When I say "rudderless teams," I'm talking about NBA franchises that are stuck in the mud. They're directionless. Hapless. Misled and disorganized. They don't know where to go, which is why they need our help here.
That goes far beyond the results on the basketball court. Take a team like the Minnesota Timberwolves: they're not playing well (6-18), but they absolutely have their sails pointed in the right direction. They have a good coach and an amazing core of young players. One bad season isn't a cause for alarm: it'll simply mean another lottery pick to add to the coffers.
In that same vein, here are some other teams that did NOT make my list for similar reasons:
Bad Teams with a bright future
In terms of basketball talent, the Nets are a disaster. The fact that their picks will STILL be going to Boston is even more disheartening. However, that's not the fault of the current leadership. GM Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson are promising, and have been doing a good job re-establishing a culture and playing style. The road to relevance will undoubtedly be a long one, but they have the right navigators.
Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle are too proud to tank, but this year's team may be doing that regardless. And at the end of the day, that'll be a blessing. The Mavs will get a much-needed young star to build around. That, coupled with Carlisle as a coach, Harrison Barnes as a young puzzle piece, and Dallas as a decent free agent destination, gives this franchise a solid foundation to build upon.
L.A. Lakers (10-16)
The bloom has worn off the "Luke Walton for Coach of the Year!" rose, but there's still promise with Walton and this young roster. Between D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram, they can slowly build toward the playoffs, even if it will take a few more years longer than the first month of the season suggested.
The Sixers may have lingering questions about Brett Brown as a coach, but there's no denying their talent base. They'll have to figure out what to do with their glut of centers, but at the end of the day, they have at least two potential All-Stars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, with another high pick on the way. If Brown does get fired, this would be one of the most appealing jobs, based on young talent alone.
Top 10 Most Rudderless Teams
(10) Portland (12-13)
The Blazers have rebounded from a slow start and appear likely to make the playoffs again, based on the 1-2 punch of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The problem is: everything else on the roster. GM Neil Olshey strangely invested heavily in two swingmen in Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner, limiting their cap flexibility for the future. The Blazers need to re-work and re-balance their team, or else they'll be locked into that 6th-8th seed for years to come.
(9) New Orleans (8-17)
In terms of coach + GM combination, the Pelicans have perhaps the worst in the league. Personally, I feel like they should clean house and allow new leadership to funnel in. However, even with those questions at the top, the presence of Anthony Davis (on a long-term deal) is a hell of an elixir. With the right coach, and the right lottery pick this year, and they can jump back up into the playoff cusp, with Davis giving them the upside to become legitimate contenders down the road.
(8) Washington (9-13)
Like Portland, Washington has a good young backcourt in John Wall and Bradley Beal. But unlike Portland, it hasn't meant much so far. The Wizards continue to under-achieve, which leads to questions about whether they should completely blow up this roster. Personally, I believe they can tweak things instead (the depth is terrible, and Markieff Morris isn't the answer at 4 unless he can shoot more consistently), but the clock is ticking and it doesn't take long for a "good young core" to become a trainwreck.
(7) Indiana (12-12)
The .500 Pacers have to be one of the most disappointing teams to start the season, especially after shaking up their roster and coaching staff this off-season. Indiana isn't exactly going to draw top level free agents, either, so the Pacers will have to build from within. To me, that may mean moving on from first-year coach Nate McMillan if he can't show tangible improvement the rest of the year.
(6) Miami (7-17)
Like Dallas, Miami is a well-run franchise looking at a rare top 5 draft pick to build around. The reason I have Miami ranked as a worse situation is because their star players Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside are already 30 and 27, respectively (compared to the 24-year-old Harrison Barnes). If the Heat blow it up and commit to a rebuild, that should mean trading Dragic for whatever he's worth these days. On the bright side, the Heat have a good coach and organization in place.
(5) N.Y. Knicks (14-10)
No, Derrick Rose, the Knicks are not a "super team." On the plus side, they'd make the playoffs right now, and have a foundational young piece in Kristaps Porzingis. However, they have two clouds hanging over their heads right now: Derrick Rose and Phil Jackson. The team made a bold gambit for Rose, but cooler heads would probably let him walk as a free agent. As for Jackson, he's gone from savior to a distraction, looking more and more like a relic from the bygone past with every passing year.
(4) Phoenix (7-17)
The Suns have a lot of young pieces, but it's difficult to call any of them future superstars, with the possible exception of Devin Booker. Their expensive lead guard Eric Bledsoe is already 27, which means he will have slowed down by the time young bigs Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender resemble good NBA players. Trading Bledsoe (or Brandon Knight, if possible) would probably be a smart play, but would extend their rebuild by another few years. That's a long time to build considering there's no guarantee those young bigs turn out to be worth the wait.
(3) Sacramento (8-15)
Presumably, people may be surprised that the perpetual trainwreck Kings don't rank higher. Not too surprisingly, they're stuck in another below-average season, with the playoffs and a top 3 lottery pick equally far away. However, they at least have a clear choice to make this season: trade Boogie or not? It may be hard to get back fair value for Cousins, but it would at least signify the start of a new era. If they can somehow land another foundational young piece to build around as a result, they probably have to take it.
(2) Denver (9-15)
On paper, the Nuggets are in a much better situation than the Kings. They have a boatload of young talent to build around. The problem, though is: are any of those young players stars? Jamal Murray looks promising, but Emmanuel Mudiay's lack of development is troubling. Worse yet, I'm not sure those two guards will fit together down the road anyway. Somehow, the Nuggets need to bundle together all their mid-value pieces into a star or two, but that's never as easy as it sounds.
(1) Orlando: (10-15)
Rob Hennigan may look like a great GM if you were casting a movie, but in real life, he could be one of the worst in recent memory. He collected a hodgepodge roster of underwhelming draft picks and overrated veterans like Serge Ibaka, Jeff Green and Bismack Biyombo, which predictably hasn't worked out. Worse yet, you have nothing to build around for the future. The best bet for a new GM may be letting those mistakes like Ibaka and Green walk in free agency, in order to allow Aaron Gordon to slide back into his more natural PF role; after all, he's the only player on the roster resembling a future star.