Ariana Grande recorded the album Taylor Swift was trying to make. Like Swift’s Reputation, the highly-anticipated Thank U, Next is also a break up album, but it’s a break up album without the overproduced zoo of snakes and black leather. Instead, Thank U, Next comes off like it’s a page torn out of Grande’s personal journal. Here’s the thing about break up albums — or any music that is inherently sad — they need to be honest and specific. “I saw your potential without seeing credentials / Maybe that’s the issue / Said maybe that’s the issue / Can’t hold that s*** against you / Guess I did it to myself, yeah / Thought you were somebody else” she closes her Pete Davidson-directed track “In My Head.”
Homogeneity is far too common in pop music, but I guess that’s part of what makes that music popular. It’s easy to think This song is about me when the song is about as vague as your morning horoscope. For Grande, Thank U, Next is definitely about her, and not at all about you. If you’ve gone through what Grande has gone through over the last several months, then you can relate. If you can’t relate, you can listen, and you can empathize.
It’s minimalistic. It sounds like Grande got a bunch of dope beats emailed to her, got in the studio, put on her headphones and sang over them. Speaking of singing, Grande has never been better. She sings like Kyrie Irving treats a double team — there’s a lot of stuff happening in not a lot of space.
With that, let’s go into our post-All-Star break lyric grades for every NBA team.
These are our tanking teams. Just ghostin through the season…
Phoenix Suns (11-48), New York Knicks (11-47), Cleveland Cavaliers (12-46), Chicago Bulls (14-44): “We’ll get through this, we’ll get past this, I’m a girl with a whole lot of baggage.” – Ghostin
At least that’s what they’re telling their fans. Especially the Knicks who, after trading fan-favorite Kristaps Porzingis, are at least clinging to the hope that Kevin Durant and Friends sign in New York. Over the next 25-plus games of the season, it’ll be interesting to monitor how seriously this group takes having the league’s worst record. With the updated lottery odds that smooth out teams’ chances to move up in draft position, one of these teams can do what the Atlanta Hawks have already done and, y’know, actually try and build some momentum going into next season.
Kristaps Porzingis: “Give you the whole world, I’ma need space, I’ma need space, I’ma, I’ma need. You know I’m a star; space, I’ma need space.” – NASA
First of all, this chorus is stupid catchy. Anyway, Porzingis told the Knicks that he’s a star, and he needs to shine. And he needs to do that in Dallas. Meanwhile, by trading him, the Knicks have a whole world of cap space and assets.
Atlanta Hawks (19-39): “It’s blessings, no stressing, I’m flexing. Got one car parked right in the entrance. Got one car parked right at the exit.” – 7 Rings (Remix feat. 2 Chainz)
I’m using the remix featuring 2 Chainz instead of the original for two reasons: (1.) 2 Chainz is from Atlanta so it works and (2) every song is better with 2 Chainz. The Hawks are the most fun team to watch out of those tanking, and that’s because they have some legitimately exciting NBA players like John Collins and Trae Young (a duo I am nicknaming Snoopie and Woodstock). It might be a while until the Hawks are good, but they are going to have options in this rebuild.
These teams are in the middle of rebuilding, sort of. It could really go either way.
Washington Wizards (24-34): “Here’s the thing: you’re in love with a version of a person that you’ve created in your head, that you are trying to but cannot fix. Uh, the only person you can fix is yourself. I love you, this has gone on way too long. Enough is enough.” – In My Head
This is like a letter from the fans. The Wizards are started to dismantle its core after trading Otto Porter at the deadline. Bobby Portis has given them some good minutes since coming over from Chicago in the deal, but they’ll have to determine over these next few games if they want to pay him this summer.
Memphis Grizzlies (23-26): “Falling, falling, but I never thought you’d leave me. Falling, falling, needed something to believe in.” – In My Head
The grit-and-grind era was dead long before Memphis traded Marc Gasol.
Dallas Mavericks (26-31): “Staying up all night, order me pad thai. Then we gon’ sleep ’til noon.” – Imagine
The Mavericks shocked the league by trading for Porzingis and, even though the team is still technically in the playoff race, the rest of this season is almost irrelevant. It’s all about next season, when they will be able to pair Luka Doncic and Porzingis together on the court.
Minnesota Timberwolves (27-30): “Don’t want you in my bloodline, yeah. Just wanna have a good time, yeah.” – Bloodline
The Wolves have taken the regular to purge some unwanted attitudes. Now Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins can carry on with their normal development. Right?
New Orleans Pelicans (26-33): “No, we won’t be talking the next day. I ain’t got nothin’ to say. I ain’t lookin’ for my one true love. Yeah, that ship sailed away.” – Bloodline
Anthony Davis: “F— a fake smile.” – Fake Smile
The Anthony Davis situation unfurling in New Orleans is basically its own break-up album. It’s got everything: a chance encounter that bonds both sides for many years, new friends, a brief foray into something more, crushing disappointment and distance that, turns out, doesn’t make the heart go fonder and one side decides he just needs something more. It’s not you, it’s me. But it’s totally you. “All 29 other teams are on my list,” Davis said during All-Star weekend. “I don’t have a preferred destination. I just want to win. It could be big market, small market. I don’t care. I want to win.”
In other words: anyone but the Pellies.
Some bad decisions got these teams stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity and they can’t get off…
Orlando Magic (27-32): “Step up, the two of us, nobody knows us.” – Imagine
At the trade deadline, Orlando took a chance on Markelle Fultz. Now most NBA fans can name at least one Magic player.
Miami Heat (26-30), Detroit Pistons (26-30), Charlotte Hornets (27-30): “Painted a picture, I thought I knew you well. I got a habit of seeing what isn’t there.” – In My Head
This is how front offices get themselves in trouble. The Heat re-signed a bunch of its own players to bloated contracts after said players embraced #TheCulture. Charlotte basically did the same thing, but with even less of a reason. Detroit, meanwhile, is trying to form its own poor-man’s version of Blake Griffin’s Lob City Clippers.
These teams need to break the habit. Miami is starting to break up its Culture Squad after shipping Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington out at the deadline. Detroit needs to fight the urge to dig themselves into a deeper hole by taking on more unwanted salary, and Charlotte better hope they know Kemba Walker well, because if he walks away after the season and they get nothing for him, they could go from being a bad idea to Pete Davidson.
San Antonio Spurs (33-26): “Look at you, boy I invented you. Your Gucci tennis shoes, runnin’ from your issues.” – In My Head
But instead of Gucci, it’s New Balance.
RIP Tiny Charcoal Grill
These teams are making moves, and tweaking things for the better…
Brooklyn Nets (30-29): “No eyeliner on, but looking at you is the fix. Highlight of my life, just like that Fenty Beauty kit.” – Make Up
Unearthing Caris LeVert, maybe even more so than stealing D’Angelo Russell, is the highlight of Sean Marks’ career as general manager of the Nets. LeVert is back for the postseason push as the Nets solidify themselves as a playoff team in the East.
Sacramento Kings (30-27): “Quick, quick, quick, let’s go.” – Imagine
The Kings play fast, but we knew that already. This lyric is doubly relevant after Sacramento traded for Harrison Barnes. The front office is making it clear: it’s go time. The Kings are still rebuilding but have no reason to care about its 2019 pick that is owed to either Philadelphia or Boston. They have all the motivation in the world to make the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. With a pretty light schedule and the inside track on the Lakers, it could happen.
LA Clippers (32-27): “Another night, another party, sayin’ hi to everybody. I’m sorry, it’s time to leave, I gotta leave now. Got somewhere I gotta be now, I’m starving.” – Fake Smile
The Clippers front office is operating with a kind of urgency that can only be matched by the one in Philadelphia. After pivoting away from Griffin a year ago, they recently pivoted away from whatever this season was and traded Tobias Harris. After all, they have bigger dreams. While they still could (amazingly) make the playoffs, it’s all about this summer, when they’ll try to recruit Kawhi Leonard and a second start to LA.
Los Angeles Lakers (28-29): “So, look what I got. Look what you taught me. And for that, I say Thank you, next.” – Thank U, Next
The baby Lakers coached by Luke Walton were fun, right? Seems like Magic Johnson is over it, though. This final stretch could determine which of the young guys the team would like to keep most and if Walton keeps his job beyond this season.
LeBron James: “Break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored.” – Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored.
Needy aka Western Conference Playoffs for second place
Utah Jazz (32-25): “And after all that we been through, there’s so much to look forward to.” – Ghostin
After slogging through one of the toughest schedules in the league and trade rumors involving two starters, the Jazz are ready to make their playoff push. They’ve won 12 of the last 16 games and face one of the easiest schedules in the league after the All-Star break.
Houston Rockets (33-24): “Look at the cards that we’ve been dealt. If you were anybody else, probably wouldn’t last a day.” – Ghostin
Could anyone other than James Harden do what he’s done to lift this Rockets team, let alone do it with such historic brilliance? And he did most of it without the support of Chris Paul or Clint Capela.
Portland Trail Blazers (34-23): “Sorry if I’m up and down a lot. Sorry that I think I’m not enough.” – Needy
Portland can lose a game to Dallas and then, a few nights later, beat the Warriors by 20. If you can put a finger on this team, then congratulations.
Oklahoma City Thunder (37-20): “Let me stay in my bag ’cause I like when you mad
It’s a mood, it’s a vibe, it’s a look, it’s a match.” – Make Up
If the Thunder keep playing like they have entering the All-Star break (won 11 of last 13, elite defense, Paul George is a legit MVP candidate), then they are as good a bet as anyone to challenge the Warriors.
Denver Nuggets (39-18): “But what you can trust is I need your touch.” – Needy
I don’t know, it’s the closest lyric I could find that sounds like Grande could be talking about Nikola Jokic’s passing.
7 Rings aka Eastern Conference Playoffs to be the new No. 1
LeBron James vacated the throne, and all these teams are spending…
Philadelphia 76ers (37-21): “You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it. I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it.” – 7 Rings
The 76ers have treated the regular season like a shopping spree. Jimmy Butler? He’s nice. We’ll take him. Tobias Harris? Sure, here’s a pair of first-round picks. I’ll take him. At this point, general manager Elton Brand is hoping he doesn’t end up with buyer’s remorse.
Boston Celtics (37-21): “Yeah, my receipts be lookin’ like phone numbers.” – 7 Rings
The Celtics didn’t make a move at the trade deadline, but Danny Ainge was making calls to the Pelicans.
Indiana Pacers (38-20): “Been through some bad s—, I should be a sad b—-. Who woulda thought it’d turn me to a savage?” – 7 Rings
Despite Victor Oladipo’s season-ending injury, the Pacers are still in the mix as one of the top teams in the East. While there is no star to replace Oladipo in the lineup, Indiana has a bunch of guys who are above-average-to-good, and many of them underrated. Did you know that among players who have attempted 270 3s, Bojan Bogdanovic is sixth in shooting percentage? Did you know that advanced stats support Myles Turner as one of the best rim-protecters in the league?
I’m not sitting here telling you the Pacers could win the East, but they don’t really have a week link teams can attack consistently in the post-season. They have the makings of a “regular season team,” but they should be a tough out in the playoffs.
Toronto Raptors (43-16): “Wearing a ring, but ain’t gon’ be no ‘Mrs.’” – 7 Rings
Kawhi Leonard already has a championship ring, but he’s motivated to prove himself outside of San Antonio.
Milwaukee Bucks (43-14): “Bought matching diamonds for six of my b—-es. I’d rather spoil all my friends with my riches.” – 7 Rings
Giannis Antetokounmpo made it clear he’s not interested in mingling with other stars. If his All-Star team selections made anything clear, it’s that he wants to take care of and play with his own dudes.
Thank U, Next
Golden State Warriors (41-16): “Love me, love me, baby, are you down? Can you let me know?” – Bloodline
Kevin Durant: “I read the things they write about me, hear what they’re sayin’ on the TV, it’s crazy. It’s gettin’ hard for them to shock me, but every now and then, it’s shocking, don’t blame me.” – Fake Smile
Who are you? Why do you gotta talk to you?