2013 NBA Offseason: How Top Tankers Are Positioning Themselves for the Lottery
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The 2013-14 NBA season will be uniquely competitive. There will be the usual playoffs race to win an NBA title as 29 teams will attempt to prevent a three-peat by the Miami Heat. However, several teams will devote next season to plummeting in the standings in order to maximize their chances of winning the Andrew Wiggins Sweepstakes, otherwise known as the 2014 NBA draft lottery.
“Tankapalooza” has several layers. There are teams—the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz—that are not being discreet about their intentions to tank next season.
Matt Moore of CBS Sports wrote that it’s not just the actions of teams that show signs of tanking, but also their inaction:
But it's clear judging from the draft and free agency that nearly half the league has the same thing in mind, to various degrees. For some, it's not about what teams did; it's what they didn't. The Suns and Magic did almost nothing in free agency. They just hung out. That's subtle tanking.
The Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns had lottery picks in the 2013 NBA draft but didn’t land any major free agents. Both teams finished last in their respective divisions last season, and on paper they are on pace to be on the outside looking in on the playoffs next year.
The third category is one with teams who either unsuccessfully tried to improve this offseason or disguised their intentions of tanking by mediocre signings. Whether these teams intend to or not, tanking is definitely an option next season if they get off to a slow start.
The Milwaukee Bucks signed O.J. Mayo, Zaza Pachulia and Carlos Delfino in addition to drafting 18-year-old Greek shooting guard Giannis Antetokounmpo. That's not exactly an inspiring offseason for a franchise that has lost in the first round of the playoffs in nine of its last 10 postseason appearances.
The Charlotte Bobcats, soon to be renamed the Hornets, signed free agent center Al Jefferson, who averaged 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game last season. However, Jefferson has built a reputation for being a defensive liability, which won't help a Charlotte squad that finished 29th in points allowed per game last season.
Here's a segment about Jefferson's defense (or lack thereof) that Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote in an article about the Utah Jazz last year:
I pointed out last month that Utah was having its bigs jump out hard on pick-and-rolls, even though Jefferson especially isn’t very good at that, lacking the foot speed and general awareness to run out beyond the 3-point arc and recover in time.
Here is how the top "tankers" in the NBA have positioned themselves to potentially win next year's draft lottery.
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The Boston Celtics are the ultimate example of a franchise undergoing a rebuilding period.
First, Boston sent its head coach, Doc Rivers, to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for a 2015 first-round pick.
The Celtics then traded Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White to the Brooklyn Nets for Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph and first-round draft picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018. The Celtics will also have the right to swap first-round draft picks with the Nets in 2017.
Boston then replaced Rivers with former Butler University coach Brad Stevens, who signed a six-year, $22 million contract with the Celtics.
Boston now has nine first-round draft picks over the next five years and the Celtics have shown their commitment to Stevens with his six-year contract.
Seven-year veteran point guard Rajon Rondo can either be the centerpiece for Boston’s future or yet another trade asset for next season:
If Rondo, who was involved in a physical altercation with Rivers last season, does not step up and fill the void in the locker room left by Garnett and Pierce, this motley crew of Celtics may be devoid of leadership next year.
A lack of leadership and a first-time head coach would likely lead to an atrocious season, which is just what Boston needs if it wants to tank next year.
Looking at the Celtics roster, a top lottery pick seems in store for Boston.
Boston lost its top two scorers and its sixth-leading scorer from last season. The Celtics now have three centers—Fab Melo, Colton Iverson and Kelly Olynyk—with a combined 36 minutes of NBA regular season experience.
Luckily for the Celtics, they could be bad with or without Rondo on the roster. That will give Boston’s front office even more possibilities to tank in preparation for the 2014 NBA draft.
Rondo is an elite talent, which is why trading him would further set back Boston. However, he could cause internal problems within the organization next year, and he would still provide the Celtics with a trade chip down the road.
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Philadelphia chose not to re-sign Andrew Bynum, Dorell Wright and Nick Young this offseason.
The 76ers then traded their All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday and the 42nd pick in the 2013 NBA draft to New Orleans for the rights to the sixth pick in the draft and a top-five protected first-round draft pick in 2014.
Philly's intentions of tanking could not be more obvious. The 76ers parted ways with two former All-Stars and replaced them with draft picks (Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams).
Noel is recovering from an ACL injury and has a listed weight of roughly 225 pounds. Both issues make the former University of Kentucky center a project, and it is unlikely that he will be an immediate major contributor at the next level.
Carter-Williams shot just 39 percent at Syracuse last season, and he made only 29 percent of his three-point attempts, which means that Philadelphia is prepared for a major drop-off from Holiday.
Philadelphia then traded for Furkan Aldemir and Royce White, two 2012 NBA draft picks who did not play in the NBA last season.
The 76ers haven't hired a coach to replace Doug Collins, which is another question mark for next season. Philadelphia was a 34-win team last season and no matter who the 76ers hire to be the new coach, they'll be even worse next season.
After trading and not re-signing some of their best players, the 76ers will likely end up with two lottery picks next season—their own and the one they acquired from New Orleans.
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Utah failed to re-sign Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Earl Watson and DeMarre Carroll. Jefferson and Millsap were the team's leading scorers and rebounders so parting ways with the big men was a telltale sign that Utah is looking to rebuild.
The Jazz also traded Kevin Murphy and Randy Foye for more than $24 million of the expiring contracts of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush. Utah also acquired two future first-round (2014 and 2017) draft picks, three future second-round (2016, 2017 and 2018) draft picks and cash considerations.
Biedrins, a seven-foot power forward, averaged 0.5 points and 2.9 rebounds per game last season. Jefferson averaged 3.1 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. Rush has averaged nine points per game over the course of his career.
Utah also traded for point guard Trey Burke, center Rudy Gobert and point guard Raul Neto, who were all selected in this year's draft.
The Jazz completely downgraded their roster for the sake of tanking next season. With two first-round draft picks next year and having a lot of cap space next summer once its expiring contracts are up, Utah could have a very successful offseason in 2014.
Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns
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The Magic and Suns drafted second and fifth, respectively, in the 2013 NBA draft. They acquired Victor Oladipo and Alex Len with those picks.
However, since selecting two of the top prospects in this year's draft class, both teams' offseason took a turn for the worse.
The Magic also drafted former Oklahoma forward Romero Osby, but Orlando's biggest free agent signing was Jason Maxiell, an undersized power forward who has averaged six points and four rebounds per game in his career.
Orlando is at a crossroads as it has the remainder of the Magic team that made the 2009 NBA Finals, Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu, as well as a handful of talented young prospects.
The Suns also drafted former University of Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin and former Missouri forward Alex Oriakhi. They have not signed a free agent this offseason.
More than half of the players on the Suns roster are 24 years old or younger so Phoenix is still a work in progress.
Both teams chose inaction in free agency and will likely be among the teams that tank next season.
Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Bobcats
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The Milwaukee Bucks are stuck in no man's land, which is the worst place to be in the NBA. They have won between 26 and 46 games every year since the 2000-01 season.
To be a successful franchise in the NBA, a team needs to consistently win playoff series or tank in order to get a top lottery pick. Simply making the playoffs and getting defeated handily in the first round is not a good short- or long-term plan.
Losing Samuel Dalembert, Mike Dunleavy, Monta Ellis, Drew Gooden and J.J. Redick makes a mediocre team even worse.
Milwaukee's latest signings of Pachulia, Mayo and Delfino don't offset the loss of players. Whether the Bucks like it or not, they're going to be in the running for the top pick in next year's draft.
This offseason, the Charlotte Bobcats re-signed Ben Gordon to a player option, re-signed Josh McRoberts and signed Al Jefferson. The Bobcats lost Reggie Williams and Byron Mullens to free agency, as well as waived forward Tyrus Thomas under the amnesty provision.
Charlotte drafted former Indiana University center Cody Zeller with the fourth overall pick. The Bobcats' new additions to their roster may be a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go to completely change the losing culture that exists in Charlotte. They too could be among the tankers if they are not a viable playoff team next season.