NBA Teams That Should Start Tanking Now

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2013

NBA Teams That Should Start Tanking Now

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    The term "tanking" isn't something that's openly discussed in NBA circles. In a league where winning is paramount, the very thought of deliberately losing just feels wrong.

    Despite all that philosophical garbage, let's be honest: There are already a few teams that should start thinking about throwing in the towel.

    It's understandable that the league's franchises are reluctant to talk about tanking because it implies a surrender. Prideful athletes are loathe to so openly admit failure, and season-ticket holders don't want to shell out big bucks for a product that isn't committed to winning.

    But there is an obviously positive side to giving in, and to see it, we have to look no further than the Golden State Warriors.

    Thanks to the organization's shrewd decision last year to trade a healthy player (Monta Ellis) for an injured one (Andrew Bogut), the Dubs set the wheels in motion. "Operation: Tank Mode" really got rolling when the Warriors shut down Stephen Curry and David Lee, ultimately resulting in a starting five comprised entirely of rookies at season's end.

    The lottery pick they saved by losing yielded Harrison Barnes, who has started every game for Golden State this year. Thanks to the contributions of Barnes, as well as returns to full health for Curry and Lee (both of whom underwent surgery during the time Golden State was tanking last year), the Dubs are enjoying their best season in decades.

    The Warriors' deliberate effort to lose games actually paid off.

    Realistically, any team that isn't capable of making noise in the playoffs should be trying to find a way to bottom out. The worst place to be in the NBA is the dreaded "middle," where lottery picks are in the teens and there's still no hope of a postseason seed.

    But tanking isn't for everybody.

    So, as much as we'd like to tell half of the league to call it quits, we'll limit our tanking mandates to the NBA's most hopeless teams. Let's go through the list of clubs that should already be waving white flags.

    *All stats accurate as of Jan. 23, 2013.

Sacramento Kings

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    All of the recent news regarding the Sacramento Kings has focused on the team's nearly certain sale to an ownership group led by Chris Hansen and a subsequent move to Seattle. That coverage has—rightfully—also thrown a spotlight on the inept Kings' current ownership group, which has been running the team into the ground for a decade.

    But let's focus on the on-court product, which is actually a direct reflection of the team's totally disconnected ownership anyway.

    The Kings are terrible from top to bottom. The roster makes no sense whatsoever, and the coaching staff has no hope of molding a group of immature, shoot-first players into a winning team. Whether the club is primed to move or not, it's time to completely gut this thing.

    Trade DeMarcus Cousins for draft picks and cap room; let Tyreke Evans walk away and play guys like Jason Thompson, Thomas Robinson and Jimmer Fredette 40 minutes per game. The losses will continue to pile up and the Kings will find out whether the latter three players have legitimate futures.

    Wherever this team ends up in terms of geographical location, there's no sense in it floundering around the bottom third of the standings. Right now, the Kings are the league's eighth-worst team with a record of 16-27. What's the best-case scenario? They put a run together and finish the season with 35 wins and the 12th pick in the draft? Keep in mind that the Kings lose their 2013 first-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers if it falls outside the top 13.

    Where's the sense in trying to win under those circumstances?

    Whoever ends up owning this team will be better off if the Kings clean house and play for a high draft pick. There's no point in trying to win games the rest of the way.

Orlando Magic

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    Let's say the Orlando Magic, who have won two of their last 10 games, inexplicably manage to play as well during the season's second half as the league-best Oklahoma City Thunder did during the first half. That would give the Magic a final record of something like 45-37, which would earn them one of the last three seeds in the East.

    Congratulations, Magic! You're now the sacrificial lamb for either the Miami Heat, New York Knicks or Indiana Pacers in the first round. Enjoy being swept.

    So, even if the impossible happens and the Magic somehow win something like 70 percent of their games the rest of the way, the end result will be a quick playoff exit. Of course, the more realistic second-half prediction is that the Magic play, at best, .500 ball and finish a half-dozen games out of the playoffs.

    That, friends, is the dreaded "middle" we discussed in the opening slide, and nobody wants to be there.

    Instead, Orlando should focus on trading away movable assets like J.J. Redick as soon as possible. Stockpiling losses and draft picks is the surest way to reform a team, and the Magic are in serious need of an overhaul.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Based on the recent trade that brought Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jon Leuer (via The Associated Press), you might think the Cavs had designs on making a go of things this year.

    But you, straw man, would be sorely mistaken if that were your opinion.

    Cleveland snagged a first-round pick out of the deal, and even though it won't be usable until at least 2015, the move fits right into the "play for the future" mode the team has been in ever since LeBron James skipped town. They've wrangled no fewer than four first-round selections through various trades in recent seasons, all of which they'll be able to cash in over the next couple of years.

    Now all they have to do is go into the tank this year to secure their own top lottery pick. And that shouldn't be too hard, considering the Cavs currently have the league's third-worst record at 11-32.

    The only issue Cleveland has to consider is that they're really just wasting years of Kyrie Irving's potential greatness. He's already an elite player, and every year that the Cavs spend in the lottery is a year he won't get back. Still, Cleveland's best hope is to follow the Oklahoma City Thunder's model by building a young core that feels loyal to one another.

    If they fail in that endeavor, Cleveland will lose another superstar on the free-agent market in two years.

    Again, that's looking too far ahead. The directive for the present is as follows: lose games.

Washington Wizards

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    Trying to convince the Washington Wizards to give away games is a little bit like trying to persuade the Black Eyed Peas to make yet another horribly earsplitting song—your efforts might help a little, but they were probably just going to do it anyway.

    The hapless Wizards are the proud owners of the NBA's worst record, and based on the way they've played so far, they won't have to change much to keep those losses coming.

    Yes, John Wall missed a huge chunk of the season, and sure, Washington has won a relatively respectable four of its last 10 games, but what does that have to do with anything? Are those facts predictive of a late-season push that might propel the team into the playoffs?

    Hardly.

    What the Wizards should be doing is shutting down Wall, letting rookie Bradley Beal work through his growing pains and frantically trying to dump every horrible contract (we're looking at you, Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza) on the roster. Astoundingly, Washington's cap figure actually goes up by a couple million bucks next year.

    That's inexcusable, especially for a team this bad.

    The Wizards need to set their sights on accumulating ping-pong balls and offloading money. If they change nothing, there's a good chance the Wizards will end up in the NBA's basement anyway, but it'd behoove them to take steps to make certain that it happens.

Phoenix Suns

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    They may not be trying to do it, but based on some of the stories coming out of Phoenix (via Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski), it sure seems like the Suns are already calling it quits this year.

    On the plus side, Jermaine O'Neal's dust-up with GM Lance Blanks was the veteran forward's most energetic showing in months.

    Dissension in the ranks aside, Phoenix has faced the league's most difficult schedule this season by a pretty significant margin, according to NBAStuffer.com. But even though the slate will get easier during the second half of the year, the Suns have dug themselves a hole they won't be able to climb out of this season.

    That means they need to tank.

    Phoenix is already the owner of the worst record in the Western Conference, and with an interim coach, a mismatched and dysfunctional roster (hi, Michael Beasley) and eight games separating them from the No. 8 seed in the standings, there's really no point in trying to win games.

    Of course, you have to keep in mind that this team is in such a horrible position because the current front office put it here. Who's to say the decision-makers in Phoenix won't continue their history of blowing draft picks (sorry, Kendall Marshall) and throwing money away on useless free agents?

    It's a rare case, indeed, when tanking is somehow a risky proposition. And yet, here we are.

Charlotte Bobcats

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    Based on point differential, the Charlotte Bobcats are just about as bad as the San Antonio Spurs are good. Charlotte's minus-8.3 margin per game is, in a backward sort of way, elite.

    That's probably not a distinction the Bobcats are psyched about. But hey, the cupboard isn't completely bare in Charlotte.

    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist looks like a better-than-average rotation player who could really be dangerous if he had anything close to a perimeter shot, and Kemba Walker might also be a viable point guard on a decent team. So, there are some pretty nice pieces in place.

    But the Kitties need more talent in order to get themselves out of the laughingstock territory they've occupied for the last couple of years, and they're going to have to get it through the draft. That means they need to keep up their losing ways in order to secure a high pick.

    They're going nowhere this year, so there's no reason not to sell off guys like Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas and Ramon Sessions—as impossible as that might seem.

    Michael Jordan isn't accustomed to losing, but his team needs to get used to the idea if they ever hope to get this thing going.