The 2017-18 NBA regular season has been filled with more drama than we have ever seen before. From fights breaking out on the court and in the locker room to exciting playoff races down the stretch, it has not been a season that’s lacked intrigue.
As much as we might want to focus on the good, there’s been a whole lot of bad. The injury bug has taken hold big time — forcing some of the game’s best players out with serious injuries. Some young teams have disappointed in a big way. And while the reigning NBA Finals MVP has played well, his attitude has left a lot to be desired.
Here’s a look at the 20 biggest disappointments from the 2017-18 NBA regular season.
Markelle Fultz’s injury
The Sixers as a whole have been a pleasant surprise this season. Unfortunately, the first pick in last year’s NBA Draft has had very little to do with it. Dealing with a shoulder injury, Fultz has played in a grand total of nine games as a rookie. One of those games resulted in him inadvertently injuring team MVP Joel Embiid.
It’s just a continuation of recent Sixers draft picks that have been scarred by injury. Remember, Embiid missed his first two NBA seasons with leg issues and 2016 No. 1 pick Ben Simmons sat out his entire rookie campaign. Despite Philadelphia finding itself as legit contenders, the Fultz’ injury is yet another disappointment for this franchise.
Frank Vogel in Orlando
When Vogel took over as Orlando’s head coach back in 2016-17, most expected that this talented young squad would take that next step from irrelevance to bottom-end playoff contender. That simply has not happened. After leading Indiana to the playoffs in five of his six seasons, Vogel started out his Magic career by posting a 29-53 record. The team is now guaranteed to have a worse mark this season.
One of the primary issues here has been a lack of progression. Orlando traded Elfrid Payton for pennies on the dollar back in February, a clear indication that he didn’t fit Vogel’s system. And despite having three players average 17-plus points per game, Orlando is finding itself outscored by nearly five points per outing. That’s not what the team envisioned when it hired Vogel away from the Pacers.
Ball family drama
More specifically, the LaVar Ball drama. In what has been an otherwise surprising season, this has clouded any real on-court progression we’ve seen from the young Lakers. With father Ball critiquing the organization and head coach Luke Walton at every turn, drama has been the name of the game in Hollywood. Lonzo’s tepid support of his head coach has also played a role in this.
Heading into a summer in which the Lakers are looking to add two max-contract players, we’re pretty sure the Ball family drama is going to hang over negotiations with the likes of LeBron James and Paul George. Now that LiAngelo Ball has declared for the 2018 NBA Draft, that’s only magnified further. How president Magic Johnson and Co. respond to this drama will have a huge bearing on whether Los Angeles is able to add those star players.
John Wall’s injury didn’t help matters here. But this is something that pretty much every NBA team has dealt with during the 2017-18 season. For the Wizards, it’s simply been more about a lack of true cohesion between head coach Scott Brooks and general manager Ernie Grunfeld. The right pieces are not in place behind Wall and Bradley Beal. Washington also handed Otto Porter Jr. a max deal last summer to see him average less than 15 points per game this season.
All of this has contributed to an otherwise talented Wizards team finding itself among the bottom-three playoff seeds back east. And in reality, it will likely lead to an early postseason exit. One has to wonder if the era of attempting to fit square pegs into round holes is over in the nation’s capital.
Blake Griffin trade
It’s pretty disturbing that the Los Angeles Clippers went from viewing Griffin as their franchise player to moving him in the matter of mere months. What changed philosophically from the time Los Angeles signed Griffin to the richest contract in franchise history in July to trading him in-season?
The larger question at hand here is the NBA collective bargaining agreement. Griffin didn’t even consider taking a visit to Detroit during his free agent tour this past summer. His record contract didn’t include a no-trade clause. And now, Griffin is left playing in a city over the long haul that he had no intention of moving to. It’s something the NBAPA is going to have to focus on during the next slate of CBA negotiations. That’s for sure.
Grizzlies firing David Fizdale
General manager Chris Wallace definitely found his fall guy in Fizdale. After failing to provide the head coach with a roster worthy of contention, Fizdale was fired just 19 games into the season. This came with free agent signing Chandler Parsons proving to be nothing more than an injury-plagued bench warmer, Mike Conley injured and two of the team’s most-recent draft picks jettisoned from Memphis quicker than a band trying to cover Johnny Cash.
The end result here is Memphis going from playoff team to boasting one of the Association’s worst records. Fortunately, all of this should ultimately cost Wallace his job. It’s just depressing that Fizdale had to bear the brunt of it first.
Gordon Hayward injury
Boston seemed destined to knock off Cleveland back east after signing Hayward to a max contract and acquiring Kyrie Irving from the very same Cavaliers. While that might still be the case, Hayward won’t play a role in the Celtics’ playoff run. Within the first five minutes of his Celtics debut, Hayward went down with one of the ugliest injuries we’ve seen in recent NBA history.
The All-Star is working his way back, but won’t be a part of any championship push this spring. The injury itself seemed to be an omen for the rest of the NBA season with multiple star players going down to serious injuries. But in a vacuum, it was worst than any other one we saw.
This isn’t to blame the Milwaukee Bucks for firing Kidd. He started the season out with a mediocre 23-22 record before being canned. In and of itself, that was worthy of termination. Here’s a talented young team that failed to take the next step under Kidd. Sure the squad hasn’t fared much better under Joe Prunty. That’s not really the point.
Kidd’s old-school mentality did not fit in well with the Bucks’ young core. Players were tuning him out. There was a growing rift between the now former head coach and Milwaukee’s front office. All of that led to an unceremonious exit for Kidd after less than three full seasons as the head coach.
Andrew Wiggins’ regression
If you asked die-hard Timberwolves fans whether signing Wiggins to a max extension back in October made sense, the answers would have been split. Wiggins might only be 23 years old. He has a solid offensive game. That’s fine. But is a guy that brings absolutely nothing to the table outside of being a volume scorer really worth $146.5 million over five seasons?
That’s the issue we’re seeing with Wiggins right now. He’s averaging nearly six points per game less than last season while shooting at a 44 percent mark from the field. Add in one of the worst perimeter defensive performances of the season, and Wiggins has continued to remain nothing more than a one-dimensional player. Period.
The expectation heading into this season was that Hield would take over as the Sacramento Kings’ go-to scorer. Acquired from New Orleans in the DeMarcus Cousins deal last season, Hield finished off that campaign by averaging 15.1 points on 43 percent shooting from distance in California’s capital city — Stephen Curry he is not.
Hield’s scoring and shooting numbers have remained stagnant in his first full season with the Kings. Though, he’s averaging just north of 25 minutes per game and shooting the ball an average of less than 12 times per outing. Sacramento needed Hield to take on more of the scoring onus. Instead, he’s simply acting the part of another piece. That’s not good for anyone involved.
The Big Three in OKC
After adding Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to the mix last summer, not a single objective person would have thought that Oklahoma City might miss out on the playoffs altogether. Sure the team still has a strong opportunity to earn home-court advantage in the first round, but it’s only 1.5 games ahead of Denver at No. 9 in the Western Conference. That tells us a story of a trio that simply has not meshed as well as most of us expected.
The biggest issue here has been Anthony. While George and reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook are both putting in tremendous seasons, Melo is averaging just 16.2 points on 40 percent shooting. He’s also struggled against the top teams in the Western Conference, primarily Golden State. In four games against the Warriors, Anthony is averaging 12.0 points on 33 percent shooting. That’s not going to cut it should the two teams meet in the playoffs.
Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry injuries
We were legitimately deprived of a real MVP race when these two went down to injury. After averaging 24.4 points and 5.1 assists in his first 60 games with the Celtics, Irving went down to a knee injury back in mid March. After undergoing surgery on said knee, Irving’s availability for the first round of the playoffs is now clearly in question.
Out west, Curry and the Warriors have dealt with multiple injuries throughout the season. The latest is a sprained MCL that will likely keep the two-time MVP out for the first round of the playoffs. Having averaged 26.4 points and 6.1 assists on 50 percent shooting, this is a major blow for Golden State. Taking into account the competition in the Western Conference, and that’s magnified even further.
Windy City Drama
Before the rebuilding Chicago Bulls even took to the court this season, drama surrounding the team hit a near all-time high. It happened on the opening day of the regular season with forwards Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis finding themselves in a major fight. The end result was Mirotic being dealt to New Orleans and Portis himself being suspended.
From there, it was completely downhill for head coach Fred Hoiberg and Co. Chicago boasts one of the worst records in the Association. Hoiberg might very well be on his way out of town. And a season that should have led to progression will likely go down as one of the worst in franchise history. We can point to that fateful October day that started this downward spiral.
After adding Dwight Howard and rookie Malik Monk to the mix this past summer, most figured Charlotte would find itself in prime position to earn a playoff spot. That simply has not happened. Howard has had a rebirth of sorts, averaging 16.8 points and 12.4 rebounds. Outside of that, nothing has gone right here.
Head coach Steve Clifford has dealt with health concerns. Monk himself continues to show that the NBA game might be too big for him. Meanwhile, the likes of Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have shown regression from last season. It’s all led to Michael Jordan’s squad sitting well under .500 heading into the stretch run. It will also likely lead to some sweeping changes in Charlotte this coming summer.
Isaiah Thomas and LeBron James
Those who understand just how ball-dominant Thomas was during an MVP-caliber 2016-17 campaign with Boston questioned whether he would be a fit with King James in Cleveland. It took about a week from the time Thomas returned to the court after his injury before Cleveland realized this simply wasn’t going to work out. Almost immediately, head coach Tyronn Lue tiered Thomas’ minutes so he wouldn’t be on the court with James.
Within the matter of just a few months, Cleveland then shipped the injured star off to the Los Angeles Lakers for reinforcements off the bench. After being dealt to Cleveland in the Kyrie Irving trade, Thomas ended his Cavaliers career having averaged 14.7 points in just 15 games. Ouch.
DeMarcus Cousins’ injury
Things were definitely looking up for Cousins and fellow All-Star Anthony Davis in New Orleans. After struggling to fit in together last season, the two represented the most-dynamic frontcourt duo in the NBA. That’s until Cousins went down with a ruptured Achilles back in January. All of this while the talented big man was in the midst of his fifth consecutive All-Star performance. Heck, the injury itself could cost Cousins multiples of millions in free agency this summer.
From a team-wide perspective, New Orleans is now battling it out for one of the final playoff spots out west. Davis himself might be having an MVP-caliber season, putting up an average of 28.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per outing. But there’s little hope for New Orleans in a Western Conference that’s absolutely stacked heading into the postseason.
Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs
Speaking of little hope. Leonard has played in a grand total of nine games this season after suffering a calf injury during the 2017 Western Conference Finals. In and of itself, that has led to the Spurs acting as nothing more than bottom-end playoff contenders out west. Though, this isn’t even the most disappointing aspect of Leonard’s injury.
From the time he was shut down earlier in the season, a rift has grown between the former MVP candidate and his organization. It’s now led to speculation that Leonard wants out of San Antonio — even to the point where other teams are showing interest in the forward. Less than a calendar year after it seemed Leonard was going to be the long-term face of the Spurs, we have absolutely no idea if he’s played his last game with the team.
Kristaps Porzingis’ injury
His New York Knicks were never really going to contend for a playoff spot this season. That’s not really the point. NBA fans the world over (literally) were tuning in to see just how much the Unicorn would progress as a third-year player in 2017-18. That’s until Porzingis went down with a torn ACL back in February. It was a devastating blow for those of us excited to see this freak of nature take over the NBA’s landscape.
For New York, the Porzingis’ injury also set back what still seems to be a lengthy rebuild. Having missed half the season, the Latvian never really had an opportunity to mesh with recent acquisitions such as lottery pick Frank Ntilikina and free agent signing Tim Hardaway Jr. That’s not good for anyone hoping that these Knicks somehow find their way back to relevance here soon.
When GM and head coach Stan Van Gundy pulled off one of the biggest in-season trades in recent NBA history, most experts figured that his Pistons were destined for a playoff run. Now, just a couple months after adding Blake Griffin to the mix, Detroit is all but eliminated from playoff contention. It heads into Wednesday’s game against Philadelphia three games under .500 and on the verge of going home for the spring.
Unfortunately for the Pistons, it comes at a time that the team is playing good basketball. It has won five consecutive games — all too late for Detroit’s own good. A stretch of 10 losses in 12 games spanning February and March doomed this team. We now have to wonder what the future might bring in Detroit and if Van Gundy himself will soon be without a job.
Kevin Durant’s attitude
Durant entered the 2017-18 season having never been ejected from a game. With still time to go this season, he’s already been ejected from a league-high five games and faces the real possibility of suspension should the reigning NBA Finals MVP keep picking up technical fouls. All the while, Durant has shown himself to be much more salty on social media and when dealing with the press itself.
One really has to wonder what’s happening with Durant. Is the pressure getting to him? Sure the star has indicated he’ll re-sign with Golden State this summer. Until we hear something else, that’s almost a foregone conclusion. Even then, something has impacted Durant in a big way this season. And in reality, it has hurt his Warriors team throughout the year.