A lot of us have heard of the five stages of grief.
1, Start with a little denial (there isn't even a problem to be sad about).
2. Get angry (at the truth, at your impotence, at a higher power).
3. Bargain (usually with a higher power, but sometimes with a girlfriend who finally realized you're never going to stop playing PS4 until 3 a.m. on a work night).
4. Get depressed (in 2017, the way things are going, you might not notice a difference).
5. Finally accept things as they are (which can sometimes look like throwing your hands in the air and shouting, "FINE!” at that higher power--or ex-girlfriend who wants her stuff back--you were talking to earlier).
There is no denying that NBA fans go through their own cycle of grief each year--and sometimes from game-to-game. Every year, the Timberwolves have to convince themselves they might win a championship--and every year (for the last 13) they've had to accept that they won't even make the playoffs.
The Suns have missed the playoffs for seven years in a row (the third longest streak in the NBA). Meanwhile, LeBron James has not only made the playoffs seven years in a row, his team has been in the finals seven years in a row.
I'm not shocking anyone by telling you: It's a different psyche to be a LeBron James fan, vs. being a Kings, Suns, or T-Wolves fan.
This year, the collective psyche of NBA fans outside of Cleveland and Golden State was propped up entirely by a healthy batch of denial. Surely someone, given the right circumstance, could change the composition of the NBA Finals … right? There was such desperation for the unexpected, that some people mused about the Cavs coming back from down 3-0 to win it all.
Not even close. And, if Durant and Curry can make the money work--there's a terrible possibility that it won't be close next year, either. Nor the year after that.
Maybe Chris Paul takes his game to San Antonio, and they trade LaMarcus for someone a little more "visceral.” That, combined with the masterclass that lives in Coach Pop's brain, could be enough. But, probably not.
Before you ask: If there's any masterclass roaring around in Ty Lue's brain, it seems to be, "I hope LeBron makes me look like a good coach today." That seems to be the only explanation for the coaching coma he went into during that memorable stretch in Game 5 that ultimately wrapped up his season. So we're looking at Coach Pop without enough weapons, and the loaded Cavaliers without enough coaching. (And now, on Draft Day, inexplicably, without a GM.)
That doesn't mean that NBA fans — and us Dallas Mavericks fans — don't have little pockets of hope that are worth talking about, and enjoying, at several stages of the season. Yes, we can all argue that hope in today's NBA is really just the denial stage extended to the point of no return. Tonight is one of those pockets, one of those "stages.''
Stage 1: Opening Day
This one feels obvious--but on Opening Day, you've been in a myopic state of fandom for months. All those new free agents and rookies are ready to prove someone wrong. Nobody else is playing basketball, so you get familiar with the no-name players on your favorite team's roster. You hear positive buzz about shoot arounds and practice, and you think there's a chance this squad is, "better than people think."
This is also the time of year when everyone is 0-0, and even a bad opening night only puts you a half game, or a game back of the leaders. Hope may last a couple of weeks, it may last a couple of months--but there is a shared hope (even if it's cautious and ready to bolt) in every NBA city on opening day.
Stage 2: The Trade Deadline
If you're a losing squad, you hope your team moves an expensive piece in favor of a young player, a solid draft package, or a mixture of both.
If you're a winning squad, you hope your team makes that incremental improvement it needs to catapult it into a championship conversation.
If you're a team on the edge of the playoff hunt, you're likely to have people hoping in both directions (as we had in Dallas this season). Some will hope for a realistic team, a tanking strategy, and a bottoming out (complete with that losing squad tactic of bringing in youth and draft picks).
Other fanbases will hope for that one move that helps a team edge its way into the Nos. 7 or 8 spot. The Pelicans, by all accounts, thought they were making a playoff-sealing trade when they traded bits and pieces for Boogie Cousins. Denver thought so, too. Instead, the Trailblazers moved past both of them--and with less effort than you'd expect.
I didn't say hopes wouldn't be dashed.
Stage 3: The End of the Regular Season
It sucks to end the season without making the playoffs, but for those losing teams, they get to fall asleep to dreams of the draft lottery.
If you've ever heard a friend say, "I know we only have a 1.1% chance of getting the No. 1 pick, but there IS a chance,” then you know how deep the irrational well goes for a sports fan.
But that only covers the 14 worst teams in the NBA (or at least the 14 who didn't make the playoffs). The other 16 get their own moment of hope--because no matter how poorly they finished the year, no matter where they finished in their division, and no matter who they face in the first round--every team has a puncher's chance to advance.
Even the lackluster Bulls, with a barely-living Rajon Rondo, managed a 2-0 lead over Boston before losing in six games.
Stage 4: The Draft
The obvious benefit of the draft is the ability for a team (especially a bad one) to add cheap and talented youth to its roster.
If you're a Brooklyn Nets fan, I'm gonna need you to ignore this section; there's no hope for you here. I'm sorry I brought it up.
On the other hand, if you're Boston or Philly, then the Brooklyn Nets’ failure has been incredibly kind to you in the last couple of days. It's not often that a a top seeded team has the first pick in the NBA draft--even weirder when they can afford to trade down.
But, that fluid pick and player movement--it's the other half of hope that comes from the draft. Will your team trade an albatross contract to move up a few spots in the draft (or make room for a free agent)? Will your team trade a stack of picks for Jimmy Butler? Or, will your team just stand pat, and take the next Jimmy Butler with their pick?
The chance isn't great for any of those things--but the chances are better than 1.1 percent, so I'm sure we're all looking forward to tonight, 6 p.m., when the DBcom 75-Member Staff will assemble at Mavs HQ, as it has for almost 20 years, and chronicle and hope.
Please join us in doing so by logging into DBcom Mavs Boards, by following Fish and me and the gang on Twitter, and by reading the DBcom Mock Draft — where Fish figures we’re gonna end up with Dennis Smith Jr. at No. 9.
Or ... where, according to our scoop, Smith is behind Jonathan Isaac as a target as the Mavs talk with Minny about swapping up from No. 9 to No. 7. And all we gotta do is figure out the Rubio and Matthews parts!
Stage 5: Free Agency
A lot of players stay with their teams, because that's where the money is (or often leave, because THAT's where the money is). Other players go to the team that seems to present the best shot at winning quickly (Dwight Howard got this one wrong, but Kevin Durant got this one right).
Mavs fans know a bit about the type of hope (and dashed hope) that comes from free agency.
The Mavs, of course, felt the hope of Howard, and Williams (though they went on to sign elsewhere)--but their greatest free agency gut punch was DeAndre Jordan's commitment, then reversal.
That's the danger of the Free Agency period--it starts with a creepy and stomach-churning moratorium period in which everything can (and apparently will occasionally) go wrong. Certainly, that can erode some of the hope of free agency.
Still, sometimes it goes perfectly.
Sometimes LeBron James gets a bunch of his friends together to "NOT" form a superteam. Or, sometimes he returns to Cleveland like a guardian angel, and leads a team back from a 3-1 deficit.
Other times, Kevin Durant signs with your team, and breaks basketball for the rest of us, leading us into a spiral of denial and rationalization, while his team goes 16-1 and wins a title.
Maybe that could happen to your team. To OUR team. ... though when you read from David Lord about the wheels that need to turn so Dallas can even be a major player in free agency … AND you study our breaking story on "The Shrunken Cap'' ... Well, still. Maybe that “something good’ can happen to our team. Remember, it's not an irrational inability to face the truth--it's hope.
Depression, by the way, is always just a few steps after hope. Meanwhile, cross your fingers for tonight.