The NBA just celebrated its best and brightest stars during an exciting All-Star Weekend in Chicago. Now, as the players return from their week-long break, it’s time to talk about the worst and dimmest. It was difficult to winnow this list, but here, in no particular order, are the NBA's 10 biggest disappointments of the 2019-2020 season:
Brooklyn Nets 'superteam'
The Nets were winners of NBA free agency for a few days last summer, signing BFFs Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan and trading for Taurean Prince. Then the Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard and traded for Paul George. Whoops.
Still recovering from Achilles surgery, Durant hasn't played a game, and Irving, who has played in only 20 games, will miss the rest of the season with a mysterious shoulder injury. That's probably for the best anyway. When Kyrie played, the team was 8-12; when he sat, the Nets were 17-16 -- the third season in a row his teams have played better without him. Notice a trend?
The Nets, 28-25 at this point last season, are 25-28. No one has job security, as Irving called out only a few of his teammates as pieces for the Nets’ future –- don’t get comfortable, Joe Harris and Prince!
Last season’s Nets were celebrated for their great team culture and unity. Then a bunch of those players were shipped out in favor of two superstars and their friends. It’s like the Nets spent years painstakingly rebuilding an old classic car, and once it got running, they traded it in for a sports car that’s in the shop every two weeks.
Although he was 66 years old and had zero NBA experience, the Cavaliers lured Beilein from the Michigan campus to be their coach well into the future. Unsurprisingly, the longtime college coach struggled to relate to his players. Beilein “accidentally” called them thugs during a film session, and even though the Cavs (14-40) had no expectations of winning this season, losing took a huge toll on the coach. And Beilein's long, college-style practices full of yelling took a toll on the team, contributing to injuries to Darius Garland and rookie Dylan Windler.
Beilein eventually walked from the $12 million left on his deal, making it only 54 games into his first season. There's plenty of blame to go around -– Koby Altman’s drafting, Kevin Love’s open mutiny, four starters who can’t play defense. And Beilein’s not the first coach who had trouble working for Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who has had nine coaches in 15 years.
Now the Cavs move forward with J.B. Bickerstaff, "The Official Interim Coach of the NBA," and hope they can convince Andre Drummond to opt in to his contract. Or opt out. Who knows what Cleveland’s plan is?
It seemed like a huge coup for the 76ers (34-21) to sign Horford from Boston last summer, but Philly must have expected more than 12 points and seven rebounds per game from Big Al. The fit alongside Joel Embiid is worse than it looked on paper, and the team is desperately challenged for shooting when it plays the two centers with Ben Simmons.
Philly's other big signing, Tobias Harris, is better at power forward, which further marginalizes Horford. Now he has lost his starting spot to Furkan Korkmaz, the Sixers are in fifth place, and they can’t win on the road (9-19). This can’t be what they expected from their $28 million sixth man.
Golden State Warriors
We all knew the Warriors (12-43) would struggle to get back to a sixth straight Finals after losing Durant to free agency and Klay Thompson to a torn ACL. But then Steph Curry suffered a broken hand in the fourth game of the season, Draymond Green suffered a torn ligament in the next game, and suddenly the Warriors went into full tank mode.
It must be incredibly disappointing for the people who spent close to $1 million on luxury suites in the new Chase Center. But it’s also incredibly disappointing for opponents looking to get revenge on the former champs. Blowing out the 2019-20 Warriors is basically blowing out a bunch of G Leaguers wearing Warriors costumes -- it’s just not satisfying when the Splash Brothers aren’t even in the building!
The only consolation for this season is that longtime Warriors fans are back in their comfort zone: watching their team suck. The past five years were nice, but real Warriors fandom is watching castoffs and former lottery pick busts, hoping they improve to the level where they can be 11th and 12th men on a real team.
Usually a blockbuster deal helps the teams involved get excited about what’s to come. Minnesota's swap of Andrew Wiggins and a pick to Golden State for D’Angelo Russell helped these teams feel, at best, relief. It’s a little more encouraging for Minnesota, which has managed to dump most of its veterans and team Russell with his good friend, Karl-Anthony Towns. Of course, the team is still pretty bad, but everyone in Minnesota was so sick of Wiggins, somehow the Wolves’ second-leading scorer in franchise history, that it probably felt like a small price to pay.
In Russell, the Warriors dumped a player they had signed just months ago. And their prize is the NBA’s most disappointing max contract player -- someone who, despite his physical gifts, has never learned to play winning basketball. In all their veteran-dumping trades, the Warriors came away with four near-worthless, late-second round picks, a 2021 No. 1, and Canada’s most overrated export since Avril Lavigne. They did get under the luxury tax, so the deal is exciting if you’re highly invested in billionaires saving money.
The Pistons might be the most hopeless, least interesting team in the league. They have a former superstar in Blake Griffin, but this isn’t the high-flying dunk artist of his youth; this is the ball-distributing amateur stand-up comic who misses 35 games a season.
The Pistons (19-38) aren’t good enough to make the playoffs, even in the woeful Eastern Conference, but they’re not bad enough to dream about getting a high lottery pick. Speaking of lottery picks, they let their recent ones, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson, leave for free, and Luke Kennard has missed half the season. And, at 23, Kennard is their best young player!
Usually mediocre teams can at least dream about trading their stars for ... something. But the Pistons were so scared that Andre Drummond would opt into next year’s max deal, they traded him to Cleveland for Brandon Knight, John Henson and a second-round pick in 2023. That’s pretty disappointing, but that’s also typical for Detroit, where all fans can look forward to is Griffin’s healthy games, Kennard’s workmanlike 15 points per game, and rookie Sekou Doumbouya figuring things out 2-3 years from now.
Going into the season, Collins looked like a possible Most Improved Player candidate, an athletic frontcourt player to grab rebounds and Trae Young lobs for an improving Hawks team. But then he tested positive for growth hormone and was suspended for 25 games, and Atlanta went into a tailspin.
Collins came back, and he’s averaging 20 points per game. But now that the Hawks (15-41) have acquired Clint Capela, he may not have a fit in their front court. Worse, Tuskegee Airmen fan Collins didn't return to the dunk contest after the PED ban, so America had to watch Dwight Howard.
Honorable mention to Cam Reddish and DeAndre Hunter, disappointing rookie lottery picks who will forever remind Atlanta that it traded Luka Doncic.
Fired executives who aren’t actually fired
After six disastrous seasons as general manager and then president, Steve Mills finally got fired by the Knicks, although he’s still going to work for the team’s parent company, MSG. Similarly, the Bulls plan to replace general manager Gar Forman after a decade as GM, but he’'ll get a gig in their scouting department. The real boss, team president John Paxson, isn’t going anywhere. How can the Bulls expect anything to change when the same guy has been in charge since 2003? Paxson didn’t lose his job when he choked Coach Vinny Del Negro, and there’s no reason to think owner Jerry Reinsdorf will ever fire him.
As for the Knicks, they may hire Leon Rose to run their basketball operations, but it’s hard to think things will change as long as owner James Dolan is still writing the checks. He is still the only NBA owner to be sued by shareholders because he was devoting too much time to his blues band. And if things go south with Rose, because things always go south with the Knicks, don’t be surprised if Mills comes back to run the team in 2023.
The Kings were 39-43 last season, a 12-game improvement from 2017-18, and maintained hope of making the playoffs all the way into March. That was far too much success for general manager Vlade Divac, who fired Coach Dave Joerger and hired Luke Walton, who had just become the first coach in 15 years to miss the playoffs despite having LeBron James. With their $40 million in cap space, Sacramento signed three bad free agents, two of whom (Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon) have already been traded.
Now Sacramento is 21-33, seven games out of the eighth seed, and 13th in the West. Marvin Bagley, whom they drafted over Luka Doncic, has played 13 games. Harrison Barnes, who got an $85 million contract extension, averages 14.5 points and five rebounds. He is probably regretting his pledge from December not to shave or cut his hair until the Kings were over .500.
Owner Vivek Ranadive is constantly complaining about, and to, Walton and Divac in their group chat. Just another reason to question Vlade’s judgment! Don't have a group chat with your boss, Divac. The highlight of the season is, appropriately, Buddy Hield winning the Three-Point Contest while apparently hungover.
In October, the season looked promising for the Bulls, with Zach LaVine leading a group of promising youngsters that included Lauri Markannen and Wendell Carter. Lavine has shot well (25.3 ppg.), but the other young players took a step back and/or got hurt. (Otto Porter has missed most of the season with a foot injury.) The Bulls are so bad that LaVine didn't even get a sniff at the All-Star Game played in his home city.
It’s hard not to point fingers at Jim Boylen, a throwback coach in his demeanor and strategies. He seems overly focused on motivating devices, like making players punch a time clock, and not focused enough on actual clock management, like preserving timeouts. Thankfully for the Bulls (19-36), they play in the woeful Eastern Conference and are still just five games out of the playoffs. But with this coach, there’s no reason to believe Chicago will have a late-season surge.
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