Shut Out of Disney World, Where Do These N.B.A. Teams Go Next?

The N.B.A. has taken a concrete step to resume play, announcing on Thursday that its board of governors had officially approved a format, pending player approval, for the league to reopen at Walt Disney World.

Many hurdles remain, including figuring out how to protect those in the so-called Disney “bubble,” which players are not likely to be allowed to leave, from the coronavirus.

If the N.B.A. does return, it will be with just 22 of its 30 teams: The eight teams positioned for the playoffs in each conference, plus six teams that were six games or less behind the eighth seeds in their conferences.

For now, we’d like to raise a glass to the eight franchises that will not be making a summer trip to Disney World. They will be missed.

Some teams that did not make the cut for Florida nonetheless have bright futures; there is also the Knicks.

Here is a look at the past and future of each of the eight franchises on the outside looking in at Mickey Mouse, LeBron and company.

ImageThe Knicks team owner James L. Dolan, second from right, dealt with plenty of issues on and off the court this season.
Credit…Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

The Knicks (21-45)

It has been decades since the Knicks had even a prayer of playing into June, so they are used to this. This season, their president stepped down. A coach was fired. A famous movie director got into a spat with the owner, who was also perturbed about fans demanding that he sell the team. And the Knicks will miss the playoffs for the seventh straight year, their longest streak of postseason absences since the 1960s.

Now for the positives: They have a new president (Leon Rose) and a chance to hit the reset button (again). Rose’s most important decision at the moment is who the new head coach will be, and by all indications, Tom Thibodeau is the front-runner. If he gets the job, some things are certain: The Knicks will play tough defense, and Thibodeau will play Jimmy Butler 45 minutes a game, regardless of whether he’s on the team.

The Knicks will also have two first-round picks, including one in the lottery. They are not financially hamstrung, and depending on the league’s cap status, they should be able to make a play for top free agents. A-list free agents will most likely not be attainable for Rose, but several mid-tier level players could be solid additions. And RJ Barrett showed promise and poise in his rookie year.

Cleveland Cavaliers (19-46)

The Cavaliers had a strange season, with Coach John Beilein stepping down in February after months of grumbling from players.

Cleveland still holds a promising backcourt, with Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. The Cavaliers acquired Andre Drummond, who will most likely pick up his player option, worth about $28 million, for next season.

But the Cavaliers already have Kevin Love, a fellow big man. At some point, Cleveland will have to trade him. Tristan Thompson is a free agent, and I would be surprised if they brought him back. There is also a lottery pick on the way.

But the rest of the roster is a mishmash. And who will coach? Beilein’s interim replacement was J.B. Bickerstaff, who I was shocked to discover is Cleveland’s seventh coach in eight years. Yet the team made the finals four of those years!

Detroit Pistons (20-46)

The Pistons have made the playoffs only twice in the last 11 years, and both times they lost in the first round. This year, injuries were a huge impediment: Blake Griffin, their best player, played only 18 games.

But there was a lot of roster upheaval, too, most notably Drummond’s being dumped off to Cleveland.

Christian Wood and Luke Kennard were bright spots, and, generally speaking, Detroit is in a decent position. The Pistons have cap flexibility — depending on what the cap looks like — and a lottery pick.

But they have to make a decision on Griffin. He’s an all-N.B.A. talent who has struggled with injuries for much of his career. He’s on the books for two more years at about $36 million and $38 million. It might be worth tearing the whole thing down and seeing what you can get for him.

Atlanta Hawks (20-47)

In terms of rebuilding, the Hawks are in a great position: They have a dynamic young star in Trae Young, frontcourt teammates that perfectly complement him (John Collins and Clint Capela), other young players with potential (Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish), a lottery pick and financial flexibility.

Atlanta is a very attractive team to buy stock in. It will probably be in playoff contention next year with its current core — and could be even better if the team adds some pieces and hits in the lottery. (Something to consider: The cap will almost assuredly be lower than usual, and this free agent class doesn’t have much star power.)

Chicago Bulls (22-43)

The opposite of Atlanta, the Bulls are not in a healthy spot after this disaster of a season. They don’t have the financial flexibility of other teams. Lauri Markkanen took a step back — injuries played a role. Zach LaVine, who sometimes looks like a viable No. 1 option, actually shouldn’t be any team’s No. 1 option.

The Bulls revamped their front office, nabbing Arturas Karnisovas, the former Denver Nuggets general manager, to be executive vice president for basketball operations. The first decision he will have to make is on the fate of Coach Jim Boylen, who mused about playoff expectations before the season. Boylen’s no-nonsense style, which included calling timeouts late in games that were already out of hand, has not endeared him to his roster.

Charlotte Hornets (23-42)

It is unlikely that anyone will make a documentary about Michael Jordan’s tenure running the Hornets. But one mea culpa: I thought the Hornets made a mistake in giving Terry Rozier roughly $19 million a year for three years to replace Kemba Walker. Rozier played well: 18 points a game and 4 assists with 55 percent true shooting — solid value.

Beyond that, it’s unclear where the Hornets go from here. The roster doesn’t have much top talent. There are some nice, young players: Miles Bridges, for example. And the Hornets will have a lottery pick, but it probably won’t be high. What the Hornets will have is some cap flexibility, but who knows what that will net them in a weak free agent class?

Minnesota Timberwolves (19-45)

The Timberwolves’ outlook for next season is fascinating. They have Karl-Anthony Towns, one of the best offensive players in the league. They acquired D’Angelo Russell, who didn’t quite fit with the Warriors.

They need more pieces, though, and their financial flexibility is likely to be tied up in giving Malik Beasley a sizable deal. Minnesota will have a lottery pick and a first-rounder from the Nets.

Credit…Ben Margot/Associated Press

Golden State Warriors (15-50)

The Hawks may be in a great spot for next year — but the Warriors are in an amazing position. They will have a healthy Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, and they’ll have Andrew Wiggins in a new system.

Wiggins has long been derided for not being a consistent go-to player in Minnesota. But as a complementary piece? That is promising.

They will also probably have a high lottery pick. Some of the emerging players who tried to hold the fort without Curry and Thompson — Eric Paschall and Damion Lee — will, in theory, be improved versions of themselves next year.

The Warriors will have a legitimate chance to return to the finals next year. And on top of that, they will be able to make a play for Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top