There are some really bad teams in the NBA that lose, lose, lose and can't seem to do much right from one night to the next. And then there are other teams in serious trouble.
There's a difference, you see. Some are losing but really aren't in tough shape. They're stuck near the bottom of the NBA purely by circumstances: key injuries, grooming too many young players or biding time until the crummy contracts disappear and open salary cap space next summer.
Other teams are losing with no relief in sight. They've got major cap problems, stuck with poisonous contracts and characters, loaded down by draft busts or just mismanaged. Or all of the above. They need to be bulldozed, the quicker, the better, although it might take years.
This season we've already seen the good: Clippers, Thunder and Heat. Now here's the bad and the ugly, starting with the handful of teams on life support whose journey to respectability must be timed by a calendar instead of a stopwatch:
Bobcats. Remember, at one point they were 7-5 and making noise about putting last season's seven-win nightmare far in the rear view and … well, they're not that good. Not even close.
It's tough to drop 18 straight, especially while being a member of the East, but the Bobcats have pulled off that trick. All the old issues are back: an inability to score, or finish off close games, or find a special player who can fill the seats and carry a team. Owner Michael Jordan turns 50 in February, but he'll feel 60 if this keeps up.
The losing streak is the least of their worries. The Bobcats simply lack the talent to show for all these years of misery and living in the draft lottery. Their best player, the often terrific Kemba Walker, is no taller than a doorstop while rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist might wind up a jack of all trades, master of none. The other lottery pick, Bismack Biyombo, is raw, like a fresh wound.
When you add the dead weight of contracts belonging to Ben Gordon and Tyrus Thomas, well, the Bobcats will need another four or five years, and that's only if they nail their draft picks. As if Thomas hasn't been bad enough since coming from the Bulls, he cost the Bobcats a future first-rounder, protected until 2016. Jordan will always be remembered as the best player ever, but he's really running the risk of his legacy being tarnished, fair or not, by the Bobcats.
Wizards. They went the extra mile by dumping all the knuckleheads who made Washington a joke of a franchise. And what happens? Those players find salvation elsewhere (JaVale McGee, Nick Young and Andray Blatche, who was amnestied by the Washington) while the Wizards find rock bottom. Even when they do the right thing, it winds up all wrong for the Wizards, who can't even play their way into the heart of the First Fan, who's wisely sticking with his Bulls.
Sure, John Wall hasn't played this season, but that doesn't begin to explain the awfulness of the Wizards, who have a worse record than a team riding a 18-game losing streak. They exchanged their bad apples for bad contracts and now must count the days, or rather years, until Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor are faint memories. Oh, and here's the bad news: Jan Vesely, a former lottery pick, looks lost while Nene can't stay healthy for long stretches.
Raptors. General manager Bryan Colangelo is probably not for long in Toronto and it's easy to see why. You can place some of the blame on losing Chris Bosh. but the trades and free agent signings (Landry Fields?) and draft picks haven't worked well at all the last five years. The Raptors have one decent player and probably gave DeMar DeRozan too rich of an extension.
Basically, they're a mess, with few assets and no real star, and compounding matters, Toronto isn't a destination for top free agents. Unless they can pull off a franchise-changing trade for Andrea Bargnani, and that's doubtful, don't expect much improvement anytime soon.
Suns. They're not weighed down by too much dead weight, other than Michael Beasley, and Alvin Gentry is a good coach who'll get an honest effort from a so-so collection of talent. The problem in Phoenix is ownership and trust. As in, does anyone trust Robert Sarver will do everything necessary to restore the glow of what was once a model franchise?
They've made a few bad moves (signing Josh Childress, whom they had to amnesty just two years later) but nothing that would cripple the club. And they had some bad luck: New Orleans matched the offer sheet for Eric Gordon, who wanted Phoenix. A good draft or two will make rebuilding easier but really, it's all on Sarver to return the Suns into the type of first-class franchise that wouldn't make a free agent think twice about signing in Phoenix.
Kings. Welcome to the place where lottery picks come to die. Maybe that's a little strong, but not by much. Consider that DeMarcus Cousins has been suspended three times and the season isn't half over yet. And they'll have to decide next summer whether to give him an extension. Good luck on that.
They didn't give one to Tyreke Evans in a show of no-confidence, and now are hoping Jimmer Fredette wasn't a total waste of a pick. That's three lottery picks. Meanwhile, do you know where Thomas Robinson is? Anybody?
Actually, that's not the bad news. The problems run much deeper with the Kings, all the way to shaky ownership and whether there's any future in Sacramento. It's a sad state of affairs in Sac-town, once one of the liveliest small-market franchises in the league.
The following teams are lousy in record only, and once you look beyond the surface, their problems are very fixable:
Hornets. Their record is due to being in the West, and having rookie Anthony Davis miss 11 games with an ankle sprain, and just now getting Eric Gordon back. In almost every way, New Orleans is the most misleading team in basketball. Check back in February and see.
Ryan Anderson should improve now that Davis is around to command the occasional double team. Anderson was the most improved player in the NBA last season, and a strong candidate this time is Robin Lopez. After being a clumsy underachiever in Phoenix, Lopez is beginning to blossom, with recent games of 29, 24 and 22 points against the Magic, Pacers and Clippers. Greivis Vasquez gives depth at point guard and all told, the Hornets' five best players are 25 years and younger.
Plus, Monty Williams and Dell Demps make a solid coach/GM combination. With new ownership ready and able to supply the goods, the Hornets won't lose for long.
Pistons. It's really depressing to see all the empty seats at the Palace and to watch a dysfunctional team go through the motions some nights. What's even more amazing is the Pistons, bad as they've been lately, still haven't used their amnesty yet (watch your back, Charlie Villanueva).
Still, they have a solid big man in Greg Monroe, who's only 22, and maybe another in rookie Andre Drummond, still trying to figure it all out at age 19. If they're the real thing, then with two talented bigs, the Pistons will have an edge on half the league. In two years they'll have Monroe, Drummond, Brandon Knight and another lottery pick, and their cap will be almost wiped clean. Then we'll see if new ownership is ready to splurge and if Joe Dumars, if he's still around, will avoid blowing the money like he did last time on Charlie V and Ben Gordon.
Mavericks. This season is a total write-off for Mark Cuban. He struck out with Dwight Howard and Deron Williams last summer, which in hindsight probably wasn't such a disaster, and will go shopping again next July. Cuban better restock the roster soon, though. Dirk Nowitzki is back but he's not getting younger. It might be wise to reprise the Mavericks' 2011 championship slogan: The time is now.
Magic. This is a borderline call because the Magic can swing either way, good or bad. It all depends on new management, which doesn't have a track record yet. They can't spend until summer of 2014, so all they can do is draft wisely and wait. They've got good role players all under contract - Arron Afflalo, Big Baby Davis, Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick -- and just need a centerpiece player to replace Dwight Howard, which obviously isn't easy to do.
But good weather and no state tax make Orlando a destination town for free agents, especially those with families, so give the Magic the benefit of the doubt here.
Cavaliers. They have Kyrie Irving and a ton of money to spend next summer, and possibly another high lottery pick coming. Therefore, as long as Irving stays healthy, it's all good in Cleveland because of future flexibility.
Oh, forgot to mention: LeBron James will return in two years to tend to some unfinished business. Everyone knows that.