallas Mavericks are about eighteen months removed from their questionable finals series with the Heat. They responded to that by ripping through the entire league during last year’s regular season. Their loss to the Warriors was regarded as a fluke, a bad matchup for a team that had looked nearly unbeatable.
Turns out that the Mavs are still not playing that well. Their record isn’t horrible by any stretch of the imagination, but the team certainly isn’t playing as well as they should be. Particularly disturbing is their sub-.500 road record and Dirk Nowitzki’s less than MVP-like play. For a team that many have expected to remain a contender, it appears that they may be taking a huge step backward.
The team in which I am most disappointed is the Mavericks. I don’t have a good pulse as to whether this is where most pundits thought they would be at this time, but I personally wanted to see more from these guys. In the Heat series, I turned off the television during Game Three – shows you how much I know. And I’m not sure that the Warriors series was a fluke. Nelson opened Avery Johnson’s and Dirk Nowitzki’s soft underbelly. The Warriors are kind of like that nutty guy with a facial tick that nobody wants to cross. Just stay away long enough for him to implode, but don’t get in his way. I’m disappointed in Johnson for his inability to change his leadership style. Although I was originally a bandwagon Mark Cuban fan, his childish antics far outweigh whatever positive passion he originally brought to the sport. I felt pity for Dirk at his MVP "ceremony" last year – it was like gawking at a car wreck. Through all this, no player has stepped forward. There are a bunch of guys in Dallas just looking at each other waiting for something to happen. That’s disappointing.
The most disappointing team so far this season is obviously and most definitely the Boston Celtics. Yeah. Not only have they devastated all of humanity by actually losing a game (gasp!), they have shown the unmitigated audacity to lose not only once, but twice. Unacceptable. With the magnificent trio of KG, Pierce, and Allen it was expected that the Celtics would go undefeated, cure cancer, find Waldo and Carmen Sandiego, reformat the cosmos, and figure out why Delonte West’s ears are so unfathomably huge – all before the All-Star break.
Alright, I’m not serious. In reality, the claim to most gigantic early season fuck-up goes to Chicago. I had the Bulls going as far as the Eastern Conference Finals this season. The NBA campaign is still relatively young, and I won’t put a second half surge out of the realm of possibility, but something has to snap into place for this team. All the pieces remain from their increasingly promising playoff runs the past two seasons, so something has to give. Maybe it will require making roster or coaching changes. Or, maybe all it will require is some patience to let this young team work through their struggles and come out refined and more mature when it’s all said and done. Either way, this early season slump, admittedly or otherwise, must leave John Paxson and the Bulls with one infuriating possibility to ponder – maybe they should have traded for Kobe.
For me, the Charlotte Bobcats have been the NBA’s biggest disappointment because they’ve underachieved on- and off-court.
Heading into training camp, the ‘Cats were expected to shed the expansion team tag, push .500, and compete for the east’s final playoff spot. And fans were supposed to flock to home games because owner Bob Johnson finally reinvested some of his 106th and Park Empire on players like Matt Carroll, Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace.
It hasn’t happened. On- and off-court, Charlotte has been a bust. The players have looked apathetic, the team holds a disappointing 8-13 record, and fans, in the basketball hotbed of North Carolina, have mostly stayed away.
For an expansion team to succeed, the club must ensure a culture of losing doesn’t set in. When losing becomes the norm, the franchise is in trouble. In Vancouver, fans and players expected to lose (see Doug West pounding back seventeen Heinekens when he found out he got traded to Van-City), so the Grizzlies floundered before bolting to Memphis.
Right now, the Bobcats have to turn things around on-court to connect with fans off-court. Remember, people in Charlotte are skeptical of the NBA due to the awful legacy left by Hornets’ owner George Shinn.