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Three NBA teams stuck in purgatory halfway through the 2022-2023 season

With the NBA season being around its halfway point, let's take a look at three teams that seem directionless going into 2023.

By: Lucas Oliva I Jan. 7, 2023

Honorable Mentions:

Los Angeles Lakers

Toronto Raptors

Washington Wizards

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

(Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured (L-R): Jaylen Nowell, Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert, D’Angelo Russell and Jaden McDaniels)

One of the most prominent topics of discourse in the NBA world has been the massive offseason trade that sent star big man Rudy Gobert to the Timberwolves, with the Jazz receiving young assets in Walker Kessler and Jarred Vanderbilt, as well as a boatload of draft compensation. To put it lightly, this experiment has been a disaster for the Timberwolves. Not only are the Timberwolves currently sitting 3 games below .500, but rookie Walker Kessler has turned out to be a more effective player this season, while also getting paid a rookie’s salary. While the failure of the Timberwolves this season has been a mix of injuries, inconsistent production and all-around shortcoming on defense, a big reason why Minnesota can’t fix these issues is rooted in the Gobert trade. Thanks to their atrocious cap situation, the only feasible solutions are to move D’Angelo Russell or Gobert, but those come with their own issues. While Russell has a deal that’s large but moveable, his inconsistent play would lead to the Timberwolves receiving less than they would like from any potential deal. As for moving Gobert, well it wouldn’t be surprising if many teams across the league saw him as a negative asset due to the massive size of his contract. Adding in the fact that Gobert needs a competent perimeter defense to maximize his potential, teams would undoubtedly give Minnesota much less than they gave to the Jazz. At this rate the Wolves may just need to hope Towns returns from injury sooner rather than later, and that young star Anthony Edwards and him can put the team on their backs for a late season play-in push.

2. Chicago Bulls

(Michael Reaves/Getty Images, Demar Derozan and Zach Lavine)

Things are looking up for Chicago as Zach Lavine has quietly progressed back to a top guard in the league. Unfortunately for Chicago, this remains as a small solution to an even larger, impending problem. The team is aging, and fast. Demar Derozan, Lavine - and to a lesser extent Nikola Vucevic - have kept the Bulls afloat through the season so far despite a glaring talent deficit from the rest of the team when compared to other eastern conference giants. What really brings down the Bulls at this point is the obvious lack of Lonzo Ball play, as without him, the perimeter defense, playmaking and 3-point shooting has suffered greatly. Without a clear timetable for his return, the Bulls are an inevitable sinking ship. Patrick Williams continues to be an interesting prospect, but certainly hasn’t panned out as the fourth pick that was drafted in 2020. Coby White just seems like an odd man out when players like Alex Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu receive more flowers than him. The Bulls certainly have players that would have teams lining up to make offers for, but that would mean conceding the season to a tank. The idea seems pleasant in theory, but the Bulls would need to land in the top 4 picks to get their pick back, as it was dealt in the Nikola Vucevic trade with the Orlando Magic during the 2021 trade deadline. Any other year top 4 could still seem achievable halfway through the season, but with Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson headlining the 2023 draft, teams like San Antonio, Charlotte and Houston are all getting as close to tanking as they can without being reprimanded by the league. The Bulls don’t have many options, and with the Bulls only having their own pick in 2024 and the Blazers first round pick this year, options are becoming increasingly limited for the ballclub.

3. Atlanta Hawks

(Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

While Atlanta can very easily pick up the pace from where they’ve been playing this season, with the slew of front office issues and bad moves this offseason, it’s hard to hold out hope for the current roster. Ever since the Hawks lost in the first round to Jimmy Butler and the Heat last playoffs, a shakeup was bound to happen. This led to the Hawks landing all-star guard Dejounte Murray in a deal that sent 3 first round picks to the Spurs, with two of them being unprotected. A trade that would undoubtedly increase the talent level and perimeter defense for Atlanta, at the cost of valuable draft compensation. To make up for the loss of draft selections, the Hawks would later make a deal with Sacramento that sent sharpshooter Kevin Huerter to California for Justin Holiday, Mo Harkless and a protected first round pick. A controversial deal, but in theory Murray would soak up the Huerter minutes. Since this point however, Huerter has had an incredible season on a Kings team that’s sitting rather comfortably in the playoff race, and Dejounte Murray is putting up similar numbers as last year, just on a Hawks team that overall looks incredibly discombobulated. Trae Young is having a bit of a down season in efficiency when compared to years prior, and outside of Murray there has been next to no offensive production. The loss of Huerter continues to be felt as the Hawks have fallen off in both 3-point attempts and 3-point percentage this season. Not only has the overall team been underwhelming, but head coach Nate McMillan, who helped the Hawks reach the eastern conference finals in 2021, has had a number of mixed reports on where he stands with the organization. Atlanta made the crucial mistake of letting go of too much valuable depth and assets for a player that is albeit very good, but not enough to put you over the hump in the increasingly strong eastern conference. And with a hefty extension coming up for Dejounte Murray, the Hawks are also bound to experience numerous salary cap issues, who knows how long this core can stay together in Atlanta? Trading John Collins has been a recommended solution to the salary issue, but Collins has been putting up career lows across the board this season. That paired with the huge contract given to him this offseason and the Hawks would have a hard time getting anything more than a protected first and a solid player, if even that. While they still have some first round picks to their name, the Hawks would more than likely be better off keeping those picks and play the market in an opportunistic way.


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