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Introducing Teams Of Despair

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Some teams are bad because they’re stocked with young players who’ll eventually help the team win. That’s not ideal, but it’s OK.

Some teams are bad because they’ve held on too long to players who previously helped the team win. That’s also not ideal, but again OK.

And then there are the special teams that have been nowhere and are going nowhere.

Making the playoffs in the NBA is a relatively low bar. Most teams (16/30) qualify, and it used to be even easier. So, even teams that fall out of the postseason shouldn’t have too long of a road back.

But some have taken the scenic route. A few terribly run franchises have had to completely turn over their roster. Twice.

I’m fascinated by teams in such an awful position. They provide no joyous nostalgia for fans. Any hope was later proven to be false.

I call them Teams of Despair.

There are two rules for a Team of Despair (TOD):

1. It has no players remaining from the franchise’s last playoff team.

2. It has no players who will remain until the franchise’s next playoff team.

A history of Teams of Despair (seasons designated by the year they ended):

Sacramento Kings (2014-2015)

Sacramento has the NBA’s longest active playoff drought, last qualifying in 2006. The core of that first-round loser didn’t last long. Only Francisco Garcia kept the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Kings off the TOD list.

The DeMarcus Cousins era went nowhere, and now he – and everyone else from the 2014 and 2015 teams – is gone. More recent Sacramento squads could qualify as Teams of Despair, but more on that later.

2010-2013 Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves, led by Kevin Garnett, reached the playoffs every year from 1997-2004. That 2004 team was the best of the era, winning 58 games and reaching the Western Conference finals. But Garnett’s supporting cast – led by Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell – was getting old and was gone only one year later. Garnett eventually approved a trade from Minnesota.

After an extended malaise, the Timberwolves began to build back up. By 2011, they had Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and the No. 2 pick. But they also had David Kahn as team president. Kahn chose Derrick Williams (to be fair, the consensus No. 2 prospect) and eventually alienated Love. Even in hindsight, it’s somewhat stunning these teams had to be completely overhauled.

A small step was drafting Gorgui Dieng in 2013, and he stuck around when Minnesota – led by Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns – broke its playoff drought last season.

2001 Chicago Bulls

The second three-peat Bulls broke up in a hurry. Of the six players who started somewhat regularly – Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper, Luc Longley and Toni Kukoc – only Kukoc returned the season after the 1998 title. Another year later, Kukoc was gone, too.

Elton Brand, the No. 1 pick in 2000, led the TOD Bulls to a 15-67 record. After the season, Chicago traded him to the Clippers for No. 2 pick Tyson Chandler. The Bulls also picked Eddy Curry No. 4 in 2001, and the twin towers eventually helped Chicago reach the 2005 playoffs.

1996-2000 Vancouver Grizzlies

Expansion teams are at a disadvantage, as they automatically start with a roster of players who never made the playoffs with the franchise. But the Grizzlies went five seasons before acquiring their first player who’d reach the postseason with them. These were the Bryant Reeves years blending into the Shareef Abdur-Rahim years.

In 2000, the Grizzlies drafted Stromile Swift, who became a rotation player on their 2005 playoff team led by Pau Gasol (the No. 3 pick the following year).

1995-1996 Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks were playoff regulars in the 80s, but their core aged out. By the early 90s, Dallas was challenging the worst single-season record multiple times. That gave the Mavericks the high draft picks to assemble a young core of Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson – the “Three Js.” But the trio couldn’t get along, rumors of a love triangle between Kidd, Jackson and singer Toni Braxton swirling.

Dallas traded Kidd during the 1996-97 season then hired Don Nelson shortly before the trade deadline. Aghast at the team’s culture, Nelson quickly shipped out seven players, including Jackson and Mashburn.

Nelson’s early roster churn brought in Michael Finley and Shawn Bradley, two eventual starters on the Dirk Nowitzki-led 2001 playoff team.

1990 Sacramento Kings

In 17 seasons between 1982 and 1998, the Kings made the playoffs just three times – each with losing record, each ending with a first-round elimination. It’s of little surprise the longest postseason drought of that era (1987-95) featured a TOD.

The 1990 Kings had some decent talent – Rodney McCray, Wayman Tisdale, Kenny Smith, Danny Ainge, Antoine Carr. But No. 1 pick Pervis Ellison was supposed to lead Sacramento forward. Instead, he was frequently injured. In his third and best season, he averaged 20-11 and won Most Improved Player – but that wasn’t until after the Kings traded him to Washington.

Sacramento drafted Lionel Simmons and Duane Causwell with two of its four first-round picks in 1990. Though neither Simmons nor Causwell became high-impact players, both stuck around until the Mitch Richmond-led Kings returned to the playoffs in 1996.

1980-1987 San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers

Of course the Clippers have the longest Team Of Despair streak in NBA history. Through moves from Buffalo to San Diego to Los Angeles, the franchise missed the playoffs 15 straight years (1977-91).

The Clippers had some talented players during their TOD years – Bill Walton, Tiny Archibald, Terry Cummings, Norm Nixon, Marques Johnson. But they all faced major health issues while with the franchise.

Obviously, the Clippers also had Donald Sterling during most of this era. The infamous owner was cheap and cranky, and he built a losing organization from the top down.

The Clippers temporarily dug out of their rut by drafting Ken Norman in 1987, Danny Manning in 1988 and trading 1989 No. 2 pick Danny Ferry for Ron Harper. The Clippers made the playoffs in 1992 and 1993.

But they returned only twice in the next 18 years. It was just darned hard to win under Sterling.

1975-1979 New Orleans Jazz

Another expansion franchise starting off with several Teams Of Despair, the Jazz didn’t begin to build a winner until leaving New Orleans for Utah.

Pete Maravich starred for those New Orleans teams. But whether because his game was more flash than substance or his supporting cast was too weak or some of both, he never led the Jazz to a winning record.

Spencer Haywood played for the Jazz during their final year in New Orleans, but according to the team, he didn’t want to go to Salt Lake City because his wife was a fashion model. For some reason, the Lakers traded Adrian Dantley – seven years younger than Haywood – for Haywood.

Dantley led the Jazz to the playoffs in 1984, 1985 and 1986 before the Karl Malone-John Stockton era kicked into gear.

1977 Indiana Pacers

After excelling in the ABA, the Pacers missed the playoffs in their first four NBA seasons. They faced financial difficulties in those years due to the NBA entrance fee, payout to folding ABA teams and lack of national-TV revenue (which former ABA teams didn’t initially receive). Indiana traded its All-Stars, Billy Knight and Don Buse, in money-saving deals.

By the time the Pacers returned to the playoffs in 1981, they had turned over their entire roster.

The success was fleeting. Indiana didn’t return to the postseason until 1987 and didn’t produce another winning record until 1990.

1971 Portland Trail Blazers

Yet another expansion team that needed time to take off. The Trail Blazers missed the playoffs in their first six years.

At least what their initial squad lacked in playing talent, it made up for in future peripheral basketball ability. Geoff Petrie became a two-time Executive of the Year with the Kings. Rick Adelman won more than 1,000 games coaching the Kings, Trail Blazers, Rockets, Timberwolves and Warriors. Jim Barnett became Golden State’s TV analyst.

After that first season, Portland drafted Larry Steele, who had his best season in 1977. That year, the Trail Blazers made the playoffs for the first time, and Bill Walton led them to the championship.

1968-1970 Seattle SuperSonics

Further north, the expansion SuperSonics followed a similar model as Portland. They were lousy their first few years, but their players included a future Executive of the Year (Rod Thorn) and future Coach of the Year (Lenny Wilkens).

Seattle signed Spencer Haywood from the ABA in 1970 then overcame a lawsuit challenging the NBA’s rules about early eligibility to get him on the court. The next year, the Sonics drafted Fred Brown No. 6. Those two led Seattle to the 1975 playoffs, and Brown stuck around as a key contributor to the 1979 title team.

1953 Milwaukee Hawks

Playing as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, the franchise made the playoffs in its first NBA season in 1950. They also drafted all-time great Bob Cousy that year. But focused on opening a driving school in Massachusetts, Cousy refused to sign unless given a $10,000 salary. The Blackhawks instead sold him to the Chicago Stags.

Over the next five postseason-less years, the final four in Milwaukee, the Hawks used 75 players. Only one, Bill Calhoun, played a majority of the Hawks’ games in that era, and he barely surpassed 50%.

Milwaukee traded for Chuck Share in 1953 and drafted Bob Pettit in 1954, and they helped the Hawks make the 1956 playoffs in their first season in St. Louis. In fact, Pettit took them much further, becoming an all-time great and leading them to the 1958 championship.

1950 Denver Nuggets

1950 Waterloo Hawks

1949 Indianapolis Jets

1947-1949 Providence Steam Rollers

1947 Detroit Falcons

1947 Pittsburgh Ironmen

1947 Toronto Huskies

These seven all missed the playoffs every year of their existence. Maybe they’re more Franchises Of Despair than Teams of Despair.

***

The TOD list could grow. Seven teams enter the season without a player who remains from their last playoff appearance, and six of them have previous seasons still in TOD limbo.

The potential Teams Of Despair:

Denver Nuggets (2019)

This summer, Denver shed the final two players from its last playoff team, trading Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried after those two helped the Nuggets reach the 2013 postseason.

But Denver has extremely short TOD odds. The Nuggets’ young core – Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris – is highly likely to lead them back to the playoffs, maybe as soon as this season.

New York Knicks (2018-2019)

The Knicks got rid of the final member of their 2013 playoff team by trading Carmelo Anthony just before last season.

It’d be devastating if New York doesn’t return to the postseason with Kristaps Porzingis, but his injury presents significant downside risk. If not Porzingis, that’s a lot of pressure on Frank Ntilikina to get the 2018 Knicks off the TOD hook. Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson provide other options on this year’s squad.

Brooklyn Nets (2018-2019)

Brook Lopez was the last link to Brooklyn’s 2013-15 playoff teams. The Nets traded him to the Lakers then played last season without him, starting the TOD clock.

Brooklyn has plenty of young talent – D'Angelo Russell, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Spencer Dinwiddie – but the team is still in a transient state as it builds up. It’d be surprising if none of those players are keepers who stick until the next playoff team, but it’s also hard to pinpoint one to believe strongly in.

Los Angeles Lakers (2017-2019)

The Lakers have missed the playoffs the last five years, as many seasons as they missed the playoffs in their first 65 years. The last link to the glory days, Kobe Bryant, retired in 2016.

With LeBron James, the Lakers are entering a new era. But how many players from the last couple seasons will stay in Los Angeles? Brandon Ingram is the best hope of clearing the 2017 team from TOD status. Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma or Josh Hart could absovle the 2018 team. But any of those young players could get traded for a veteran ready to win with LeBron.

Orlando Magic (2015-2019)

The Magic haven’t made the playoffs since trading Dwight Howard in 2012. Jameer Nelson held off the TOD until 2014, but it has looked grim since.

Orlando still has a few players from its 2015 team – Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic. Gordon just signed a long-term contract and looks like the franchise player. But the Magic don’t appear close to making the playoffs. Who knows what this team will look like when it finally wins again?

Phoenix Suns (2015-2019)

Channing Frye helped the Suns reach the 2010 playoffs then stayed in Phoenix for the first four years of what has become an eight-season playoff drought.

T.J. Warren is the last hope for the 2015 team to escape the TOD label. Devin Booker arrived for the 2016 season, and he just signed a max contract extension. Though there are still questions about his ability to lead a good team, if Booker doesn’t eventually get Phoenix to the playoffs, I can’t even imagine how many general managers Robert Sarver will fire.

Sacramento Kings (2016-2019)

The longest-tenured Kings are Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos, who arrived for the 2016 season. Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere add hope for the 2017 team. But Sacramento looks like one of the NBA’s very worst teams and won’t even have its first-round pick this season. There has been plenty of despair in Sacramento, and more could be ahead.

Joel Embiid out week with left knee soreness, no structural damage found

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What the Philadelphia 76ers need is time on the court to get all their new players used to each other, their rotations set, and just to find a way to get the most talented starting five in the East to gel before the playoffs start. They have 24 games to make it happen.

This does not help that cause.

The Sixers announced Joel Embiid will miss at least a week to get treatment on a sore left knee, the team announced. Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia has the details.

Obviously, what matters most is Embiid being healthy in the postseason, so rest now is better than the alternative.

But this is still not ideal. Especially as the Sixers try to make up a game and climb past the Pacers to ensure home court in the first round of the playoffs.

Through four games (73 total minutes) the new starting lineup of Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and Embiid has been a force — a 116.5 offensive rating and a 91.9 defensive rating. Small sample size theater is at play here, things have not always looked completely smooth to the eye test (see the loss to Boston), and both Butler and Embiid have chaffed against coach Brett Brown’s system at points this season, but a +24.6 net rating through four games is an auspicious sign.

They just need more time to come together, and this injury cuts into that. At least a little.

The more significant concern starts when the bench comes into play. In the playoffs, Brown will likely want to keep two of his big four on the court with the subs (probably an eight-man rotation, nine tops). That’s where the real interesting stuff comes in the next few weeks: Which players would be willing to get their rest a little earlier in the first half to get more opportunities (read: shots) with the ball in their hands with the second unit? Butler? Harris? Which four work best together when it gets down to pairs?

Finding all of that out is now on hold temporarily.

Not just numbers, David Griffin says being GM means handling “noise” around team

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Analytics are a part of the job.

Just often not the most important part.

Part of what has fueled the rise in popularity of the NBA in recent years has been player movement around the league — and how much fans love to talk about the possibilities. Fans love to play GM. Those fans are increasingly savvy and understand analytics better, they know how to go to the NBA stat page and look up detailed data, and they know how to work ESPN’s trade machine. It leads to more “who says no?” trade Tweets than overpriced coffee shops in Seattle.

Ask any current or former general manager/team president — for example, former Suns and Cavaliers GM David Griffin — about the job and they almost cut off the question to say there is so much more to it than a spreadsheet. For example, keeping players happy and helping them understand/deal with social media is now part of the gig. Even in the evaluation of players, there is the eye test and other intel gathered about them, all of which matters as much or more than just the data.

“It’s got to be a marriage of all of them, you know analytics are never the answer in and of themselves,” Griffin told NBC Sports. “But there is infinitely more data available to us thanks not only to SAP but Second Spectrum… they have given us far more robust data sets to make decisions from. I think because of that people think the answers are in the numbers, but the reality is the numbers only answer the better questions you ask it to solve. I think people lose sight of that. The numbers are a part of the process, they are not the answers in and of themselves.”

That’s the idea behind “GM School,” a new competition show coming to NBA TV (it premieres Wednesday night at 8 ET, with repeat broadcasts throughout the week). The show takes four contestants who are data-driven, die-hard basketball fans and pits them against each other in a series of challenges to show they have what it takes to be in a front office. The contestants don’t just have to pick players to draft (out of an anonymous pool), they need to articulate why they fit with the team philosophy. They have to do a press conference.

“I thought they did an excellent job,” Griffin said of the contestants. “Being at NBA TV before this and getting to see things in a totally different light, I had a different appreciation for this process than I would have otherwise. I thought they did a fantastic job — SAP and the partners affiliated with this — of putting together four really diverse contestants who all had strengths of their own, each was unique from the other, so it was a cool process.”

Like the real GM job, this is about more than the numbers.

“It’s not just taking into account everyone thinks they understand analytics — I hope we speak to the analytics crowd — but it’s about the totality, we hope, of what the job requires,” Griffin said.

There are things that a show like this could just not do justice to with a test.

For example, how to set up an organization that can handle the volume of noise that swirls around a good team. Griffin had to deal with that first hand as the GM of the Cavaliers during LeBron James’ second tour of duty with the franchise.

“One of the things that’s critical to running an organization that’s going to be all about winning — and the only thing that will mark success is winning a championship — is that you’re naturally going to be subjected to more noise around the process,” Griffin said. There’s going to be more tension in the system — and that can be a positive thing if you make it out. You have to become really adept at dealing with adversity and turning adversity into a positive, galvanizing force.

“I think you’ve seen Golden State do that this year with the blowup between Draymond [Green] and KD [Kevin Durant]. They’ve come out of that a stronger, better version of themselves, and that’s what you have to do as an elite franchise. All adversity becomes opportunity for you.”

It’s one thing for a Warriors’ team that is now veteran and savvy to embrace adversity — and tune out the social media noise it creates around the team — and it’s something else entirely for an up-and-coming team with players who have not been there before.

“I think that for teams that are going from being lottery bound year after year to being truly elite there are several steps in that process that are very difficult and painful. And people don’t always welcome adversity…” Griffin said. “You’re not going to get to a championship caliber team from a team of young kids who were in the lottery overnight.”

Some players get thrown off seeing the media used to deliver messages about them and their trade availability — as happened a lot with the Lakers/Anthony Davis saga around the trade deadline, for example. The Lakers, as an organization, has seen more than its fair share of drama over the years and understands how to handle it, but the young core players on the team were going through this part of the business for the first time.

Griffin said the key is being proactive — talking to players to help them understand it before everything overwhelms them.

“[The Lakers] were dealing with more media and more scrutiny than most teams ever do because they are one of the flagship franchises in our league,” Griffin said. “Magic Johnson grew up in that spotlight. I doubt anything happened that they weren’t prepared for. But what happens is LeBron’s presence by itself brings that kind of spotlight. It takes some time to learn how to deal with it.

“Again, if you don’t get in front of it from a leadership standpoint, if you let it just happen, the proliferation of sports media and social media, it just creates so much around your players that, to some degree, if you’re not telling them how to decipher it, they can’t help but to take it poorly. You need to do a really deft job as a leader of getting people to ignore those things. I think Kevin Durant called it a ‘toxic’ environment around a LeBron James team. I don’t think he meant that relative to LeBron and his actions. I think he meant it just relative to the sheer volume of noise around a team. That takes getting used to.”

Handling social media and its fallout is now part of a GM’s job. Like it or not.

“All of these players are on social media, they are subject to noise from more angles and at a greater volume than any players ever have been,” Griffin said. “And because of that, I think it makes it really important that you run the kind of organization that you love each other enough that you tell each other what you need to hear. You have to have conversations. You have to be in front of those messages with Lonzo Ball ahead of time. You have to talk to Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma ahead of time. So that when those things happen, they understand it’s just a natural outcropping of being on a team of that magnitude. That it happens because you matter as a franchise.”

Whenever a GM job comes open in the NBA now, Griffin’s name is one of the first to come up. Most recently that was with the Pelicans (although the buzz All-Star Weekend is that things never really got too serious between the sides). Griffin is open to returning to the NBA, but he’s in a position to be picky about the gig he takes now.

“I think the blessing of doing what I’m doing relative to NBA TV is selectivity,” Griffin said. “It’s helped me be radically better at analyzing things than maybe I wouldn’t have been as good at. As I look at it now, the thing that would attract me to an opportunity is just the opportunity to be in lockstep with ownership. To have ownership, the coach, and the front office all on the same page moving forward and sharing a vision…

“You have to raise a family, and if you’re not going to come at it with that approach it’s probably not a situation that would speak to me.”

Barack Obama joined by Stephen Curry to tell minority boys ‘you matter’

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Former President Barack Obama and Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry told minority boys on Tuesday that they matter and urged them to make the world a better place.

Obama was in Oakland, California, to mark the fifth anniversary of an initiative he started after the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The death of the African-American teen sparked protests over racial profiling.

Obama and Curry had a good natured banter between them, which included the former president teasing the former MVP about his ankles.

Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper as a call to communities to close opportunity gaps for minority boys, especially African American, Latino, and Native American boys.

He and Curry talked about what it means to be a man and the struggles they had as teens.

The My Brother’s Keeper Alliance is part of the Obama Foundation.

Rumor: Warriors “have internally mused” about run at Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021

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The Golden State Warriors have a plethora of superstars, so many in fact that the league has taken an extended break from believing they can win a championship, at least until Kevin Durant heads outside the Bay Area.

Durant could be headed for the New York Knicks or some other such location this summer when he is a free agent. No doubt Golden State will want to retain Durant’s services, but in the event that they are unable to do so, they need to look elsewhere to improve their team.

The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson wrote recently that Golden State could go after Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo when he becomes available for free agency in the summer of 2021. This was just fun supposition on Thompson’s part, but it was followed up on Tuesday by some important rumoring by Marc Stein of the New York Times in his weekly newsletter:

Yet it’s likewise undeniably true that Steph and Giannis are buddies who are both represented by the same agency (Octagon) and share a mutual admiration that has resulted in Curry and Antetokounmpo selecting each other first overall with the No. 1 overall picks as captains in the first two All-Star drafts.

I can promise you, furthermore, that the Warriors have internally mused about a run at Giannis — however futile it may prove to be — in the event they can’t convince Kevin Durant to re-sign this summer. Trying to sign the most attractive free agent available is on the first page of the Golden State owner Joe Lacob’s playbook.

Look, it seems obvious to say that any team will want to take a run at Antetokounmpo if they are able. Saying that “X team is interested in [GOOD] player” isn’t groundbreaking.

But the Warriors?

We are a long way off from this getting anywhere near actually happening, but if Golden State were able to pull in another generational talent (and likely future MVP) it might set the collective NBA sphere on fire.

Antetokounmpo is only being talked about in this way because of the fact that he plays in Milwaukee, a market where stars don’t typically stay for long. But Antetokounmpo seems to enjoy Wisconsin, and the Bucks are currently the best team in the East.

Relax, Bucks fans. Your man is safe for now.