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An Uphill Struggle
Tim Kurkjian
May 05, 1997
This year's lottery teams face obstacles great and small on the climb to respectability
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May 05, 1997

An Uphill Struggle

This year's lottery teams face obstacles great and small on the climb to respectability

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It was a year of very good teams, it was a year of very bad teams. While the Bulls raced to 69 wins and the Jazz to 64, nine NBA clubs failed to win more than 30 games in the 1996-97 season, a league mark for futility. A record-tying six teams won fewer than 25 games apiece. None of the 13 clubs that missed the postseason deserved to make it. Here's a look at what happened to those unlucky 13 this past year (listed from worst record to best)—and more important, where they go from here.

Vancouver Grizzlies

No NFL-like surprises for these second-year expansionists. Vancouver lost half its games by 10 or more points. The Grizzlies were the first NBA team in 32 years whose primary point guard (Greg Anthony) and off guard (Anthony Peeler) each shot less than 40% from the field.

This club needs shooters, a playmaker and three more Shareef Abdur-Rahims. (The rookie forward led the team in scoring at 18.7 points per game.) The good news is that the Grizzlies will be as much as $11 million under the salary cap, so they should have a shot at a few free agents this summer. But first they have to find a coach. Stu Jackson, who is giving up that role to concentrate on his general manager duties, has a list of 60 candidates.

Sixty? Are there half that many coaches in North America who would want this job?

Boston Celtics

April 20 was Fan Appreciation Day at the FleetCenter, a chance for the Celtics to say thanks to their fans. The feeling was not reciprocated. The announcement that one of the giveaways would be a practice jersey belonging to less-than-legendary backup center Alton Lister was met with a flood of boos, which continued as the Celtics were hammered by Toronto 125-94. That ended the sixth-worst season (15-67) in NBA history for an 82-game schedule and by far the bleakest in Celtics history. This years' Celtics lost nine more games than their Boston predecessors did in three entire seasons from 1959-60 to 1961-62.

There is reason for optimism, however. M.L. Carr—who in 163 games on the bench never drew a technical foul—will be gone as coach and perhaps as G.M., too. Speculation had centered on Larry Bird's taking over basketball operations and handing the coaching job to Larry Brown (if Bird doesn't replace Brown as coach of the Indiana Pacers), though the Brown scenario cooled a bit last weekend.

The Celts have a 36.3% chance of securing the No. 1 pick in the draft, which they would use for Wake Forest center Tim Duncan, and will very likely have two of the top six selections. If Boston gets Duncan and another top rookie, and keeps swingman Rick Fox from leaving through free agency, a competently coached Celtics team would have a reasonable shot of going from 15 victories to the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs

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