- The NBA is never short on takes. The Crossover did the tough job of pairing them down to 13 worst, focusing on the Rockets, Lakers and everything Cavs.
The NBA season is winding down and the playoffs are around the corner, but the standings in both conferences remain very much in flux. Playoff seeding will change a dozen times in the next few weeks. Projecting the rest of the season is difficult, and reading too much into the status quo is dangerous. So instead of looking ahead, I want to take an opportunity to look back. It's time to celebrate the worst takes of the NBA season.
For the record, this isn't about shaming anyone for bad predictions. That's one of the lamest trends in sports. Playing "gotcha" with past predictions ultimately just makes everyone more reluctant to say anything interesting. So don't think of this as criticism. This is more like a celebration—a Viking funeral for all our dumbest opinions, talking points, and arguments this season. Most everything on this list was considered a reasonable stance at one point this season, and today, we marvel at how quickly those stances turned disastrous.
Let's get into it.
1. "The problem with the Rockets is that there's only one ball for Chris Paul and James Harden." Remember when this was a thing? It's not that anyone thought the Rockets would slide to the bottom of the West, the "one ball" warning was the go-to talking point for anyone looking temper the hype for Houston this season. Chris Paul would struggle to adjust off the ball, James Harden may not be as effective without the ball in his hands, the sum of the parts wouldn't necessarily add up to a better Rockets team, and ... We were all so young and naive.
The Rockets have the best record in the NBA. Harden is the MVP. Paul is top 10 in every advanced stat on earth. Guarding this team is like whack-a-mole, except every mole is getting a lay-up or hitting a 30-foot three. And I guess, for now, the lesson is that "Can CP3 and Harden share the ball in the fourth quarter?" is less relevant for a team that's winning almost every game by double digits.
2. "Hey, the Nets could be better than you think." One of the great ones. Nets optimism began to percolate in the wake of the Kyrie Irving deal and persisted for almost half the year. After Brooklyn traded for DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, and D'Angelo Russell, it sort of made sense. Next to six or seven teams that would be tanking, the Nets were ready to take a step forward. And really, who among us hasn't gotten a little too into a Nets game and convinced ourselves that building a team almost entirely out 6'7" wings was a good idea? It could work, right? So maybe that Cavs pick won't be so valuable aft--
Ooooh, OK. No. Nevermind. Brooklyn is currently indistinguishable from every other tanking team, and with all due respect to the Rondae Hollis-Jefferson renaissance and Jarrett Allen's per-36 stats, everyone should have known better than to expect good things for the Nets.
3. "Bet your entire bank account on the Sixers under 42.5 wins." There are several Sixers predictions that went wrong this year, but going short on the over/under win total was probably the trap that ensnared more smart people than anything else on this list. It's why the Vegas over/under for Philly wins was quickly bet down to 40.5 after opening at 42.5. There were too many young players, Embiid's health was a giant red flag, and it seemed obvious that Vegas was trying to trap naive fans who were falling for Internet hype. At one point on a podcast, I encouraged listeners to take out a second loan on their home and use the proceeds to bet the under on Philly's wins.
And here we are. The Sixers are sitting at 36 wins with one of the easiest schedules in the league over the final month. The 43 wins are eminently doable, and on a related note, I'm glad I don't live in a state where gambling is legal.
Elsewhere in Sixers takes: "Ben Simmons can't succeed without a jump shot" is on life support, "Joel Embiid won't play more than 55 games" has gone up in flames, while "Markelle Fultz is the only draft prospect without a clear weakness" is emitting dangerous levels of radiation and needs to be buried under a hundred pounds of cement.
4. "Russ finally has help and this OKC season is going to be FUN." In theory, this Thunder season was supposed to be something like that scene in Die Hard, where Russell Westbrook writes to the West (in the blood of Doug McDermott), "Now I have Paul George and Melo, Ho Ho Ho."
It just hasn't clicked. It has been an interesting, complicated year in OKC, but aside from a few weeks in January with a healthy Andre Roberson, the "FUN" part of this experience has never really gotten off the ground. Westbrook's season has felt like one, long hangover after the MVP year. Paul George's future remains uncertain, and he still doesn't get enough touches. Melo's opt-in looms as a threat more than a promise. Everything is more stressful than exciting. In fact, if there's one story that's genuinely fun to think about during OKC games, it's this: How different would the Rockets look if Morey had been able to complete this Melo trade in August?
5. "The road to the Finals goes through Boston." This talking point emerged at the peak of Celtics triumphalism, when, for about three weeks in the middle of November, Boston looked like the best team in the league. There was the Warriors thriller, that 16-game winning streak, the best defense in basketball, Kyrie MVP buzz. It wasn't at all controversial to proclaim that the Celtics were the team to beat in the East. Jaylen Brown can't stop LeBron, but he can slow him down, right? I miss all of this dearly.
Speaking of which:
6. "No, the Celtics shouldn't trade Jayson Tatum for Anthony Davis." In the middle third of the season, at least once a week, there was an intense Twitter argument about whether the Celtics should include Jayson Tatum in an offer for Anthony Davis. It was an incredible time to be alive.
Granted, all this came as Davis and the Pelicans were treading water in the West and Tatum was shooting 55% from three, looking like a future superstar. So maybe it wasn't as crazy it sounds? Either way, it turns out that Tatum hitting 50% of his threes wasn't sustainable, while Anthony Davis has spent the past six weeks looking like new-age Hakeem and the future of the league.
Note: I would take more joy in Celtics naivete, but as a lifelong Wizards fan well-versed in begrudging respect for the Celtics, I know in my heart that all of this ends with Boston actually trading for Anthony Davis and winning a title in the next three years.
7. "Luke Walton has lost the Lakers locker room." "Nobody wants to play for him," LaVar Ball said. "I can see it. No high-fives when they come out of the game. People don't know why they're in the game. He's too young. He's too young. ... He ain't connecting with them anymore. You can look at every player, he's not connecting with not one player."
I know we said this list wasn't meant to shame anyone individually, but if the NBA ever gave an award for worst take of the year, it has be noted that LaVar would be the clear front-runner. Compounding matters: Ball's comments were met with silence from the Lakers, which opened the door for sincere league-wide skepticism about Luke Walton's job security. It eventually prompted this photo from Jeanie Buss, quite possibly the first-ever vote of confidence via tweet:
All of this was incredible even at the time, but even moreso two months later. The Lakers are 20–9 since Lavar's comments. They are not quite good yet—and half the roster could turn over before next season—but they play incredibly hard, and they've improved steadily as the year's unfolded. All three of those developments are credits to Walton's coaching. And all of this is why LaVar has to win worst take of the year. Congratulations to him.
8. "That Pistons team actually looks like it could be sneaky fun with Blake." Many, many people fell prey to this one, and I think it was partly wishful thinking. Within an hour of the Blake Griffin trade, it was clear that Detroit was taking a massive risk that probably wouldn't age well as Griffin's deal becomes more expensive. The Clippers won the deal. The least we could hope for was a fun Pistons team down the stretch. Always bet on the superstar going from West to East, right? One last run for Stan Van? If nothing else, Pistons fans deserved some good news after two years trying to talk themselves into Reggie Jackson and Stanley Johnson.
Alas, Detroit has lost of 11 of 14 games to fall completely out of the playoff picture, and the solutions from here aren't entirely clear. All of the worst fears have been realized and it hasn't even been two months. So let the 2017–18 Pistons be a lesson: never ignore red flags and politely hope for the best.
9. "The Pacers aren't horrible, but that doesn't mean they're actually good." When I solicited nominations for this list among SI staffers, there were several mentions of the Paul George deal, but I think it actually goes beyond Kevin Pritchard jokes from July. It was one thing for Victor Oladipo to break out and salvage some dignity for the Pacers after the Paul George trade, but no one expected them to sustain the success as long they have.
Maybe I'm just speaking for myself, but I suspect that most basketball writers and fans have been waiting for the other shoe to drop all season. Cory Joseph, Darren Collison, and Thad Young can only take you so far. But now the Pacers are sitting in third place in the East, and after a summer of Paul George pity and a winter patiently waiting for regression, you could make a decent case that this is the one team the NBA community has been most wrong about, over and over again, for nine months straight.
10. "Tough tough night for the 'KD is better than Steph' crowd, but they'll always have that Uber commercial." I can't do a worst takes list without including my own, so here is a tweet from last Thursday night:
Tough tough night for the "KD is better than Steph" crowd, but they'll always have that Uber commercial— Andrew Sharp (@andrewsharp) March 9, 2018
Right around the time I hit send, Kevin Durant scored 14 straight points, basically won the game by himself, and dunked all over me. I'm still in awe of how disastrous it was. A borderline historic self-own, so bad that I can't even be upset with myself. Of every dumb opinion on this list, there's no question that mine went up in the flames the fastest.
11. "The Clippers/Jazz/Pelicans season just ended." Whether it was injuries to Blake Griffin, Rudy Gobert, or DeMarcus Cousins, the Clippers, Jazz, and Pelicans were all declared dead at one point this season, only to come back and make the entire league look dumb. Credit to Donovan Mitchell, Anthony Davis, and the rotating cast of bench heroes who have somehow made Clippers success possible. And condolences to Memphis, because when Mike Conley went down, everyone warned against writing off the Grizzlies. It turns out their season really was over.
12. "The Raptors are good, but they may regret not blowing it up." [Slowly backpedals from the smoldering ashes where this debate used to be].
But speaking of blowing it up...
13. Every Cavs take. Every single one. In October there were murmurs of "This might be LeBron's deepest team ever." Then it became "This Cavs roster is why LeBron's leaving this summer." Then they broke off a winning streak against a soft schedule, Dwyane Wade was anchoring the bench, and it was "Haven't we learned to never doubt LeBron James?" Then Isaiah Thomas came back and it was hopeless again, so bad that there weren't even trades out there to fix Cleveland. Then came the trade deadline euphoria, 10 days of encouraging play, and it looked like the Cavs were favorites in the East. Now Rodney Hood is hurt again, the Cavs flatlined in L.A. this weekend, and we're back to square one with the "This roster is why LeBron is leaving" stories.
If there's a lesson from the year's worst takes, it's underscored by the past six months of Cavs conversations: On some level, everyone is still pretty much guessing. It doesn't matter how smart we are. Nobody knows what's coming with LeBron's free agency, the next three months of the Cavs will be every bit as unpredictable, and the same is true for the whole league. Half of today's analysis will look idiotic in three months. That's why sports are the best.