The Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers have undoubtedly been two of the better teams in the league over the past two seasons – certainly in the top 10 and arguably top seven – but that hasn’t been enough to make them serious contenders for the title.
Everyone is aware of the dreaded ‘middle’ in the NBA, where a franchise is good enough to reach the playoffs, but has practically zero chance of winning a championship.
Well, the Hawks and Clippers are stuck in their own kind of middle ground. They’re perennial playoff teams who are just a step or two short of reaching the Finals, with powerhouses Cleveland, San Antonio and Golden State standing firmly in their way.
That raises the question of whether one, both or neither squad should break up their core in an attempt to either rebuild or push their luck to get better.
In Atlanta’s case, they might very well be the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, but after getting swept by the Cavaliers for a second straight year, they appear resigned to playing second fiddle for the near future.
They have an interesting decision to make this offseason when centre Al Horford will be a free agent. He’s been crucial to their success, but is he worth a maximum contract considering he’ll be on the wrong side of 30 when next season begins?
Horford should be the first domino to fall to set up Atlanta’s approach going forward.
The Clippers, meanwhile, have been spinning their wheels longer than the Hawks have, with their ‘Big Three’ of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan continuing to fall short of the conference finals year in and year out.
You can excuse them for these playoffs, in which they suffered crippling injuries to both Paul and Griffin, but coach and general manager Doc Rivers needs to project future success.
Trading Griffin seems the most obvious way to shake it up, but they almost surely won’t get a player with equal talent in return.
Basically, both Atlanta and LA have to consider how much they believe the NBA is a zero-sum game. Winning the title is often touted as the be-all and end-all by players and coaches, but there’s a lot of value and entertainment – especially to fans – when you’re a consistently great, but not phenomenal team.
You also never know when things might just go in your favour. Just ask the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks.
Only one champion can emerge every year, so the odds are already against every team. There’s nothing wrong with trying to keep your place near, but not at the top.
Know more about Sport360 Application