Ranking every team in the NBA by how much we love to hate them.
Being a sports fan demands both loving and hating, rooting for and against. We worship our own teams and, with varying degrees of intensity, hope for the destruction of all others.
There’s the standard two-team rivalry — classic and cut-and-dry. Lakers fans know why they hate the Celtics, and vice versa. But often all it takes is a specific personality trait, quirk, or aesthetic to make another player or team seem offensive. Such misanthropic tendencies can be intensely personal, or fans can band together in their collective disdain.
However you want to live it, the hate is there. As such, we attempted to capture the current state of Schadenfreude in the NBA, ranking the teams whose suffering and misfortune bring us the most pleasure. Be aggressive with your feelings. Do not resist. Let them flow over you, like a scalding hot bath of sports drink.
The patently inoffensive
30. Utah Jazz — While plenty of people hate jazz, no one hates The Jazz. They look like a legitimately promising young team this season, with no rough edges to irritate, no dominant style about which to turn up your nose, no offensive personalities at whom to seethe.
29. Toronto Raptors — The roster is thoroughly forgettable, filled with quiet, self-made men you probably won’t think about more than twice all year.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves — What is there to hate? The Timberwolves will invariably be one of the worst teams in the league as they struggle to figure out how to build their youthful talent into something meaningful. Their coach is battling cancer. Their two young stars — Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns — are unassuming and driven. Even Kevin Garnett has made himself into a sympathetic elder statesman. Imagine that!
The sad sacks
27. Orlando Magic — For all their young promise, this teams looks like it could be more vaudevillian slapstick than magic show. Save for a few fresh faces (Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, the fiery Mario Hezonja), there is no pleasure here — only sympathy for potential unrealized.
26. Portland Trail Blazers — Portland’s roster exploded this summer, and the franchise is still very much picking up the pieces. What was once one of the most tightly cohesive units in the league has become abstract and disjointed. Portland will lose a lot this year, but they will compete (and yield some highlight reels). Let’s not rain on this rose parade (I’m sorry — twice).
25. Indiana Pacers — Indiana is trying something new this year, abandoning its physical, defensive style for a small-ball spread attack. The Pacers have been certifiably infuriating in the past — Lance Stephenson is a one-man schadenfreude machine — but they’re at least trying to be something different.
24. Denver Nuggets — A menagerie of the underappreciated, the Nuggets inspire more empathy than loathing. Emmanual Mudiay, Jusuf Nurkic, Kenneth Faried, Mike Malone. They’re just going to do the best they can, which probably means another late-Lottery consolation prize.
23. Detroit Pistons — The cocksure, sometimes callous Brandon Jennings-Reggie Jackson point guard combination should carry the Pistons much higher on this list. But watching Andre Drummond shooting free throws is so painful, it counteracts the point guards almost completely. That kind of pain has no silver lining.
22. Charlotte Hornets — Unfortunately, it's hard to separate the Hornets from their chairman, Michael Jordan. Seeing him lose is delightful. Watching Michael Kidd-Gilchrist run through walls as the losses pile up? Not so fun.
21. Brooklyn Nets — Last season, it was a treat to watch these overpaid underachievers go up in flames — an enormous pyre to the idea that spending Eastern European GDPs is the path to NBA success. Sadly, most of that enjoyment is gone now, as promising young(ish) basketball players like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Bojan Bogdanovic wander through the barren wasteland left behind.
Teams we can (almost) all get behind
20. Milwaukee Bucks — The pure delight that is Giannis Antetokounmpo complicates things here dramatically. He leads a squad of long, athletic hybrids who just want to run around and create turnovers and dunk on your head. All that would be well and good if it weren’t for the smug shadow of Jason Kidd looming over everything. He holds his own coaching acumen in such high esteem, we can’t help but secretly wish for him to get knocked down a peg or two.
19. New Orleans Pelicans—This ranking is subject to revision once we see what new head coach Alvin Gentry can do with Anthony Davis on the offensive end. Over the past two years, the roster around The Brow has been so incongruous, the system so incompatible, that it’s been hard to stomach. If Gentry and Co. can help Davis be the best version of himself, so be it. If not, let’s hope they fail quickly and often so we can get someone else in here who will.
18. Golden State Warriors — The Warriors are the defending champions, a role that usually draws more than a little jealous venom. Still, this is a franchise that suffered so hard for so long that the way they finally broke through — with a joyous style of play and a roster filled with engaging personalities — makes it pretty hard to hate on Golden State.
Wipe that face off your head
17. Atlanta Hawks — What’s that? You don’t have any stars? You play selfless basketball, the way Dr. James Naismith envisioned when he was nailing fruit baskets to YMCA walls? Well, have fun when LeBron James is giving you swirlies in that white porcelain throne of self-righteousness.
16. Memphis Grizzlies — I think we’ve all had enough Grit 'n Grind to last us a lifetime. Until the Grizzlies are willing to acknowledge that the three-point line exists, we refuse to keep watching them lose to all the better, more well-rounded teams in the Western Conference.
15. Washington Wizards — The Wizards have one of the best young backcourts in the league with Bradley Beal and John Wall. And yet they play a grinding half-court style that acts as an enormous funnel toward contested mid-range jump shots. If Randy Wittman is determined only to drive his sports cars in second gear, then we’re entitled to a few laughs when the transmissions fall out.
Let karma do its dirty business
14. Sacramento Kings — The Kings are an organizational disaster, a veritable museum of questionable executive decisions, tragic personnel moves, and dumbfounding draft choices. They may not elicit much active ill will, but there is something fascinating about watching them desperately try to fight their way out of a chaotic prison of their own making.
13. Phoenix Suns — When the Suns were built around the point guard wizardry of Steve Nash, they were incredibly sympathetic. Now, we get Markieff Morris and his fellow disgruntled sourpusses as the face of the Phoenix franchise. Like a three-year old, the Suns just can’t help but turn everything they touch into a messy pile of mud and melted popsicle juice. The Phoenix Suns are why the Phoenix Suns can’t have nice things.
12. Miami Heat — The residual stink of Big Three entitlement wafts all over this team. We can’t even feel sorry for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, because they were deluded enough to think they could somehow make LeBron eat crow simply by sticking together. Oh, and they still have Mario Chalmers. Let’s hope a torrent of losing washes through and cleans things out for good.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder — Every injury the Oklahoma City Thunder have suffered, every derailment of their championship hopes, is simply cosmic payback for continuing to employ Scott Brooks for seven seasons and letting him set up innumerable roadblocks to Durant and Westbrook becoming a synergistic work of art. If you’re not going to play the right way, then you don’t get to play at all.
10. Dallas Mavericks — Things are gonna get ugly in Dallas this season. Age has its talons sunk deeply into Dirk Nowitzki; Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons may not be fully healthy until deep into the season; Deron Williams, who hasn’t smiled since he played in Utah, will be running the point. And yet Mark Cuban’s perennial mix of blinding optimism and arrogance makes it all feel like exactly what they deserve.
9. Chicago Bulls — If the Chicago Bulls had a spirit animal, it would be Kirk Hinrich. The holier-than-thou, running-through-walls, screaming, spitting intensity — it’s just exhausting. They are the NBA’s version of every old guy playing pickup at the JCC and going 50% harder than anyone else on the floor. And every Bulls’ playoff exit is a sublimely satisfying reminder that it is actually talent, and not hard work, that matters in the end.
We hate everything about you
8. San Antonio Spurs — Perfection can be just as frustrating as chaos. Other than a pervasive dullness, the Spurs are thoroughly inoffensive on a personal level. And yet, the continually seamless operation of their on-court machine is exasperating. They can turn any role player into a star, and do it without breaking ranks. Everything comes so easily for them, can’t we then be forgiven for delighting in those moments where their perfection slips a little?
7. Boston Celtics — The once mighty Celtics are now the plucky overachievers, sliding fairly painlessly from greatness to the illusion of near-greatness. After stumbling into Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, a title and a monstrous stack of wins, it seems like their rebuild should have involved a little more suffering than it has. So let’s hope for some more!
6. Philadelphia 76ers — The 76ers have had their share of misfortune: injuries, draft-day whiffs, and so many losses Rainman probably couldn’t count them. Like some sacrificial martyr, they welcome their fate, even reveling in it. Sam Hinkie’s process means that the more they suffer, the more they win. And that’s infuriating.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers — The Cavs are dislikable, first and foremost, because they’re good. The icing on a Cavaliers’ failure cake is that they’re not nearly as good as they could be, in large part because so many of their best players have struggled to play a style other than the one that works best for them. No, by all means LeBron, help yourself to another stagnant high screen-and-roll while Kevin Love stands in the corner. I’m sure these are the bricks with which you will one day build that peerless legacy.
4. Houston Rockets — No one likes the smartest guy in the room, especially when that guy wants to compare IQ scores every five minutes. The Rockets do things their own way. It can be ugly and grating, yet they still operate with the smug assertion that if you knew what they did, you’d somehow be lining up to do it, too. Bury these guys under a hail of mid-range jumpers, I say.
3. New York Knicks — The Knicks are the only team in the NBA for whom hubris is an organizational value. Over the past decade, a revolving door of coaches and executives have been ensnared in that web or infected with the disease outright. They’ve struggled to stay competitive but never stopped overindulging in confidence and optimism. Let’s all join hands and share in the warmth as the once-proud franchise is reduced to embers.
2. Los Angeles Clippers — The Clippers have been steadily climbing up these rankings since Chris Paul and Blake Griffin first joined forces. The addition of Doc Rivers has allowed them to corner the NBA market on righteous indignation, and now they’ve added Lance Stephenson and Paul Pierce to their culture of hapless victimhood. With every flop, every incredulous mouth-open shrug at a no-call, every staredown of a retreating official, they cement their place as one of the least likable teams in the league.
1. Los Angeles Lakers — The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most storied franchises in the history of competitive sport, yet they remain the NBA’s defining template for schadenfreude. They lean on legacy like no other, assuming every free agent would sell their only child to wrap themselves in old championship banners. Their head coach and star player are both working on shattering self-awareness. When they were good, they pounded your favorite team and they let you know about it. Now they’ve taken up residence in the NBA’s cellar and refuse to acknowledge it, so soak up these delicious losses and enjoy them while they last.