The Top-Five Poorly Run NBA franchises
By Fanspeak Contributing Writer Geoff Nelowet
1. Washington Wizards
Coming into the season, the Washington Wizards had one of the highest payrolls in the NBA. They expected to compete for a top playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with their “big three” of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, and Caron Butler (and Brendan Haywood didn’t hurt either) finally healthy. Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld even went as far as to trade the Wizards’ top-five draft pick for veteran, “win-now” talent to supplement the already talented roster. Grunfeld traded the Wizards’ coveted pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye – two expiring contracts. In fairness, using Grunfeld’s logic, the Wizards felt that they could compete in the Eastern Conference, and their only weakness was at shooting guard.
Unfortunately, Grunfeld’s assessment of the roster he assembled was completely misguided. The team floundered at every point in the season. They could not solve their defensive deficiencies – which would be expected as Grunfeld’s roster contained maybe one player that was capable of being a good defender (Haywood). More importantly, many coaches and general managers across the NBA saw the flaws of the Wizards’ roster long before the season began, but Grunfeld and the rest of the Wizards organization continued to build around a team with very limited potential. It is important to note that Grunfeld has become a popular scapegoat over the last few months, but the organization as a whole is to blame. It is certainly not in his best interest to sell off second round draft picks. Why would Grunfeld care about the luxury tax? He’s certainly not the one that has to pay it.
In summary of the Wizards questionable decisions:
-Signing Arenas to a $111 Million dollar contract after having serious knee surgery (ignoring the fact that Arenas is not worth that money regardless of health)
-Ignoring for upwards of five seasons that the roster was incapable of playing defense
-Trading away a top-five NBA draft pick essentially for expiring contracts
-Selling multiple second round draft picks for cash
The Wizards have since blown up their roster. Jamison, Butler, Haywood and a few others have been shipped out for expiring contracts, draft picks and one prospect – Al Thornton. Even with the recent development of Andray Blatche, the Wizards have probably the worst roster in the NBA with little means of improving it other than lying in the NBA cellar for a few seasons until they can assemble a roster through top-five draft picks (that they don’t trade). Even with spending money this off season, they still won’t be able to lure a big-name free agent to such a poorly run organization that is undergoing a transition to new ownership.
2. Detroit Pistons
Joe Dumars has been vaunted for years as one of the top GMs in the NBA, and early in his tenure he had assembled one of the best rosters in basketball. In 2004, the Pistons won the NBA title, and it would seem difficult to argue against Dumars after he accomplished the ultimate goal.
But over the last few seasons, the decisions Dumars has made have been mystifying. Dumars famously drafted Darko Milicic in what was a can’t-miss 2003 draft (he passed over Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Chris Kaman). In 2008, Chauncey Billups was traded for Allen Iverson – a deal meant to shake up a championship-contending team that had gone flat. It also gave Detroit financial flexibility with Iverson’s contract expiring. The Pistons immediately lost their competitiveness, whereas Billups’ new team, the Denver Nuggets, is still a championship contender today.
At some point over the last year, Dumars decided that point guard Rodney Stuckey was the franchise cornerstone, and that he was not to be moved under any circumstance. Stuckey has been maybe an above average NBA point guard. Consequently, Dumars felt that he needed to throw talent at Stuckey, so with the new cap space, the Pistons signed Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon to five-year contracts worth over $90 Million combined.
As expected, Dumars’ newly assembled roster has failed. He signed a streak shooter that requires volume in Gordon and a power forward that doesn’t play defense in Villanueva. They are 23-46 on the season, and their core players are all locked in for multiple seasons. Their best prospect is still Rodney Stuckey, and they seem destined for mediocrity for years to come.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers have been average at best for years now. They have failed to develop their talent. Thaddeus Young, Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams have all gone from prospects with huge potential to above average players at best.
The signing of Elton Brand has been a disaster, and he is easily one of the top-five most overpaid players in the NBA. He has three more years on his contract, and the 76ers as a whole will have a higher payroll next season. The 76ers are 24-45 thus far, and an increased payroll for a bottom feeder has to be a red flag.
It seems that the 76ers will be stuck in limbo just as the Detroit Pistons are. They aren’t quite terrible enough to land top-five lottery picks every season, and they are locked in with their sub-par roster for multiple years. Also, both the 76ers organization and its players have lost confidence in their head coach, Eddie Jordan.
4. LA Clippers
Donald Sterling and Mike Dunleavy Sr. had garnered a reputation as one of the worst owner and general manager/coach tandems in the league. Dunleavy was recently fired, and the Clippers are starting anew. Unfortunately, Sterling, a notoriously cheap owner, is still in charge, which likely means the Clippers organization will make little progress.
Strangely, the Clippers have assembled a roster with potential. Chris Kaman has become one of the better centers in the NBA, and Eric Gordon is a promising young shooting guard who was one of the best rookies in the NBA a year ago. Blake Griffin, the number one overall pick last summer, will not play this year, but assuming he can stay healthy, he will likely become a premium talent. Baron Davis is underperforming, which is not surprising.
The Clippers will also be in the running to sign a big-name free agent this summer. They have the money, and they might have the tools to lure someone. The problem still remains, and that is that the Clippers organization has failed to execute such plans so many times in the past. Good ownership could make this current team into a future contender, but history tells us that it won’t happen.
The Clippers have a long, long history of mistakes and disappointments, and even when thing don’t look terrible, it seems that it’s only a matter of time.
5. Charlotte Bobcats
This team will likely make its first playoff appearance in franchise history this season, which would seem like a huge step in the right direction, but this team is old. It would be one thing if they were in a situation similar to that of the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Charlotte Bobcats are relying primarily on players that have reached or are passing their prime. Tyrus Thomas and DJ Augustin are the only young players on the roster, and they do not look to be stars in this league.
Charlotte is also in the same category as Detroit and Philadelphia – they are stuck in long-term contracts that equate to mediocrity at best. Raymond Felton will likely be gone next year, as the Bobcats will not have the money to resign him, and it is becoming more and more clear that Charlotte’s desperate attempt to only sign players that fit Larry Brown’s system was a huge mistake.
Michael Jordan is now in charge of the organization, which is also somewhat disturbing. Jordan’s stint in Washington was a failure, and his draft record and free agent signings were disappointments to say the least. This franchise will easily not see a top-four playoff spot for at least four-five years.
New York Knicks: Isiah Thomas ran them to the ground, but their roster is about to be gutted. Next year will be an entirely new team.
Golden State Warriors: Any franchise that blindly buys into Don Nelson’s no defense approach because of one playoff series (Dallas ’07) is obviously short-sighted.
New Jersey Nets: They’re 7-61. Not to be too results-oriented, but that’s what this business is all about – results.