Some NBA Teams Are Bad, And Some Are Just Awful It's easy to pick basketball's frontrunners. But Slate.com's Mike Pesca tells NPR's Rachel Martin the interesting story is about the worst teams in the NBA, and why being bad might be a good strategy.
NPR logo

Some NBA Teams Are Bad, And Some Are Just Awful

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/360859166/360859167" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Some NBA Teams Are Bad, And Some Are Just Awful

Some NBA Teams Are Bad, And Some Are Just Awful

Some NBA Teams Are Bad, And Some Are Just Awful

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/360859166/360859167" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

It's easy to pick basketball's frontrunners. But Slate.com's Mike Pesca tells NPR's Rachel Martin the interesting story is about the worst teams in the NBA, and why being bad might be a good strategy.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Come with us now as we switch gears because it's time for sports. We're a few days into the new NBA season and already basketball fans think they know who the frontrunners are for the 2015 title. With LeBron James back in Cleveland, the Cavaliers are major contenders. And the Bulls, Thunder, and Spurs join them at the top.

But while everyone else is talking about the teams that are hot, we're going to go in a different direction and talk about the teams that are decidedly not. Here now to do that is Mike Pesca. He's the host of The Gist podcast from Slate.com. Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hi. I like it. Hot teams, not teams. Bad teams, they're just like us.

MARTIN: Oh, he rhymes.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So I understand you have broken the bad down into four categories...

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Those that are bad because it's a strategy, those that are just cursed with bad luck, those that have badness thrust upon them, and there's at least one team you want to talk about that you say is using badness as an experiment.

PESCA: Yes.

MARTIN: So now that we know all these categories, let's start with the idea of being bad as a strategy.

PESCA: Right. So - and I also want to say I'm not naming the four worst teams. But these are the teams that will just give their fans the least joy. And the 76ers are just tops on that list. They want to be bad. They see no margin in being good. They deny that they're being bad on purpose. It's not for money purposes. The GM thinks that if they don't win games, they could get really good draft picks. And it doesn't make sense to him to try to win a little bit and they get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.

MARTIN: That's so horrible. I mean, we've talked about that phenomenon before but I just I can't get over it. It's awful.

PESCA: Yeah, it's one of the worst things about the NBA, specifically, and a lot of sports. And the fact that fans have bought this. The Commissioner talk about doing something like tweaking the draft system or the playoff system to change it but he's not going to. Cut to 76ers lose, you know, 66 games this year.

MARTIN: OK, so sad to be a 76ers fan. Which team is just a victim of bad luck?

PESCA: Well, I would say the Pacers. They didn't sign Lance Stephenson in the off-season but then Paul George goes and hurts his leg. It's not his fault. But they just don't have - even though they were the top record in the East last year, they just - it doesn't seem to me that they have the roster that's going to be able to even get to the seventh or eighth playoff spots. I mean, they might. But again, especially if we're going by the rubric of who will bring the fans the least joy, Pacers fans really excited last year. It's going to be a disappointment this year.

And then you have the category of teams that have badness thrust upon them. I would say the Nets. The Nets went and signed, a couple years ago, superstar players like Kevin Garnet. He's 38. Brook Lopez. He's missed two of the last three seasons. You go figure what's going to happen in Brooklyn.

And then we have - and this last category of interesting bad teams - Sacramento.

MARTIN: This is mean. An experiment? They're trying to be bad because they're trying something out?

PESCA: I think it's more like they know they're going to be bad, so what's the best way - how do you maximize the fun or interestingness you could have? And they have an owner from the tech sector who's like, let's throw it up against the wall and see what sticks. And so one of the things they're doing - this isn't with the NBA team - but they've hired a coach to coach their minor-league team who sometimes believes in what we used to call in sixth grade goal-hanging. Like, four guys will play defense and just have one on the other side to maybe dunk the ball.

MARTIN: Like a keeper in soccer?

PESCA: No, the other way, one guy on offense, just hanging out. It's legal. It's legal in basketball.

MARTIN: OK, do you have a curveball?

PESCA: I do. So the World Series, Pablo Sandoval set the record for the most hits in a postseason. He had 26 hits in 17 games. But he played 17 games. The postseason keeps expanding and expanding. And if you go for hits per game - I just started looking at this for some other players that didn't play in as many games. But 1986, Marty Barrett had higher hits per game. In '77, Phil Garner had higher hits per game. If you want to go back when the postseason was only the World Series, Pepper Martin, the Wild Horse of the Osage, 1931...

MARTIN: My cousin, Pepper.

PESCA: Yes, cousin Pepper in 1931. So it's not - Sandoval did great. I just kind of hate this most hits in a postseason when we define the postseason. Don't you want to adjust for inflation? I don't know. I think you do.

MARTIN: Setting us straight. Mike Pesca of Slate.com. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.