Three of the worst teams in the NBA, per win/loss ratio as of this writing, are the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Los Angeles Lakers. Because of the way the league is structured, only one of those teams is already written out of the playoffs. If you’re guessing that it’s the Lakers, you’re correct, and you’ve probably already started to mutter under your breath about the disparity between the West and the East. Maybe you’re going down to the park or to your rec league, intent on shooting 1,500 off-balance fadeaways from 20 feet out in Kobe’s memory. Maybe not. You probably are.
The Lakers, who have only missed the playoffs seven times ever and have only missed them in consecutive seasons once before (all the way back in the mid ’70s), are pretty bad at basketball. They don’t need to be good, really, until Bryant retires — he’s their latest Hall of Fame lock, and his reputation is such that he’s effectively beyond winning and losing at this point — and there’s no real pressure for them until 2017, when the Black Mamba hangs up his sneakers and we’re treated to a new edition of measuring his greatness against everyone else. Until then, fans will have to make due with the fact that Nick Young is to winning basketball what Iggy Azalea is to cultural authenticity. That’s something fans of the 29 other franchises can enthusiastically support, because it’s rare that the purple and gold are this bad this frequently.
Even though Philly is rightly regarded as a bad team, the 76ers could, mathematically speaking, make the playoffs. Sam Hinke would likely have to be institutionalized if it happened, and the odds are certainly against the new faces of tanking, but it could occur just the same. The Knicks are awful. That’s more or less all that needs to be said about them, which means it’s been a fairly typical season for Madison Square Garden’s home team. The other team that’s already missed the playoffs are sitting in the West, and they’ve become all but accustomed to it over the last decade.
The second team to be mathematically eliminated from the postseason? The Minnesota Timberwolves, another franchise that is currently trading on the nostalgia of a franchise great while promising great things for the future. The biggest difference between the Wolves and the Lakers, of course, is that the Midwestern team has lottery talent waiting to develop, a byproduct of the trade that sent the second-best Kevin to Cleveland.
It’s been more than a decade since Minny cracked the playoffs, and the Wolves have never been there without Garnett on the roster. Instead, Minnesota has had to engage in a hearts-and-minds campaign, convincing fans that the team is righting the ship (the Andrew Wiggins trade is a great one for a franchise that was spinning its wheels while watching Kevin Love put up arguably empty numbers) and answering letters from prospective fans.
Unlike L.A., the Timberwolves look like they’ll be good to great in the near future. That’s a sentence that feels as weird as it sounds, because the Lakers are NBA royalty while Minny is, well, not. But Wiggins in a flyover state is still Wiggins, and barring some kind of catastrophe inside Minnesota’s front office, the Wolves will pick themselves up sooner or later. For now, they’ve got the Big Ticket back for an unofficial retirement tour.