The field for the 2018 NBA Playoffs is (finally) set and the last few weeks have been endlessly intriguing for die-hard fans of the sport. For many teams, every single game mattered with regard to postseason positioning and, as of the last handful of days in the season, the possibilities were endless when taking seeding order and simple inclusion into account. On the other end, the race for ping-pong balls raged at the bottom of the league throughout March and April, culminating in a truly deplorable match-up between the Mavs and Suns on Tuesday that will be remembered for years to come.
However, for a tiny segment of the league, April meant virtually nothing. The Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors cruised to easy No. 1 perches in both conferences and, quite obviously, that is the best way to finish a season. The Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics limped to the finish line but, at least in part, that was okay because injuries did not detract from the teams’ ability to secure the No. 2 seed. In the middle, the Los Angeles Lakers had little to play for but, considering the team’s wealth of young talent and future free agent flexibility, there is plenty to be excited about for one of the league’s flagship franchises.
Then, there are the Charlotte Hornets and the Detroit Pistons.
Neither Charlotte nor Detroit was truly competitive in the East’s playoff race down the stretch and that is troubling in both spots. The Hornets deploy a difference-maker in Kemba Walker but, whenever he leaves the floor, doom follows and, perhaps more importantly, the concept of future flexibility is essentially lost for a team with an expensive, middling roster.
The same could be said for Detroit, who went “all in” on the acquisition of Blake Griffin’s massive contract and fell short of the postseason anyway. In some ways, the Pistons have a brighter future based on at least mildly intriguing trio of Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, to the point where they can potentially blame their playoff exclusion on Jackson’s injury issues. Still, there isn’t much light peaking through the darkness in either situation.
Yes, the Pistons and Hornets are leaps and bounds better on the court right now than teams like the Hawks, Bulls and Nets but, without draft capital or the potential for salary cap gymnastics, their pictures are more bleak for the future. There are ways to overhaul roster in these types of crunches but they almost certainly involve long-term rebuilds and that is a concept that neither organization (or market) seems to want any part of.
Both Detroit and Charlotte are at least tangentially capable of making the playoffs in 2019 and that would bring a bit more optimism to the situation. Much upward trajectory beyond that, though, is difficult to see and, during this stretch run, it has been instructive to see the teams “selling hope” to their fan bases, while the Pistons and Hornets simply exist in relative purgatory.
We’ll wrap things up with the final 2017-2018 edition of our Dime Power Rankings to see where everyone shakes out as the regular season came to a close. Thanks for reading.