Now that the 2013 NBA trade deadline has come and gone, it's much clearer which teams are trying to climb the ranks this year and which ones are primed to start tanking.
The Washington Wizards' front office was apparently unmoved by the hidden promise the team had shown in recent weeks, dealing Jordan Crawford for virtually nothing.
A couple of other teams, like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Bobcats, showed by their inaction that they're now resigned to their lottery fates as well.
And the Orlando Magic unloaded J.J. Redick, the team's only half-decent player, for scraps. That move was a clear white-flag signal.
But hey, there's really no shame in recognizing that it's time to play for next year. The worst place an NBA team can be is the middle, so nobody's judging the imminent tank-jobs many clubs are about to undertake in search of a transformative draft pick. If anything, there's a boldness to admitting failure and treading a rough path toward redemption.
Shortsighted fans don't like watching losses, but smart ones know that 60 defeats in a season are actually much better than 40.
Despite going 10-9 since January 7, the Washington Wizards decided to call it a season on February 21, dumping malcontent Jordan Crawford on the Boston Celtics for Leandro Barbosa (out for the season) and Jason Collins (terrible since 2005).
There's certainly no room to criticize Washington's decision to cut ties with Crawford, who had essentially stopped being a productive member of the team six weeks ago. But by taking back players who could not possibly help the cause this season, the Wizards indicated that they're not interested in winning now.
It's a shame that Washington dug itself such a deep hole, as the team has really come together of late, particularly on the defensive end, where it ranks fifth in efficiency. But, the Wizards are miles away from a playoff spot at present.
So it's no secret that they'll be in full tank mode for the rest of the year.
Unlike most of the other teams on our list, though, the Wizards are extremely close to putting together a playoff team. One more lottery pick should just about do it.
All was quiet in the great white north during the trade deadline—an appropriate metaphor for a Minnesota Timberwolves season that has softly shuffled off into obscurity.
Thanks to a blizzard of injuries and an ice-cold offense, the Wolves currently sit seven-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot. Perhaps more importantly, they're just four games from the bottom of the conference.
And you can bet they're more interested in making up ground on the latter position in the standings than the former.
Kevin Love's return is still a ways off, and Brandon Roy may never come back at all. So it makes perfect sense for the Timberwolves to shut things down this year in an effort to secure as high a lottery pick as possible.
A quiet trade deadline made it clear that the Wolves are about to start hibernating.
It's somewhat off the mark to posit the notion that the Charlotte Bobcats are about to start tanking.
Mostly because they've never really stopped.
At 13-41, the Kitties would have to put together a pretty solid (and highly unlikely) win streak to relinquish their current status as the NBA's worst team. Sure, the Wizards and Orlando Magic are only a couple of games ahead of Charlotte.
But nobody knows how to lose like the 'Cats.
In the tiniest, most insignificant deadline move of the last few seasons, the Bobcats traded Hakim Warrick for Josh McRoberts, effectively saving themselves a few hundred grand.
What they really need are a few hundred lottery picks to straighten this mess out. They'll be gunning for at least one by tanking for the rest of the 2012-13 year.
The Phoenix Suns made a couple of shrewd moves for the future at this year's deadline, bringing in Marcus Morris from the Houston Rockets and getting a pick back from the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Sebastian Telfair.
Morris is young and has a great chance to mature into one of those highly sought-after stretch 4s everyone loves so much, so adding him gives the Suns a potentially valuable piece to build around. Plus, the Suns now have twins on the roster. So that's cool.
And getting a pick back for Telfair is like taking free money, as Kendall Marshall had hopped ahead of Bassy on the depth chart.
The Suns are currently the worst team in the West, and their moves don't figure to make them appreciably better down the stretch. Fortunately, it doesn't seem like they're interested in piling up wins.
Instead, Phoenix looks primed to wisely dial back the intensity in hopes of adding a scoring guard through the lottery in June.
After trading J.J. Redick to the Milwaukee Bucks for spare parts, the Orlando Magic have given away just about every disposable piece they possibly could.
That's a smart strategy for a team seeking cap room and draft picks to rebuild after Dwight Howard's departure last summer.
After they release the recently acquired Warrick, the Magic will save about $4 million off next year's cap. Unfortunately, they're still stuck paying Gilbert Arenas over $22 million in 2013-14. That money won't count against the cap, as Arenas was amnestied, but I just thought that fact was too amazing to leave out.
Orlando is a long way from contention with bad contracts still abound. Al Harrington, Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis combine to make over $33 million next season, and the Magic are stuck with all of them.
All the more reason to throw in the towel and hope the Bobcats win enough games to concede the best chance of winning the top draft pick.
More than any other team, the Magic are clearly without any incentive to win this year.
Initiate "Operation Tank."