With everyone so focused on the double travesties going down in the Big Apple — New York is ready to can Mike Woodson and Brooklyn has resorted to all types of shady practices involving soda to try to win games — two other underachievers have gotten away relatively unscathed. Cleveland was supposed to be one of the up-and-coming teams in the East this year. Instead, in one of the worst conferences we’ve ever seen, they’re still just 9-15 and out of the playoff picture. Kyrie Irving is regressing. Dion Waiters is complaining. Andrew Bynum is Andrew Bynum-ing. They’ve been spectacularly bad this year. Charlotte is even ahead of them in the standings.
Then there’s Memphis, which admittedly has a few things going against them:
A) they’re playing in the Western Conference, basically a minefield of good teams
B) Marc Gasol has missed significant time with an injury
Still, that doesn’t absolve a 10-14 record from a perennial playoff team. They can’t score. They can’t rebound. Tayshaun Prince fell off. Zach Randolph is starting to fall off. And the bench is just completely awful.
Both these teams could turn it around as the season veers closer to the All-Star break. But for now, they have to be two of the NBA’s most disappointing squads. Which one has been a bigger mess? We argue. You decide.
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Both teams entered the year with new coaches and sky-high expectations. But, if you’re asking me, the Cavaliers have been a far more disappointing team so far. I know, I know, the Grizzlies were so good last year! They played with heart, grit and toughness that was unmatched! What happened to them? Well, they peaked last year. In a difficult West, any misstep can cost you, can destroy your hopes, and that’s been the case so far. Injuries to key players like Tony Allen, Quincy Pondexter and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol are mostly to blame for the Grizzlies misfortunes. They’ve been more so unlucky than downright disappointing. The only truly disappointing part has been the regression of Tony Allen and Zack Randolph, who look noticeably older and slower than last year.
Cleveland has been a totally different kind of mess this year. They brought back former Coach of the Year Mike Brown (who was canned from both Cleveland and L.A. in back-to-back years… always a great resume starter), added talented veterans Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark (fresh off of great campaigns with their former teams), and even rolled the dice on the often-injured Andrew Bynum. Finally they selected the explosive combo forward Anthony Bennett, from UNLV, with the No. 1 pick in the 2013 Draft. Add to the mix a healthy Andy Varejao and a young nucleus built around star Kyrie Irving, (coming off of an All Star appearance) and promising youngsters Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, and Cleveland oozed optimism entering the season.
Flash forward to now: After starting the season by winning a close game against what looked like a contender in the Brooklyn Nets (oh, how times have changed), the Cavaliers proceeded to go 4-12 in the month of November. So far we’ve been treated to a drama-filled players-only meeting (which rumored to have featured a Dion Waiters spat with either Tristan Thompson, Kyrie Irving, or both… punches possibly thrown), which led to a mysterious illness keeping Dion Waiters away from the team for about a week; top pick Bennett looking completely out of place (AB is averaging 2.2 PPG in only 10.2 MPG, probably due to his pitiful shooting numbers — 26.6 shooting percentage, 17.4 percent from three, while struggling with sleep apnea and asthma); Andrew Bynum transforming into Socrates, contemplating his life and retirement, saying he was having a hard time finding joy in basketball; and a fan running onto the court wearing a home-made shirt that read “Kyrie, Don’t Leave” on it. So, I guess it’s been nothing out of the ordinary in Cleveland.
What’s most disappointing about the Cavs has been just how ugly the offense has been. The Cavs are making just 42.8 percent of their shots, good enough for fifth worst in the NBA, and average just 19 assists per game, good enough for fourth worst! As is the standard with any Brown-led offense, the Cavaliers Princeton sets lack creativity. The Cavs are the 27th most efficient offensive, even trailing a team that actually plays Richard Jefferson meaningful minutes (the Utah Jazz).
But what do you expect from Mike Brown, King of the Isolation? Whenever the opportunity arises to bring back the coach you just fired two years prior, you have to take it; don’t you know the old saying, “If it’s broke, bring back the guy who broke it in the first place”?
Most concerning has been the play of Uncle Drew, A.K.A Kyrie Irving, who while averaging 21.1 PPG and 6.0 APG, is making only 41 percent of his shots (33 percent from three). Questions like “Has Brown done irrefutable damage to Kyrie?” and “Will Kyrie leave us too?” have become real issues. With so much potential hiding right below Mike Brown’s glasses, Cleveland’s mediocre play has made them a more disappointing team.
What happens when the hunters become the hunted?
Enter the Memphis Grizzlies, who have gone from NBA contenders to drowning in the shark-infested waters of the Western Conference to begin this season. The question here isn’t whether or not the Grizzlies have been disappointing. That is pretty much undeniable. The question at hand is who has been more disappointing between the Grizzlies and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In the red corner, we have the Cavs, a team with an unproven All-Star in Kyrie Irving, questionable draft selections over the last two seasons in Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett, a coach who was fired after just five games last season (Mike Brown) and a mercurial center with balky knees in Andrew Bynum.
In the blue corner, we have one of last year’s participants in the Western Conference Finals. A team with multiple All-Stars in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year (also Gasol), and a squad that had the second best defensive rating a season ago (97.4) with 58 regular season wins.
Based on those credentials who would most fans have expected to be in a better position a quarter of the way through this season?
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Yes, the Cavs should be better than they have played, especially with the Eastern Conference as their primary stomping ground. But the Grizzlies are largely the same team from a season ago with improvements that seemed to be right in the offseason. The organization decided to let Lionel Hollins walk as head coach during the summer and brought in rookie coach David Joerger. The team needed shooting and acquired the three-point gunning Mike Miller. They also acquired depth behind Gasol and Randolph with Kosta Koufos.
What has ensued is an uninspired effort as the team struggles to find an identity while it recovers from injuries. Joerger tried to speed the slow-footed pace of the Grizzlies up by insisting the team run at the beginning of the season to meet Mike Conley‘s better attributes. That didn’t work, so the offense then switched back to pick-and-roll and more post-friendly action involving Gasol as a decision maker at the elbow.
The Spaniard is integral to Memphis’ attack on both sides of the basketball and his MCL injury has crippled the team, 3-8 since his absence, even though they were just 7-6 with him. It must be conceded that Memphis plays in the tougher conference with the improved Dallas Mavericks and the suddenly title-contending Portland Trail Blazers, two teams that missed the playoffs last season. But this drop off for the Grizzlies is more than just about a few teams improving.
They have fallen from a respectable 12th in rebounding to 22nd this season. They also don’t get to the line all that often, ranking 23rd in free throw attempts per game. The Grizzlies have the league’s worst pace offensively and now may be facing changes as trade rumors seep into their locker room for the second straight season.
While some of the low rankings exist for the Cavs as well, they don’t have the recent track record the Grizzlies do. Remember, the Cavs have been in the lottery every year since LeBron James left them for Miami. The Grizzlies have been a playoff staple in the West for three consecutive years. They also traded away one of their best players in the middle of the season last year (Rudy Gay) and still made a trip to the Western Conference Finals.
Between the coaching change, unidentified philosophy, injuries and the uncertainty in management’s faith in the roster, this team has been an utter disappointment. Using a third team comparison, the Denver Nuggets are in a similar position to the Grizzlies but they haven’t slipped nearly as far, despite getting worse on paper than a season ago.
It just doesn’t make sense that the Grizzlies have been this bad so soon after recent greatness. In Cleveland, it’s just business as usual.
Which team has been more disappointing?
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