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  • Which rebuilding NBA team faces the most depressing road ahead? The Crossover examines the good, the bad, and the ugly of the NBA's seven saddest rebuilding situations.
By The SI Staff
September 01, 2017

We all know the Warriors are "light years" ahead of the rest of the league, but which teams are light years behind the rest of the pack?

With Golden State heavily favored to win the title again, and the 2018 NBA draft loaded with top talent, there's a slew of teams that have every intention of bottoming out this season. What's the point of trying to compete when the odds are stacked so heavily against you? That's led to a horde of teams taking two steps back rather than one step forward this offseason. Some are doing it quietly, some are garnering headlines, and others... well, we don't know what they're doing.

The Crossover recently paneled its writing staff and asked the question: Which NBA team has the saddest rebuilding situation? We whittled our list down to seven and broke down the good, the bad, and the ugly of each team.

​Brooklyn Nets

THE GOOD: D’Angelo Russell could be the franchise cornerstone they've been searching for ever since the fateful Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade. Long-armed rookie Jarrett Allen offers real potential as a rim-protecting big man. Caris LeVert has the perimeter playmaking skill to blossom into a rotation mainstay. DeMarre Carroll looks like a prime candidate for a bounceback year. And when healthy, Jeremy Lin is a smooth pick-and-roll operator who can help Russell get comfortable in a new system.

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THE BAD: In acquiring Russell, the Nets dealt one of the only players keeping them afloat (Brook Lopez) as well as a first-rounder that the Lakers used to select a power forward (Kyle Kuzma) who looks like he could turn into one of this draft’s biggest steals. A change of scenery should benefit Russell after two tumultuous years on the West Coast, but if his ceiling is as high as pre-draft evaluations implied, why would Los Angeles have felt so comfortable parting ways with him in what amounted to a salary dump of Timofey Mozgov

THE UGLY: The Nets will spend another season toiling near the bottom of the Eastern Conference without the chance of plucking a potential superstar in the lottery in June. From a draft perspective, the only thing the Nets’ wins will accomplish are devaluing a pick their division rival sent to Cleveland in the Kyrie Irving deal. That’s not to say Brooklyn will have that many wins to begin with. — Chris Johnson


Orlando Magic

THE GOOD: If you've missed the last 30 free agency periods, Florida has no state income tax, which apparently helps recruit free agents. Also, Aaron Gordon's dunks are cool as hell.

THE BAD: The Magic are paying Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic over $29 million combined next season. Gordon would have maybe been good by now if Orlando hadn’t signed 34 forwards to ensure he would play out of position for most of his career. And D.J. Augustin may end up starting for this team at point guard because Elfrid Payton can’t shoot further than his hair can grow. Despite all of this, the Magic (and Frank Vogel!) will somehow win enough games to prevent themselves from engaging in a full-on tank. This isn’t a treadmill of mediocrity. This is a treadmill of bad but not quite bad enough to make being bad worth it. 

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THE UGLY: Orlando hasn’t been the same since Courtney Lee blew that layup in the Finals and Hedo Turkoglu traded in conditioning for cigarettes. At least most of the other teams on this list have committed to being terrible. The Magic don’t quite seem to realize they're awful, which is maybe the most worrisome part of their rebuild.  — Rohan Nadkarni


Elsa/Getty Images

New York Knicks

THE GOOD: Kristaps Porzingis is still in New York despite New York's best efforts to chase him away! 

THE BAD: Carmelo Anthony is still in New York purely out of spite.

THE UGLY: Welp... the Knicks can't trade Carmelo, they took the wrong guard in June's draft, they gave $71 million to Tim Hardaway Jr., they gave $72 million (!) to Joakim Noah, they fired Phil Jackson after a predictably chaotic tenure, they continue to pay Kurt Rambis for some mind-boggling reason, they don't know how to build around Porzingis, they employ Sasha Vujacic, they're the reason Penn Station is an underground nightmare, they'll likely miss the playoffs again this year (just because), and, oh yeah, they're still owned by James Dolan.  

(Second wind) ....they also carried one of their most beloved ex-players out of MSG like a zoo animal last year, they haven't made the playoffs since 2013, they're the only rebuilding team with $100+ million of salary already committed next season, they've tortured one of the best fan bases in the league for over a decade, and they'll probably re-hire Isiah Thomas by the time I catch my third wind. Ugh. — Matt Dollinger


Chicago Bulls

THE GOOD: Literally, this tweet from Mike Schmitz.

THE BAD: Everything that has happened since this, which I was forced to witness in person.

THE UGLY: It’s actually not that awful that the Bulls are rebuilding. It took them too long to make that call, but at least they made it. It is, however,  highly deflating to realize that Chicago will be mediocre for much of the foreseeable future. Tanking won’t be that bad, but it would feel a whole lot better if Bulls fans could trust the front office to nail a draft pick. Lauri Markkanen is Finnish for “large adult son.” — Jeremy Woo


Indiana Pacers

THE GOOD: On the bright side, the Pacers landed a budding All-Star in Myles Turner with the No. 11 pick in 2015. They can build around the 21-year-old with an impressive offensive arsenal and developing post presence.

THE BAD: The Paul George trade didn’t exactly net Indiana a king’s ransom. Instead of acquiring a slew of picks or young building blocks, the Pacers received Domantas Sabonis along with Victor Oladipo and his $85 million contract. Oladipo’s no slouch, but he’s not leading anybody to the playoffs in the near future. Or coming close to filling Paul George's shoes.

THE UGLY: Lance Stephenson starting at point guard? No one was Born Ready for that experience. — Michael Shapiro


Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Detroit Pistons

THE GOOD: The Pistons have a chance to right some of their recent wrongs. Their trade for Avery Bradley could prove to be a meaningful move. If he has a breakout year and Detroit locks him up long term, he'll soften the blow of overpaying for Reggie Jackson.

THE BAD: The saddest thing about the Pistons is that they once appeared to have the pieces to build a playoff squad. They drafted Andre Drummond, brought in Stan Van Gundy and signed Reggie Jackson. The climb, however, halted there. As great as Van Gundy is, no funny quip or quick fix can change the trajectory of his team. Drummond is still a historically bad free throw shooter and Jackson still dribbles the air out of the ball. And Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer are solid players, but don't exactly move the needle.   

THE UGLY: This list is about the NBA's downtrodden teams, so let's go to a dark place: Josh Smith, who the Pistons waived in 2015, is still owed more than $15 million over the next three seasons. — DeAntae Prince


Atlanta Hawks

THE GOOD: Hmmm... where did I leave my keys?

THE BAD: Remember when the Hawks won 60 games with Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll? Yeah. They're all gone now. And there isn't much to show for them either.

THE UGLY: The Hawks face arguably the most challenging rebuild in the league. The closest thing they have to a franchise player is Dennis Schroder, a player I'm not entirely convinced they even like. They have a few draft picks coming their way, and their 2018 pick should be a top lottery selection, but it'll be years before the Hawks are a relevant playoff squad once again. They're paying big money to the likes of Kent Bazemore and Miles Plumlee and they don't have a lot of prospects worth developing on the roster. Atlanta will have cap room, but will they be able to attract any free agents? The steadiest franchise east of San Antonio is finally bottoming out. We'll let you know when they surface. — M.D.

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