Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Scraping the bottom

Sometimes in professional sports, scraping bottom isn't about finishing last. Sometimes its about the fact that the franchise is run into the ground for so long that employees feel like they go to work in a cave somewhere far below the level of the rest of the respective league - bad drafting, bad coaching, bad free agent signings, bad executive decisions (budget, contracts, etc.).

Some teams are so bad in a given season that they become a benchmark against which other teams are measured - the 1962 New York Mets won only 40 games; in the team's first season the Buccaneers lost all 14 regular season games, becoming the first NFL team to do so in the Super Bowl era; the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers won nine while losing 73.

Sometimes, as I said, it's less about the single season then it is about sustained periods of putrescence. Some teams just historically have issues - the Cubs, Browns, and Clippers have been the sad sacks of their respective leagues for years.

But who are the teams scraping bottom now?

Let's start with the worst of the worst -

The New York Knicks - The Isiah Years. Not including the partial season of 2003 - 2004 that Isiah Thomas has presided over this team as team president/GM and/or coach, and not including this season's sterling start, Isiah Thomas has managed to pad his resume with the following facts -

  • The team has an aggregate record of 89 -157. Currently the team is on pace for roughly a 25 win season.
  • Thomas himself has been embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal, found guilty by a jury of his peers.
  • He has put together a team of individuals with the highest payroll in the league, but has never been able to get the team to .500.
  • He has publicly feuded with his team's biggest star, Stephon Marbury, who claims he has the goods on Thomas and also admitted to sleeping with a team intern.
  • Owner James Dolan has publicly supported Thomas, going as far as to say that he believed that Thomas was doing a good job and had the team headed in the right direction.

Sure, there are other teams that have finished below the Knicks in the standings (last year's Celtics for one), but none have had the combination of futility on the court, in front office, and in the court rooms as the Knicks have had.

The Knicks were, at one point, one the NBA's most storied franchises. Now they're the punchline.

A close second? The Matt Millen Detroit Lions - Like the Dolan owned Knicks, the ownership of the Lions is in serious denial about their general manager, Matt Millen. Millen has drafted poorly, made poor hirings of coaches, and has played the free-agent market like a neophyte stock broker on Wall Street. Like the Knicks, there have been teams that finished behind them, but no other team has been as consistently bad.

To wit, under Millen,
  • Detroit had an assistant coach arrested for indecent exposure. Said coach faced no significant consequences from the team.
  • The team has set a record for futility with six straight seasons of double digit losses, and are sitting at 6-6 this season after a four game losing streak (no general manager in NFL history has presided over any team with as many 10+ losses per season). With games remaining against Dallas, San Diego, Kansas City, and Green Bay, a seventh straight season isn't out of the question.
  • Has gone through at least three head coaches.
  • Repeatedly drafted wide receivers with a top ten pick when the team had glaring needs at other places like offensive and defensive line.

Number three is, of course, the Miami Dolphins - Since 1998, this might be a team with some of the worst personnel decisions in the NFL. Consider that starters tend to hit their stride in their third or fourth year - particularly the later round picks.

And the result of their drafting futility?

  • In the six drafts from 1998 to 2003, Miami had 59 choices. It exercised 46 of those picks and used 13 other choices in trades to acquire veteran players. Only Ricky Williams, acquired in a draft day deal as one of those 13 other choices, is on the current Dolphins roster (with thanks to Peter King for these numbers).
  • They weathered the Nick Saban experiment.
  • And while the jury is out, picking a glorified and injured kick returner with their first rounder just goes against conventional wisdom from a personnel standpoint.

Amazing for a team that once was a perennial power in the AFC East.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and the Baltimore Orioles - Sure, I'm grouping these three together because these three teams prove that it doesn't matter how big or small a team's budget is when ownership has no idea what it's doing. Continuing a recent history of futility, the Pirates and Devil Rays have become nothing more than glorified triple A teams cultivating talent for the rest of the league. The Orioles and George Steinbrenner wannabe, Peter Angelos has shown that a team can go out and spend money and still suck.

Were it not for the fact that the Marlins have established a pattern of binging and purging in order to win championships, they would make this list as well.


David Sullivan said...

Its funny. The Pats have had some horrible teams in '81, '90 and '92, but there were always a core of great players that if, had the right coaching or some complimentary players, would be good (the '81 Pats who are considered one of the worst ever lost 8 games by a touchdown or less, six of which were by 4 or less.

Miami has no hope now or for the future.

On a side note ,am I the only person who wants to cut out Mercury Morris's tounge and shove it up Shula's ass?

Kevin Smith said...

I don't know - that stretch from 1991 to 1992 when they won three games, I'm not convinced that coaching would have made the difference with players like Eugene Chung, John Stephens, Hugh Millen, and Chris Singleton. Yeah, there were some good players, but there were some glaring holes that no amount of coaching could have covered up.

It's amazing how some of these teams have bottomed out.

sugarshane024 said...

Remember when the Patriots were on this list?

And I'd feel comfortable adding the Pittsburgh Pirates to this list. After all, they're on the verge of setting a new record for futility with something like 14 consecutive losing seasons.

Kevin Smith said...

Got em in the last part, I just got lazy and didn't itemize separate things for MLB.