The Bleak Index: Race to the Bottom in the East

In the Eastern Conference Playoff race's 5th through 10th place teams, we've got a little shop of team effort horrors. You couldn't assemble more frustrating teams if you tried.

At times this season, each of them had tremendous games and seemed like they might the bejesus out of a higher seed in the playoffs. At other times, each looked like they'd be soon flipping a coin to decide between adding Perry Jones or Jared Sullinger to their already sullen rosters.

Here's the rub: we're in the season's home stretch, the time when good teams finally begin to look like Good Teams. Late March and April is also the time of year where everyone beats up on the Atlanta Hawks. But much to the delight of the Hawks' four fans, the other teams competing for the bottom spots in the East have all decided to collapse simultaneously.

And while I'd normally offer up a single Toxic Team, all these teams are so bad that I decided to give them each a spot on a Toxic Starting Five.

PG: Atlanta Hawks
Playing point guard and standing 6'7” are a bunch of chuckers who can neither handle nor pass the ball. True: the Hawks sometimes pass as a Good Team. But then you remember that until very recently Mike Bibby was deemed their best point guard, while anointed heir Jeff Teague couldn't get off the bench. Thanks to lackluster point guard play throughout the season, this team's had an inconsistent and sometimes invisible offense. If they can win a playoff series, Joe Johnson will have earned his cartoonishly large contract.

SG: Philadelphia 76ers
Starting at shooting guard and standing 6'4" are the Philadelphia 76ers. In their defense, this is a pretty young team. (Excluding Brand and Iguodala.) But you wouldn't know that watching Doug Collins's recent rotation in which Andres Nocioni and Tony Battie provide “sparks” off the bench. Nevermind the fact Nocioni makes many more "rookie" mistakes than Actual Rookie Evan Turner.

Due to their youth, Lou Williams gets to act as their veteran leader, making the Sixers a real Jekyll and Hyde team. One game, they'll come out and beat Boston in exciting fashion. The next, they'll get rolled by the dregs of league. Appropriately for their spot in the Toxic Starting Five, shooting guard's becoming one of their more consistent positions as Jodie Meeks now consistently produces 12-15 points and a few made threes per game... along with zero rebounds, zero assists, zero steals, zero blocks, and zero defense.

SF: New York Knicks
At small forward: STAT and 'Melo. As their recent losing streak shows, that's pretty much it for the Knicks, who are counting on the possibility that the next CBA will be kind enough to allow the Knicks to sign a third competent player. (Billups only counts half, by the way.) It was a high-risk, high-reward trade and it made the Knicks a popular choice for “team you don't want to face in the first round.”

Except that trading away three of your starters is always going to cause short-term struggles. To overcome them, they signed Jared Jeffries. (What?) But this trade wasn't made for the short-term. And in the medium-term, the team probably will gel together around the leadership of new Knicks Head Coach and General Manager Isiah Thomas.

PF: Indiana Pacers
They're already preparing to offer Butler coach Brad Stevens $10 million per year.

C: Charlotte Bobcats
The Bobcats realized it would be better to miss the playoffs and rebuild through the draft lottery, so they gave away Gerald Wallace at the trade deadline for free.

But then it turned out the rest of the East inadvertently joined their race to the bottom, throwing Michael Jordan's plan to rebuild around Kyrie Irving or Jimmer Fredette into doubt. And so their playoff chances have improved even as the team got worse. Most frightening if that happens: Kwame Brown would be starting in the playoffs.

Sixth Man: Milwaukee Bucks
A week ago, the Bucks looked like they might make a legitimate charge for the playoffs. And then they remembered they are the Bucks. But Michael Redd might be finally coming back.

Putrid Player: Lou Williams.
Remember him "bench-ridin" when he first came to Philly? Those were the good old days.

The Bleak Five
#1. Cleveland Cavaliers. Advice: don't pin all your hopes on Samardo Samuels.
#2. Most teams in the Eastern Conference that aren't the Bulls, Celtics, Heat, or Magic. At least one of them should work out playing competently so that we can have a competitive first-round playoff series.
#3. Sacramento Kings. Congratulations! You just beat the six-seed in the East.
#4. Washington Wizards. 1-34 on the road. Sigh.
#5. Detroit Pistons. Still old. Still dysfunctional. Still not really rebuilding. Still losing 25% of the population each time there's a census of the city.

Honorable Mentions: Minnesota, and anyone guarding Anthony Randolph until Sunday night's game.

(Click here to read more Negative Dunkalectics!)


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