The NBA regular season is a real grind of 82 games for 30 teams. For casual fans, the season blends together after watching one team play three games in five nights and wading through the scouting reports of what appears to be an infinite amount of draft prospects and young talent. Even NBA coaches themselves will rest their starters and throw out wacky lineups throughout the year in order to break the monotony.
By the All-Star Game, a clear hierarchy is established between the exceptionally elite and the downright awful teams. This year, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers seem dead set upon another collision course to break the tiebreaker in what would then be a finals trilogy. For many, the Super Teams and lack of parity has taken the drama out of the NBA.
The most boring teams in the NBA are typically neither good nor bad — just mind-numbingly mediocre. At best, these teams will win anywhere from between 40 to 50 games through the regular season, only to get swept out of the first round of the playoffs. Polite, small-market fans will remain hopeful through the offseason, despite big-money free agents repeatedly blowing them off. For years, the most boring teams in the NBA are known for their methodical style for doing business, both on and off the floor.
Expect hometown fans of these five teams to start filing out early on in the fourth quarter to beat traffic, if they have not already fallen asleep.
5. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics have 17 championship banners and 22 retired jerseys hanging up in the rafters at the Garden. Each banner and jersey shares a story of high drama, with Bill Russell making the timely block; John Havlicek running his man ragged; and Larry Bird stealing an Isiah Thomas inbounds pass before flipping the ball over to Dennis Johnson for a reverse layup. The Celtics beat LA in 2008 to raise their last championship banner, while Doc Rivers, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce looked on.
Team President Danny Ainge has played things safe ever since. Several years ago, it was Ainge who wheeled and dealed to bring Allen and Garnett to Boston and pioneer the Big Three/Super Team concept. Now, it is only Ainge and the banners that remain in Boston to commemorate that final championship run, while the balance of power swung decidedly between Miami, Cleveland, and Golden State.
Last summer, Kevin Durant stiffed the Boston faithful, despite taking in a pitch from Tom Brady of all people. The Celtics signed Al Horford to a maximum four-year, $113 million deal as somewhat of a consolation prize. Horford has made four All-Star games as a solid, but unspectacular big man, who may work best as a third option on a stacked team. So far, this year, Al Horford is averaging 16 points, six rebounds, five assists, and two blocks per contest for the Celtics.
At the same time, Isaiah Thomas is leading the team in scoring, at 26 points per game. Still, Boston is a middle-of-the-road team both offensively and defensively, where it ranks 14th and 13th in terms of scoring, respectively. The Boston Celtics are now 13-11 and mired deep within a trainwreck of mediocrity out East. Fans will be left to somehow work themselves up for a Boston versus Charlotte first-round series, right before either Cleveland or Toronto sweeps the winner out of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
4. Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers never recovered from being stonewalled out of the playoffs by LeBron James and the Miami Heat through three straight seasons between 2012 and 2014. In those years, it was all but assumed that Paul George was the second best two-way player in the league this side of James.
In the 2014 NBA Finals, however, Kawhi Leonard apparently came out of nowhere to take King James out of his comfort zone and lay claim to the Finals MVP award. That summer, George broke his right leg in an Olympic team scrimmage; an injury so gruesome that play had to be immediately halted. From there, the only real drama coming out of Indiana was whether he would ever return to form.
In 2013, George appeared in six games, and labored his way to nine points per contest. Last year, he recovered fully to play the best basketball of his life and slap together 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals per game. These Pacers went 45-37 and lost to the Toronto Raptors in a first-round series that nobody seems to really remember.
For 2016–17, George remains as the lone holdover of the so-called Glory Years in Indiana, when the team was a lock to make it to the Conference Finals. Those were the years that Lance Stephenson brought the drama, while Gilbert Arenas giddily took to social media to mock Roy Hibbert for his soft demeanor as a man-child and gentle giant.
Now, an over-the-hill Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson flank PG13. Beyond these veterans, Myles Turner is the lone bright spot on the roster. Expect these Pacers to go .500 this year, which will actually be good enough to make the playoffs in the East, but nowhere near bad enough to land a lottery pick and restore hope.
3. Utah Jazz
These Utah Jazz would actually look pretty good if it were the late ’90s, and Michael Jordan was out taking one of his retirements. The 2016–17 Jazz play at the slowest pace in the NBA and run deliberate half-court sets featuring constant screening and backdoor cuts to probe the defense for open shots. This style is by necessity, for a coaching staff that must dole out major minutes to twin towers Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.
Alarmingly, Gordon Hayward and a 35-year old Joe Johnson are the best and only athletes on the team capable of creating their own shots. The Western Conference has largely degenerated into Golden State, San Antonio, the LA Clippers, and everybody else. Many made a foregone conclusion that the 2016–17 Warriors would march right back into to the Finals after going 73-9 last year and re-upping with Kevin Durant. The Spurs, however, never got the memo, and blew the doors off Golden State on opening day by 29 points.
Meanwhile, the GSW and Clippers share a genuine hatred toward each other to the point where both teams up the trash talk and cheap shot ante in preseason games. Against this backdrop, nobody seems to notice or care that the Jazz are now 15-10, which would make them a sixth seed in The West. In the playoffs, expect Utah to grind games down to a halt and hang on for dear life, especially if the team were to match up against the Clippers, Spurs, or Rockets in the first round.
High school basketball coaches may salivate over a Jazz club that plays the game “the right way.” The rest of us, outside of Utah, would rather watch paint dry.
2. Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta signed Dwight Howard to a three year, $70.5 million contract this offseason. Dwight, of course, played his high school ball at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy before immediately declaring for the 2004 NBA Draft. Unlike James and Dwyane Wade, however, nobody seemed to care about this Howard Homecoming. In Orlando, Howard’s “here today, gone tomorrow” circus act held the entire organization hostage. In LA, Kobe Bryant ran the happy-go-lucky Dwight out of town.
Last summer, Howard went live on TNT to blast James Harden for his failure to feed the post, in what was supposed to be the perfect situation in Houston. As recently as two seasons ago, the Atlanta Hawks were the new darlings of the NBA. The 2014–15 Hawks won 60 games and sent four players to the All-Star Game. This team took to the name Spurs East and ran a motion offense to create wide-open looks for the likes of Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Horford, and George Teague.
Horford and Teague are now long gone, replaced by a Black Hole at center, where the ball goes in, but never gets passed back out. Notoriously fickle Atlanta fans are left to enjoy the Howard experience, when the big man rips down a rebound and attempts to lead the break, only to clang a wayward pass off the backboard. After committing the turnover, Dwight will start pointing fingers, loafing back on defense, and giving up the easy score.
The 2016–17 Hawks are now 12-13 and in danger of missing the playoffs altogether with Howard clogging the middle of the lane. The Hawks, like so many other Eastern Conference franchises, will fill in as the Washington Generals to the LeBron highlight reel. For now, all of the flair and excitement coming out of Atlanta relates mostly to Dennis Schroder and his latest hairstyle.
1. Memphis Grizzlies
Like clockwork, the Memphis Grizzlies degenerate into a MASH unit through the regular season, only to somehow back their way into the playoffs. From there, Memphis will pull off a first-round upset, before stealing one or two games in the second-round against a clearly superior team. The Grizzlies earn respect throughout the league for their grit-and-grind toughness. But, this ugly style of play would be more so suitable for the Bully Ball of the ’80s and ’90s.
Memphis has not had a 20-point scorer on their roster since 2011, when it took everything for Zach Randolph to eke past this barrier at 20.1 points per game. Z-Bo is now 35 years old and chipping in 14 points a contest, despite the fact that he can barely jump two inches off the floor. For years, the Memphis offense broke down into Randolph and Marc Gasol taking turns on the low block pounding the basketball, throwing up jump hooks, and drawing cheap fouls.
Now Mike Conley is the highest-paid player in all of the land, and will call for the high pick and roll, get cut off at the top of the key, reset, and call for another high pick and roll. For Memphis, the 2016–17 season is again playing out according to form. A banged up Chandler Parsons has only appeared in six games this year, while Conley, James Ennis, and Brandon Wright have all also missed significant time.
Still, the Grizzlies are 17-9 and fifth in The West. Most likely, these Grizzlies will manufacture more than 40 wins by season’s end and lock in another playoff spot. For the clincher, expect a 40-year-old Vince Carter to drive baseline and soar over the top for a lay-up. Let the good times roll!