The Stuck in Mediocrity Tier for the 2020-2021 NBA Seasonby John Devereaux December 14, 2020 1 comment
A team that is stuck in mediocrity is one of the saddest appeals in sports. Teams that can not seem to make up their minds on whether they want to tank or contend. These teams usually find themselves just missing the playoffs or getting knocked out immediately. Therefore, they’re usually selecting mid-first round in the NBA Draft each year.
Some of these teams even reach their goals. They make the playoffs but as one of the lower seeds that barely scraped by. Fans and the front office are excited to see their team contend in the playoffs. But just like most teams stuck in mediocrity, they get swept or if they are lucky the team wins one game in a gentleman’s sweep. Teams such as these will not have the success desired, and are on course to stay in mediocrity after having been stuck here for years.
The Kings have been stuck in a purgatory of mediocrity for the past two seasons. Since drafting De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley in back to back years, the team has found themselves just outside of the playoffs. The front office in recent years has been reshaped, and the team has since become more stable.
Even with Fox and Bagley at the helm in Sacramento the team does not have the bench depth to surround their stars. Although the additions of Tyrese Haliburton from the draft and Hassan Whiteside from free agency are great, those two players will not push the team over the edge to make the playoffs.
The most appalling quality of this team is the head coach. Luke Walton has not been proven to be of value as a head coach. During his time with a super team in Golden State, Walton led a three-headed monster. Future Hall of Famers Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and even Draymond Green to a 24 game win streak. Since then he has been the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings and has done nothing but regress the teams.
This team is extremely young. Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are players that can be built around, but not as the first option. Zach LaVine is a borderline all-star but is stuck with young players trying to find their way in the NBA. The starting five can be competitive on good nights. Keeping games closer than what many might believe at first sight.
However, the bench unit is nothing special. Tomas Satoransky is their best option off the bench. Rookie Patrick Williams could turn into a starter as the season progresses. But leaving that as their best hope for the season is nothing to be desired. The team needs its young players to each take a giant leap this year. Show signs of progression, especially on the defensive end of the court. The Bulls have spent their last few offseasons picking in the lottery, and have yet to make a breakthrough.
The highlight of this Bulls squad does not come from the players. But instead the new hiring of Billy Donovan. Donovan led a talented roster in Oklahoma City throughout his tenure. Having exceptional players in Russell Westbrook and Durant helped, though his greatest accomplishment shined through his work last season. He led a team that was built to tank to the playoffs. Additionally, he helped revive Chris Paul’s slightly dissolving career. If he can translate his work from Oklahoma City to Chicago, the young players might turn into the players many thought they would become.
The organization that has been stuck in mediocrity since their creation. A team that picks in the late end of the lottery year in and year out. A team that will fight for the last playoff spot, just to be swept in the first round. The Charlotte Hornets have once again made moves that contradict their motives. They did a great job last year in deciding to finally tank and rip apart the roster. That landed them the third overall pick, as the team selected LaMelo Ball. Most teams spend multiple years in a rebuilding state to further the development of their future.
Charlotte on the other hand decided to trash the idea of rebuilding and sign players that can help them win now. They eventually signed Gordon Hayward to a four-year deal. This move takes up a heft space in the cap for Charlotte. Hayward is accustomed to winning as he has spent his career with winning organizations in the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics. It feels as though Michael Jordan and his front office believe that having Hayward paired with Ball could lead them to the playoffs.
Instead, what will happen is Ball will play his career out just as his predecessor in Kemba Walker had done. The team will find themselves a few games out of the playoff race, thus recreating the endless cycle of drafting late in the lottery and not building a contender.
The Orlando Magic have seemingly hosted the same core for what feels like forever. Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, and Evan Fournier led the way. These three players are talented and capable of being a third option for a contending team. This team showed its ceiling all the way back in 2018. They’re a borderline playoff team that will not get past the first round with their roster.
The team does have potential in their young core. Jonathan Issac is a premier defender and a future candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Once he is healthy for a full season, that award will be on lockdown. Mo Bamba has been rotting on the bench since being drafted. Sitting behind Vucevic is slowing his development. The team also took a flyer on Markelle Fultz, and when given minutes he has been producing. Yet, the team will not give him a full time starting role. They then drafted Cole Anthony, a point guard who will take minutes away from Fultz.
The development in Orlando is stagnating, not only with the players but with the front office. They need to trade their “Big Three”. This will allow the team to fully go into a rebuilding phase. Allowing them to take a player with a top-five pick. And thus giving the younger core more playing time to develop.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have been called out by former players for not having the motivation or drive to win games, the chances are that team won’t succeed. Jimmy Butler after being traded away from Minnesota called out Karl-Anthony Towns. Butler accused the center of not having enough passion or drive to win. The team then doubled down behind Towns’ behavior by drafting a player who said he would rather be drafted in the NFL with the first overall pick. Anthony Edwards is a talented ballplayer, but when a player comes out and says that the NFL was his dream and basketball was just a side sport, there’s a reason for concern.
Minnesota does have a solid starting five. As the team brought back Ricky Rubio to handle the point guard duties. The team also traded for D’Angelo Russell halfway through last season. Towns has the best starting five since his rookie year. The team even has a solid bench. Malik Beasley and Josh Okogie are specialists in their field. Beasley is a knockdown shooter, while Okogie is a grit-and-grind defender. The team has promise in their younger core outside of their star players. Jarrett Culver, who had a sluggish rookie campaign, might be able to bounce back with Edwards taking all the media critics.
Minnesota will still find ways to mess this roster up. Passion and drive will be the deciding factor to how the Minnesota Timberwolves finish this season. For now, they are mediocre. A team with talent that doesn’t know what to do with it.
San Antonio Spurs
Gregg Popovich deserves everything. He led an organization with great talents to a 22-year playoff streak. A record that had never been done. Popovich then received Kawhi Leonard in the later years of his dynasty. A future MVP-caliber player. Unfortunately, Leonard would ultimately destroy what Popovich had built up for decades. The Leonard trade royally screwed the future hall of fame coach. In exchange for Leonard, San Antonio received aging star DeMar DeRozan. He is a talented forward but is not even close to the same level of player as Leonard.
This trade would turn the team from contenders to a lower-seeded playoff team. DeRozan has more experience than Leonard, but the former all-star is much older than Leonard. With the addition of DeRozan and still having LaMarcus Aldridge on the roster, the team is struggling to contend for a playoff spot. Both players are nearing the end of their careers, and are definitely out of their primes. Both athletes are regular starters in the NBA, thus creating a problem for San Antonio.
The team can not ruin the value of these players by rotting them on the bench. But giving them 30 or more minutes a game hinders their younger core from receiving valuable playing time. These former all-star players are both on max contracts still. Making it very difficult for the organization to trade them away or waive them. Until those contracts are off San Antonio’s payrolls, the team will be in purgatory.
Follow John Devereaux on Twitter @NBADevereaux
Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images