In a boon to writers (and players) bored with the winter doldrums, the NBA has been beset with drama this season. The Kings still can‘t handle DeMarcus Cousins. The Knicks are a mess from top to bottom. LeBron is in open disagreement with Dan Gilbert. And Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo are reviving their rivalry, but this time as teammates.
January was a bona fide circus by NBA standards. But which team has been the biggest clown show of them all? The Crossover staff is here to weigh in.
Ben Golliver: Back in 2013, Charles Barkley briefly “campaigned” for the Suns GM job, drawing chuckles and snorts from media analysts for his blunt talk (“The Suns are the Titanic… The Suns stink”). As crazy as it sounds, it’s now time to wonder whether the TNT commentator would have been worse than Ryan McDonough, the rookie executive Phoenix ultimately hired.
The sheer diversity of McDonough’s blunders is staggering. He collected three point guards (Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe) with no master plan, choosing the most injury-prone of the three once his unorthodox chemistry experiment backfired. He played hard ball during Bledsoe’s contract negotiation with no real leverage, causing an unnecessary offseason distraction. He wasted a top-five pick on Alex Len, who continues to get pity minutes despite being a major disappointment. He bought high on Tyson Chandler at the exact moment age-related decline was setting in. He went all out for LaMarcus Aldridge in a failed free-agency bid that led to the splitting of the Morris twins and months of discontentment. He hung coach Jeff Hornacek out to dry for the better part of 2015-16 before finally firing him amidst a locker room mutiny. He cashed in a major trade chip to acquire Brandon Knight, anointed him as the point guard of the future, and then watched as his career fell apart almost instantly. Worst of all, he undid an excellent move—landing Thomas on a bargain basement sign-and-trade—by prematurely giving up on the All-Star point guard and shipping him to Boston in one of the worst trades of the decade. Hey, at least McDonough, a former Celtics executive, has helped build a winner somewhere. Dinner’s on Danny Ainge for the rest of McDonough’s life.
Yes, McDonough did also draft rising star Devin Booker, a pick that could eventually prove to be a job-saver and a career-maker. But Booker is still a year or two away from being “The Man” for a winner, leaving Phoenix to continue developing its unproven prospects in front of hundreds of empty seats for the immediate future. Sadly, the best defense of McDonough is that Phoenix’s dysfunction pre-dates his arrival: Robert Sarver’s Suns are one of only three teams (along with the Kings and Timberwolves) that have failed to make the playoffs every year since 2011. How many more lottery trips until Barkley gets another crack at an interview?
Rohan Nadkarni: As much as it pains me to say, the Sacramento Kings are by far the biggest clown show in the NBA. I had high hopes when Vivek Ranadive became the first Indian majority owner in the Association, but during his tenure he’s only made the road tougher for fellow Mumbaiites to join that exclusive club. You could say he’s building barriers.
Seriously. The Kings have a generational talent in DeMarcus Cousins, yet they keep drafting centers in the lottery. (Georgios Papagiannis? REALLY?!) They also signed Kosta Koufos!) Who is the best player Cousins has played with in his career? A young Isaiah Thomas? It's a joke. On the court, the Kings have no real talent outside of Cousins, and you wonder why he's frustrated while he drags 800 pounds of dead weight every game.
Off the court? Whoo boy, it’s even worse. Ranadive is a parody of a first-time sports owner, hurling down suggestions like, “Maybe we should only play four people on defense!” Vlade Divac (and maybe Peja Stojakovic?) are in charge of running the team, because every know-nothing owner should have a front office with no experience. And we haven’t even touched on the team cycling through coaches as if Ranadive was upset with the toy he got in his Happy Meal.
It should be no surprise then that the team has a dysfunctional relationship with Cousins, the minority owners are trying to force out Ranadive, and agents around the league hate dealing with the Kings. There is simply no organization more deserving of the "clown show" label.
Jake Fischer: There's no organization in more disarray than the Lakers. After a zany 10-10 start, the Baby Lakers have reverted from walking to crawling as they've plummeted to 16-34. But the sheer losing isn't the essence of L.A.'s discombobulation, it's the double-edged sword that comes with it. With no clear building blocks on the roster, L.A. needs to retain its top-three protected pick the team owes Philadelphia. But clinching that draft selection would in turn fail to accomplish this spring's second-round-of-the-playoffs benchmark VP of basketball operations Jim Buss established several years ago. And bringing on Magic Johnson, Twitter connoisseur, as an "advisor" to the front office, only further clouds the disfunction. Is he a Jim-replacement waiting in the wings, or simply another lame effort to extend the Lakers' antiquated aura to an era of free agents that hasn't bought Los Angeles' history as a testament for their bright future.
At their current rate, the Lakers are on pace to finish 26-56, which would earn L.A. a putrid .261 winning percentage since the 2012-13 Dwightmare. There's really no end in sight, yet head coach Luke Walton is saying things like this: "You start losing on purpose, I think the basketball gods come back to get you in the long run. Good things aren’t gonna work out for you. We try to do things the right way around here, which means we’re going to play to win. That’s just us.” That's not who the Lakers are and have been for last half-decade. Somebody in the organization needs to wake up and smell the In-N-Out.
Jeremy Woo: In the name of Tyrus Thomas, Eddie Robinson, Vinny Del Negro and all that is perpetually aflame, the obvious answer to this question is the Bulls. No team has publicly unraveled like them this season. The Knicks prefer a special passive-aggressive brand of beef, and the Kings are more of a tenuous game of Jenga than an actual franchise. But the Bulls are smiling through this, the roster is still the same, Fred Hoiberg is still coaching and Gar Forman has nothing of note to say to anyone about the fact the house he built is casually aflame.
Truthfully, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler had legitimate points about everyone else needing to play better, and Rajon Rondo had a point about their mishandling of the situation, but there are no winners here. “Don’t pick fights through the media,” quoth the raven, exclusively on Instagram. Watching the Bulls hold it together for multiple nationally-televised games in April could honestly be more trouble than it’s worth (yes, they still might make the playoffs). It feels less a matter of which dominos are going to fall between now and July 1, and more about the when—if I’m Dwyane Wade, I’m dipping out faster than 2 Chainz rhyming “heroin” with “Cam’ron.”
Most importantly, I fear my adopted Brazilian son Cristiano Felicio will never recover from the scars.
Kenny Ducey: On top of enduring season after season of losing and dysfunction, the Knicks have now seen team president Phil Jackson go from legendary coach to problematic chirper right before their eyes. The very man who was brought in to repair the broken organization started a public feud with LeBron James earlier in the season, has been at the center of an ongoing drama with Carmelo Anthony regarding his future in New York, and, oh, by the way, signed a deteriorating Joakim Noah to a four-year, $72 million deal before the season. With Anthony and Noah under contract, and a team president who is clearly still trying to find his way in a new role, it doesn’t appear the Knicks are ready to emerge from the darkness anytime soon. But hey, at least they still have all of their first-round picks.
Alex Hampl: As far as NBA clown shows go, the Orlando Magic tend to fly under the radar by virtue of both playing in a small market and being neither good nor bad enough to inspire national mockery.
But I’m here to say that the Magic’s recent dysfunction should not go overlooked. Consider:
• Since the start of the 2012 season, the Magic have won 122 games, the second-fewest by any team over that span.
• In the same span, they’ve employed three head coaches, four if you include interim coach James Borrego.
• They quietly had one of the league’s weirdest off-seasons this summer, getting rid of Victor Oladipo and a lottery pick and adding Bismack Biyombo, Serge Ibaka and Jeff Green.
• Speaking of that weird off-season, Orlando’s mish-mash roster has caused coach Frank Vogel to play his entire team out of position. In a league where everyone is going small, starting a center and two power forwards seems… suboptimal. Also, Jeff Green recently started a game at “shooting guard.”
• Mario Hezonja was a top-five pick just a year and a half ago, and entered the league with a considerable amount of hype. After just 114 games in Orlando, he now says he kind of wishes he went to college.
So, to recap: The Magic are an unmitigated disaster.
Jarrel Harris: The Nets came to Brooklyn with hopes of creating the greatest show on hardwood. Jay-Z was named minority owner and became the Nets' version of Spike Lee, sitting courtside with Beyonce every night. Billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov was someone you wanted to believe in. And most important of all: the team actually had a pulse and made the playoffs during its first year in Brooklyn.
Oh, how things have changed. In typical New York fashion, the Nets showed little patience when trying to revamp their roster. They sent three (!) first-round picks to the Celtics for two past-their-prime stars that failed to make much of an impact. They also named Jason Kidd the team's head coach when he was just a week removed from being a player. SI even joined the circus with this cover. The Nets were a ‘Super Team’ with a lineup of KG, Pierce, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez—except for the fact that they weren’t. Their stars no longer resembled their former selves, they owned the highest payroll and the league and they mortgaged their future by dealing away their picks. Everything backfired. Jason Kidd was traded to the Bucks. Paul Pierce and KG eventually left. And Jay-Z sold his minority shake to focus on Tidal (another clown show!). Now, there isn't much to say about the Nets, other than that they're just kind of... sad.
Dan Gartland: Seven losses? Seven? At this point last season the Warriors had only lost four games. Now they’re on pace to lose 12, which would only be third-best season in NBA history. I thought the addition of Kevin Durant was supposed to make this team literally unstoppable. I bet that unnamed team that projected the Dubs for 83 wins is feeling pretty stupid right now.
It’s not all that surprising to see Golden State struggle this season, either. Stephen Curry is only averaging 25 points per game, Klay Thompson’s three-point percentage is down to 39.7% and Draymond Green hasn’t even kicked anyone in the groin. The team clearly just doesn’t have the same spark now that veritable crazy person Andrew Bogut is in Dallas.
The Warriors better get their act together before the Spurs close that four-game gap in the Western Conference. Will they even have the opportunity to blow a 3–1 lead in the Finals this year?