NBA Hell Pt. 1
For some NBA teams, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.
by Patrick Crawley / @BasketballFiend
In terms of a basic definition, NBA Hell is the professional basketball version of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, a guided tour through the nine circles of hell, each circle a little bit worse than the one before it.
These aren’t necessarily the teams with the worst records in the League. They’re the nine franchises that bring the most pain and suffering to their fans, ranked from No. 9 (the least bad) to No. 1 (the worst).
A number of different factors play into my rankings.
One factor is obviously current performance: record, point differential, number of blowout losses (defined as losses by more than 15 points). Another is ownership and management (bad owners and bad GMs are often harder to get rid of than bad players and bad coaches). Attendance and fan support factor in. So do off-the-court distractions and financial considerations. And, of course, potential for future success is a main component as well.
Theoretically, the No. 1 team is the one that combines the worst of each of these categories.
For the sake of brevity, I’ve divided my list in half. We’ll do half the list today and the second half on Wednesday. Here are teams 9 through 6.
Pull back the gates and enter if you dare.
Welcome to NBA Hell.
9. Phoenix Suns
Current record: 26-26
Point differential: -0.3
Blowout losses: 5
Salary committed in ’11-12: $48.4 million
“Bad” contracts: 2 (Josh Childress, Channing Frye)
The Suns aren’t a team you’d typically associate with being “worst of the worst,” but they’re actually in quite a bind.
Their best player is undoubtedly Steve Nash, who just turned 37 but is still producing prime-time numbers (16.7 points and 11.1 assists per game, 52.5 percent shooting from the field) and keeping the team afloat despite being surrounded by the NBA version of the cast of Cougar Town.
Vince Carter is a terrible fit both on the court (a middling defender on an already suspect defensive team) and off it (the 2009-10 Suns thrived on camaraderie and hustle, neither of which is a strong point for Vince). Marcin Gortat and Grant Hill are solid but unspectacular. Robin Lopez continues to be an enigma (much like his brother out in Jersey).
Without Nash, the Suns would be awful. But even with him they’re at least two seasons away from being a serious contender. At 26-26, they’re knocking on the Playoff door. But even if they get in with the eighth seed (and that’s a big if), they don’t have the personnel to keep pace with the Spurs, Lakers or Mavs.
This presents a conflict.
Trading Nash would anger the fan base and drive ticket sales into the ground. (The Suns rank 14th in the League in average attendance. Would that still be the case if Nash left? Probably not.) Not trading him means another season of mediocrity before potentially losing him for nothing in a year when he either a) signs with another team, or b) retires.
Complicating matters is the fact that the Suns are owned by Robert Sarver, whose meddling and penny-pinching often drives the Suns’ best talent out of town. Think Mike D’Antoni, Steve Kerr and Amar’e Stoudemire.
Out of respect, the Suns should trade Nash to a contender, then waive Carter’s $18 million option this summer and build around whatever package of picks and young talent they can get for Nash. But with Sarver in the mix, that likely won’t happen. Nash is his cash cow. He wants the money in hand. I doubt he’ll make a move.
This leaves the Suns with a mismatched roster of aging stars (Nash, Hill, Carter) and not-quite-good-enough-to-carry-a-team role players (Gortat, Lopez, Mickael Pietrus).
On top of that, you have the dead weight contracts of Josh Childress ($27 million over four years) and Channing Frye (four years, $25 million). All of which adds up to a spectacular mess. There’s no direction in Phoenix and no conceivable plan — other than to sell as many tickets as possible for as long as possible.
Had the Suns re-signed Stoudemire and kept Kerr on board, they’d be nowhere near this list (this is a team that made it to the conference finals last season for crying out loud). Instead, they’re No. 9 — eight spots away from rock bottom. Barring a groundbreaking plan from Sarver and President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby, you’ll see them here for a while too.
It just goes to show you: one or two bad decisions in this league and suddenly everything is in peril.
Nash, Hill and coach Alvin Gentry deserve better. Not to mention the fans.
Let’s move on. I’m getting depressed.
Current record: 13-42
Point differential: -5.9
Blowout losses: 9
Salary committed in ’11-12: $41.7 million
“Bad” contracts: 0
Hey, wait a minute, you’re saying. The Timberwolves are 13-42. They’ve been blown out nine times this season and have the 24th-best average attendance in the League. How are they ranked eighth on this list if first is the worst and ninth is the least bad?
I understand what you’re saying (it’s the reaction I expected). But the Wolves aren’t as bad off as you might think. Hear me out.
First of all, they have Kevin Love.
Forty consecutive double doubles, an All-Star nod, the first 30-30 game in 28 years. Those accomplishments speak for themselves. The guy’s a star and will be for years to come, which is obviously a point in Minnesota’s favor.
Second, they’ve been smart with their money.
Believe me, I’m not trying to pin a medal on David Kahn or say he’s great or anything, but as comical as some of his moves have been (Darko Milicic, anyone?), the Wolves have an awful lot of cap space opening up in ‘12-13 – as it stands, they have just $13.8 million committed that season.
The talent on their roster may be sub-standard (with a few exceptions), but the Wolves aren’t tied to a single bad contract. Check the ledger. There isn’t one player making over $7 million this season. Nor will there be one until Love and Michael Beasley become eligible for extensions in two years.
That kind of restraint is impressive, and it opens the door for opportunity — even if Minnesota isn’t exactly a free-agent destination of choice. There’s a plan in place and that’s encouraging.
Third, they’re a fun team to watch.
No, they aren’t the Heat or the Thunder or the Bulls, but the Wolves have something going. Love’s terrific. Beasley likes to put on a show. And Wesley Johnson is coming into his own, albeit as a bench player.
Minnesota frequently tops the list of good “bad teams” to watch. In other words, they deserve a spot in NBA Hell but they’re getting a lot closer to pulling themselves up to the surface.
There’s more to success in the NBA than having a superstar, having cap room and being fun to watch. The Warriors can attest to that. But the Wolves are definitely taking steps in the right direction.
As much as I’m leery of Kahn, Minnesota’s coaching staff (I can’t stand the triumvirate of Kurt Rambis, Reggie Theus and Bill Laimbeer) and the dwindling prospect of Ricky Rubio ever donning the teal and white, there’s signs this team is better off than it has been in years.