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Imagining NBA Teams As Rom-Coms

To all the boys the Kings have drafted before: Here’s a romantic comedy that helps explain the recent history of each NBA franchise

Getty Images/Paramount/Ringer Illustration

Wednesday night, I logged onto Twitter. A tweet from Adrian Wojnarowski was first on my timeline. Not shocking enough to be a Woj bomb, the news was more like a Fourth of July firecracker:

Ah. Wolves president and coach Tom Thibodeau is still obsessed with keeping star player Jimmy Butler in Minnesota despite Butler demanding a trade. Now we all know that Thibs isn’t the type to be obsessed. And, for sure, Butler is nowhere near the type to be hardheaded. But regardless, the idea that someone would do whatever it takes to hold onto another person he loves is compelling. So compelling that it’s the plot of a 1993 film titled Mrs. Doubtfire. In the movie, Daniel is asked for a divorce by his wife, Miranda. Daniel disguises himself as a nanny to be close to the couple’s kids during the separation. Miranda eventually sees it as a romantic gesture. (In 2018, we call this home intrusion.)

Now imagine Daniel as Thibodeau and Miranda as Jimmy Butler. Good for Thibs: Daniel and Miranda end up making peace with each other for the sake of their kids. Bad for Thibs: He’d have to disguise the entire Minnesota locker room, not just himself. In other words, it’d require much more than one highly flammable padded bra and some (award-winning!) face makeup to win back Butler. (And anyway, Thibodeau has already disguised the 2011-12 Bulls as Wolves for the past year.)

Here’s the point: Mrs. Doubtfire isn’t a dead-on romantic comedy ringer for Minnesota’s current situation. But there is a rom-com for everything, and for every team. Upon realizing this—

—I tweeted through it.

This didn’t go unnoticed by the people who employ me. Hence, this column. Here’s a rom-com to represent from every NBA team’s recent history and/or future:

Atlanta Hawks: Trainwreck

Time Period: 2017-18, 2018-19, probably 2019-20

Amy Schumer’s m.o. in Trainwreck is self-destruction. The Hawks blew up their roster. In the movie, Amy is hard to watch—as are the Hawks. Last season, Dennis Schröder was their leading scorer. This season, he’s a backup on the Thunder. Atlanta is in rebuild mode, as Amy was when she realized in the movie that she had to right all her drunken wrongs. I don’t know who Bill Hader is in this metaphor, and I don’t know who his movie pal LeBron James is, either. (It’s not the real LeBron James.) But I do know who Schumer is, especially in the hospital scene when she vomits.

Welcome to the city, coach Pierce!

Boston Celtics: Definitely, Maybe

Time Period: 2017-now (credit to @zekesnoozy)

As the title suggests, the vibe of Definitely, Maybe is uncertainty. After Boston traded for Kyrie Irving and signed Gordon Hayward before the start of last season, it was definitely the best team in the East. (Maybe. Hayward was ruled out after Game 1.) But Brad Stevens was definitely the best coach in East. (Maybe. Bron was still with the Cavs then.) Whatever. Now that everyone’s healthy, the Celtics are definitely a lock. Maybe …?

Brooklyn Nets: No Strings Attached

Time Period: 2019 free agency

If GM Sean Marks renounces all Nets free agents next summer, he’s looking at over $60 million in cap space. That’s (potentially) enough for two max contracts! But, like Adam (Ashton Kutcher) in the movie, Marks might realize that commiting to what he already has is actually worth it. (Spencer Dinwiddie? D’Angelo Russell? Rondae Hollis-Jefferson?) In the film, Adam falls for Emma (Natalie Portman) despite an established friends-with-benefits agreement. He makes her a mix CD (the film was released in 2011) to show his emotions. Unimpressed, she rejects him, then chases after him and suspects he’s with someone else. It’s basically restricted free agency: One team makes an underwhelming offer, the player looks elsewhere to find another franchise that will appreciate him more, and the original team has to go out and match the offer to keep that player. In Emma’s case, it wasn’t too late. But Emma’s not in the NBA. She’s in a rom-com. What I’m saying is, Nets, come with more heat than a mixtape.

Charlotte Hornets: The Big Sick

Time Period: 2017-18

The Hornets’ injury report last season:

  • Cody Zeller, out for 49 games
  • Michael Carter-Williams, out for 30 games
  • Nicolas Batum, out for 18 games
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, out for eight games

(Also, then–head coach Steve Clifford missed 21 games during the season for health issues.)

Chicago Bulls: Something’s Gotta Give

Time Period: Fred Hoiberg era (2015-present)

Since Hoiberg, the Iowan pace-and-space king, joined the Bulls, the front office has repeatedly made his life fresh hell. First, Hoiberg had to replace Thibs, who was beloved in Chicago. (Turns out, Thibs never let go of the city, either.) Hoiberg, who needs an offense that can shoot to succeed, inherited a team starring Butler (31.2 percent from 3 that season), Derrick Rose (29.3 percent from 3), and Pau Gasol (34.8 percent from 3, but shooting only one a game). The season after, Hoiberg got Dwyane Wade (31 percent from 3), Robin Lopez (shot two 3s all season; missed both), and Rajon Rondo (37.6 percent from 3, in a pleasant surprise).

This season, Hoiberg’s two highest-paid players are Jabari Parker and Zach LaVine. Chicago is projected to be the third-worst team in the league. There’s hope in rookie Wendell Carter Jr. and sophomore Lauri Markkanen, but Hoiberg’s entering Year 4 of his five-year contract. He might not get to see the end of it.

Cleveland Cavaliers: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

Time Period: 2017-18

The guy is LeBron. It didn’t take a full 10. LeBron left the day free agency opened.

In the movie, Andie (Cavs owner Dan Gilbert) sabotages her relationship with Ben (LeBron) by purposefully adding stress to his everyday life. Relatedly, here’s a list of players who appeared in the Cavs backcourt last season: Derrick Rose, post-injury Isaiah Thomas, Jose Calderon, not-yet-revitalized Dwyane Wade, Jordan Clarkson, and this guy:

Runner-up Cavs rom-com: She’s All That (credit to @dszczepanek)

Time Period: 2018-19

Dallas Mavericks: About Time

Time Period: 2018 NBA draft

In About Time, the main character, Tim, can time-travel. He can’t change history, just like Dallas can’t change last season’s 24-58 record, but he can enter a relationship with someone he loves. Tim uses time travel to win over Mary; Dallas used a 2019 pick to get rookie Luka Doncic. It’s romantic.

Denver Nuggets: Pretty Woman

Time Period: Nikola Jokic era

Who would have thought a soft, 250-pound 7-footer could throw gorgeous no-look passes? Pretty Woman shows that a prostitute, Vivian, is capable of more than she seems, like thought and conversation. (The movie is pretty sexist. Richard Gere and Julia Roberts are the only things in it that aged well.) Gere’s Edward, business tycoon and Julia’s love interest, is determined to do things his way, just like head coach Mike Malone is with his set plays. But when someone special came along, he had to throw away what he used to know (defense) and let love (a fast-paced offense run by Jokic) take over.

Detroit Pistons: Knocked Up

Time Period: 2018-19

I imagine incoming head coach Dwane Casey can sympathize with trying to love something he didn’t intend to create, which in this case is an Andre Drummond–Reggie Jackson–Blake Griffin Big 3. Fortunately, he’s locked in for just five years. It’ll only feel like 18.

Golden State Warriors: Set It Up

Time Period: Kevin Durant era

In Set It Up, two miserable people scheme to combine two powerhouses (their bosses). In the NBA, the powerhouses are Kevin Durant and the Warriors. Immediately after Golden State lost in the 2016 Finals, Draymond Green began to recruit KD via text—“See what we’re missing. We need you. Make it happen.”—making Green and his phone the miserable people in this analogy. Checks out:

Houston Rockets: Failure to Launch

Time Period: Game 7, 2018 Western Conference finals

Never forget.

Indiana Pacers: Just Go With It

Time Period: 2017-18

Danny (Victor Oladipo, in this analogy) gets dumped. Now, Dipo didn’t fake a marriage to Jennifer Aniston last season so he could date Brooklyn Decker, but he did average 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.4 steals, on top of making the Pacers competitive in a series against LeBron James.

*Runner-up rom-com: The Holiday (credit to @Teaguery)

Time Period: 2017-18

Los Angeles Clippers: 27 Dresses

Time Period: Lob City era

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. (The bride is the Western Conference finals.)

Los Angeles Lakers: He’s Just Not That Into You

Time Period: 2018 free agency

A newer subgenre for rom-coms: the films that involve seven-plus intertwining story lines. That was the Lakers summer.

Beth (Lakers) wants commitment from Neil (LeBron). Neil doesn’t believe in marriage. LeBron hadn’t signed a deal longer than three years since 2006 (his deal with the Heat had player options). Beth and Neil end up married. LeBron signed a four-year deal. At 33, that’s practically giving his (basketball) life away, too.

In another story line in He’s Just Not That Into You, Alex (Paul George) is a bachelor being pursued by many women (teams … and maybe also women). He eventually realizes he had already found the one! It was the person who had been by his side all along, pestering him for months: Gigi (Russell Westbrook).

In yet another story line, a married guy cheats with a woman who was leading on a guy who ends up with the friend of the married guy’s coworker. And that explains why the Lakers signed Michael Beasley, JaVale McGee, and Rajon Rondo.

Memphis Grizzlies: Notting Hill

Time Period: 2018-19

A very famous woman and a not-so-famous man fall in love. The famous woman realizes that the man isn’t apt to handle her fame. Mike Conley is Julia Roberts, and the Grizzlies are Hugh Grant. The relationship is messy, but they end up together. Aw. Conley and Memphis end up together, too. (They have to. Conley’s locked into a five-year, $153 million deal.)

Miami Heat: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Time Period: 2017 free agency

This is a newer rom-com, but it’ll stand the test of time. Similarly, the Heat’s 2017 signing spree will stand the test of time. (Miami won’t be under the cap until 2020). In To All the Boys, the protagonist writes love letters to a bunch of guys that she doesn’t end up with, kind of like the Heat (probably) wrote up contracts for a bunch of free agents they didn’t land. The leading lady does eventually find love, but she has to fake-date someone to get there. The Heat seem close to doing that themselves, but the Wolves might be fake-shopping.

Milwaukee Bucks: Bad Teacher

Time Period: Jason Kidd era

Three of Kidd’s four Milwaukee teams went to the playoffs, but none made it past the first round. Kidd often blamed the age of the Bucks roster (like how Elizabeth, the titular bad teacher, blamed her classroom), with only one starter under the age of 25 in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

There’s a scene in Bad Teacher when Elizabeth and fellow teacher Scott dry-hump in a gross hotel room during a field trip. Watching that was like watching Milwaukee’s defense under Kidd.

Minnesota Timberwolves: 10 Things I Hate About You

Time Period: 2017-18

10 Things Butler Hates About Minnesota:

1. Andrew Wiggins
2. Karl-Anthony Towns
3. Its defense
4. Its will to win
5. Andrew Wiggins
6. Its nonchalance
7. Karl-Anthony Towns
8. Its wildlife
9. Andrew Wiggins
10. Karl-Anthony Towns

New Orleans Pelicans: The Longest Ride

Time Period: Anthony Davis’s 2015 free agency

In 2015, Davis had the option to re-sign with New Orleans, an organization that hadn’t proved it was capable of building around him, or go elsewhere. The plot of The Longest Ride is almost too rom-com-y: The boy is chasing his passion of bull-riding, and the girl is pursuing art in New York City. One of those options is a dead end, and the other is in a big market. In the end, love (and $127 million over five years) wins.

New York Knicks: 50 First Dates

Time Period: Free agency

Henry (the Knicks) wants to date Lucy (basically any big NBA free agent). He used to be a playboy and have no trouble getting attention, but Lucy’s different. In the movie, she has memory loss. Undeterred, Henry keeps taking her on first dates knowing it won’t go anywhere. (However, I believe that the Knicks do think every free-agency meeting they set up is going somewhere. And honestly, I think they might be the ones with memory loss here.) Here are some free agents they’ve missed out on: LeBron James (2010), Dwyane Wade (2010), Chris Bosh (2010), Joe Johnson (2010), DeAndre Jordan (2015), Greg Monroe (2015), and Kevin Durant (2016).

*Runner-up rom-com: Monster-in-Law

Time Period: Phil Jackson’s presidency

Oklahoma City Thunder: I Give It a Year

Time Period: 2017-18

Entering 2017, I would have told you this was about Paul George, who had only one year left on his deal, and was supposed to sign with the Lakers. Upon reflection, it was clearly about Carmelo Anthony, who was owed $27.9 million in 2018-19 before Oklahoma City somehow finagled its way out of his deal.

*Runner-up rom-com: Sleepless in Seattle

Time Period: 2008-present

Don’t boo me. Boo these guys:

Orlando Magic: Clueless

Time Period: in general

Philadelphia 76ers: 13 Going on 30

Time Period: 2017-18

All 13-year-old Jenna (Philly) wants is to be grown up (competitive in the East). So, in 1987, with a little help from some magic dust (Sam Hinkie), she fast-forwards to age 30. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid weren’t even alive in May 1987, but at 21 and 24 ended last season on a 16-game win streak as borderline superstars.

*Runner-up rom-com: Hitch (credit to @PaoloUggetti)

Time Period: Markelle Fultz’s professional career

For reference:

Phoenix Suns: The Intern

Time Period: 2018-19

In The Intern, intern Ben is 70. New Suns coach Igor Kokoskov is not 70. He’s 46. In coaching years, that’s like 22. But Kokoskov has been an assistant coach in the NBA for 18 seasons. And like Ben, Kokoskov is now working for a millenial company—rookie Mikal Bridges (22) is older than their proverbial veteran, Devin Booker—where everything is fast-paced.

Portland Trail Blazers: Fool’s Gold

Time Period: 2018 post All-Star break

Portland was the most-improved team after the All-Star break for the second straight year last season. The Blazers turned it over less, made more trips to the line, shot the ball better, and went on a 13-game win streak. Damian Lillard started to make some MVP noise.

Fool’s Gold is about a treasure hunter who thinks he’s close to gold, then accidentally sinks his boat before he can find it. Huh.

Sacramento Kings, Groundhog Day

Time Period: 2007-present

A bad draft, confusing coaching decisions, no postseason appearance. A bad draft, confusing coaching decisions, no postseason appearance. A bad draft, confusing coaching decisions, no postseason appearance. A bad dr—you get the idea.

San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors: The Holiday

Time Period: 2018-19

After getting dumped, a very brokenhearted Iris (DeMar DeRozan) begins a journey to America. She trades places with Amanda (Kawhi Leonard), who had just ended her own relationship—like Kawhi, it was her decision, though no quad injury was involved—and wants to go abroad. Iris builds a strong friendship with a wise elder (Gregg Popovich) who brings out the best in her. Both end up happy after the swap. Take the over on the Raptors and the Spurs.

Utah Jazz: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Time Period: 2017-18

The main character is left by the love of his life (Gordon Hayward) for someone more famous (the Boston Celtics). He’s devastated for a summer. Then he stumbles upon a way better, younger, more loyal person to love with the 13th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft. Basically, Donovan Mitchell is Mila Kunis.

Quin Snyder might be Count Dracula.

(Mitchell went to school at the University of Louisville. Louisville plays basketball at the KFC Yum! Center downtown. The Yum! Center is on Main Street, which is four blocks from the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse. Mila Kunis is a Jim Beam spokesperson. The dots, people.)

*Runner-up rom-com: I Love You, Man

Time Period: Donovan Mitchell’s rookie season

Washington Wizards: The Ugly Truth

Time Period: January 27, 2018–February 27, 2018

After John Wall was ruled out for six to eight weeks following an arthroscopic knee procedure, Washington won 10 of its next 13 games. The team looked better without Wall, playing selfless, efficient basketball without its ball-dominant superstar. In The Ugly Truth, Mike (John Wall) thinks he knows what’s best for Abby (the Wizards). They grow to hate each other. Abby eventually realizes her current happiness is a facade; Washington went on to drop eight of its next 12 without Wall. Truthfully, the Abby and Mike characters are cringefully uptight or rude at times, and their relationship has a ceiling of mild happiness. Yes. We’re still talking about the Wizards.

And finally, here are two strong additions to the romantic comedy NBA universe that aren’t about a specific team:

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is basically the Ewing Theory.

And The 40-Year-Old Virgin is …

An earlier version of this post implied the parents in Mrs. Doubtfire rekindled their romance at the end of the film. They remained separated but agreed to joint custody.