- Tanking is by no means a guarantee a team will land the top overall pick in the NBA draft. But there are a couple teams that should punt this upcoming season and start planning for 2020-21 as soon as possible.
Nobody wants to promote tanking.
And with the new lottery format, the benefits of purposely losing have dwindled significantly. Sure, last season’s Pelicans got rewarded with Zion Williamson after benching their best player in the fourth quarter for the last two and a half months, but they also finished tied for the seventh-worst record. Meaning, there were six teams who lost more games then New Orleans and two others that lost just as many and did not get Zion Williamson.
Long story short, the lottery is a bigger crap shoot than ever and it has created way less incentive to tanking.
But there are some teams out there in positions that make you think they have more hope in beating the odds, landing a top pick in the lottery and reshaping in the offseason than banking on their current roster to compete for the postseason.
Add in the opportunity to find a diamond in the rough à la Robert Covington by giving more G Leaguers a shot on the roster to see what possible Top 100 players got overlooked in the draft, and there is still some benefit to be made when tanking is done appropriately.
It’s not just about losing games, but also about committing to your roster reconstruction throughout the entire season as a way to lose games.
And even with the race to the Finals so wide open this year, there are still some teams that need to start planning for 2020-21 as soon as possible. And maybe in that process they can land their own Zion Williamson.
When you have the opportunity to at least try and re-sign your best player and don’t even offer the supermax, you don’t deserve to ever have nice things.
But, if you are the Hornets and you still want what you don’t deserve, this is probably the only way to make that happen now.
Charlotte is not about to suddenly become some sort of free agent haven, but with the bit of cap space they have next summer, they might be able to overpay a solid role player or two to come and potentially help in a turnaround. But unless Terry Rozier is even better than he was during the 2018 playoffs, the Hornets are going to need to get a top pick.
And in addition to going for a top pick, they could try to see if they could use all their expiring deals through the season to facilitate trades to either load up on more picks or find some other young guys or role players that will be needed in getting this team back into the playoffs.
They landed Kemba Walker with the No. 9 pick back in 2011, so they could get their next franchise player in the middle of the lottery once again. But you can’t bank on that. And they need to make some moves to create a better team for the possible future franchise star waiting to be drafted and not just spend time losing games and not re-signing players.
After the free agency the Knicks had, did you really expect them to not make this list?
New York has some pieces that could very well be important in the team’s eventual return to glory assuming that happens at the latest while R.J. Barrett is on his rookie contract. Julius Randle, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson and Dennis Smith Jr. could grow up together and become a solid group along Barrett. But with all the vets the Knicks have on short deals, it seems like the goal is to either trade those players to contenders down the line for either draft capital or more young players, or maybe take advantage of all their players besides Barrett to shoot for the stars with some sort of megadeal.
The point is, this roster won’t be the same by mid-December most likely. January at the latest.
Once again, losing in hopes of getting a 14% chance at the top pick versus a 12.5% chance or 10% chance is not the wave. They learned that the hard way. But doing so much roster reconstruction during the season that you naturally lose games while finding players that you want to commit to long-term is a solid way to go about things.
The Knicks are looking to shape the culture around this team before the new front office and new coach don’t feel new anymore and instead are referred to as the former front office and former coach. Spending time hoping for a good pick isn’t worth it when you already have a bunch of former top picks on the roster that could gel and become a good basketball team together. The Knicks have no reason to get younger and bank on another 19-year-old to save the team, but they also don’t have any reason to win a lot of games this year. Just be competitive and provide hope. But Knicks fans will always hope when the Knicks are involved, so the team only has to worry about being competitive.
When LeBron James leaves, your only hope of ever filling that void is having LeBron James come back four years later to win Cleveland a championship.
I won’t completely rule that possibility out, but the Cavaliers should not bank on that plan in the slightest.
This will be Collin Sexton’s second year and we should get a much better idea of what he will be able to bring to the table going forward. Even if his game film leaves much to be desired this season, the team can learn a lot about what they have in the young Alabama product by digging deeper and evaluating how he handled his first offseason in the NBA, how he handles coming back to a team he’s expected to be a major contributor on and seeing just what kind of relationship he can build with Darius Garland. If those two can coexist, that’s a big step forward in the quest to build a good team after losing the franchise’s greatest player for the second time.
But the other key piece the Cavaliers need to examine is Kevin Love. Maybe Love stays healthy this season, returns to All-Star form and helps show the young guys how to handle life in the league. After all, he’s seen a lot considering his time in Minnesota. If anybody can help young players with the potential to be champions and All-Stars while playing on a team with no shot at a title, it should be Kev.
Or, he could also be traded to a team that is willing to part ways with even more young players or draft picks that could then be packaged together in another deal, or used as rebuilding pieces.
The Cavaliers might not be in as grave water as one would assume you would be in after the second time LeBron James walked away from the franchise for warmer weather. But that’s only if they make the right moves with Sexton and Love. And at the point your decisions revolve around a second-year player and an 11-year vet who could be on his way out of town depending on how things go, the plan should also involve finding discount players to help rebuild and trading for role players during the season who would never sign in Cleveland during the offseason. Who knows who might be convinced to re-sign in Cleveland when the time comes for the Cavaliers to compete again. Or if LeBron James returns once more.
It’s not that the Wizards are basically just punting on this season at the point John Wall almost certainly will not play. It’s that the team is refusing to trade Bradley Beal and needs to hope he becomes All-NBA this season so he can be re-signed to a supermax and then maybe lead the team back to the postseason when Wall returns.
Nothing this season matters besides figuring out how to lock up the one healthy All-Star long-term, lose games in hopes of landing another star.
More so than anybody else, the Wizards need to tank just so they can have a few years of a possible All-Star caliber player for the cheap. Like a running back in the NFL, Washington needs to be concerned about getting the most value out of its players because the best case scenario is this team has two supermax talents in its backcourt come October 2020.
So if you are going to be paying those two players that much, you need young players who can contribute early and discount rotational players like you might be able to pluck out the G League. About half of the Wizards’ roster next season will have three years experience or less, so they might already have the talent on the roster just waiting to blossom and eventually take on a larger role. But if they don’t, that means this team has even more pressure to find the guys who can eventually replace C.J. Miles, Ian Mahinmi, Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas when Wall and Beal are hopefully reunited for a long-term run at things.
Or they could blow the whole thing up and pray they get a king’s ransom for Beal in a trade.
With so much talent in the West, it’s really hard to think any of these teams should even consider tanking. Yes, some of them are not at all competing for the playoffs right now. But if you don’t start competing sooner or later, it will take a lot to vault into the playoff picture out there because there are a lot of teams that are in positions to compete for a long time.
I thought about giving this spot to the Grizzlies simply because they likely won’t make the postseason and could always use another top-three pick to team with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., who could very easily become one of the league’s most dynamic duos in a couple of years. But with the veterans they acquired recently in Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala and Jonas Valanciunas, that team would get much more out of trying to win every game it could and then coming back next season with a sense that it actually can take on anybody.
The Suns on the other hand still need more high-level players and have to figure out who can best work with Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Ricky Rubio.
If Rubio fits as the point guard of this team, and at least three of Kelly Oubre Jr., Tyler Johnson, Dario Saric, Mikal Bridges, Ty Jerome and Cameron Johnson stick as reliable starters/heavy rotation options, Phoenix might be able to at least enjoy the last few years of Booker’s extension.
But this season is the time to play around with the bottom of the roster and see if they can come up on any undrafted players or G League vets who could possibly help build a playoff roster out there. And there is also no harm in trying to get the top pick when you’re likely the worst team in the conference and at least 12 others think they should be in the playoffs.
The Suns haven’t nailed too many of their high draft picks within the past few years, but maybe the next one will pan out. They can’t all be busts.