I’ve been thinking about this exchange between Bilbo and Gandalf from the first “Hobbit” film recently, as Gandalf convinces Bilbo to join the dwarves on their great adventure:
Bilbo: Can you promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: No... and if you do, you will not be the same.
That neatly sums up the situation we’re in now, doesn’t it? No one can say for sure whether the 2019-20 NBA season will resume, and if it does, it will be very different from what it was before.
With that in mind I thought about the specific teams and their fans and how this suspension is impacting them. For some, it’s a dud ending to another dud season: Hello, Charlotte Hornets!
But for some, it’s an opportunity to quickly forget 2019-20 and move on to what is hopefully a brighter future... while for others, it’s a lost opportunity that may never come again. And guess what? That gives us an opportunity to rank ‘em!
So today let’s run through five teams that are actually, kinda sorta maybe, a little bit happy that this season might be over already. Tomorrow, we’ll run through the teams on the other end of the spectrum. And just for fun we’ll also imagine a comparable Raptors team from the past and how it would have felt if that team’s season were cut short with 20 games to go.
Which NBA teams are happy the season is on hold?
Honorable mentions: Washington Wizards (one season closer to John Wall returning); Minnesota Timberwolves (hope for a fresh start next year with Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell); Chicago Bulls (waiting, once again, for offseason front office and coaching changes).
Once the free agency smoke cleared last summer, it was accepted that this was going to be a “gap year” for the Nets while they waited for Kevin Durant to heal from his achilles injury. But it certainly wasn’t a quiet year, with Kyrie Irving spouting his usual nonsense while floating in and out of the lineup, then finally shutting it down for good with a shoulder injury. But then the Nets “parted ways” with coach Kenny Atkinson suddenly, leading to plenty of chatter that Durant, Irving and their pal DeAndre Jordan had executed some sort of coup. Although they were in the playoff mix, their future is brighter than their present.
Comparable Raptors season: 2007-2008
We can look at the 2007-2008 as a season where the Raptors put up a decent record but were looking to the future. T.J. Ford was in and out of the lineup, Jorge Garbajosa was struggling to recover from injury, and it seemed like the Raptors couldn’t put it together like they did the year prior. They were 34-28 after 62 games and not a real contender, but it felt like better health and maybe a move or two more would vault us up there... and at that point, we still had faith in Bryan Colangelo. (No really. It’s true.)
Boy, what a fine mess this season was for Dwane Casey and his Pistons. Right from the start there was trouble: Blake Griffin’s knee was bothering him, but at least he was playing some... and then all of a sudden they shut him down for the season. Then they traded away their best remaining player, Andre Drummond, for, uh, nothing, pretty much... then dumped their point guard and (maybe?) third-best player, Reggie Jackson, for... uh, also nothing. Then reality sunk in that their only viable prospect, Christian Wood, might leave in free agency. Yikes.
Comparable Raptors season: 2002-2003
This season couldn’t end too soon for the Raptors. They were coming off a first-round playoff exit the year before, but Vince Carter played the fewest games of his career thanks to various ailments, Antonio Davis only played in 53 and newly-acquired sharpshooter Lamond Murray missed the entire year. The team was 20-42 after 62 games, and Lenny Wilkens took all kinds of heat for not preparing the team effectively, leading to his resignation at the end of the season.
There’s been one good Knicks season this century, and it certainly wasn’t 2019-20. But this one was especially forgettable. The Knicks struck out in free agency last summer, built a truly weird roster and then somehow expected their coach to do something with it. Then they held a press conference in which they didn’t fire said coach, despite all expectations... only to actually fire him like two weeks later! Then they blew up the front office! While I’m not sure anything will ever change as long as you-know-who is in charge, at least the new front office gives fans some hope, whenever this thing starts up again.
Comparable Raptors team: 1997-98
This is probably the most tumultuous season in Raptors history, which is hilarious because as fans we tend to think we’ve had such a beleaguered history — but the Knicks are like this every year! Anyway the team was a mess on the court (they had a 17 game losing streak!) and off the court, with an ownership changeover that led to Isiah Thomas leaving as GM, Damon Stoudamire wanting to be traded, Kenny Anderson refusing to report and coach Darrell Walker getting fired. The team was 13-49 with 20 games to go... and still had a 13-game losing streak ahead of them.
Who could have foreseen that hiring a 66-year-old college coach with no NBA experience was not gonna work out? OK, OK, put your hands down, everyone. But a coach who can’t connect with his players and two young guards that desperately need guidance, plus a couple vets who don’t have the patience for bullshit, well, that’s a recipe for disaster. And yet another misstep in the life of the Cavaliers without LeBron James.
Comparable Raptors season: 2003-2004
A coach in over his head? A rookie in need of some guidance? A grumpy veteran power forward? The 03-04 Raptors had it all! They waited to the end of the season to fire coach Kevin O’Neill, but they didn’t wait that long to move the unhappy Antonio Davis, trading him and Jerome Williams in December for Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall. The Raptors were actually pretty decent after 49 games, but that’s when Rose got hurt; after 62, they were 26-36 and had lost 11 of 12 games.
Nobody’s going to feel too bad for the Warriors, who have been in the Finals for half a decade now, but what a nightmare season they’ve had. From five straight finals, all the way down to worst team in the league, after losing Kevin Durant in free agency, Klay Thompson to a knee injury for the season and Steph Curry to a hand injury for most of it. They have hope that a return to health next year will be a return to form.
Comparable Raptors season: 2001-2002
The Raptors have never had an MVP leave and then lost their two best remaining players to extended injury, but the 01-02 Raptors did lose Vince Carter for the season, and were sitting at 29-33 (having lost 12 straight!) with 20 games to go. It was miserable, and as a fan I know I would’ve been fine if the season ended and we moved on to the next one, with a healthy Carter and maybe a decent draft pick. (As we know, the team went on a win streak and made the playoffs. But after 62 games it was bleak!)
This is all in good fun, of course. I can’t imagine anyone in the NBA is actually happy the season is on hold, and potentially over. Everyone is bummed about it, but who’s bummed the most? We’ll rank ’em in the next instalment!