Midway through the 2016-2017 NBA season, when everyone is gushing over the All-Star selections, there are teams trying to figure out what went wrong. Six teams stand out in their disappointment level so far this season: The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers. We’ll try to see what went wrong in comparison to the lofty expectations.
The recent set of troubles in Chicago, which included Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade calling out their teammates for their effort, followed by Rajon Rondo responding to them via Instagram and putting himself one step closer towards getting thrown off the team, isn’t that surprising. The Bulls were looking like a rocky build during the offseason. But it still should have been better than a sub. 500 record (23-25 at this point), barely hanging on to 8th in the East, with a negative -0.4 net rating. Butler is a star, Wade is doing well, but everything else, especially Rondo, is well below expectations, and it might explode into a million pieces, including the firing of Fred Hoiberg (and maybe other higher-ups) before it gets any better.
After a 44-38 record last season, which meant a first playoff appearance since 2009, the Pistons were expected to go a bit higher. Right now they sit behind the Bulls in the East with a 21-25 record, featuring one of the worst offense in the NBA, 21st in offensive rating. Reggie Jackson is often attached to trade rumors and he missed about 20 games early in the season, while not producing what he gave the team in the previous season and a bit. Andre Drummond is kind of stuck, Marcus Morris remains inconsistent, and the bench isn’t giving this team the boost it needs. SVG was dreaming of an Orlando Magic 2.0 scenario, but for now Drummond isn’t becoming the defensive presence Dwight Howard was, while the crew around Drummond isn’t as good as the one Van Gundy had in Florida.
The Pacers are 24-22, 6th in the East, so things aren’t that bad. But they fired Frank Vogel in the summer and hired Nate McMillan instead. The plan was a more offense oriented style. Quicker basketball. More points. Less isolations and offensive rigidness. But by shifting philosophies the Pacers lost their defensive uniqueness (18th in the NBA) while struggling to find consistency on offense (16th in the NBA). Monta Ellis is entering the final stage of his career (8.3 points per game), Jeff Teague isn’t scorching like in the beginning, Paul George has been shaky at times. Al Jefferson hasn’t been as useful as they hoped, and the Pacers seem to be a team stuck in the middle or just above it, for at least one more season, hoping their change in style sets in successfully eventually.
The Timberwolves have climbed back from their awful start thanks to the top heavy form in the West, but they’re still a disappointment, especially on defense, compared to the promise in the air when Tom Thibodeau signed on. Ricky Rubio hasn’t been traded, yet, but he remains an issue offensively due to his inability to shoot the ball from outside the paint. The team relies too heavily on Towns, Wiggins and LaVine, while Gorgui Dieng shouldn’t be a 32-minutes a night player, Shabazz Muhammad will never develop into more than an inconsistent bench scorer, Kris Dunn might not be the point guard answer they’ve dreamed of, and Nemanja Bjelica sums up a bench that is struggling giving an extra something to a hungry team. Ranking 23rd in the league defensively is quite shocking considering the personnel and the coach, but the team losing too many close games has probably hurt them more than anything else.
The Magic were a short-term build this offseason to make the playoffs. Frank Vogel was brought in to add a defensive touch with his postseason experience. Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green. The Magic didn’t think about the future, but about making the postseason for the first time since Howard left. It’s not looking good right now at 18-30, a worse winning pace compared to last season. The offense is 29th in the NBA and the defense isn’t much better. Vogel has too many big men and not enough shooting, with Green proving to be the biggest disappointment, while Aaron Gordon remains someone who is probably being played out of position. He’s an OK small forward, but could be a very good power forward, something the Magic don’t need right now.
Portland Trail Blazers
Winning 3 games in a row has put the Blazers within reach of the 8th spot in the West again. But after a close to magical 2015-2016 regular season, the Blazers are struggling to find anything positive beyond Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, two highly productive guards who won’t be in the All-Star game. Not new for Lillard, new for McCollum, learning about how often Blazers players get snubbed. But focusing on a more team oriented theme, missing Faruq Al-Aminu for a while and not getting him in his previous season form has hurt this team on both ends of the floor. The Festus Ezeli injury, the disappointing producing from Alan Crabbe and especially Evan Turner; the Blazers can live with a subpar season, but they have a huge problem heading into the offseason unless they pull off some trades to even out the roster and make their wage bill look a bit more manageable.