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The Ugly: What Has Gone Horribly Wrong Around The NBA

We continue our look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly around the league with today’s focus on the latter.

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We continue this week’s multi-part series that began with the ‘Good‘ and ‘Bad‘ teams thus far in the 2014-15 season with today’s focus on the downright ugly situations around the league. These are the teams that made additions or have chosen strategies that have yielded results ranging from flat-out bad in some cases to full-on catastrophes in others:

Philadelphia 76ers

Beyond the fact that Philadelphia is 0-17 on the year and in danger of breaking the 2009-10 (then) New Jersey Nets’ opening record of futility (0-18), you’d like to think we still live in a basketball-loving society that would understand why a team that has amassed just a 53-128 record over the last two years (and change) would be the clear-cut ugliest of ugly circumstances. Yes, we realize the stockpile of young talent they are putting together, but only have to look back as far as the 93-94 to 2003-04 Los Angeles Clippers for an example of why there are absolutely no guarantees of success when a team relies upon simply having a plethora of lottery picks.

That team boasted 12 lottery picks over the stretch, including two in 2002 (Chris Wilcox and Melvin Eli) and still never won more than 39 games in a single season throughout the decade. Not to completely dismiss the Sixers’ recent efforts, but at a certain point the loyal fans of the Sixers deserve to look forward to more than the NCAA tourney and draft night.

New York Knicks

Not that Knicks’ fans would ever be accused of  having unrealistic expectations, but there were some that at least anticipated a slightly smoother transition into the Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher era of basketball life in New York City. The reality is, it is simply going to take time for this new regime to not only get the right players and personnel in place, but to instill the basketball philosophies and mindset Jackson’s teams have each shared. Once that process is complete, the challenge will be to get Carmelo Anthony to not only embrace the direction, but actively champion the cause in a leadership role.

The trouble for New York is that with just their 2015 first round pick in tow over the next four seasons, Jackson and Co. will have to be creative in reshaping the roster into his vision. With only about $32 million committed in salaries for next season, the Knicks should have a ton of cap space to operate with as we move forward, but if the last  couple free agent classes (other than Anthony) taught us anything it is that today’s players aren’t always solely into taking the highest offer. Players want to see the plan or direction of the franchise these days, and in many cases would like to see both the talent they’ll be playing alongside as well as the coaching strategies they’ll be following. Just ask the Los Angeles Lakers about banking on having the deepest pockets in July.

Detroit Pistons

Needless to say, when you are losing home games by double-digits to multiple teams on this list – you deserve to be on the list. The frontcourt trio of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith worked out about as well as many of us anticipated, and has resulted in Monroe actually playing as a reserve at this point. They may boast the most random roster of individualized talent in the league, but in fairness, we should expect it to take a bit of time for Stan Van Gundy and GM Jeff Bower to right the ship as well. Much of this damage was done under the previous administration, but the current braintrust is responsible for cleaning up the mess nonetheless.

Previously considered to not only be a player on the rise, but this organization’s “franchise player,” Andre Drummond followed up an inauspicious run with Team USA with his slowest start since his rookie campaign. Drummond is still rebounding (11.9 RPG) and blocking about as many shots (1.7 BPG), but has looked a bit lost and marginalized when asked to play with his back to the basket on offense. A career 59.4 percent shooter, Drummond is struggling to the tune of 44.3 percent from the field (46.6 from the free throw line) so far this season. Van Gundy has proven the ability to work with, mold and develop big men with raw talents in the past (see Dwight Howard), so there is still faith that true promise will come from just a bit more patience in Motown.

Charlotte Hornets

The tough start for Charlotte comes as a bit of a surprise following a successful run in 2013-14 and an offseason that was initially seen in a very positive light by most analysts and fans. Noah Vonleh’s rookie campaign has been slowed by a sports hernia, but the unavoidable concern has to be with the situation surrounding Lance Stephenson. Not only has the addition of Stephenson failed to live up to most of the preseason hype, but the 24-year-old shooting guard has gone from being pegged as someone that could potentially put them over the hump and permit them to challenge as a surprise team in the Eastern conference to seeing his playing time reduced and having his career placed into perspective by his own head coach. Steve Clifford was dead-on when he said we prematurely anointed Stephenson as a “star” after his last couple years in Indiana.

In fairness, we aren’t completely at fault, as we were merely captivated by the very same skill set and talent that led to the team signing Stephenson to a three-year, $27 million deal this past summer. Although some of his statistics are still impressive (team leading 7.7 RPG and 5.4 APG), Stephenson has looked completely lost on offense at times, and simply hasn’t been able to develop any type of rhythm or sync with his backcourt running mate Kemba Walker.

Stephenson shouldn’t shoulder the full blame for this team’s struggles, as they are also not living up to last season’s defensive standards as a unit. The 2013-14 Hornets (Bobcats) were actually one of the better defensive teams in the league as they were fourth-best in opponents’ PPG (97.1) and were ranked as the fifth-most efficient team defense as well. They are surrendering 101.1 PPG (20th) through 16 games so far, and don’t appear to be trending in the right direction, having given up 105 or more points in their last 7-9.

Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers’ fans are now faced with the ugly reality so many other fan bases have had to endure for years: the team isn’t talented enough to compete for a playoff spot, but isn’t quite horrific enough to guarantee a top pick in next June’s draft. Add to that the fact that their 2015 pick is only 1-5 protected (Phoenix Suns) and they’ve already lost 2014’s No. 7 pick Julius Randle for what will likely be the remainder of the season, and you may have a situation where the team could finally find rock bottom.

Likely by design, but this is a team that appears to be built to both entertain and compete on a fairly consistent basis, but not one that should be expected to win a ton of games. No one prefers to see Kobe Bryant’s illustrious career winding down with the team in full-rebuild mode around him, but the end of any great era is often far more painful than history will remember.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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