The Hilarity of NBA Incompetence

The April portion of the NBA regular season is, for most parties involved, essential. April boasts a solid two-thirds of the league struggling for playoff berths, with the better teams aiming for a higher seed. Even those teams already locked into a top seed need to stay fresh, as the playoffs lurk just weeks away. With time-pressure exerting itself on world-class athletes, high-quality chaos ensues, and League Pass credentials are a necessity to keep up with the all of the relevant games.

Of course, there are the…well, the others, those mudslinging skirmishes between two disappointing teams, whose only goal is avoiding injury before a mid-April beeline to the beach. I went to one of these games last week–the Brooklyn Nets hosted the New Orleans Pelicans–and it was an abomination. I don’t use that word lightly, either. For context: the Pelicans scored two points in the opening seven-and-a-half minutes, Luke Babbitt was the game-high scorer with 21 points, and Kendrick Perkins went 3-3. It was a very bad, no good, horrible game.

Also, I laughed my ass off for the duration, because it was one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever seen.

Seeing professional athletes mess up is often tragic for the invested fan, but for the impartial, it’s unfailingly funny. However, there’s something about the dynamism of basketball that particularly lends itself to silliness. A bad shot in golf is merely a bad shot; the golfer then performs a literal walk of shame to track it down, but the payoff is delayed. Any subsequent failures will likely be five minutes down the line, once he’s retrieved his ball from Jim Nantz’s personal coffers or whatever.

Basketball cuts out the delay. So you can start with a possession in which the Pelicans, on a fast break, decide to set up martial-arts-enthusiast-turned-NBA-starter Luke Babbitt for a three-pointer–because why the hell not, right?–at which point I’m already falling over myself laughing. He makes it, and, as I’m trying and failing to regain my breath, the Nets forget that they need someone to catch the inbounds pass, and Shane Larkin throws a pass that a forgiving FIFA announcer would describe as “wanting.” Point is, he throws it straight to the Pelicans, who get an easy layup, and the Brooklyn coach–an empty suit whose name I just learned is Tony Brown (who knew?)–gets pissed and calls a timeout, hopefully to yell at the owner who compiled this tire fire of a roster. This all happened in twelve seconds of real time, and it’s become my new favorite joke to tell at parties.

By contrast, this past Thursday I watched the Warriors play the Spurs. The teams, even though San Antonio didn’t play their best, had tactics, and aims, and long-term strategies. You could see, for example, how the Spurs were hedging to run all-time great shooter Steph Curry off the three-point line, and how the Warriors and Curry combatted this tactic with easy drives to the basket with ease, as a heady team and player should. It was almost symphonic, and it suggested greater preparation prior to the game, like these teams knew not only each other’s tendencies, but also their opposition’s tendencies. Watching them battle was high-brow entertainment, like a long-running off-Broadway play.

Nets-Pelicans, though, was a middle-school-quality rendition of that same play, and since I didn’t have a kid in it doing a D+ job capturing the essence of Harold Hill, I could laugh with impunity. Actually, the game was a middle-school-quality rendition with leads who all got head lice on the same day, and the only people remaining to act had never read their parts before. I mean, seriously, look at this box score! The Pelicans were arguably without their eight best players; the Nets, if they can be presumed to actually have good players, sat Brook Lopez and Boran Bogdanovic. The remaining company, startled by the glittering lights of a 1 PM start at Barclays Center, had no hope of anything resembling a basketball game, and to be honest, I don’t think the coaches or team personnel minded. When the PA announcer asked us to make some noise before the start of the 4th quarter, I caught an audible sigh in his voice.

And sure, it seems weird to encourage a run-out-the-clock-on-the-season mentality in NBA players, but who are we kidding otherwise? Dispassionate, uninvested ballers catch a bad rap because, well, they don’t help you build a winning basketball team. But once you’re past the trade deadline and you’re locked into the lottery for yet another year, professionalism isn’t worth it. A team of 12 disgruntled centers? A team of only players on ten-day contracts? As long as I can buy cheap-seat tickets for under $20 and shout at Thomas Robinson all game, I’m in.

Of course, I live in DC, and my ticket-purchasing behavior will have little to no impact on the Nets’ bottom line. So, consider this a message to Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld: trade John Wall and get below 20 wins next year. Let’s make Washington bad again.

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Lucas Hubbard is a writer who is interviewing for the Brooklyn Nets coaching staff next week. You should follow him on Twitter.

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