The void of NBA favorites has almost everyone frustrated

The void of NBA favorites has almost everyone frustrated

As the 2023 NBA trade deadline approaches, I’ve been thinking about how few teams and fan bases seem happy with where they are at in the middle of the season.

The NBA typically has a defined hierarchy at this point in the season. You’ve got some clear favorites, a handful of teams that play well enough to make fans believe that with the right breaks they could go deep into the playoffs, the grind of mediocre teams (those who are just happy to make the playoffs) and rebuilders/tankers. in the background. This year, those groups still exist, but there are a lot more teams that feel they should be in the top two that aren’t, which seems to have fans more nervous as trade season rolls around.

The favorites tier is devoid of the usual suspects and proven products other than the Boston Celtics, and that creates a feeling of emptiness at the top, meaning more fans believe this is the optimal year to strike. All the other preseason favorites beyond Boston look vulnerable, and the teams that sit atop the standings are unproven in the playoffs. Of the eight teams in the top 4 position in each conference right now, only one has won a title this decade (Milwaukee), and the Celtics are the only other team to have appeared in the finals.

This only further fuels the fan belief that if their team can get in there, they could win it all, or at least make it to the conference finals. The problem is that very few teams are taking advantage of this year of parity and it is driving fans crazy. By my very unscientific measurements, there are eight fanbases that are likely to be happy where they are as the deadline approaches: the Celtics, Sixers, Nuggets, Grizzlies, Kings, Jazz, Thunder, and Pacers. There are another handful who are fine with how things are going, but aren’t exactly elated: the Bucks, Nets, Cavs, Pelicans and Magic.

The Jazz, Thunder, Pacers and Magic are all at the “play with house money” level, where they are thrilled to be in the mix and/or not in the basement, winning a few games and seeing positive impacts from their youngsters. players who seem to be in their core for the long haul. The Kings are enjoying their best season in literal decades, and they’re rightfully enjoying every moment of the Light The Beam era. Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, and Memphis are running the business and parting ways with the chaos amid playoff races, while the Bucks, Nets, Cavs, and Pelicans are staying comfortably out of the water, but all have enough injury and/or concern. they have shown enough uneven play to maintain a bit of caution.

Everyone else is desperate to run, but they can’t seem to get anything together, which creates a lot of frustration. In both conferences, the gap between the sixth seed and out of the play-in is very small considering how much of the season remains, and that has people stressed. As often as we’ve complained that the NBA regular season doesn’t matter enough because of how long it is, this year feels about as meaningful as I can remember on a nightly basis. Teams still treat it like they have for a long time, with rest for the stars, load management and whatnot, but the losses feel more painful and the wins a little more important than what we usually get in January.

In the West, the gap between the 5-seeded Mavs and the 13-seeded Blazers is three games (two in the loss column), which is outrageous at this point in the season. Outside of OKC and Utah, again, they take a longer-term view of things, no one is happy to be in this situation. The Mavs, Suns, Clippers, Timberwolves and Warriors thought they were contenders this season, and now they’re just trying to avoid the play-in, with fans wondering what trades might be out there to turn things around. The Lakers and Blazers had slightly lower expectations after missing out on the play-in a year ago, but with the return of the stars, they still thought they would be in the playoff hunt, but again they are on the outside looking in.

In the East, the gap between the 6-seeded Heat and the 12-seeded Wizards is five games (four in the loss column), which is still very close, and aside from Indiana, all teams involved they had more hopes on this. year. Inconsistency is the hallmark of all these teams. The Knicks and Hawks made big additions this offseason to try and push for contender status, while the Heat held their own after being the top seed a year ago, but all three can be maddeningly hot and cold. At times, each of them has seemed capable of racing to push them firmly into a playoff spot, but they can’t help but fall back into the quagmire with a cold snap.

Chicago, Toronto and Washington are perpetually three straight losses away from the calls to blow it all up, with fans working overtime on the trade machine to figure out how they can turn their fortunes around in both the short and long term. However, because the teams above them refuse to walk away and put them out of their misery, they find enough wins to keep fans believing that maybe, just maybe, they can figure it out and put the pieces together.

Finally, there are the tankers, as the Rockets, Spurs, Pistons and Hornets have emerged as the top four contenders for the Victor Wembanyama Sweepstakes. But even with a prize as big as Wemby, it’s hard to get much excitement when those teams have shown so little improvement this season (and the smoothing of lottery odds means they still have just a 14 per cent chance, at best). of the cases, in Wembanyama).

All of this makes for a fascinating trade season, which began in earnest Monday when the Lakers traded Kendrick Nunn and three second-rounders to the Wizards for Rui Hachimura. There is a sense that a large number of teams want to be buyers, which tends to create a flat market until someone decides to be a seller. For now, I expect a lot of posing and very few meaningful deals until much closer to February 9, as teams are going to want as many data points as possible before making their short- and long-term plans.

The glut of teams near .500, coupled with the outrageous prices we’ve seen paid for All-Star talent this offseason, has slowed down trades, and it remains to be seen how much opens up. Until he does, the trade machine will run overtime and if teams can really only work to improve their rosters on the periphery, misery and frustration will continue to grow until the playoff field is set.

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