Despite the NBA’s contentions to the contrary, tanking is something that has become a part of its culture.
With the league's new economic era upon us and most owners watching their bottom lines closer than ever before, the formula to building a winner—while remaining cost effective—has never been clearer.
It starts and ends with draft picks.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the model franchise for those wanting to build a winning program organically. Small-market teams must rely on their scouting departments to find them winners, but having early draft picks is key.
Cashing in on high lottery picks is why teams tank. Here are five franchises that will do exactly that in 2013.
The Orlando Magic have approximately $84 million committed in salaries for this season and $74 committed for next season. Though those figures include about $20 million each year in money owed to the amnestied Gilbert Arenas, the team won’t have significant cap space to make a run at free agents until July 2014, at the earliest.
The Magic will bide time until then, but in the post-Dwight Howard era, they need young stars to surround their decent crop of role players. If the Magic are going to fill the seats in their brand new Amway Center, they’ll need to fill the cupboard with good young pieces.
Arron Afflalo and Nikola Vucevic have been two of the more productive players involved in last summer’s four-team blockbuster, but the Magic are still light-years away from returning to the playoffs in the East, much less being the contender that they were when Howard was in town.
Through games played on Dec. 31, the Magic are 12-18 and facing an uphill battle to qualify for the playoffs in the East.
Don’t expect them to try too hard coming down the stretch.
Will Bynum, Andre Drummond, Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe
The Detroit Pistons have been stuck in a rebuilding phase since trading Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets back in 2008. And at 11-22 heading into the new year, they still haven’t turned the corner.
Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Brandon Knight all seem like promising pros with bright careers ahead of them, but some of the franchise's longer tenured players—Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva and Jason Maxiell—have contributed to a losing culture in Big D despite their best efforts.
A few more high draft picks and some more time could yield brighter days for the Pistons. For now, though, don’t expect them to win more than a third of their games.
One of the major mistakes the Cleveland Cavaliers made with LeBron James was not surrounding him with other young talents that he could develop close relationships with. James built those relationships with other stars across the league and, the next thing you know, "The Decision" happened.
Although Kyrie Irving is the Cavaliers’ immediate future, he’s not yet able to single-handedly win a game the way James can.
Nonetheless, the plan for Cleveland going forward is to surround Irving with other youngsters and have head coach Byron Scott groom them the same way Scotty Brooks has done for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
With Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller, the Cavs hope to have some building blocks for the future to put alongside their stellar starting point guard.
One more pillar wouldn’t hurt, though, so don’t expect for things to get any better for this 7-25 ball club.
Jordan Crawford, Garrett Temple, Martell Webster
Making a costly mistake with a high draft pick is something that can set a franchise back for many, many years. To this point, it would probably be fair to say that DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe and maybe even Paul George have shown more flashes of stardom than John Wall through the class of 2010’s first three seasons.
It’s way too early to declare Wall or any of the Wizards' other youngsters as busts, but it cannot be overlooked that the team has a few redundant pieces and currently lacks a difference-maker out on the floor.
Though Wall will make his much-awaited return sometime in January, his bad knee is certainly cause for concern, and the Wiz must continue to look for pieces to help build a winner.
Rookie Bradley Beal may be one of those pieces, but until he proves himself to be a consistent contributor, the team's pursuit for high draft picks will continue.
The Bobcats have two decent building blocks in Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but they need help. Rebuilding the Charlotte franchise into a contender in the increasingly tough Eastern Conference will not happen overnight.
Head coach Mike Dunlap was brought in to weather the storm by connecting with the young players currently on the roster, and the reinforcements that are expected to arrive from the collegiate ranks over the course of the next few years.
The Bobcats began the season winning seven of their first 12 games, which made headlines since the team went just 7-59 in last year’s truncated season.
At that point, the NBA world began to imagine the impossible. Could the Bobcats ride their hot hands and rise up out of the league's doldrums?
Entering the new year, the Bobcats have lost 18 games in a row and a playoff push is little more than a pipe dream.
Instead of reaching the postseason, Michael Jordan’s team probably has its sights set on landing a dynamic backcourt scorer in the 2013 draft.