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Lakers, Kings, Suns join Teams Of Despair

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

Nearly every NBA team was good, is good or will be good.

Teams often follow a general lifecycle. They’re young/bad then prime/good then old/bad then start over at the beginning. Teams usually advance through each stage quickly enough that rosters overlap.

But not every team. There are a few special teams – teams that have been nowhere and are going nowhere. I call them Teams of Despair.

The rules for being 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.

There have been 46 Teams of Despair in NBA history.

We don’t know which teams will qualify as a Team of Despair until after the fact, usually years later. But we can track which teams are in danger of joining this inferior group.

Here’s a history of Teams of Despair entering last season. What changed since?

All seasons are listed by their ending year.

Off the hook

Denver Nuggets (2019)

In their first season without a member of their 2013 playoff team, the 2019 Nuggets had the Western Conference’s second-best record. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray should have Denver off TOD watch for a long time.

Brooklyn Nets (2018-2019)

It seemed likely some young members of these Nets teams – D'Angelo Russell, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – would make the playoffs in Brooklyn. It happened more quickly than expected.

Orlando Magic (2015-2019)

The Magic finally made the playoffs after Dwight Howard‘s departure. Long-time Orlando players Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier keyed the postseason run and got five years of teams TOD clearance.

New inductions

Los Angeles Lakers (2017)

This is the Lakers’ first Team of Despair in their storied history. What a pitiful era between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. The Lakers have the right idea now: Build a championship contender around LeBron. (Their execution has left much to be desired.) That strategy has meant prioritizing veterans over youth, including Ivica Zubac and Brandon Ingram, who were the last remaining Lakers from 2017. For some reason, the Lakers dealt Zubac to the Clippers just before last season’s trade deadline. Ingram went to the Pelicans in the Anthony Davis trade.

Sacramento Kings (2016)

The Kings have missed the playoffs the last 13 years, in part, because they didn’t commit to a direction. They drafted young players in an attempt to rebuild. Then, they signed veterans to win sooner. The veterans weren’t good enough to get Sacramento to the playoffs, and the pool of young players wasn’t strong enough to build around. Those issues could be changing soon, but the 2016 Kings were a great example of this era. A rookie in 2016, Willie Cauley-Stein never found staying power in Sacramento and signed with the Warriors this summer. A relatively expensive signing the same season, Kosta Koufos was fine but not much more. Now, he’s playing in Russia, and the 2016 Kings are a Team Of Despair.

Phoenix Suns (2015)

The Suns’ long rut was bound to produce a Team Of Despair. The big question: How many? Phoenix trading T.J. Warren to the Pacers clinched 2015 as a TOD. Incidentally, that silly trade – the Suns attaching the No. 32 pick to dump Warren – increases their odds of placing more teams on this list.

Still in limbo

New York Knicks (2018-2020)

Kristaps Porzingis was supped to bridge the Knicks from Carmelo Anthony’s 2013 playoff team to their next success. But with Porzingis on the Mavericks, New York’s hopes of avoiding TOD status are hanging by a thread. Only Frank Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson remain from the 2018 Knicks.

Los Angeles Lakers (2018-2020)

The Lakers will make the playoffs with LeBron James. (Right?) So, I wouldn’t worry much about the 2019 and 2020 teams. (Right?)

But only Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso remain from the 2018 Lakers. If Los Angeles doesn’t make the 2020 postseason, those three could be moved before the following season. Still, it’s highly likely either the Lakers make the 2020 playoffs or at least one of those three stays and the Lakers make the 2021 playoffs.

Phoenix Suns (2016-2020)

Poor drafting and a front-office change that sparked major roster turnover has left three Phoenix teams with only one hope to escape TOD status: Devin Booker. Only he remains from the 2016, 2017 and 2018 Suns.

Booker should eventually lead Phoenix to the playoffs. But the Suns are a longshot this season, and the West is always tough. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2024, and though it seems crazy to set that countdown clock for just making the playoffs, this is Phoenix.

Sacramento Kings (2017-2020)

The Kings have something positive going, and it’s remarkable how quickly they built up. Buddy Hield is the only remaining member of the 2017 team. Only Hield, De'Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic remain from 2018. It’d be quite disappointing if Sacramento doesn’t make the playoffs with Hield, but he’s only one player, and he can become a restricted free agent next summer.

Memphis Grizzlies (2020)

The Grizzlies lost the final members of their 2017 playoff team this offseason, trading Mike Conley to the Jazz and Chandler Parsons to the Hawks. But Memphis has a bright future with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant. It might take a while, but it’d be quite surprising if nobody from this team makes the playoffs with the Grizzlies.

Nets reportedly sign Donta Hall for restart games in Orlando

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Donta Hall went undrafted out of Alabama last June, then made the most of the opportunities he was given. The 6’9″ big man tore up the G League for the Grand Rapids Drive, averaging 15.4 points a game on 66.9% shooting, plus gabbing 10.6 rebounds a night. It was good enough to get him a call up to the Pistons and getting in four games for them.

Now he’s going to play in the NBA restart for the Brooklyn Nets, a story broken by Marc Stein of the New York Times.

The shorthanded Nets are without big men DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, and Nicolas Claxton (Jarrett Allen was the only center on the roster). Donta Hall will get the chance to impress the Nets — and other teams — and try to earn a contract for next season (he will be a free agent when the Nets are eliminated).

Hall is a tremendous athlete, he’s bouncy and long (7’5″ wingspan). If his skills develop, he has a role in the NBA.

The Nets were hit hard by injuries and had to make substitute signings such as Jamal Crawford and Michael Beasley. Here is what the final Nets roster looks like in Orlando.

After four months off, first NBA teams practice in restart bubble

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Nikola Vucevic had to raise his voice a bit to answer a question. He had just walked off the court after the first Orlando Magic practice of the restart, and some of his teammates remained on the floor while engaged in a loud and enthusiastic shooting contest.

After four months, basketball was truly back.

Full-scale practices inside the NBA bubble at the Disney complex started Thursday, with the Magic — the first team to get into the campus earlier this week — becoming the first team formally back on the floor. By the close of business Thursday, all 22 teams participating in the restart were to be checked into their hotel and beginning their isolation from the rest of the world for what will be several weeks at least. And by Saturday, all teams should have practiced at least once.

“It’s great to be back after four months,” Vucevic said. “We all missed it.”

The last eight teams were coming in Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers among them. Lakers forward LeBron James lamented saying farewell to his family, and 76ers forward Joel Embiid — who raised some eyebrows earlier this week when he said he was “not a big fan of the idea” of restarting the season in a bubble — showed up for his team’s flight in what appeared to be a full hazmat suit.

“Just left the crib to head to the bubble. … Hated to leave the (hashtag)JamesGang,” James posted on Twitter.

Another last-day arrival at the Disney campus was the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors, who boarded buses for the two-hour drive from Naples, Florida — they’ve been there for about two weeks, training at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers — for the trip to the bubble. The buses were specially wrapped for the occasion, with the Raptors’ logo and the words “Black Lives Matter” displayed on the sides.

Brooklyn, Utah, Washington and Phoenix all were down to practice Thursday, along with the Magic. Denver was originally scheduled to, then pushed back its opening session to Friday. By Saturday, practices will be constant — 22 teams working out at various times in a window spanning 13 1/2 hours and spread out across seven different facilities.

Exhibition games begin July 22. Games restart again for real on July 30.

“It just felt good to be back on the floor,” said Brooklyn interim coach Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Kenny Atkinson less than a week before the March 11 suspension of the season because of the coronavirus. “I think that was the most exciting thing. We got a little conditioning underneath us. Didn’t go too hard after the quarantine, wanted to get guys to just run up and down a little bit and feel the ball again.”

Teams, for the most part, had to wait two days after arriving before they could get on the practice floor.

Many players have passed the time with video games; Miami center Meyers Leonard, with the Heat not practicing for the first time until Friday, has been giving fans glimpses of everything from his gaming setup to his room service order for his first dinner at Disney — replete with lobster bisque, a burger, chicken strips and some Coors Light to wash it all down.

The food has been a big talking point so far, especially after a handful of players turned to social media to share what got portrayed as less-than-superb meals during the brief quarantine period.

“For the most part, everything has been pretty good in my opinion,” Nets guard Joe Harris said. “They’ve done a good job taking care of us and making sure to accommodate us in every area as much as possible.”

Learning the campus has been another key for the first few days, and that process likely will continue for a while since teams will be using all sorts of different facilities while getting back into the practice routine.

“We have to make the best out of it,” Vucevic said. “You know, this is our job. We’re going to try to make the best out of it. I really think the NBA did the best they could to know make this as good as they can for us. And once we start playing, you’re not going to be thinking about the little things.”

Zion Williamson’s stepfather accused of taking $400,000 before Zion’s season at Duke

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The legal fight over NBA rookie Zion Williamson’s endorsement potential now includes an allegation that his family received $400,000 from a marketing agency before his lone season for Duke.

Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed a lawsuit last summer in a Florida state court, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. That came a week after Williamson filed his own lawsuit in a North Carolina federal court to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

In court filings Thursday in North Carolina, Ford’s attorneys included a sworn affidavit from a California man who said the head of a Canadian-based firm called Maximum Management Group (MMG) told him he paid Williamson’s family for his commitment to sign with MMG once he left Duke for the NBA.

The documents include a marketing agreement signed by Williamson with MMG from May 2019, a December 2019 “letter of declaration” signed by Williamson and his stepfather agreeing to pay $500,000 to MMG president Slavko Duric for “repayment of a loan” from October 2018, and a copy of Williamson’s South Carolina driver’s license — which listed Williamson’s height as “284” and his weight as “6′06.”

In a statement to The Associated Press, Williamson attorney, Jeffrey S. Klein, said those documents were “fraudulent.”

“The alleged ‘agreements’ and driver’s license attached to these papers are fraudulent – and neither Mr. Williamson nor his family know these individuals nor had any dealings with them,” Klein said. “We had previously alerted Ms. Ford’s lawyers to both this fact and that we had previously reported the documents to law enforcement as forgeries, but they chose to go ahead with another frivolous filing anyway.

“This is a desperate and irresponsible attempt to smear Mr. Williamson at the very time he has the opportunity to live his dream of playing professional basketball.”

The affidavit is from Donald Kreiss, a self-described entrepreneur who worked with athletes and agents in marketing relationships. He had recently contacted Ford then provided the affidavit last week outlining interactions with MMG and Williamson’s family, according to one of the filings.

Ford’s attorneys have sought to focus on Williamson’s eligibility. His lawsuit stated that Prime Sports violated North Carolina’s sports agent law, both by failing to include disclaimers about the loss of eligibility when signing the contract and the fact neither Prime Sports nor Ford were registered with the state.

Ford’s attorneys have argued the Uniform Athlete Agents Act wouldn’t apply if Williamson was ineligible to play college basketball from the start.

Ford’s attorneys had sought to have last summer’s No. 1 overall NBA draft pick and New Orleans Pelicans rookie answer questions in Florida state court about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils. They had also raised questions about housing for Williamson’s family during his Duke career in a separate filing in North Carolina.

A Florida appeals court last month granted a stay to pause the proceedings there, shifting the focus to the North Carolina case.

Duke has repeatedly declined to comment on the case because it isn’t involved in the litigation, but issued a statement in January that school had reviewed Williamson’s eligibility previously and found no concerns.

Russell Westbrook, James Harden do not fly to Orlando with Rockets, will join team later

Russell Westbrook James Harden
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The Houston Rockets have landed in Orlando to be part of the NBA’s restart bubble.

Except for stars Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Neither was on the team’s charter flight from Houston, but both plan to join the team soon. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news, with the story confirmed by others soon after.

Just-signed Luc Mbah a Moute and assistant coach John Lucas also did not fly with the team and will catch up soon, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Westbrook and Harden are not the only stars to delay their arrival in Orlando, the Clippers Kawhi Leonard did the same for personal reasons. The teams have agreed to this, but with limited practice time in the run-up to the eight seeding games, coaches want everyone in camp to work on rebuilding chemistry as fast as possible.

Coach Mike D’Antoni did fly with the team and was cleared to be in the bubble. D’Antoni, 69, was subject to extra consideration for entrance into the bubble by the NBA due to his age and the risk factors for people older than 65 with COVID-19.

The Rockets are one of the most interesting teams to watch in Orlando because of their all-in commitment to small ball — 6’5″ P.J. Tucker will play a lot of center. In the uncertain world of the NBA’s restart, that unconventional approach could get them upset wins. Or, they could get bounced early. There is no more high-variance team in Orlando than the Rockets.