One of the issues of doing the Tortured Fan base Rankings for more than four years now, in baseball, the NBA and the NFL, is that there aren't a lot of new champions. (My colleague Joe DeLessio ranks the NHL fan bases). Last year, the Cavaliers broke that streak, going from the No. 1 spot in the NBA Tortured Fan base rankings to No. 30, and the Cubs obviously just did something dramatic in the MLB rankings, but usually, you're seeing a champ you've seen before. The Patriots. The Broncos. The Giants. And now, again: the Warriors.
Thus, we dig back into our Fourth Annual Tortured NBA Fan base Rankings. We will have a new No. 1 this year. As a reminder, here are the parameters:
This is a ranking of every team's fan base, from most to least spoiled. I want to find out who deserves a title the most: who you, as a disinterested party, should be cheering for next year. Lots of factors are involved here: fan loyalty, passion, historical success, particularly painful eras, near-miss title chances, current roster, any ineffable notion that just occurs to me while I'm putting this list together. I'm doing my best to give an honest accounting here. This ranking will get a lot better once all of you have had a chance to look at it and tell me what I got wrong.
One thing I've learned from doing these is that every fan base is more upset if you refer to them as less tortured than they actually feel, which seems backwards but probably isn't. Your input is the only way these improve.
30. Golden State Warriors. (Last year's ranking: 28. Last title: 2017.) One gets the sense the Warriors are going to be on the bottom of this list for a while. The team that just blew away the rest of the league will be together for at least another half decade, and some of these guys are just now peaking. Anybody else think Durant is going to try to pass LeBron in titles?
29. San Antonio Spurs. (Last year: 29. Last title: 2014.) Most teams, when they lose their franchise player of the past 20 years, take a step back. The Spurs returned to the conference finals, and hey, who knows what would have happened if Kawhi Leonard hadn't gotten hurt. It's tempting to say the Spurs are just getting started, but honestly, it sort of always feels that way.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers. (Last year: 30. Last title: 2016.) They ran into a buzzsaw in the Finals, and only lunatics and the purposefully brainless would take this Finals loss as any sort of referendum on LeBron. But still: It sure would be a bummer if the Cavs only ended up with one title out of this. Oh, and if LeBron leaves, well, then we're talking about something very different.
27. Boston Celtics. (Last year: 25. Last title: 2008.) So, they've got a ton of cap space, one of the most exciting young cores in all of basketball, the most innovative and intelligent young coach in the sport and, oh yeah, the No. 1 overall pick in next week's draft. You'd be impressed, even happy for them, if it were any other franchise, in any other city. The only question, really, is whether all this smart franchise management is a moot point; you still gotta beat LeBron.
26. Miami Heat. (Last year: 27. Last title: 2013). Funny thing about the Heat: They might have been the most fun team in the NBA to watch over the last two months of the season. That's strange! That's life as a Heat fan, though: Even when they're stripped down to nearly nothing, they find a way to be a blast to watch. Not sure whether it's good for them long term or not, but players will still always want to play in Miami.
25. Los Angeles Lakers. (Last year: 25. Last title: 2010.) Maybe the most fascinating team to watch at the draft. Will the Lakers pull the trigger on Lonzo Ball? They're fortunate to even have the opportunity to make that decision in the first place; that draft lottery could have gone sideways on them quite easily. They have Magic back now, so no one can complain the Lakers have lost touch with what made them the Lakers. So let's see if this works.
24. Houston Rockets (Last year: 21. Last title: 1995.) Well, that was a fun year. The Rockets might have been the most purely enjoyable team in the NBA to watch east of Phoenix, sort of out of nowhere. A happy season like this will always be a boon in these rankings, but it'll be fascinating to see what happens next with the Rockets. Was last year the peak? Where do you go from here?
23. Dallas Mavericks (Last year: 24. Last title: 2011.) That title is going to have to last them a long time, but this is the NBA: Winning a title in the past six years really does count as "recent." All told: That might be the last non-Warriors/LeBron/Spurs title for a long time.
22. Detroit Pistons (Last year: 20. Last title: 2004.) They win points this year for moving out of Auburn Hills -- which is so far away from Detroit that you could have probably just called them the Canada Pistons if you wanted -- and into the new Little Caesars Arena Arena downtown. The Pistons have long needed to get downtown: Now they're finally there. Now let's get back into the playoffs.
21.Chicago Bulls (Last year: 22. Last title: 1998.) This last season went off the rails … and yet they still gave the Celtics quite a massive scare. But as always, we remind, when you get a run like the Bulls had, you really can't complain about anything for about 30 years, minimum.
20. New Orleans Pelicans. (Last year: 19. Last title: never.) This one could go either way. If the Anthony Davis/Demarcus Cousins combo works out, they could be something unlike we've seen in the league in a long time. If it blows up, it will blow up spectacularly. Prediction: If the Pelicans lose Davis, they're headed to Seattle. Heck, that might happen if they don't.
19. Brooklyn Nets. (Last year: 23. Last title: never.) The Nets are a little too young to have tortured their fans too much -- unless you're counting those 12-15 poor bastards who were rooting for the Jersey version of the past 25 years -- but that Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade with the Celtics trade continues to haunt them.
18. Charlotte Hornets. (Last year: 17. Last title: never.) Not much going on with these guys one way or another, though it does sort of feel like that little window where they were going to maybe build something has closed. But hey, at least you can host an All-Star Game again, whether you should or shouldn't.
17. Portland Trail Blazers (Last year: 12. Last title: 1977.) They have moved backward in the rankings because they have a likable team that took a step forward this year. But it has been a long time since this team even got close enough to be able to break its fans hearts.
16. Orlando Magic. (Last year: 16. Last title: never.) Exact same quote as last year, and with good reason: Right smack in the middle of the rankings, which is about where the Magic fall in everything. The whole NBA is Value Over or Under Replacement Magic.
15. Milwaukee Bucks (Last year: 10. Last title: 1971.) They have the guy who does this now.
This raises the stakes here: They better do something now that they have this guy. But man, oh man, what it must be like to have this guy.
14. Atlanta Hawks (Last year: 11. Last title: 1958.) The Hawks drop a little bit because the Falcons' implosion in the Super Bowl has taken a little spotlight away from them. Philips Arena is about to get a massive overhaul. I dunno, maybe that'll move the needle a little.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (Last year: 18. Last title: never.) For a team that's only a decade old, this is awfully high, particularly considering there are plenty of Seattle basketball fans who would happily tell this team and fan base to pound sand. But man, to watch Kevin Durant win a title in his first season after leaving them … and to see Russell Westbrook (probably) win an MVP but knowing that he'll never win a title in OKC … there could be some serious downtimes coming, and soon. The window that has closed is not gonna open here, one suspects, for a long, long time, if ever. They'll always have this OKC season.
12. Denver Nuggets (Last year: 13. Last title: never.) The Nuggets missed the playoffs this year, but they watched Nikola Jokic turned into a potential superstar. This is starting to get intriguing. They've got a massive offseason ahead of them, but something might be brewing here.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (Last year: 14. Last title: 1983.) They moved up a little bit this year, if just because it's fair to wonder if the new management team knows what to do with all the talent and draft picks Sam Hinkie left it. And if it turns out that Joel Embiid can't stay healthy, considering the potential he just showed, that'd be downright tragic. Sixers fans have waited a long time for something, anything, positive. It's about time to start seeing it.
10. Memphis Grizzlies. (Last year: 15. Last title: never.) Another likable, smart, tough Grizzlies team gets knocked out early in the playoffs, and it's really starting to look like the peak of this whole era will be that conference finals sweep at the hands of the Spurs. What happens next with these guys?
9. Minnesota Timberwolves. (Last year: 9. Last title: never.) 2016-17 looked like a bit of a training wheels year, with new coach Tom Thibodeau figuring out what he has and what he's going to do with it. The Timberwolves could be ready to launch here pretty soon. There may be a ceiling on that launch, but this is still the team with the longest playoff drought in the sport. That might be over soon.
8. Utah Jazz. (Last year: 5. Last title: never.) This all comes down to what decision Gordon Hayward makes this offseason. If he stays with the Jazz, this could be one of the best teams in the West in a couple of years. (Heck, they made the conference semis last year: They're already that.) But if he leaves … then what do the Jazz do? It's the most pivotal summer of the Jazz in a couple of decades.
7. Phoenix Suns. (Last year: 6. Last title: never.) You've got to remind people every time, because it's constantly forgotten: The Suns should have two titles by now. It's a team that feels stuck in the mud. And it might have the toughest pick in the whole draft at No. 4.
6. Washington Wizards (Last year: 3. Last title: 1978.) They've got the most recent title of anyone in the top 10, though kids born that year will turn 40 next year. They pulled it together after a disastrous 2015-16 season, but they still couldn't get past the Celtics. What makes you think they will next year, or anytime soon? Remember when they were pretending they had a chance at Kevin Durant?
5. Toronto Raptors (Last year: 8. Last title: never.) The Raptors brought the gang back together for another run at it … and ended up having their season end a round before it did last year. Are they gonna blow it up? Kyle Lowry might end up making that decision for them. This was the best it has been for the Raptors, this last stretch. That best was far short, though, of what everyone was dreaming on.
4. Indiana Pacers. (Last year: 7. Last title: never.) A nightmarish first-round playoff series, a team that doesn't seem to get along and a superstar who is openly salivating about going to Los Angeles. This is the third straight year I've said this: It is very possible that the Pacers will have had three different generations of top third-of-the-league talent … and only have one NBA Finals appearance (2000) to show for it. If Paul George leaves (for L.A., or even Cleveland), it'll be a long wait for that fourth generation.
3. New York Knicks. (Last year: 4. Last title: 1973.) Remember when Phil Jackson was going to be a stabilizing influence? Well, now the team is as much disarray as it was during the Isiah Thomas years, Carmelo Anthony might stick around and clog the payroll (and the lane) simply out of spite and now Kristaps Porzingis, the one thing the Knicks have had go their way recently, is irritated by management and skipping end-of-season meetings. And Phil isn't going anywhere. It's almost like they have an incompetent owner with a management style that fosters total chaos and distrust. Jim Dolan should run for president.
2. Sacramento Kings. (Last year: 2. Last title: never.) They were a mess last year, and now they not only don't have Demarcus Cousins, they got almost nothing in return for him. The Kings have been a disaster franchise for decades. But this is as truly lost as I can remember them, and that's saying a lot.
1. Los Angeles Clippers. (Last year: 1. Last title: never.) So that was it. There is no positive final result for the Clippers here. If Chris Paul and Blake Griffin stay, they'll be too old and too expensive to do much else. If either leaves, the team is likely toast moving forward. There's even a danger that they do something crazy and trade for Carmelo Anthony. The Clippers had a Hall of Famer, maybe two, in their primes, and they never were able to do anything with them. And now they've lost to the Jazz in the first round. The Clippers with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are a profound disappointment. And the worst part is that this crushing era is the best it has ever been for the Clippers.
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