As Ramona Shelburne said when she
paraphrased the Los Angeles Lakers' front office stance: "You guys
got yourselves into this; this is the bed that you made."
We're past the trade deadline and NBA All-Star weekend and into
the season's stretch run. Aside from some leftover waivings and G
League call-ups, teams have their rosters set. From here on out,
it's about just playing with the guys you have.
For the teams in this week's Sour Rankings, there's still time
to adjust season goals and find a measure of success. Young rosters
might hope for promising player development instead of wins. Those
on the fringe of playoff contention might have the Play-In
Tournament or the traditional postseason as a benchmark.
Disappointing title hopefuls can salvage positivity even if they
don't go all the way.
I've listed a target for each squad on the list. It might not be
the ideal outcome, but the bar can at least bring some level of
satisfaction to a year gone awry.
If you're new to the Sour Rankings, here's a refresher: Unlike
the typical "power rankings" that repeat themselves throughout
sports media, Sour Rankings are a bizarro-world counter. These
rankings highlight the top-10 most frustrating NBA franchises
throughout the season, and they will be updated every week to match
the twists and turns of the league.
This is not merely a bottom-10 of your typical best-to-worst
outlooks. You will see championship contenders and playoff hopefuls
mixed in with struggling squads. Teams well under .500 may never
touch the Sour Rankings because they are on track with their
respective processes. Injuries, drama, transactions and generally
underwhelming play will earn you a spot on this list.
The central question is ultimately this: How good should you
feel about the direction of each franchise? Let's get going.
Escaping the Sour Rankings: The Oklahoma
City Thunder made a brief pit stop, but Josh Giddey's brilliance and
team-wide budding defense
launched them right back out.
10. New Orleans Pelicans (23-36)
Zion Williamson's general situation has once again made things
sour. CJ McCollum said on TNT that he has yet to
speak with Williamson since being the blockbuster addition for the
Pelicans at the trade deadline. The quotes raise serious questions
about how Williamson and the Pelicans are handling his extended
At this point, who knows if Williamson will return this season.
New Orleans should be aiming to make the Play-In games behind
Brandon Ingram and McCollum. The latter has gotten off to a hot
start with his new team. The Pelicans are two games back of the
Trail Blazers for 10th place in the Western Conference and have
plenty of time to move up.
(Last week: Unranked)
9. Utah Jazz (36-22)
The Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns have asserted
themselves as the favorites in the West. No other team, including
Utah, is in a similar tier. The Jazz also didn't make any
significant moves to inspire title hope at the trade deadline, and
a recent five-game winning streak doesn't exactly turn the tables.
Utah hasn't reached the conference finals since 2006-07, and that
seems like a reasonable, yet valuable goal since the team will
likely have to get through one of the two powers to get there.
(Last week: 8)
8. Portland Trail Blazers (25-34)
Anfernee Simons averaged 28.0 points and 6.0 assists while
shooting 44.8% from long range over his last five games entering
the break. He's been the breakout star of the 2022 calendar year,
and has given a listless Trail Blazers team some life. Simons'
development might be more important than any team outcome,
especially if Damian Lillard does not return this season. If he can
finish out the year as the dynamic offensive weapon he's becoming,
Simons can show Portland why he's a long-term core piece for the
(Last week: 6)
7. Sacramento Kings (22-38)
When the Kings swung on Domantas Sabonis (and to a lesser
extent, Donte DiVincenzo), they basically set the goal: make the
playoffs. Play-In exits won't do any good for a franchise that has
not made a postseason appearance since 2005-06 and just dealt
arguably its top young talent, however. Sacramento is tied with New
Orleans and also two-and-a-half games out of 10th in the West. It's
going to be a brawl for that last spot, but if the Kings do snag it
and advance through the mini-bracket, that means the
Sabonis-De'Aaron Fox pairing is worth building around.
(Last week: 5)
6. Charlotte Hornets (29-31)
Charlotte has a top-10 Defensive Rating over the past two weeks,
part of this wild roller-coaster ride the Hornets' defense has been
on throughout the season. The team's Offensive Rating, however,
ranks 27th during that stretch. Gordon Hayward's absence dealt a
tough blow to the lineup's synergy. Ultimately, this is still a
young team growing into its potential. Remaining in Play-In and
playoff contention is a given goal, but I'd also like to see the
team find some consistency on both ends and shoot for
league-average ratings or better for the rest of the schedule.
(Last week: 9)
5. Houston Rockets (15-43)
On a seven-game slide, Houston has give up a whopping 128.9
points per 100 possessions in February, nearly five points more
than any other team. This is an extremely young roster that will
take time to mesh on defense, but that's still extremely rough.
Tanking outright is not a "goal," but record isn't exactly a
concern at this stage.
Jalen Green is averaging 16.5 points per game this month while
canning 41.7% of his three-pointers. He's the face of the future in
Houston, so his flashes are what the fans and front office should
want to see. As long as Green demonstrates noteworthy growth this
spring, things will look up for the Rockets.
(Last week: 7)
4. Washington Wizards (27-31)
Kristaps Porzingis has yet to make his Wizards debut. When he
does, it marks the start of a desperate push for Washington to
appease Bradley Beal and make the playoffs. The Wizards are in 11th
place and currently out of the Eastern Conference postseason
picture, but sit just a game back of Charlotte and the Atlanta
Hawks. A Play-In appearance can't satisfy; but a playoff appearance
is much easier said than done. If two of Toronto, Boston and
Brooklyn don't make it to a top-six seed, making the traditional
eight is going to be a tall order for the Wizards or any other
(Last week: 4)
3. Brooklyn Nets (31-28)
The Nets sorely needed this All-Star break to put the drama of
the James Harden trade and the stench of losing behind them. Kevin
Durant and Ben Simmons are still out for an indefinite period, and
Kyrie Irving is still unvaccinated, so this current ragtag bunch
will have to keep Brooklyn in the playoff hunt. (They did also just
ink Goran Dragic to a rest-of-the-season contract on Monday as
well.) This is still a title contender on paper... but so was the
pre-deadline iteration of the Nets. However, the East is wide open,
and fans should expect a healthy roster to go at least two rounds
in the postseason.
(Last week: 2)
2. New York Knicks (25-34)
New York went 3-13 in a one-month span before the pause and
promptly decided to forge ahead at the trade deadline with no
changes. This doesn't bode well for a team with several veterans,
but almost no hope of extending its season at this time.
Since Jan. 17, the Knicks have a 25th-ranked defense and a
22nd-ranked offense. The defense especially needs to improve for
the sake of Tom Thibodeau's viability as a head coach. If it's not
league-average or better the rest of the way, New York's direction
will start to look a lot like the Thibodeau era in Minnesota.
(Last week: 3)
1. Los Angeles Lakers (27-31)
In the latest Hollywood drama, LeBron James kept things pretty wide open
when he chatted with The Athletic's Jason Lloyd about
his future. Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report also
wrote that Rob Pelinka refused to trade Russell Westbrook and a
first-round pick for John Wall. So yeah, there's a very obvious
disconnect within this franchise.
The Lakers cannot be satisfied with stumbling their way through
a Play-In bracket that James himself has gone on record hating.
They have to be a top-six seed for the sake of roster durability
and image. But being six games behind sixth-place Denver right now,
Los Angeles may have already run out of luck.
(Last week: 1)
Looking to go to the hottest concerts, sports,
theater & family shows near you? Get 100% guaranteed tickets to
more than 125,000 live events from TicketSmarter, the official
ticket marketplace of BasketballNews.com. Order online