Fans of most struggling NBA teams can at least appreciate the upward trajectory of their favorite young players.
Hawks supporters have Trae Young. Pelicans supporters have Brandon Ingram (and soon Zion Williamson). Grizzlies supporters have Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
But a few franchises have offered their fans almost nothing to cling to amid their futility. The Wizards, Cavaliers and Knicks, for example, are not only bad now, but likely to be bad for a while. While these teams remain one ping pong ball bounce from securing a potentially transformative No. 1 pick, their complex web of inadequacies make it difficult to muster belief in their futures.
Here's a midseason look at the challenges facing three of the NBA's most depressing teams.
Cleveland Cavaliers (10-26)
So often with perpetually bad teams, culture stands out as an obstacle to progress. Cleveland might have the most toxic culture in the NBA. Anonymous trashing of youngsters by veterans, anonymous trashing of rookie coach John Beilein, blowups between players and general manager Koby Altman — the Cavaliers have it all this season.
The Cavs will get worse before they get better. Kevin Love could be traded midseason, and Tristan Thompson is about to hit free agency. Reliable bench scorer Jordan Clarkson has already been shipped to Utah.
When the final holdovers from the team's Finals runs depart, the roster left behind will probably struggle to avoid last place in the East. Second-year guard Collin Sexton has frustrated teammates with his style of play. Rookie guard Darius Garland is undersized at 6-1 and shooting 40.3 percent from the field. Rookie forward Kevin Porter Jr. made positive strides in December but suffered a knee injury Sunday and could not leave the court without assistance.
Cleveland's core will either persevere under the watch of Beilein or endure a coaching change at a pivotal developmental stage. Neither option inspires hope right now. So unless Altman gets a game-changing trade return for Love and hits the draft lottery jackpot, don't expect the Cavaliers to return to relevance anytime soon.
Washington Wizards (12-24)
Years of front-office mismanagement have predictably dropped Washington from perennial Eastern Conference playoff participant to a team likely bound for a top-five draft pick. The Wizards have a league-worst 115.6 defensive rating this season and are allowing more than 120 points per game. Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre, capable complementary pieces able to defend multiple positions, were traded last year for a group of players no longer with the organization. John Wall, signed to a max contract, has not played since December of 2018 after sustaining a severe Achilles injury. Davis Bertans, Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura have also been sidelined.
That's left Bradley Beal, who has missed five of Washington's last six games with his own injury issues, as the overmatched shepherd of a subpar squad — an unfair burden for an All-Star talent entering his prime. He is averaging 27.8 points per game with a usage rate of 32.2 percent. He needs others to step up.
Of current Wizards players outside of Beal, only Bryant and Bertans have consistently looked like they belong in an NBA starting lineup. Both are injured right now. So too is rookie forward Rui Hachimura, who in his short pro career has not shown nearly enough touch from behind the arc to be effective (though he has time to improve there). Maybe Troy Brown Jr. is a role player who can stick. Maybe Moritz Wagner can hang around, too. But the sum of the parts is not pretty nor promising.
Washington's dismissal of longtime president Ernie Grunfeld this past April was a necessary step toward repairing its barren roster. Still, the Wizards appear to be at the beginning of a long rebuilding cycle that could take at least three years and potentially involve an unpopular trade of Beal.
New York Knicks (10-26)
New decade, same Knicks.
After striking out in free agency, New York has a roster built to succeed in 1980, not 2020. Outside of Marcus Morris, the team has almost no perimeter threats. It ranks last in free throw percentage (68.6), 26th in field goal percentage (43.5) and 22nd in 3-point percentage (34.9). Its trio of points guards (Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina and Elfrid Payton) are shooting a combined 30.2 percent from behind the arc.
Second-year center Mitchell Robinson, 21, appears to be a strong piece to build around. So far, fellow youngsters RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox do not. Without a permanent coach to offer leadership or a respected owner to improve the long-term outlook of the organization, things are bleak at Madison Square Garden.
But hey, maybe next year will finally be the one the Knicks can convince a star to come to New York.