This weekend's historically bad matchup between the Wizards and Thunder stood on its own awful pedestal while telling a really depressing truth about today's NBA: there are a bunch of really bad teams in the league.
For some of these teams, the depths are only a brief stop on the path to regained greatness. But for others, the stench of the blighted air they inhabit threatens to stick long after the current draft class matures and the Summer of 2010 passes.
For these -- the NBA's Bleak -- no days look bright. Which teams do I speak of? Follow us into the future, after the jump.
When you think of utter hopelessness in the NBA today, Oklahoma City surely comes to mind. The team's record is horrific. I mean, maybe the Detroit Lions have softened the string of utter failure to our cynical eyes. But three wins, 29 losses ... that will almost always be hilarious to the neutral party. Whether justice to the jilted, brown grass to the fellow sufferer or simple joke, the Thunder have become a complete laughingstock. You feel silly for even looking for the bright side.
But you can't tell me there isn't hope there. The truly bad in the NBA can offer one concession to fans: hope for a better tomorrow. In this league, that is fulfilled by youth. Oklahoma City has loads of youth: Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook ... all kids, and all starters right now. OKC owns roughly two dozen draft picks to spend the next two Junes. Take away Joe Smith and Earl Watson, and you've basically got a college team.
This is where we turn to our main subject, a bad team without much hope, by my count the Bleakest Team in the NBA: the Charlotte Bobcats.
Hope can be split three ways: performance, potential and assets. Performance is a measure of how current players are faring. Potential is a prediction of how well current players will play in the future. Assets figure in how the team might change, by trade or free agent acquisition or draft.
Charlotte isn't as bad as OKC today; the Bobcats sit at 11-20, a longshot for the playoffs in the top-heavy East. This isn't a terrible surprise as Charlotte has yet to win more than 33 games in a season. The corner always seems to be, well, around the corner. But the 'Cats never make it, and it's apparent this won't be the year either.
That's all fine, of course: 13 other teams won't be making the postseason, and a good half-dozen should finish with a worse record than Charlotte. But those teams have hope, in the form of potential and assets. The Bobcats have so little potential to grow or assets to improve with that the franchise's condition strikes you as unreal. How can a team get so barren?
Charlotte has two players under the age of 23: D.J. Augustin and Alexis Ajinca. Augustin looks like a solid young point guard, a potential career starter in the mold of Terrell Brandon. He doesn't look to become a superstar some day, but he's only 21 and Larry Brown's a fine teacher. Who knows? Maybe Augustin reaches a Devin Harris level. Ajinca, on the other hand, has looked nothing but lost in sparse minutes in preseason, summer league or the regular season. Becoming a rotation player would be a small miracle.
That's it. Every other rotation player for Charlotte is at least 24 years old. Emeka Okafor, Boris Diaw and Gerald Wallace are 26 and near their projected peak; Adam Morrison, Sean May and Raymond Felton are already 24 and not exactly setting the world ablaze. Not a whole lot of potential for in-house improvement here. And the team is 11-20.
But what about assets? Surely the perennially cheap Bobcats can expect to be players in free agent classes to come, yes? Wrong. Only seven teams have more salary cap space consumed in the vital Summer of '10. Even if Charlotte believed itself to be a player in '10, it won't have the cap space! Again, this is an 11-20 team with almost no youth to speak of.
Other teams register as bleak, sure. My beloved Kings have spun their tires all season, with Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson looking tragically mortal, Kevin Martin invisible in injury, and the supposed trade chips undesired. Washington features a roster that couldn't touch Boston or Cleveland at full health, a franchise-wide lack of aim and no cap space in sight.
Golden State's power struggle remains more interesting than the disjointed on-court product, despite the promise of Ellis-Biedrins-Randolph-Wright. The Clippers have a crew of players that don't want to be there, and Minnesota has more question marks than the Riddler. New York has one basket for all its eggs and no guarantee. Even Phoenix and Dallas lack solid bases a year or two out, despite strong current performance.
But in the end, nothing can touch Charlotte. Its front office org chart a brain-teaser, its roster a bad bouillabaisse recipe, there is literally no hope for the team, lest Wallace, Diaw and Okafor take it by its balls and ride Larry Brown to the promised land. Weirder things have happened, and I'm rooting for the 'Cats. But it's all so implausible, just a dream amid the squalor.
To be bad is to fail right now. But to be hopeless is to be set up for failure tomorrow and the next day. That's the difference between Charlotte and everyone else.