The 7 Most Disappointing Teams of the 2013-14 NBA Season
There's a lot of overlap between the NBA's most disappointing teams and the worst teams in terms of record, but the two don't necessarily always have to coincide.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics, for example, are exactly what we expected them to be. They're exactly what they're supposed to be, even. They were always bad teams, and there was never any illusion that they would be something else.
Basically, there's no real disappointment in a plan being executed the way it was designed, even if the plan is to lose. Disheartening? Sure. Disappointing? Not really.
To be a truly disappointing team, there had to be some legitimate hope in place from the start. Even if the goal was modest, like sneaking into the eighth seed, it's important that to remember that these teams had real aspirations from the outset of this year, and that's what makes their failures painful.
With those crushed hopes and expectations in mind, let's break down the seven most disappointing teams in the NBA this season.
New York Knicks
You'd like to think the New York Knicks could easily wrap up the "most disappointing team" title toward the end of the season here, but the Knicks might even screw that up too.
In just about every conceivable way, this season has been a complete disaster. There were high hopes going into the season after a 54-win campaign, and some of the big names added in the offseason didn't slow down the hype train one bit.
Of course, we know how it all played out. Tyson Chandler's injury was a big blow to be sure, but as we've seen since, New York's personnel and schemes defensively don't match, and the effort is very rarely there. The Knicks are every bit as bad on that end as their 26th-place ranking in defensive efficiency would lead you to believe.
A good deal of that falls on head coach Mike Woodson, who was pretty honest in his assessment earlier in the year. Here's what Woodson told ESPN New York 98.7 FM's The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show, as transcribed by Ian Begley of ESPN New York:
This year has been, for me, it's been kind of a disaster from a coaching standpoint in trying to get players to compete and play at a high level.
That's the frustrating part about it, because I know we're better than what we've shown and we've still got a chance.
Amazingly, at 32-43, the Knicks still have a chance to make the playoffs.
Still, this was a team that appeared to have made real strides last year with a defined style, but poor individual efforts and dysfunction on every level have ruined whatever positive momentum the franchise had previously created. The Knicks can potentially save some face with a playoff appearance, but needless to say, this was a disappointing year at the worst possible time with Carmelo Anthony headed to free agency this offseason.
Maybe expectations weren't so high to begin with, but the Detroit Pistons are worse than just about anyone could have imagined.
Yet again, general manager Joe Dumars made the error of going all-in on the wrong free agent, even when his team wasn't ready for Josh Smith or a good fit for him. Truth be told, there's a chance we remember this signing as one of the worst of the decade.
Despite the big money spent and the high-profile names, the Pistons are just 27-47 and in need of a new head coach once again. Mike Prada of SB Nation recently broke down some of the issues with the Pistons:
The coaching staff deserves the blame when the scheme is this disjointed, but the problem really starts with the three big men, all of whom have been disappointing. Smith is the worst of the trio because 1) he really should know better and 2) has previously shown that he does indeed know better.
Detroit's effort to go big on the front line, completely ignoring things like "spacing" and "shooting," hasn't helped a terrible defense either. Perhaps it shouldn't be much of a surprise that new acquisitions Brandon Jennings and Smith have displayed terrible shot selection all year long and that Greg Monroe has regressed without room to operate.
Any hope of Detroit ending the season on a positive note can probably be dismissed as well. The Charlotte Bobcats own Detroit's first-round pick this season, unless it falls in the top eight selections. If Detroit wants to keep that pick, it has to keep on losing...and that's how you get blown out by the Philadelphia 76ers, who had lost 26 straight games.
It's pretty pathetic that it has come to this, particularly since Detroit appeared plenty capable of making the playoffs this year. The one silver lining is that Detroit can get a fresh start from an organizational standpoint (Dumars is on an expiring deal) without any second thought, even if Smith's contract should continue to haunt the team going forward.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are unarguably the best team on this list, and if it weren't for a stacked Western Conference, we might view them in a different light. Zach Harper at AWolfAmongWolves.com summed that up pretty well:
It’s hard to judge the disappointment of everything going on because the expectations and preseason guessing are what creates the disappointment. If we all went into this season with the expectation the Wolves would miss the playoffs and had no real chance at getting some postseason experience, would we be disappointed at all?
While it's a fair point, the disappointment lies mostly in that the 'Wolves should be significantly better than they are, mainly because they have played much better than their record indicates.
Minnesota is just 36-37, but it's ninth in offensive efficiency and 13th in defensive efficiency. Those are both above-average numbers, and according to Basketball-Reference, Minnesota's expected win-loss record should be 44-29. That's a huge swing.
Most of that can be blamed on Minnesota's complete and utter failure to win close games this year and also on the performance of maybe the league's worst bench unit. Minnesota's starters have largely played as advertised, even if Ricky Rubio didn't make the leap some had hoped for.
It's a familiar story, but Minnesota just lacked the shooting and depth to surround its star power forward. This season's troubles only contribute more to the fear that Kevin Love will leave for greener pastures, and with Rick Adelman possibly retiring, Minnesota might not be far off from having to completely rebuild.
This was a pivotal year for the franchise, but a bunch of little issues combined to sink the season and cast some doubt on what the future holds.
Unlike other teams on this list, the Cleveland Cavaliers fell victim to the expectations placed on the team internally instead of externally. The rush to make the playoffs and never appear in the lottery again, even after picking first in the previous draft, accelerated the building process a little too quickly and led to some huge errors along the way.
Cleveland's 30-45 record may lead to head coach Mike Brown going the way of former GM Chris Grant. Of course, as Bleacher Report's Dan Favale summed up here, the poor play won't be remedied so easily:
One move won't fix that. Addition by subtraction won't fix that. Time won't even fix that.
What the Cavs need is a complete upheaval, a chance to escape the self-inflicted bedlam and disorder that is now poisoning their well, making it so no one countermeasure can remedy a lost season's worth of blights.
There are plenty of pitfalls that Cleveland has to address. Kyrie Irving often looks bored and unmotivated, particularly on the defensive end. Dion Waiters is a bad fit, perhaps both on and off the court. Luol Deng, who Cleveland acquired midseason, is a legitimate flight risk as an unrestricted free agent. Anthony Bennett, the first pick in the draft, has a long way to go. The offense is unimaginative, the defense uninspired.
Again, perhaps this year wouldn't have been so disappointing if the Cavs didn't try to rush things by signing Andrew Bynum, trading for Deng and trying to outthink the draft process yet again, but nearly every move made along the way has been a misstep.
This was a nightmare season in every sense of the word. Things just got worse and worse no matter how hard the Cavs tried to snap out of it, and now you can only hope owner Dan Gilbert will wake up and start dealing in reality for once.
The current state of the Milwaukee Bucks is hard to explain. This was a team that had every intention of competing, as shown by the signings of veteran players like O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal and Zaza Pachulia this past offseason. Teams that are rebuilding or tanking don't often spend big money like that in free agency.
Of course, Milwaukee's past provided plenty of context clues as well. The Bucks always compete for the No. 8 seed, regardless of talent and regardless of how fruitless it may be.
As Jeremy Schmidt at Bucksketball.com explains briefly, this failed season has actually had a sort of reverse effect:
The Bucks are bad this season. A different kind of bad. The kind of bad that’s turned the average NBA fan in Milwaukee into a remote control savant on Saturday afternoons, keeping tabs on four or five college teams with potential high lottery picks. It’s been a while since this has happened, but damned if it isn’t a bit exciting.
Frankly, the Bucks needed this. The front office needs a wake-up call, and the team needs a potentially franchise-altering talent. This is the best thing that could have happened.
Still, there are some who would say that the Bucks have absolutely been disappointing because of the complete inability of the coaching staff to develop the talent already on the roster. There's also the whole part of being worse in the standings than the team that just tied the NBA record for the league's longest losing streak.
But back to the players. Larry Sanders has fallen off the face of the earth. Ersan Ilyasova has seen his stock plummet. O.J. Mayo isn't far off from being out of the league, and he's on contract for $8 million a year going forward. The veteran signings have all fizzled out.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brandon Knight, John Henson and Khris Middleton have really been the only bright spots, but there's the natural fear that they'll eventually be ruined by organizational incompetence as well. There is hope present, but it's overshadowed by bad management and an uncertain arena situation.
Basically, the Bucks are just a constant disappointment, and no list like this would be complete without them.
New Orleans Pelicans
Sometimes it's very simple and there's little explanation required for a why a team is disappointing.
The New Orleans Pelicans have been disappointing this year because of injuries. That's it. That's about 95 percent of what's going on.
Ryan Anderson, one of the league's best perimeter shooters, was lost for the year. Jrue Holiday, the productive point guard the Pelicans traded Nerlens Noel and a future first-round pick for, also went down for the season. Solid third big man Jason Smith? Out for the season.
Tyreke Evans was banged up for the early part of the season, as per usual. Anthony Davis was sidelined for a bit. Eric Gordon had his moments, but they almost never coincided with Evans' improved play, which has come far too late during the meaningless part of the season.
Rarely does a team suffer as many critical injuries as the Pelicans have, and rarely has a team felt more like individual parts than a whole because of it. New Orleans has some nice pieces, no doubt, and Davis is already one of the league's very best players, but can this group go to the playoffs down the line? No one is really sure, and that's a big problem.
That's particularly true since New Orleans lacks the future assets to change much. Capped out and down a draft pick, GM Dell Demps is going to have a hard time adding talent as opposed to just changing it.
At 32-42 and well out of the playoff picture, this was essentially a wasted season with likely nothing to show for it. When you have one of the brightest young talents in the league and are firmly entrenched in "win now" mode, that's plenty disappointing, even if bad luck is the root of the problem.
The best word to describe the Denver Nuggets this season is trapped.
New head coach Brian Shaw was trapped with a roster that didn't fit his vision. The front office was trapped by a bad salary situation that didn't allow it to add anything significant after losing plenty of talent. The players, who don't really complement each other all that well, were trapped next to each other.
Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal explains more:
2013-14 has been a year to forget for Denver.
Even though the offseason was filled with big departures, this team still expected to remain highly competitive in the chase for one of the Western Conference's eight playoff spots. ...
... But this would've been a playoff team had it stayed healthy and received the in media res additions of (Danilo) Gallinari and (JaVale) McGee.
For that reason, the disappointing nature of this season is a bit overblown. But only a bit.
It's important to remember just how much the Nuggets have invested in Gallinari and McGee in salary now ($20.9 million combined this year) and going forward, as both players have two more years remaining on their deals. Burn that much money for any team, especially one without a real star, and ask it to make the playoffs in the Western Conference, and you'd get a similar result to Denver's current 32-42 record at this point.
While the Nuggets were unlikely to do much in the playoffs anyway, it's been disappointing to see the team lose some of its home-court magic and fail to remain competitive. What's worse is that the future doesn't look a whole lot brighter, even if full health is granted.
The Nuggets are probably more depressing than disappointing, but they belong on this list regardless.