Who deserves a playoff spot most: Kings, Suns or Timberwolves?

The Kings, Suns and Timberwolves are all theoretically in the playoff hunt in the Western Conference. Who needs that spot the most?

So it looks like the NBA draft lottery works! Three teams who miserably tripped over themselves en route to top-10 picks repeatedly over the course of a decade are right in the playoff hunt this season. They are the Kings, Timberwolves and Suns, and at most two of them will make it.

As NBA languishing goes, these franchises are about as bad as it gets. They fumbled around for years to get to this point, and are only here because they got lucky a couple of times in one of the dozen drafts in which they should have found a star. None of them truly deserves it.

There’s also a chance they all fail again. FiveThirtyEight gives Oklahoma City and Portland the best odds to nab the seventh and eighth seeds in the West. Seven teams currently sit within five games of one another in the standings, meaning this thing is far from wrapped up.

When we talk about who is most deserving, though, it’s a whole other discussion from who will make the playoffs. The Trail Blazers and Thunder each were top-six seeds last year. They dueled in the first round. And while we’re discussing deservedness here, the Thunder are probably at the bottom of the rankings based on the fact that Damian Lillard turned the whole franchise into a corpse with one shot:

https://twitter.com/NBAonTNT/status/1171429108674265089

Newness is just more fun thing to root for when other options have run stale. Circling back to Sacramento, Minnesota and Phoenix (who combined for one playoff appearance this decade), let’s establish criteria to determine which depressing franchise ought to get to the playoffs in 2020:

1. How depressed is the fanbase?

2. How insufferable would the fanbase be if they made it back in?

3. How likable are the players? Are there any guys you especially want to see in the postseason?

4. Are they actually trying to win right now?

5. Is there hope for the future or is this their best chance to make the playoffs?

With those five categories in mind, let’s answer each question for each team and see who wins/loses the most categories. This exercise will totally have an impact on the actual outcome of the race.

1. How depressed is the fanbase?

Phoenix Suns: Relative to the other franchises listed here, the Suns still haven’t outlived the goodwill they collected last decade. The near-Finals berths and 60-win seasons and back-to-back MVP celebrations is too much to give them a full 10-of-10 here.

Still, the past decade has been atrocious. They’ve won 63 games combined the past three seasons. Minnesota and the Lakers are both on pace to make the playoffs this year alone. The Suns’ closest season to a playoff berth was 2013-14 when they accidentally won 48 games and became one of the worst teams in league history not to make the postseason.

The Suns have had a different head coach during each of Devin Booker’s five years in the league. They fired their general manager eight days before the 2018-19 season and James Jones is in his first full year running a franchise. It’s bleak.

Sacramento Kings: The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006. They cannot possibly be less optimistic right now. A random click on a recent article at Kings’ blog Sactown Royalty quickly leads to the word “playoff drought.”

BUT Sacramento is the team many smart people picked heading into the season. They were the ninth-best team in the West last year. They have several promising young players, including Marvin Bagley III, Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox. It’s been ugly for a long time, but I can’t quite say it’s been miserable when last year was so promising and their encore has been promising thus far.

Minnesota Timberwolves: The team who made the playoffs most recently is somehow the most miserable. That’s because the savior who got them to the promised land, Jimmy Butler, was so frustrated with the infrastructure in place from top to bottom in the Twin Cities that he left six months after their playoff berth.

Before that, the last playoff appearance was in 2004, when the star of Uncut Gems was on the team.

A sampling from Wolves blogger Andy Grimsrud of A Wolf Among Wolves: “Wolves fans will tolerate losing — a lot of it, in fact. But there needs to be something to cling onto so that hope is not lost. For a stretch of games this season, we had reasons to believe: a suped-up Towns, rejuvenated Wiggins, and an improved team defense. Lately, however, those have gone out the window.”

Winner/loser: Minnesota

 

2. How obnoxious would the fanbase be if they made it back in?

Phoenix Suns: There aren’t a lot of obnoxious Suns fans. Internet fandom rose to prominence while the Suns were still good, and because their home city is full of old people and parents, theirs are a boring, silent plurality rather than any sort of insufferable monolith. It would be super weird for anyone to say something like, “I hate Suns fans.”

Sacramento Kings: Both Sacramento and Minnesota are going to be jubilant if and when their teams return to the promised land on the back of their young cores. And rightly so. It’s splitting hairs to see who would be worse in this regard.

Worse means the kinds of people who can’t be happy internally. In short, who between Kings and Wolves fans would act least like they’d been there before? With this new rubric in mind I can’t help but jump immediately to Sacramento.

They do this thing where the joke of how bad they are actually takes up way too much headspace among larger NBA fandom relative to how much they actually matter. Their place in the Sam Hinkie Trade Hall of Fame gave them an outsized place in the basketball conversation despite them being mind-bogglingly terrible for a while.

Somehow, I have a feeling we would talk about the Kings making the playoffs more than we did with the Wolves and more than we did with, like, the Indians making the World Series or whatever.

Minnesota Timberwolves: See above.

Winner/loser: Sacramento

 

3. How likable are their players? Are there any guys you especially want to see in the postseason?

Phoenix Suns: Everyone seems to hate Booker. All of the veterans are guys we’ve already seen in the playoffs. Nothing to really see here.

Sacramento Kings: The main guy of note here is Hield. The continued rise and unexpected development of the Bahamian sweet-shooter is one of the coolest things about basketball this decade for people who watch college basketball. After a wild explosion as a senior at Oklahoma, Hield was drafted to a Pelicans team that had no interest in developing him.

Remember the DeMarcus Cousins trade? Apart from the one year Cousins played for New Orleans before rupturing his Achilles, Hield has been better than the big man since the deal. The Kings have undoubtedly gotten more value out of Hield than the Pels did out of Cousins.

Aside from Hield, the other stories are the Harrison Barnes playoff redemption and seeing Fox on a big stage for the first time. This would be pretty fun.

Minnesota Timberwolves: In Minnesota’s five-game loss to Houston in the first round of the 2018 playoffs, Karl-Anthony Towns averaged 15.2 points on a paltry 54.2 true shooting percentage. Minnesota allowed 120 in the closeout games of the series as the Rockets basically got a break before the semis.

Towns and Andrew Wiggins had a chance to prove we should be excited about seeing them in the playoffs and failed. All the other guys are really young. Pass.

Winner: Sacramento

 

4. Are they actually trying to win right now?

Phoenix Suns: Undoubtedly. They traded away all their second-round picks until 2022 and signed Ricky Rubio to a big new contract in order to compete this season. The bigger form of pressure is Booker’s continued contentedness, a storyline that will only glow brighter as his new maximum contract goes on.

Sacramento Kings: Not necessarily. They are still playing the long game — and should be. They passed on extending Bogdan Bogdanovic this fall and for once this summer did not sign any guys near retirement to big last-hurrah deals. They have lots of talent, but most of it is young and they can afford to be patient.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Again, not so fast. After trading Butler, they finally immersed themselves in a more traditional build around Towns, hiring Gersson Rosas and Sachin Gupta to lead the overhaul. Their entire core is under the age of 25. They have pressure — like Phoenix — to appease Towns before he starts to look around the league and imagine greener pastures.

Winner: Phoenix

 

5. Is there hope for the future or is this their best chance to make the playoffs?

Phoenix Suns: There’s plenty of time. Booker is in the first year of his second contract, Deandre Ayton is in his second NBA season, and just about everyone else is on their rookie deal. Though veterans like Aron Baynes and Dario Saric may leave after this season, they are replaceable talents. The young guys are on track to help Phoenix compete for the foreseeable future.

Sacramento Kings: Losing Bogdanovic would hamper the Kings next year. By failing to agree on an extension with Bogdanovic but doing so instead with Hield, Sacramento definitely appeared to pick one over the other. In fairness, they are redundant players. Keeping both doesn’t make much sense.

However, losing Bogdanovic in restricted free agency this summer would leave someone like Justin James to replace that bench scoring production for next year. That means this season may be their best chance to compete.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Rosas’ vision is clearly deep into the future. Placing Jarrett Culver and Josh Okogie in the starting lineup when they’re not all the way ready is one bit of evidence. The decision not to sign anyone except Jake Layman to multiyear deals is another. With Towns and Wiggins locked in long-term, Minnesota has no need to step on the gas right now.

Winner: Sacramento

 

The part where I decide who will make the playoffs in the West

It has to be the Kings. How crazy is that?

This is exactly why we do this stuff. Combing through all the various factors at once is overwhelming. Laying it all out shows you that yes, in fact, the Kings of Sacramento have the perfect mix of misery, urgency and talent to be the most deserving of a playoff spot in 2020.

Next: Meet the 2019 NBA 25-under-25

 

 

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