“The best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry”Robert Burns
Hype is dangerous. Do you realize that we don’t actually judge any team, in any sport, based on performance? We don’t say “you won more games than you lost, therefore this season was a success,” or “you lost 2/3 of your games, therefore you failed.” It’s all relative to expectation.
In the NBA, the offseason is a time for endless optimism. It doesn’t hold the chance of “anything could happen” like the NFL does, but at least there’s a good chance for 25 out of 30 teams that they could not completely stink. But then, every year, a huge number of teams disappoint. The offseason is a time for hope, optimism, the chance of your favorite team having a great year.
Let’s shoot all that down. Here are five teams that could wind up being wildly disappointed with their season, despite being teams with which there is much excitement. Activate hype extinguisher!
The Jazz are an “it” team beyond most this year. They are full of in-the-prime quality players who can score and defend. Utah has a respected coach in Quin Snyder, a defensive game-changer in Rudy Gobert and also added veterans Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw in the offseason. It’s easy to see why the Jazz are expected to jump from ninth to as high as fourth in some projections headed into next season.
They have no injury concerns. They can shoot, defend, run, hit tough shots, play with discipline or in chaos. How could this possibly go wrong?
First, when Gobert went down last season, the Jazz defense didn’t stumble. It collapsed down the stairs like a pratfall. Gobert has to hit an exceptionally high bar for defensive performance night in and night out. The rest of the Jazz defenders are good, but the whole team balance tilts if Gobert isn’t playing at top level.
This is also the first time this core is playing with pressure, and that’s a tough spot for what is still a very young team. It comes at a time when Utah is starting to face serious dilemmas about its future cap sheets with Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood due for new big deals in the coming years.
Beyond that, the Jazz still had the ability to make the playoffs last year; they were a better team than Houston. But they stumbled repeatedly and cost themselves the eighth seed. Teams that come close and miss have a hard time making major leaps for some reason. (Think of Phoenix in 2014 and 2015.) Utah has to figure out big missing pieces and needs sustained good luck, which its been short on.
OK, this one’s fairly obvious and a lot of people are expecting them to fail. For starters, the Knicks haven’t enjoyed much success in a while, and that’s putting it lightly. Second, they’re loaded with injury-riddled players who seem past their primes (Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carmelo Anthony). But Derrick Rose did refer to this squad as a “super-team” (spoiler: they are not), and because it’s New York, the hype around a team with three current/former All-Stars is enough to make a lot of people think they could be a force in the East. I’ve been supportive of the Knicks’ moves, from trading for Rose to giving Noah $72 million at this point in his career to their small free agency moves. But now it’s time to throw some water on the parade.
The Knicks’ biggest issue is, of course, health concerns, but what we’re really talking about is wear and tear. Rose’s knee injuries have robbed him of his explosiveness, and he’s been unable to adjust his game by becoming more of a shooter. With Noah, the concern is so many miles on his treads after Tom Thibodeau’s scorched earth approach to player minute management. His drop-off was so evident, reaching through the television screen to slap you in the face with his inability to finish layups or get down the floor without wincing that it left a mark, hence the youngsters calling him “washed.” With Anthony, efficiency has never been his forte, and age only takes more of that.
But the bigger concerns are about how much this feels like like a rushed tour of a super-group. Are they running the triangle? Well, yes, but not exclusively. Is Jeff Hornacek the one designing the offense? Well, yes, but not exclusively. Is this Melo’s team? Definitely. It’s just also Kristaps Porzingis’ team. And Rose’s team. And Noah’s a forceful entity. There’s a spiritual and identity confusion with the Knicks that is at once fascinating and absolutely terrifying if you’re a fan.
This team could be anything, which with the Knicks, usually means it’ll be something bad.
With a young core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, how could this squad possibly fail to live up to expectations?
Well, they’re young. That’s pretty much all you need to know.
The Timberwolves jumped up in the standings by 13 wins last season, which is a tremendous mark and shows the fruits of the labor Flip Saunders (R.I.P.) instilled up in Minneapolis. Except that now the expectation is for the Wolves to reach the playoffs this year, to be a truly dangerous team — like the Thunder in 2010 when they faced the Lakers and gave them a run in the first round.
They need to jump to between 41 and 45 wins, so they have to again add 12 to 16 wins to their regular-season record. It’s a lot easier to go from 16 to 29 (most of which is simply by not-tanking, actively putting out teams designed not to fail) than it is to go from 29 wins to .500.
Young teams don’t win in the NBA. It’s why free agents don’t chomp at the bit to join teams like Minnesota. It takes veteran experience to handle crucial situations against playoff teams when the competition is high. And the Wolves are painfully young. On top of that, we’re still not exactly sure what Wiggins is going to be as a player. He’s not an efficient scorer, he’s not a great rebounder or playmaker. He’s athletic, and he’s very skilled, but what is he great at? Meanwhile, LaVine showed some awesome things last year and yet is still somehow not a point guard playing point guard. Ricky Rubio is too good to trade and not good enough to keep, when you have Kris Dunn.
Thibodeau’s entire M.O. is getting the most of the regular season with his teams (and then losing to LeBron in the playoffs, which would be impressive this year with the Wolves in the West). But Thibs is also known to be a “take the shortest road between point A and point B” kind of guy, and how’s that going to fly with a young squad?
And you have to remember with Towns … wait, nope, he really is that awesome. Never mind, this team should be good.
Hey, any time you can spend $86 million on Evan Turner and Festus-Ezeli-with-a-knee-problem, you gotta do it.
The Blazers were a Cinderella story last year and if it showed anything, it’s that you could give Terry Stotts Damian Lillard and five pieces of burned, rotted wood and he’d build a Frank Lloyd Wright home. With Lillard, McCollum, another year of internal improvement and some free agency additions (if not upgrades — though Ezeli is very promising) they should make the leap to real Western Conference playoff force.
Except here’s the thing: Portland made the fifth seed in an extremely down year with just 44 wins, and made the second round entirely on account of the Clippers’ injuries to two top-10 NBA players. Outside of their tremendous January and February when they were blisteringly, man-on-fire hot, the Blazers went 26-31 the rest of the season. They were “meh.” Their just reward for those two great months was the fifth seed, but there’s a lot of reason to think they were the product of schedule and timing of a hot streak than any sort of real jump being made.
Their wing situation is just perplexing. Alan Crabbe’s probably going to start … ? But they paid Evan Turner who can’t shoot 3-pointers $70 million … ? But they also kept Mo Harkless … ?
A lot of things broke Portland’s way last year and it won 44 games. What if things don’t break right this year?
The addition of Chandler Parsons to the Grit-Grind Grizzlies along with new coach David Fizdale is supposed to address the glaring needs they’ve had. Fizdale understands you can’t win with post-ups and defense all day long in today’s NBA, and Parsons finally gives them a perimeter weapon who can also create.
With Mike Conley back in the fold and Marc Gasol reportedly entirely healthy, this team looks primed to return to its usual pattern of following a down year with a great one in which they land a top-four seed.
You know, because things usually work out best in the luck department for the Memphis Grizzlies.
First off, Memphis’ injury situation is like when your friend in fourth grade was pushing the teacher all class and the teacher says “if you talk in class one more time …” and you’re just wincing, waiting for the inevitable to happen — your friend getting sent to the principal’s office. Microfracture surgery is never used anymore on account of the trauma and the number of alternative procedures now preferred, and yet somehow Parsons needed “minor microfacture surgery” a year ago, and then wound up missing the last month of the season with a knee injury.
Conley’s foot has been bothering him for years, but not in the same way. For a long period of time, one of his former teammates told CBS Sports, Conley struggled in part because of the shoes he was wearing. He changed his shoes, but the problem is the wear and tear helped create the stress in the other foot which caused his Achilles soreness, which ended his season last year.
Marc Gasol is a big man coming off a broken foot injury, and that never works out well.
What’s worse, behind all that is a newly remade bench that largely relies on youngsters. Wade Baldwin IV and Andrew Harrison are battling for the backup 2-guard spot. JaMychal Green may wind up starting, but that leaves Zach Randolph with another year on him as the real backup power forward. Deyonta Davis is somehow young and hurt, after a plantar fasciitis injury, and the veteran backup center, Brandan Wright, missed all of last season with injury.
Beyond just the injuries, though, is this: Teams that have a formula are rarely able to simply insert improvement elements and make the team better. The Warriors are an outlier of this with their offense, but then, the Warriors are an outlier with everything. The odds are not great that Fizdale will get a roster that has continually fought identity changes on offense to adapt, and on top of it, a new coach usually brings scheme changes defensively.
There are a lot of ways the Grizzlies, like the other teams on this list, could go sideways.
Source: CBS Sports / Hype Extinguisher: Five NBA teams that could fail in the face of expectations