Struggles of Marquée Teams Bad for NBA
If it seems to you like something is just a bit awry in the NBA this year, you're right.
But it's not because longtime commissioner David Stern is retiring at season's end. It's not even due to the unheralded Indiana Pacers having the NBA's best record at this writing.
Instead, it's who doesn't have the league's best record that is truly catching our attention.
The league's two top franchises -- by a long ways -- are the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. They have combined for 33 championships, faced off in the Finals 11 times (Boston won the first seven before the Lakers captured three of the last four), and represent arguably the top rivalry in all of sports.
But in 2013-14, they are nothing more than a pair of also-rans. If this NBA season was an elementary school's Skills Day, they'd both get participation ribbons.
This season's standings make more sense when viewed upside down.
The Celtics, who opted to clean house at the start of the year by trading stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, have recently inched ahead of last-place Philadelphia in the embarrassingly-bad Atlantic Division. When the Toronto Raptors lead your division despite being barely above .500, you know you're crummy.
The Lakers have always heard the "Beat LA" chants, but rarely have so many teams successfully done so in one season. Their victory at Cleveland on 5 Feb allowed them to catch Sacramento at the bottom of the Pacific Division standings, and they have since 'surged' a game ahead of the Kings. Nonetheless, the Lakers have a real shot at posting the worst record for the franchise since moving from Minneapolis in 1960.
Boston had a previous dreadful season, going 15-67 in 1996-97 -- they've already won 19 of 53 games this year -- but nevertheless, 2013-14 stacks up among its worst in the modern era.
Ideally, both organizations will bounce back quickly. History suggests they will. But in the meantime, having both these franchises near the bottom of the league is not ideal for Stern's successor.
In two-time defending champion Miami and perennial contender San Antonio, the league has a pair of teams with fairly strong followings who are winning. But there's limited history there. The Heat's LeBron James may be the game's best player, but Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant is inching toward him. And with all due respect to the talented Thunder, it's just not the same with teams that aren't a part of the league's founding tradition leading the way.
In other words, the teens of the world who are NBA fans are likely just fine with it. But for those millions who appreciate the league's rich history, it's awkward. The Clippers are in first place, for Pete's sake. Something's gotta give ... doesn't it?