NBA’s Frantic Four trying to change history


VIDEO: Relive the biggest moments from the semifinals

There’s no official and catchy distinction for the last teams standing in the NBA semifinals, no Final Four or Frozen Four or anything like that, but here’s one that might best describe the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets: Frantic Four.

Yes, there’s more than a sense of desperation. These are four franchises that haven’t won an NBA title in a combined 162 years. Not since 1958 for the Hawks (based in St. Louis then), since 1975 for the Warriors, since 1995 for the Rockets and since, like, never for the Cavs. There are adult fans of those teams who’ve never known the thrill of the ultimate victory or seen a parade or felt the need to brag. In the case of the Hawks, they’ve never been to the East finals before, and once they beat the Wizards last week and advanced, Atlanta nearly reacted as though it won a real championship.

And so, with regard to these four teams searching for a change of fate, we examine their level of desperation for this 2015 title and rank them accordingly.

No. 4: Houston Rockets


VIDEO: Houston wraps up its second championship in 1995

In the midst of a celebration in June of 1995, Rudy Tomjanovich grabbed the mic and uttered one of the most memorable lines in NBA history: “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.” Rudy T was tweaking those who thought the Rockets were too old to repeat, which they did, but it’s been a 20-season long dry spell since. Evidently, everyone correctly estimated the staying power of the Rockets.

That two-time championship team died gradually. The Rockets tried to tape it together with an old and broken down Charles Barkley and that crew eventually made the 1997 West finals. But they had to watch as John Stockton sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game 6 (in Barkley’s face) to send the Utah Jazz to The Finals. Then, in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, they added another dinosaur: Scottie Pippen. Within four years, all of the important pieces of the championship era were gone, including Hakeem Olajuwon, looking grotesquely out of place in a purple jersey with a cheesy reptile in Toronto.

Houston did give it another go with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, but injuries kept interrupting their time together and the Rockets advanced beyond the first round only once.

Since 1995, the Rockets have basically been a mixed bag, reaching the West finals once and then being mercifully teased by the T-Mac-and-Yao era. GM Daryl Morey then stole James Harden from OKC and signed Dwight Howard as a free agent and, well, here they are. In that span, they moved to a state-of-the-art downtown arena (Toyota Center) and enjoyed big crowds. Not exactly the picture of doom, which means, life without a title hasn’t been totally dreadful.

No. 3: Atlanta Hawks


VIDEO: Bob Pettit powered the Hawks to their lone title in the late 1950s

Let’s set the record straight: The Hawks have been to the conference finals once before, the West finals in 1970, before they moved East as the NBA introduced conferences for the 1970-71 season. But that’s just a technicality. It’s pretty unfathomable that a franchise that had Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb, Kevin Willis, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, Tree Rollins, Mike “Stinger” Glenn, Lou Hudson, Hubie Brown, Mike Fratello, Dikembe Mutombo, Mookie Blaylock and Steve Smith couldn’t win two rounds in the playoffs.

From 1970-99, the Hawks made the playoffs 21 times, proof that their down years were few and far in between. That made the Hawks an eternal tease, never managing to get over the playoff hump, rarely stretching their season into late May. Their grim period was mainly limited to 2000-07 which included a 13-win season and a Draft where they passed on Chris Paul.

But those lean years allowed the Hawks to start collecting enough talent to begin a gradual rise in the standings, and Al Horford remains as one of the players who triggered the turnaround. Wouldn’t you know it, in a year when the Hawks set a franchise record for wins and capture the best record in the East and finally reach the conference finals, they’re not the favorite to win the East.

No. 2: Golden State Warriors


VIDEO: Golden State topped Washington in one of the all-time great Finals upsets

Rick Barry insists the 1976 Warriors were better than the ’75 title winner but they came up short and since then, good times for the Warriors have been sparse. Because they had such a stinky stretch from 1994-95 until 2012-13 — making the playoffs only once in those 18 years and burning through 10 coaches — their misery level is higher than that of the Hawks, who’ve never suffered like that.

The Warriors post-title are defined by two moments: Run-TMC and the Don NelsonChris Webber fallout. Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond were fun basketball and a treacherous trio that badly needed a solid center (Alton Lister, among others, was their big guy). They got lucky with Webber in the Draft and he delivered a stellar rookie season, seemingly putting the Warriors on track for a delicious run … and then he and Nellie butted heads. Ownership sided with the coach, Webber was shipped out of town and the Warriors were headed to skid row.

Chris Cohan, their then-witless owner, couldn’t make a decent decision, at least until he chose to sell the team. And soon after, the Warriors were saved by another bumbling guy. When Wolves GM David Kahn chose point guards Ricky Rubio and Johnny Flynn with the No. 5 and 6 picks in the 2009 Draft, the Warriors were able to grab Stephen Curry at No. 7 and the rest has been history.

No. 1: Cleveland Cavaliers


VIDEO: Michael Jordan stings the Cavs with a buzzer-beating, series-clinching jumper in the 1989 playoffs

The Cavs’ history isn’t all that bad. Their best path to a championship was blocked by Michael Jordan and there’s no shame in that. And they did reach the NBA Finals in 2007 with LeBron James (where they were skunked by the Spurs). But the Cavs get the No. 1 spot because they represent Cleveland, the Sad Sack of sports towns, and they’ve never won an NBA title. Therefore their misery knows no limits. Sorry.

Before Jordan, they were haunted by their own owner. Ted Stepien was a madman who terrorized Cleveland with his bumbling and sheer callousness and sacrificed their future by dumping No. 1 picks. When the Cavs emerged from those depths, Lenny Wilkens had Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance and Mark Price and a half-dozen very nice regular seasons. Unfortunately, there was Jordan, and The Shot, and Another Shot, and plenty of anguish.

Wilkens left after the 1992-93 season and the Cavs got old, going a 13 seasons without advancing past the semifinals. Again: Not bad. Still, they were a mile from a championship and then LeBron arrived.

You know what’s really tough to swallow? Winning 60-plus games twice and 50-plus games twice and reaching The Finals only once. Then LeBron took his talents elsewhere and the Cavs won 19, 21, 24 and 33 games after he left and won two titles in Miami. And once when they won the Draft lottery, the Cavs took Anthony Bennett. That’s misery.

32 Comments

  1. Bryan says:

    I don’t think the Rockets are in the same universe as far as tortured teams goes. You know how many teams have won championships since Houston’s last in 1995? 7! I wouldn’t lose any sleep over them not making the finals.

  2. ryan says:

    Rockets in 6!!!!!!!!! Go Rockets!!!!!!!!!!

  3. phee-o-wheet says:

    GSW>>>>GSW>>>GSW

  4. Warriors over Rockets in 7, Cavs over Hawks in 7, Cavs over Warriors in 7.

  5. Warren Cobbs says:

    Cav’s from day 1. I believe in your determination and your record speaks for itself Lebron.Really sad what was done to Love but when you need J.R ,Kyrie,T.Top and the crew they will be there for you !You guys make watching the NBA the joy of my Life. Cleveland all the WAY…………

  6. monica smith says:

    LET’S GO ROCKETS!!!!!!! ROCHETS 4-2

    rockets vs cavs in finals

  7. HawksAllDay says:

    I absolutely love how everyone is counting the Hawks out! I hope no one catches e coli when we make you eat your words RAW!

  8. Gilbs Gibe says:

    Cavs will beat the Hawks in 5 games. Then it’s Cavs vs. Warriors.

    Cavs will beat the Warriors in 6 games.

  9. Rockets Beat Warriors says:

    Rockets game 6. Clutch City!!!

  10. BIG AL says:

    FANTASTIC 4

  11. silentrigger says:

    i guess CAVS will going to have toughest moments against the old antics of hawks but they’re have a big chance of winning the east championship………..

  12. Roger says:

    The Overthinking game, that´s when you think too much about how to win in something that is played phisically and involves also your head and soul, and that´s what Lebron and Mayweather have done to the sports of Basketball and Boxing. Mayweathear thought and thought about the best way to win PacMan and the result of overthinking was an awfull display of box but a victory for him, Lebron did the same thing went to the slowest side of the dish (no ofense to the eastern conference) acted like a General manager not a player and demanded to build a team for the ages, so far (with some serious hickups) it has worked and maybe for next 4 to 7 games it will work, but maybe that will be decided in the future weeks. The point is how much can you THINK on how to win a sport and make it work? given that it is not chess or a math competition. One thing is sure the west is going to be wild and promises a lot of extreme games.

  13. hammar says:

    Hawks over Cav’s, Rockets over Golden State.
    Hawks over Rockets to win in Six.

  14. Bongoman55 says:

    All you tarot readers need to take your talents to Vegas with your predicting business. How can someone predict a winning team from teams that have not won since Noah built his Ark? It will be entertaining for sure. Any pontificate this will look as foolish as Stephen A Smith.

  15. ica says:

    GO WARRIORS

  16. camila ramos says:

    Let’s Go #Cavs

  17. Chris Sataram says:

    Cavs @ 5 vs hawks ….. Cave @ 5 NBA Champs

  18. harriethehawk says:

    Never underestimate team basketball. Let’s Go Hawks!!!!

  19. JEB says:

    Cavs beat Hawks 4 – 2 to advance
    Warriors beat Rockets 4 – 2 to advance

    Finals

    Cavs beat Warriors 4 – 3 to win their first title

  20. Kyle says:

    CAVS vs WARRIORS. CAVS in 6. LeBron brings a championship HOME!!!

    • Diabolic says:

      I would love to see the Cavs win a championship but I just have a hard time believing they can beat Golden State. The Warriors are too deep and too versatile! The Cavs need more depth to be a true title contender in my opinion!
      I will take the Cavs in 7 over the Hawks! Go King James!!!!

  21. Bruno says:

    About the warriors, how about their first round upset against the Mavs. That was kinda a highlight right?

  22. Drago says:

    Golden State is the best team in the NBA i don’t see them loosing to anyone in 7 games they can adjust to almost any tactic.

  23. kiks says:

    ill go for CavsNation

  24. chanluuco says:

    warriors beat rockets

  25. jake s. says:

    I feel like all underdog excitement left with the Clippers. We now have 2 predictable series. GSW in 5, Cavs in 6. GSW in 6.

  26. tas06 says:

    warriors looking strong and healthy.. it will be tough for any of the 3 other teams to beat them

  27. BIG-GAME-JAMES-23 says:

    Cavs will beat the hawks in 5.