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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):

2014-2015 Sacramento Kings

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.

Heat’s Goran Dragic says he’s not going to Slovenia during layoff

Heat guard Goran Dragic
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MIAMI (AP) — Goran Dragic of the Miami Heat said Tuesday that he is prepared to forgo his annual offseason move back to his native Slovenia if that is what the NBA schedule necessitates.

Dragic, his wife and their two children are in Miami and have no plans to leave for Slovenia amid the global coronavirus pandemic. His parents recently left Miami to return home, but the Heat guard says he’s staying.

“Three days ago they flew back home because they had to, the government said that all the Slovenian citizens needed to get back,” Dragic said, referring to his parents, adding that they wore masks and gloves on their not-very-full flight back to Slovenia. “But my situation is different. Here is my home. We have health insurance in America and we have a home to go to, so we’re going to stay here.”

Dragic and his family have gotten a firsthand global view of the pandemic.

He’s in Miami, and so is his uncle — who is staying in the U.S. because he cannot get back to his native Serbia because Dragic said that country has essentially locked its borders over health concerns. Dragic’s brother Zoran, a former Heat guard, was quarantined while playing in Spain, then returned to Slovenia recently and is under quarantine again, unable to leave his hotel room for a couple more weeks.

“It’s a really crazy situation over there,” Dragic said, detailing what his brother went through in Spain — one of the hardest-hit nations with more than 94,000 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 8,000 deaths attributed to the virus, the second-highest total worldwide behind only Italy. Slovenia has confirmed 802 cases through Tuesday, with 15 deaths.

In Miami, though, Dragic is trying to keep some sense of normalcy.

Dragic said the Heat are participating in a daily team workout on Zoom most mornings, those sessions often including strength and conditioning coach Eric Foran and Heat assistant coach Chris Quinn, among others.

“We try to work together, in isolation,” Dragic said.

Dragic has been working out individually as well at his waterfront home, trying to stay fit. He’s hopeful that the season resumes at some point, and said he hopes the league has teams play no more than a handful of games before starting the playoffs.

“I’m running around the house. I’m going to be in good shape,” Dragic said.

Dragic is averaging 16.1 points and 5.1 assists this season for the Heat, coming off the bench in all but one of his 54 games.

Report: NBA, players’ union in talks to withhold some of players’ salaries

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The forced suspension of the NBA’s regular season is hitting the league hard — and it’s about to hit players’ paychecks hard.

The NBA and the players’ union are in negotiations to withhold more of players’ paychecks in an escrow account if the rest of the NBA season is canceled, as is seeming more and more likely. Up to 25 percent of the players’ salaries will be withheld, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are discussing scenarios for withholding up to 25 percent of players’ remaining salaries in a league escrow should regular-season games eventually be canceled, sources tell ESPN…

The Collective Bargaining Agreement maintains that players lose approximately 1 percent of salary per canceled game based on a Force Majeure provision, which covers several catastrophic circumstances, including epidemics and pandemics…

Commissioner Adam Silver, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts and a group of league and union lawyers have been discussing a number of ways to prepare financially for how the likely cancelling of scheduled games will impact some percentage of lost salary for players, sources said.

In every NBA check, even in a typical season, 10 percent of a players’ salary is held back in an escrow fund. Then, at the end of the season when the books are balanced, and the players get 50 percent of the basketball related income (BRI). If league income was slightly lower than projected, the players do not get all of their money back from the escrow fund, the league takes whatever portion is needed to get to the CBA’s prescribed 50/50 BRI split (and the rest is returned to the players).

This season, due to the coronavirus possibly canceling more than 20 percent of the season and condensing the playoffs, there is going to be more than a 10 percent shortfall in the projected BRI.

Players will get a full regular paycheck on Wednesday, April 1. If the NBA and players union reach an agreement before April 15, that check could start to see the reductions as money goes to the escrow account.

The vast majority of players have their pay stretched out for the entire year (the first and 15th of every month), but some players take an option to get more of that money up front. Regardless, everyone will pay into the escrow fund.

The NBA has not officially announced the cancelation of regular season games yet, but games will be lost. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he doesn’t expect the Warriors will play any more games this season. More and more sources think the regular season is lost, but the league is holding out hope.

It’s impossible to calculate how big the revenue hit to the league will be until a plan for the postseason is put together (if one is put together), but it will be massive. Possibly more than a billion dollars if the season and playoffs are canceled. Right now, the league is simply running a lot of scenarios to try and project how to lessen that blow when they do return to action.

Still, the coronavirus suspension is going to hit the players’ pocketbooks. This increased escrow account is just the first wave.

 

LeBron James, Kevin Durant among handful of players who got this year’s contract money up front

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Years ago, NBA players (like those in other professional sports), got paid every other week during the regular season. They might get a bonus during the playoffs if the team did well, but in the offseason they had no money flowing into their pockets.

Over the past decade that changed. Now the standard contract now calls for players to get paid over 12 months, giving them cash flow all year long.

This also means the vast majority of NBA players have yet to get most of their pay for this year, which will get interesting as the owners and players union start discussing the “Force Majeure” clause in the CBA to take some of the players’ salaries because of canceled games.

Mark Stein of the New York Times talked about it on Twitter.

However, a handful of big-name players got more their money up front — the CBA allows players to get a chunk of their money in advance then get then rest over a 12-check, six-month span. Some of the biggest names in the sport went for that.

In addition to LeBron James, players such as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Blake Griffin have gotten the majority of their pay already.

NBA owners are scheduled to have a remote meeting soon to discuss next steps. They are talking both about the restart of the season (in whatever form that takes) and about invoking the “Force Majeure” clause. That CBA clause allows teams to reduce players’ salaries in the event of an “act of god” kind of event that cancels games – things like war, natural disaster, and epidemics. Obviously, the epidemic part has come into play and shut down the league.

If the NBA doesn’t play any more regular season games — which reports have said is seeming more likely — teams and players will miss about 25 percent of the season (give or take depending on how many games their team played) and owners would want to recoup some money. Doing some of that through “Force Majeure” is on the table, with the canceled games triggering the clause.

The players union warned its members this could happen. For LeBron, Durant and other players who have gotten most of their money up front it could mean checks next season will be docked to make up the difference.

Damian Lillard opposes idea of later NBA season start running into summer

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At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference a few weeks back (although it feels like a lifetime ago), Atlanta  CEO Steve Koonin suggested the NBA should permanently shift its schedule to a mid-December start with the Finals running into August. The idea was to stop going head-to-head with the NFL and college football at the start of the season. Then the pushed back playoffs forced by the coronavirus have made that discussion more relevant. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said everything is on the table.

Damian Lillard is not a fan of the idea.

He likes the schedule just the way it is, something he said during a video conference with the media on Tuesday, hat tip to Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Portland.

“I just don’t see it. I mean, the season starts when it starts now, then February all-star weekend, getting toward the end of the season in April and then getting into the playoffs. You get that early June Finals and then you get to go off into your summer…

“You get to enjoy real-time summer,” Lillard said. “Our break is into the summer and then you get to come back as summer is leaving. I think that’s been perfect…

“It’s been perfect for us,” Lillard said. “So, for that to change and for things to be pushed back, I’m definitely not a fan of that and I don’t see many guys being a fan of that.”

Lillard is not alone in thinking this way, but Silver is more open to change than most sports commissioners. That said, changes that break with long-standing traditions are hard to make a reality.

There would be a lot of questions around a schedule change. Would the ratings still be as high for a Finals series in the heart of the summer? The NBA season no longer would sync with the NCAA or international leagues’ schedules, leading to questions about the draft and timing for players who want to test the waters. There would need to be reworked television contracts, both regionally and nationally. It could make scheduling a challenge at arenas used to having more concerts and other events in the summer.

Plus, all of this would need to be negotiated with the players union — and Lillard speaks for a lot of players on this issue.

If the NBA could somehow convince players that starting later meant more money in their pocket, those union negotiations would take on a different tone. But would the move increase revenue? That’s not an easy sell.

With this NBA season likely running late, the start of next season could be pushed back, and this theory could get a little bit of a test. Or, the next season could be shortened a little to get the league back on its regular schedule.

Which would make Lillard happy.