The NBA’s 10 Most Underachieving Teams

There’s a clear difference in a team that’s attempting to tank and a team that is flat out bad. There are teams that are constructed to be bad. Take the Philadelphia 76ers for example. The roster consists of players like Elliot Williams, Lorenzo Brown, James Anderson and Brandon Davies. Bless your soul if you know who any of those players are.

Then we have the teams on this list that have rosters that should be playoff-contending on paper. If you play with these teams in 2K, you will probably find yourself falling in love with them, as I have done. Then, we must remember that 2K doesn’t account for the antics of Boogie Cousins and J.R. Smith. Sorry, there’s no arguing with refs (and teammates, for that matter) or untying of shoes in 2K, well… maybe in 2K15. You can also control the mind of one, Josh Smith, in 2K, by not forcing him to shoot terrible long twos and three-pointers (per Synergy, Smith is shooting 28.7 percent in spot-up situations, which account for 21.5 percent of his offense). These teams might play well on the virtual hardwood, but this isn’t the case when it comes to the real game.

For one reason or another, it just hasn’t worked out this season for these ten teams. Even though some of these Eastern Conference teams might find themselves in post season contention, we all know it will be a short lived consolation prize for an underachieving season. So, without further adieu, let’s discuss some of the top underachieving teams in the NBA this season.

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15-21, 7th seed in the Eastern Conference
Are you surprised to see the Bobcats on a list of underachieving teams? This might be a first, I know. This isn’t so much about their place in the Eastern Conference, as their record. The Eastern Conference is just horrible and it doesn’t matter what their seed is, the record should be better. I know everyone assumes the Bobcats are just a terrible team season after season, but this season they have legitimate talent. This is a franchise that has only made the playoffs once in their 10-year history and that was a first-round exit. The Bobcats also have a rookie coach in Steve Clifford, who hopes to stick around longer than a year like the last coach (Mike Dunlap), who was given the axe after one season. The Bobcats are starting to look like the Cleveland Browns in the way they get rid of their head coaches after giving them incompetent rosters that are incapable of winning.

The crazy thing about the Bobcats is that they are one of the best defensive teams in the league, only giving up 95.8 PPG (third in the NBA). Defense does win championships, but not if the team is incapable of putting points on the board. The ‘Cats are scoring a paltry 92.9 points per game, which is second-to-last in the NBA. The ‘Cats have been without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for over a month now and it’s impressive that they have been able to remain one of the top defensive teams. MKG is one of the best wing defenders in the league and the Bobcats will surely welcome his presence back into the lineup. Per Synergy, opponents only score on MKG 42.3 percent of the time, regardless of the type of shot. Besides Gilchrist, the Bobcats have been floating above water due to the play of Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson and Gerald Henderson. Walker is the leading scorer at 18.4 PPG, while Al Jefferson is putting up 17.0 points and 10.1 rebounds and Henderson is scoring 15.4 PPG. No. 4 overall pick, Cody Zeller, has been underwhelming and is facing the same problems he found in college. Zeller is only averaging 5.2 points and 3.9 rebounds in 17.1 minutes per game.

The Bobcats need scoring, plain and simple. My suggestion? Get the New Orleans Pelicans on the phone immediately and find out what it will take to get Pierre Jackson to Charlotte. The Bobcats would be smart to search the D-League for some type of scoring and sign someone to a 10-day contract. The D-League Showcase just ended and plenty of players showcased their talents. The Bobcats need scoring help immediately if they want to secure a playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference, which would be a good boost of confidence for their franchise. There should be no tanking in Charlotte, go grab that playoff spot!

17-18, 10th in Western Conference
The lack of success in Minnesota this season makes me sad, very sad. The T’Wolves haven’t had a winning season since 2004-2005 and it finally appeared that this season things would change. Kevin Love was healthy, Rubio was healthy and Kevin Martin would handle the perimeter shooting. Happy days right? So far, this roster just isn’t turning out victories. The other night, against Phoenix (without Eric Bledsoe), the Timberwolves completely collapsed in the fourth quarter and the Suns stole a game from them. Want some statistics? The Timberwolves are now 0-10 in games decided by four points or less this season. That right there tells you all you need to know about why the Timberwolves aren’t winning games.

The T’Wolves offense is second in the NBA at 107.3 PPG, while the defense is 25th in the NBA, giving up 102.7 PPG. The defense isn’t in the top-half of the league, but with an offense as lethal as Minnesota has, it should be able to keep them afloat. Not being able to win close games is the Achilles’ heel of the Timberwolves now. If they can even win half of those 10 games decided by four points or loss, that would put them in playoff position. If the Timberwolves can’t win close games in the regular season, then they won’t win close games in the playoffs (if they make it). It’s sad, because the roster is loaded with talent.

Kevin Love is arguably the best power forward in the game, averaging 26.1 PPG and 13.2 RPG. Kevin Martin has been rejuvenated and is scoring 19.7 PPG on 40 percent shooting from deep. Even Nikola Pekovic is having a great season, averaging 17.9 points and 9.3 rebounds. The player that isn’t meeting expectations, however, is Ricky Rubio. I’m not sure there’s a word in the English language that describes the play of Rubio this season — let’s just call it bad. He’s averaging 8.8 points and 8.3 assists, but shooting 35 percent from the field. Rubio has no outside shot to speak of and he’s not finishing at the rim. Per SportVU, Rubio is converting on 41.6 percent of his attempts at the rim. That’s not good at any level of basketball. In order for the Timberwolves to pick things up, Rubio has to become more of a threat than simply passing the ball. Ricky Rubio may hold the keys to success in Minnesota, which might be a bad thing for Timberwolves fans to hear.

15-19, 11th in Western Conference
While all these teams are underachieving in their own right, none of them upset me as much as the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans are 15-19 on the season and are on a three game-losing streak. Like all teams on this list, this isn’t a 15-19 team. To be honest, the Pelicans threw together a bunch of new pieces and expected them all to work right off the bat. While in Brooklyn, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson have played with each other before and the same with Pierce and Garnett, in New Orleans, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans have never played with Eric Gordon or Anthony Davis, and all of them are young players hungry for stardom.

Creating teams that produce wins in the NBA is a lot more than throwing flashy names on a roster sheet, as we’ve learned this season. Ryan Anderson was the only consistent three-point shooting this team had (19.8 points, shooting 40 percent from deep) and now it looks like he will miss the foreseeable future. Besides Anderson and Anthony Morrow, the Pelicans don’t have a player that can space the floor consistently. Tyreke Evans is shooting 19 percent from three; Eric Gordon is shooting 38 percent from three and Jrue Holiday is shooting 39 percent from three. Holiday is a decent three-point shooter, but he will never be known for his shooting, he’s a point guard first. The Pelicans need help, the offense is 14th in the NBA, scoring 101.7 PPG. The Pelicans have a decent offense, but the defense giving up 102.9 PPG (26th in the NBA), isn’t going to help produce victories.

The Pelicans have the rights to D-League stud, Pierre Jackson, who is averaging 30.0 points per game this season. However, they refuse to call him up and are shopping him instead. The Pelicans must be happy with Brian Roberts as the point guard off the bench, putting up 5.7 points and 2.3 assists this season. Austin Rivers is also taking up minutes at the guard position, putting up 4.2 points on 38 percent shooting this season. I don’t see the problem with tossing Jackson a bone, but apparently the Pelicans do. The devastating injury to Jrue Holiday should make calling Pierre Jackson up a no brainer, especially since the Pelicans do not want Rivers or Roberts to be running this team.

The injuries to Anderson and Holiday, who won’t be back anytime soon, just destroyed the Pelicans chances to salvage this season, even with the outstanding play of Anthony Davis, who is a complete stud and will be one of the best players in the NBA very soon. Davis is averaging 19.2 points, 10.1 rebounds and leading the league in blocks with 3.1 per game. Davis (PER of 26.2) is the only player on the roster that has played considerable minutes with a PER over 20. That’s the only bright spot the team has had this season.

Jrue Holiday, who was an All-Star last season in Philadelphia, is only scoring 14.3 PPG and is turning the ball over 3.1 times per game. He’s only produced 1.7 win shares in 34 games this season, while Ryan Anderson produced 2.4 win shares in 22 games this year and Anthony Davis has 4.1 win shares in 27 games. The league average for win shares per 48 minutes is .100; the only Pelicans players who surpass that are Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson (per Basketball-reference). Even though Holiday is having a down season, his injury will just makes things even worse in New Orleans.

The injuries really makes the playoff picture bleak for New Orleans. The Pelicans are currently in the 10th spot in the Western Conference and have four games to make up to even come close to a playoff spot. I had hope. We are still very early in this season… but it might be time to hit the panic button in New Orleans.

15-19, 12th in Western Conference
The Memphis Grizzlies have been a staple of excellence the past few years. Their roster never blew anyone away, but for the past few seasons, they would always be involved in a deep playoff run. Just last season, they won 56 games and made it to the Western Conference Finals. Even with one of the most successful season in Grizzlies history, the front office fired Lionel Hollins and brought in Dave Joerger. There aren’t any analytics to determine successful coaching besides the win and loss column and Joerger isn’t producing victories. The roster isn’t the best and Marc Gasol has missed considerable time, but still. The Phoenix Suns aren’t using their roster as an excuse this season, so why should Memphis? I’ve watched a few Memphis Grizzlies games this season and there is no doubt that they leave it on the floor. It just doesn’t turn into victories, something always goes wrong. Missed layups, bad turnovers, bad foul calls, things of that nature. Things are so bad that I’ve seen Zach Randolph just starting to laugh when these things occur.

Even with Marc Gasol missing extended time, the Grizzlies still have the sixth ranked defense in the NBA, letting up 97.4 PPG to opponents. On the flip side, the Grizzlies are only scoring 96.1 PPG, which is 22nd in the NBA. But, how much has the Marc Gasol injury affected the Grizzlies? Before the injury, the Grizzlies were 8-7 with Gasol in the lineup. It was the beginning of the season, so that’s not indicative of much. However, post-injury it’s all different. Without Gasol in the lineup, the Grizzlies are 8-13. Clearly, missing the Defensive Player of the Year is affecting the Grizzlies, plus his 16.0 points per game. In the meantime, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph are trying to right the ship until Gasol returns (which should be soon). Conley is averaging 17.6 points and 6.3 assists, while Randolph is averaging 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds this season.

Without Gasol, there isn’t much to rely on besides Conley and Randolph. Tayshaun Prince and Mike Miller are past the twilight of their careers and can’t be counted on to produce anything consistently. The Grizzlies gave Seth Curry a total of four minutes before cutting him. The contributions from James Johnson (8.3 points and 4.7 rebounds) and Jon Leuer (9.2 points and 4.5 rebounds) have been decent, plus Courtney Lee just came over in a trade for Jerryd Bayless. But after making the Western Conference Finals last season, the Grizzlies are underachieving this season. With Marc Gasol looking to make a return in the coming weeks, hopefully he can get the Grizzlies on the right track.

7-27, 15th in the Eastern Conference
I know… how could the worst team in the NBA be underachieving right? Well, every time I look at the Bucks roster on paper, I don’t understand how they have only won seven games this season. Just the likes of a team with Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Caron Butler, John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo and others should be at least decent, no? I’m not talking about winning any titles, but they should be a competitive team. Instead, they are awful. The Bucks are 29th out of 30 teams in the NBA in points per game, scoring a mere 92.4 per game. As a team, the Bucks only shoot 42 percent from the field, which is 27th in the NBA. The team chemistry just isn’t there. Larry Sanders has played in less than 10 games this season, from an injury that was sustained during a bar fight. Apparently, Gary Neal wasn’t too happy about that as the two had quite the disagreement the other night, which may limit the number of days Neal spends in a Bucks uniform. As you can see, the Bucks can’t get along on the court or off the court. Team chemistry is a huge factor in how much success a team can have and it’s apparent the Bucks are lacking in this category.

Per, the Bucks eFG gets lower as the seconds dwindle off the shot clock. The first 10 seconds of the shot clock, the Bucks eFG is 52 percent. For 11-15 seconds, the eFG decreases to 48 percent. It decreases again from 16-20 seconds to 45 percent and finally reaches a low of 36 percent for 21-plus seconds into the shot clock. While teams typically see their eFG percentage drop with the shot clock, the Bucks are historically bad. I’m just not sure what the problem is with the Bucks. The talent is there, but it’s not coming together.

Milwaukee seems content on being one of worst teams in the NBA, if not the worst. With the star talent coming out in the 2014 NBA Draft class, who can blame them? Regardless, the talent on their roster should produce at least double the amount of wins they have now.

14-22, 9th seed in Eastern Conference
The Motor City might need a jump start, because this high powered vehicle isn’t performing as the parts would make you believe they should. Let’s just rattle off some names. Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The demise of the Eastern Conference is well documented this season, but shouldn’t a roster with this power be performing near the top of the East? One would think so, but the puzzle pieces just haven’t fit so far this season. There have even been fans calling for Josh Smith to be moved, just months after inking a four year, $54 million contract. The biggest problem in Detroit, besides the terrible shot selection by Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, might be the logjam in the frontcourt.

There might be a reason behind the terrible shot selection of Josh Smith (40 percent shooting this season, 25 percent from deep, attempting 3.8 threes per game). With Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe in the paint, it forces Josh Smith to play the small forward position. It’s not feasible to relegate one of these players to the bench, because each needs to see hefty minutes (all three average over 30 minutes per game) in order to garner victories for the Pistons. Andre Drummond is a budding All-Star averaging 12.8 points and 12.7 rebounds, so how can you justify putting him on the bench? Greg Monroe is a versatile power forward and has a high basketball IQ with exceptional passing ability — a move to the bench doesn’t seem right for him either. Surely, you aren’t going to put the $54 million man on the bench right? He might have his issues, but the Pistons gave him that contract for a reason. When Josh Smith is in the right mindset, he’s dominant. Maybe Mo Cheeks just needs to figure out a way to fix his rotations, so that all three can still see a heavy amount of minutes and be effective.

One of the main problems with the Pistons is their offensive production, scoring only 98.8 points per game, which is 18th in the NBA. However, the defense is also giving up 102.4 points per game, which is 23rd in the NBA. You don’t need to know how to figure out quadratic equations to know that if you give up more points than you score on a nightly basis, your record won’t be good. The Pistons are capable of scoring points in bunches. However, they might be the most inefficient team in the NBA.

Per, every position (besides center) on the Pistons has an efficient field goal percentage of 49 percent or worse. The point guard position is the worse shooting position on the roster, with an eFG percentage of 45.3 (Hi, Brandon Jennings). Let’s compare this to the barometer of greatness in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs eFG for each position is over 50 percent. The Pistons are 17th in the NBA in shooting percentage (45 percent) and 30th in the NBA in three-point shooting at 31 percent. Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith lead the team in three-point attempts at 5.3 and 3.8 respectively, while hoisting shots at embarrassingly low percentages: 34 and 25 percent.

The Big “D” might want to consider playing some defense and not chucking up every isolation long-two that comes their way. Coaching might be an issue and Mo Cheeks will be on the hot seat if the talent in Detroit doesn’t come to fruition soon. This team should be a top five seed in the Eastern Conference with the amount of talent on the roster. These players need to figure out how to play together and how to distribute the ball evenly. Maybe when the players start worrying about the numbers of wins, instead of the number of shots they get, then things will start to turn around in Detroit.

12-23, 12th in Eastern Conference
I’m sure this isn’t the way Cavaliers fans imagined the start of this season going. Even Andrew Bynum showed flashes of the play that had him in discussions as the best center in the NBA just a few years ago. Well, he doesn’t even belong to an NBA roster now, so that’s how well that experiment went. I never thought a roster with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters would have trouble scoring, but the Cavaliers are only scoring 95.5 points per game, 25th in the NBA. Luol Deng (19.0 PPG) will be inserted into the starting lineup, which should strengthen the Cavaliers on both sides of the ball and remove them from this list. As of now, the Cavaliers aren’t even in playoff contention in the Eastern Conference and have a record identical with the Philadelphia 76ers. That’s not good when you have a point guard in Kyrie Irving who will be starting for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

The Cavaliers are dead last in the NBA in field goal percentage, at 42 percent. One problem with the Cavaliers offense is the unwillingness of the players to share the ball. To date, the Cavaliers only have 668 assists this season, which is 28th in the NBA (per Basketball-reference). The Cavaliers only have three players on the roster that average over two assists per game. Kyrie Irving leads the team with 6.3; Jarrett Jack is second with 5.1 and Dion Waiters is third with 3.2 APG. If Andrew Bynum was still on the roster, he would be fourth with his 2.0 APG. The Cavaliers aren’t shooting the ball at a good clip and they aren’t assisting on a lot of plays. That just doesn’t add up to a lethal offensive attack, even with two lethal scorers in Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters on the roster. It also doesn’t help the team chemistry either when Dion Waiters pops up in a trade rumor every week.

The addition of Luol Deng should help the Cavaliers on both sides of the floor. Besides scoring 19.0 PPG this season, Deng can also be tossed into the conversation as one of the better wing defenders in the NBA. Per Synergy, opponents are only shooting 35.6 percent overall when Deng is defending them. Opponents are shooting under 40 percent against Deng in isolation, PnR ball handler, PnR roll man, post-up and spot-up opportunities (per Synergy). The Cavaliers have the 17th ranked defense in the NBA, giving up 100.5 points per game. Deng should be able to bring the Cavaliers out of the cellar of the Eastern Conference and back into playoff contention. Right now they are underachieving, but if Deng can pull this thing together, Cleveland will stop lobbying to bring LeBron back in the offseason.

13-22, 10th in Eastern Conference
I could probably leave this section blank and no one would question it any differently from all the words I’m about to type. But, where do we start? The number of Carmelo Anthony isolations, the childish antics and terrible play of J.R. Smith, whatever Metta World Peace does these days, because it isn’t playing basketball, and on and on. I just don’t know what to make of this team, the roster isn’t anything that blows my mind. However, a team with Carmelo Anthony should have a better record than 13-22. The general consensus was that the Knicks would take a step back this season. No one knew they would take a couple blocks worth of steps back.

Can you say Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith without laughing? Because I can’t. Smith is shooting 35 percent from the field, not from deep, from the field. To help you understand how terrible this is, keep in mind that Ricky Rubio is also shooting 35 percent from the field this season. Besides ‘Melo, who is putting up 26.3 PPG this season, no one on the Knicks averages over 14 PPG. Plus, no one on the Knicks averages over 5.2 assists per game.The Knicks were able to stay afloat last season because of the excellent play of J.R. Smith. With Smith taking a Titanic-like fall from grace, the Knicks have just been awful. Tyson Chandler has been hurt and Amar’e Stoudemire is a shell of his former self. The Knicks have finally reached their ceiling after championship aspirations when Carmelo was required. The only way is down from here.

The Knicks are shooting 43 percent from the field, good (or bad) for 26th in the NBA. With the Knicks, you would assume that the problem would be defense. However, the Knicks have the 9th best defense in the NBA, giving up 98.4 PPG. Offensively, the Knicks are only scoring 94.9 PPG, which is 26th in the NBA. Carmelo Anthony needs help — he’s averaging 26.3 PPG and 8.6 RPG on 45 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent shooting from deep. The team is on his back and it’s starting to crumble. The basketball scene is not looking good in New York and Madison Square Garden might start filling up for the opponent, instead of the home team in the near future.

11-22, 14th in Western Conference
The Sacramento Kings have one of the most talented rosters in the NBA on paper. With that being said, that doesn’t mean anything in the NBA. Just because the names have individually produced great statistics doesn’t mean that those statistics will produce victories. DeMarcus Cousins is one of four players this year averaging 20 and 10, but his team has only won 11 games. The Kings have two 20 points-per-game guys in Cousins and Gay, and Isaiah Thomas is close with a shade over 19 points per game. All that scoring and this team can’t win games.

This season, I watched the Kings lose a game to the Sixers. Before the season, all the talk in Sacramento was how Boogie Cousins was a matured individual, who would stop with the antics that gave him a bad reputation during his career. During this game, Cousins initiated fights with Evan Turner the whole game, which eventually lead to a technical. When Cousins was in foul trouble late in the game, Mike Malone wanted to take him out. Cousins threw his hands up in the air, motioning for Malone to leave Cousins in the game. As the substitution was made, Cousins pouted over to the bench. This was a game where Cousins scored 33 points and 14 rebounds, but the Kings lost.

The main problem I see in Sacramento is that the roster is full of individual players. These guys just haven’t figured out how to flow through each other, only assisting on 670 shots this season, which is 27th in the NBA (per Basketball-reference). Spot-up opportunities (Hi, Rudy Gay) account for 17.3 percent of the Kings offense and the Kings are only converting on 43 percent of these shots. The Kings are shooting 39 percent on isolations, which account for 8.5 percent of their offense (per Synergy). Besides the heavy barrage of spot-up and isolation plays, the talent in Sacramento really drops off after Thomas, Gay and Cousins. Those are the only three players on the roster averaging over 10 PPG. No. 6 overall pick Ben McLemore has been underwhelming so far, averaging 8.2 points on 37 percent shooting and 34 percent from deep.

Rudy Gay was brought in to try to save the franchise this season. Yet since acquiring Rudy Gay, the Kings are 5-8. Maybe the pieces need more time to fit, but the season isn’t getting any younger and every loss is another step closer to the lottery instead of the playoffs. The roster on this talent is undeniable, but the product on the court has been embarrassing. This team should be capable of a record over .500 and being over 10 games under .500 makes them a candidate for this list. See you in the lottery, Sacramento!

14-21, 8th seed in Eastern Conference
Don’t look now, but the Nets are on a four-game winning streak… but are still only holding the No. 8 seed in the East. The Nets were supposed to contend for a championship this year, but the first mistake was hiring a rookie coach in Jason Kidd that had just retired from the NBA, for a team that has about a two-year championship window. Besides that, the Nets have a laundry list of injuries and we aren’t even at the All-Star break. Brook Lopez is out for the season with a foot injury. The Nets are trying to solve Deron Williams‘ recurring ankle issues with cortisone shots and platelet rich plasma procedures (per SB Nation). That doesn’t sound fun.

Williams has already missed 11 games this season and it looks like more in the future. When Williams has been on the floor, he hasn’t been impressive, averaging 13.6 points and 6.9 assists per game. Those aren’t numbers that someone who use to be debated as the NBA’s best point guard next to Chris Paul should be producing. Sharpshooter Jason Terry has only played in 20 games this season, and he’s shooting just 37 percent from the field. Everyone knew the Nets constructed a team full of grizzly veterans, but no one could ever imagine that they would look this old.

The two biggest additions to the team were Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who the Nets paid a hefty price tag for. The trade (which also included Jason Terry), saw the Nets give up a package of three players (Wallace, Humphries, Brooks), plus three first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018. Pierce and Garnett don’t look like they can produce anything of value on the court. If Kevin Garnett scores over 10 points in a game, it’s like he found the fountain of youth. That Beats By Dre commercial featuring Garnett is probably the most ironic one ever, and yet they continue to play it. Garnett is averaging 6.5 points and 6.9 rebounds on 38 percent shooting in 21.8 minutes per game while Pierce is averaging 12.7 points and 4.9 rebounds on 40 percent shooting in just under 30 minutes per game. Instead of winning a championship, the Nets just look like a retirement home.

Have you watched a Brooklyn Nets game this season? The offense just looks terrible: too many Joe Johnson isolations, while everyone else stands around and watches. Without Joe Johnson (15.5 PPG), the Nets would probably be buried deeper than they already are. I know this team is old and the pieces just don’t look good together, but I have to imagine that a Phil Jackson or Jerry Sloan could make this team work overnight. Both the offense and defense are towards the bottom half of the NBA. The offense is only scoring 96.5 PPG, 21st in the NBA while the defense is giving up 101.0 PPG, which is 20th in the NBA.

Maybe the worst part is that the combination of Pierce, Garnett, Williams, Lopez, Johnson and Terry is costing the Nets over $85 million in salary this season. That’s quite a rip off, considering this team has only produced 14 wins. Underachieving might replace the Nets as the team name in Brooklyn if things don’t get on the right track.

What do you think?

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