There’s one place where no team in the NBA wants to be, and that’s in a position of obscurity.
When a team finds itself in “obscurity” also known as “basketball hell”, it means that the team is not good enough to be a serious contender in their respective conference, but it also means the team isn’t bad enough to be in the higher part of the draft lottery. Historically, the farther down in the draft you go, the harder it is to find an impact player. The good news is when teams find themselves in this predicament, there is something they can do to get out of it. Here are the two options:
Get lucky and lure an impact free agent.
Increases in the NBA’s television contracts,have caused the salary cap to go up and has given each team enough money and cap space to sign an impact free agent to a max contract. This has also given more teams a chance to buy their way out of “basketball hell”. The key word to this option is “impact.” Greg Monroe, Chandler Parsons and other players like this who have been on the market in years past don’t get the job done. It takes a big-time talent to turn a franchise around.
The Phoenix Suns used this strategy successfully to reshape their franchise in 2003. The Suns were coming off of a 29–53 season and had been hovering at the bottom of the conference for three seasons. They decided to spend in free agency and signed Steve Nash to a 6-year, $65.6 million deal. The following season the Suns won 62 games and were the best team in the Western Conference. Nash went on to win MVP that season and would win another in 2006 during his time in Phoenix and helped turn the franchise around.
Players like Steph Curry and Blake Griffin are both unrestricted free agents this summer and could be franchise shifting pieces. While I don’t think there’s any way Steph leaves the Warriors, I’m pretty sure fans in Oklahoma City thought the same thing about their guy last year.
Admit defeat and start over.
This is the best way to get out of “basketball hell”, and while it is the most effective way, it also comes with its own share of pros and cons. The benefit of full-scale rebuilds are that it marks a clear direction for the organization, helps guarantee higher lottery positioning in the NBA draft which raises the chances of getting an impact player, and allows teams to restock rosters with young talent while cutting payroll. Teams in rebuilds trade away superstar players and other assets in exchange for more young talent and draft picks.
The downside of rebuilds are that there are no guarantees the young players you draft work out. Ask the Brooklyn Nets how their rebuild is going. Another downside is a loss in revenue, because when a team is bad, fewer people go to games. Nobody wants to buy season tickets for a 20-win team.
However, there are several teams who have been able to turn their organization around through rebuilds.
The best example would be the Boston Celtics. Following the 2012 season, the Celtics acknowledged their team needed to retool and start over. The team traded Doc Rivers to the Clippers and began their rebuild. After a flurry of smart, strategic trades, the Celtics positioned themselves to expedite the rebuild. They hired Brad Stevens out of Butler and won just 25 games in 2013, but proceed to win 40 games in 2014 and 48 games last season. This season they are the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. Teams like the Jazz, Bucks and Timberwolves have also started to have success in their rebuild by “trusting the process”.
The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies need to have long discussions about the direction of their franchise. Each team is at a crossroads and needs to figure out a plan of action, because the middle is not the place to be.