HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Los Angeles Lakers have won two straight games in impressive fashion and host the New Orleans Hornets tonight (10:30 ET, NBA TV). They’re still six games under .500 and they still look like a real long shot to win a playoff series.
That would make these Lakers one of the biggest disappointments in NBA history. They brought together one of the best players of his generation, one of the best point guards in recent memory, one of the best international players in NBA history and the most impactful defender of the last several seasons. Yet here they are at 19-25, standing in 10th place in the Western Conference.
Injuries have played a role, and so has a coaching change. But there’s just too much top-line talent on the Lakers’ roster for them to have the record that they are. And it isn’t hard to see examples — mostly on the defensive end of the floor — of where they aren’t playing up to their ability on a nightly basis.
If the Lakers don’t make the playoffs, it will be difficult to find a more disappointing team in NBA history. But here are a few examples of recent teams to haven’t lived up to expectations. The list features current Lakers Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and Pau Gasol, as well as head coach Mike D’Antoni…
2010-11 Utah Jazz (39-43)
A case of a perennial playoff team falling apart in less than two weeks.
The Jazz were coming off a trip to the Western Conference semifinals. They lost Carlos Boozer, Wesley Matthews and Ronnie Brewer in free agency, but added Al Jefferson via trade. And they still had Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap, though Mehmet Okur missed 69 games with various injuries.
On the morning of Feb. 10, the Jazz were 31-23, but they ranked 18th defensively and had outscored their opponents by just two points over their 54 games. And at that point, Jerry Sloan decided he had enough. He resigned and then Williams was traded after the All-Star break. The Jazz went 8-20 under Tyrone Corbin, falling from sixth in the West to 11th.
2009-10 Washington Wizards (26-56)
Maybe the biggest train wreck season in NBA history.
The Wizards had Gilbert Arenas (returning from a knee injury that limited him to just 15 games in the previous two seasons), Caron Butler and Jamison back together. And they added Randy Foye and Mike Miller in a trade with Minnesota. The idea was that they would get back to where they were three seasons earlier, when they led the Eastern Conference through January.
But after a mid-December west coast trip, the Wizards were just 8-17. And on the plane ride back from Phoenix, Arenas and Javaris Crittenton reportedly got in a dispute about a card game. Two days later, Arenas brought guns to the Verizon Center locker room, and the rest is history.
Though they won the No. 1 pick the following summer, the Wizards still haven’t recovered. Since the start the 2008-09 season, Washington has a 99-256 (.279) record, worst in the league.
2008-09 Phoenix Suns (46-36)
We tend to think of Shaquille O’Neal being a bad fit in D’Antoni’s system. But the Suns actually ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency in his one full season in Phoenix. The problem was that they ranked 25th defensively.
Maybe that was when we really started to appreciate Shawn Marion — who the Suns traded to Miami for O’Neal the previous season — for his defense. The Suns’ defense was hurt even more when they traded Raja Bell and Boris Diaw to Charlotte in December of ’08.
Right after the All-Star break, with the Suns holding a 30-23 record, Amar’e Stoudemire was lost for the season with a detached retina. But O’Neal and Nash missed only 15 games between them that season. And despite the presence of two future Hall of Famers (and past MVPs), the Suns finished two games out of the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.
The ’08-09 Suns were one of only two teams in the last 35 years to win at least 46 games and not make the playoffs. The other was the 2007-08 Golden State Warriors, who were 48-34.
2006-07 Memphis Grizzlies (22-60)
The Pau Gasol Grizzlies probably don’t come to mind when thinking about disappointing teams of the past, but only *five teams suffered a bigger drop-off in winning percentage over the last 35 years. And the Grizzlies didn’t have the personnel changes nor the injury issues that easily explain the regression with those five.
They did trade Shane Battier to Houston that summer for the draft rights to Rudy Gay. And Gasol did miss the first 22 games of the season, putting the Grizz in a 5-17 hole. But they weren’t much better when Gasol returned. Coach Mike Fratello was fired at 6-24 and they finished with the worst record in the league.
The 2005-06 Grizzlies went 49-33 under Mike Fratello, made the franchise’s third straight trip to the playoffs, and ranked second in the league defensively. Then Battier left, Eddie Jones wasn’t the same player anymore and the ’06-07 Grizzlies ranked dead last defensively.
*The five teams were the 2010-11 Cavs (departure of LeBron James), the 1998-99 Bulls (departures of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson), the 1996-97 Spurs (David Robinson played just six games), the 1982-83 Houston Rockets (departure of Moses Malone), and the 2007-08 Heat (injuries to Dwyane Wade and O’Neal, who was eventually traded).
2006-07 Miami Heat (44-38)
The defending champs lost O’Neal for more than two months to knee surgery and Dwyane Wade for six weeks to a shoulder injury.
But both were in the lineup when the Heat got swept in the 4-5 matchup in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Along with the 2011 Mavericks, they’re one of two defending champs since the 1998 Bulls that didn’t win a playoff game the following season.