Don't worry. You're not going crazy. Everyone in the NBA is, indeed, tanking.
Or, at least, it seems that way, doesn't it?
If you're not the Miami Heat, the San Antonio Spurs, or any of the other eight-to-10 teams with legitimate aspirations ranging from "deep playoff run" to "bringing home the Larry O'Brien Trophy," you're probably scheming for new ways to strip down the roster, lose games, and pray for a lucky bounce of the ping pong balls at the 2014 NBA Draft lottery.
Rightfully so. Next year's incoming class could feature as many as eight All-Star-caliber prospects, including the last two winners of the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award: Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
And that's not including the usual crop of collegians who come out of nowhere to rise up draft boards like they've spent the winter inhaling helium.
In other words, the 2014 draft should be loaded—perhaps even more so than the vaunted one that ushered LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony into the league. As such, it would behoove any team that isn't either contending for the title or on its way to doing so to, well, tank the 2013-14 season.
These 10 teams—some of which appear to be actively "tanking," the rest of which could soon be headed down that road—already have a head start.
Chances of Ending Up With the Worst Record in the NBA: 0.3 Percent
At present, the Toronto Raptors are far closer to the playoffs than they are to full-on tanking territory. Their roster is an expensive one, with more than $70 million in projected salary commitments for 2013-14, per Hoopsworld.
It's not as though the Raptors will be paying for pure fluff, either. Rudy Gay should be even better after undergoing corrective surgery on his eyes, DeMar DeRozan is in Las Vegas practicing with Team USA, and Jonas Valanciunas just left Sin City looking like the best player in the Summer League by a comfortable margin.
And we haven't even touched on the promise and athletic prowess provided by Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson, and Terrence Ross.
But things could change quickly in T-Dot, given the injury histories of its principal players over the last three seasons.
|Games Missed Since 2010-11|
Any number of those could trigger a collapse, especially with head coach Dwane Casey working on an expiring contract. If the situation sours, look for new GM Masai Ujiri to seize the opportunity to offload some of Toronto's more onerous contracts, just as he did in sending Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks.
Because, really, the Raps would be foolish to not throw their hat into the ring for Andrew Wiggins, a Toronto native, if the playoffs become a pipe dream.
Chances of Ending Up With the Worst Record in the NBA: 0.7 Percent
The Milwaukee Bucks aren't trying to tank, though the absence of intentionality might not be enough to keep them from racking up ping pong balls.
Their backcourt is shaping up to be painfully thin, with a pair of gunners, in O.J. Mayo and Brandon Jennings, taking the starting reins ahead of Luke Ridnour. Mayo, at least, is a better shooter with some upside where Monta Ellis, the player he's essentially replacing, was a finished product with a wayward jumper.
|2012-13 FG%||2012-13 3P%||2012-13 FT%|
As for the front court, the Bucks are loaded with bigs who, while solid in some respects, all grade out as middling role players on their own merits. Larry Sanders is the only one with any realistic star potential, and even he is short an offensive game of any repute.
New head coach Larry Drew won't have stars like Al Horford and Josh Smith to lean on as he did in Atlanta. Instead, bona fide mediocrity looks to be the order of the day, thanks to what figure to be prominent roles for Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia, and John Henson.
Chances are, the Bucks, at owner and former Senator Herb Kohl's directive, won't shift into Tank Mode even if the situation takes a turn for the worse. Then again, there may be no need for a shift at all if the team ends up as bad in reality as it looks to be on paper.
Chances of Ending Up With the Worst Record in the NBA: One Percent
Tanking isn't something the Los Angeles Lakers have ever really attempted from the start of a season, nor is it something that Kobe Bryant will allow if he can help it.
But he might not be able to. Bryant could be sidelined until December or January while he rehabs from a torn Achilles tendon, and figures to need significant time thereafter to regain whatever semblance of his old self on the court that he can.
If Kobe isn't close to the player he was pre-injury and Pau Gasol and Steve Nash succumb to their own—a distinct possibility after the injury-plagued season each endured in 2012-13—then the Lakers will be well on their way to Tankonia.
Unless, of course, LA's summer signings (i.e. Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Chris Kaman, and Wesley Johnson) swoop in to save the day. The chances of that happening, though, rest somewhere between slim and none.
Which, conversely, would improve the Lakers' odds of landing a primo pick in a loaded 2014 draft.
Chances of Ending Up With the Worst Record in the NBA: Three Percent
The goal for the Sacramento Kings in 2013-14 isn't so much to lose as it is to build a culture that, in time, will breed success. The organization fell into depressing disrepair during the last half-decade or so under the ownership of the Maloofs, to the point where squandering talent practically became the Kings' modus operandi.
Ridding the franchise of the residual rot will take time, as will determining how to best to handle DeMarcus Cousins. The moody big man is up for an extension now and will be a restricted free agent next summer if he doesn't garner one before Halloween. New Kings GM Pete D'Alessandro has already begun to surround Boogie with better locker room influences, including Carl Landry and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
DeMarcus Cousins' Infractions
|Personal Fouls per 36 Minutes||5.2||4.7||4.2|
|Total Technical Fouls||14||12||17|
|Total Flagrant Fouls||0||2||3|
But that won't be enough to save Sacramento on the defensive end unless Cousins steps up his effort in that regard. And Ben McLemore, promising a draft pick as he may be, won't mature overnight into a star who can properly harness his tremendous talent at the pro level.
Truth be told, the Kings could be surprisingly competitive right away if Cousins keeps his head screwed on straight while taking the next step. Such a leap will also be helped along if Greivis Vasquez proves to be the pass-first point guard this team of gunners and offensive black holes has desperately needed for so long. Ownership, for its part, probably wouldn't mind rewarding Sacramento's efforts to keep the Kings in town with a more successful season of basketball.
But, in a loaded Western Conference and with the roster still in flux under rookie head coach Mike Malone, the playoffs probably won't be an option for the Kings. Instead, expect the sorting-out process take its toll on Sacramento's win total—and to put a future superstar within reach.
Chances of Ending Up With the Worst Record in the NBA: Four Percent
The Charlotte Bobcats won't be quite as bad in 2013-14 as they've been over the past two years, thanks to the expensive addition of Al Jefferson, but they still won't be very good.
If anything, signing Big Al allows the 'Cats to have their cake and eat it, too. That is, he gives Charlotte a go-to guy around whom the team can organize a semi-competent offense (and present to prospective ticket buyers as proof of its efforts to build a winner) while taking away enough on the defensive end to ensure that the soon-to-be-Hornets don't win more than, say, 30 games in 2013-14.
Charlotte Bobcats' Franchise Results Since Their Inception
Meanwhile, youngsters like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, Jeffery Taylor, and rookie Cody Zeller can take their sweet time developing into quality rotation players under the guidance of head coach Steve Clifford.
And if/when the franchise savior finally arrives by way of the draft and grows into a cornerstone, Charlotte might finally have itself a club that can compete over the long haul.
Until then, the return of the Teal and Purple is about all fans in the Queen City can look forward to from Michael Jordan's organization.
Chances of Ending Up With the Worst Record in the NBA: Six Percent
Do the Orlando Magic really think Victor Oladipo is fit to play the point? Or do they plan to position him there as a sneaky means of subjugating their season?
The answer could be a little of both. Either way, the kid clearly could use some polish if he's going to fill in as a floor general in any capacity. He averaged nearly as many turnovers (4.8) as assists (5.0) in the Orlando Summer League.
Then again, the Magic's chances of landing the No. 1 pick in next year's draft can only improve if Jameer Nelson gets hurt and 'Dipo proceeds to stink it up with the ball in his hands.
And, realistically, this coming year was always going to be one of talent evaluation and shuffling the deck in GM Rob Hennigan's rebuilding plan anyway. Jacque Vaughn will have plenty of that on his plate, with the likes of Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O'Quinn, and Doron Lamb all competing for playing time.
Orlando Magic Players Given Up and Acquired Since Last Summer (via Trade)
|Dwight Howard||Arron Afflalo|
|JJ Redick||Al Harrington|
|Earl Clark||Maurice Harkless|
|Chris Duhon||Tobias Harris|
|Jason Richardson||Doron Lamb|
|Ryan Anderson||Nikola Vucevic|
|Gustavo Ayon||Gustavo Ayon|
|Josh McRoberts||Josh McRoberts|
|Ishmael Smith||Hakim Warrick|
For now, the Magic will have to wait and see which members of the team's current crop rise to the top and which others fall to the bottom, while seeking out suitors for the veterans (i.e. Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis) and keeping their fingers crossed that futility ultimately works in their favor.
Chances of Ending Up With the Worst Record in the NBA: 10 Percent
The Utah Jazz have worked as hard as any team to tank their way to a top-notch draft pick in 2014. They let Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson walk and took on the expiring contracts of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, and Brandon Rush from the Golden State Warriors as a means of both getting to the "salary floor" and adding future draft picks.
This isn't to suggest, though, that there won't be reason for folks in Salt Lake City to watch the Jazz play. The upcoming season will be built around the development of Utah's young core, with Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors up front, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks on the wings, and rookie Trey Burke at the point.
Experience Among Utah Jazz's Projected Starting 5
|Years of NBA Experience|
It wouldn't shock anyone, then, if Burke's learning curve proves to be a steep one, and if that, in turn, feeds into the failure forecast for the organization by GM Dennis Lindsey.
Chances of Ending Up With the Worst Record in the NBA: 15 Percent
New coach. New management. New youngsters on the roster.
Smells like a full-scale rebuild for the Phoenix Suns.
Even more so with the new coach, Jeff Hornacek, already talking about starting two combo guards in the backcourt. Such is the expectation for any rookie coach heading into a situation in which the front office has to figure out who stays and who goes as part of a long-term plan to craft a winner.
The pairing of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe should lend plenty of intrigue to the Suns' season, as should the development of rookie Alex Len once he returns from a foot injury. Other than that, though, 2013-14 will be all about waiting for contracts to expire (Marcin Gortat, Caron Butler, Michael Beasley) and wondering what, if anything, will become of recent draftees like Kendall Marshall and the Morris twins.
Which is just fine, what with a potential superstar possibly within reach come June of 2014.
Chances of Ending Up With the Worst Record in the NBA: 25 Percent
Goodbye, Doc Rivers/Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Jason Terry! Helloooo, Brad Stevens/Kris Humphries/MarShon Brooks/Gerald Wallace/Keith Bogans/Kris Joseph!
If that doesn't qualify as tanking, I don't know what does. And no, Danny Ainge, I don't believe for one second that your Boston Celtics aren't already trying to submarine the 2013-14 season in search of a new superstar. Call it what you want, but if it looks like a tank job and it smells like a tank job, then...well, you get the idea.
At this point, that's just fine, unless you're concerned about historical precedents. The C's tried the whole tanking thing in 1997 (for Tim Duncan) and in 2007 (for Greg Oden and Kevin Durant), only to see the ping pong balls bounce another way.
|Record||Chances of Landing No. 1 Pick||Actual Pick(s) Acquired|
|1996-97||15-67||36.31% (also owned DAL's pick)||3rd and 6th|
Not that things didn't work out in the end. Boston picked up Paul Pierce in 1998 and used the 2007 draft to engineer trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
But those guys are all gone now, and Rajon Rondo may be out the door soon, too. That all depends on when he returns, how effective he is when he does, and what sorts of offers the C's can garner for him.
In the meantime, expect Boston's offense to be as stodgy as ever as Brad Stevens gets a feel for the NBA game, with young players like Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo, MarShon Brooks, and Kelly Olynyk getting extra long looks within the organization.
Chances of Ending Up With the Worst Record in the NBA: 35 Percent
It's not every day that a team gives up a 23-year-old All-Star for a future draft pick and a rookie with a bum knee. But that's exactly what the Philadelphia 76ers did when they sent Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Nerlens Noel's draft rights and a top-five-protected pick in 2014.
Believe it or not, the Sixers and new GM Sam Hinkie look smart at the moment for doing just that. They knew that the team's ceiling with Holiday as the centerpiece would never exceed, say, the sixth seed in the East, with a floor no worse than 10th or 11th.
Philadelphia 76ers' Results Since Drafting Jrue Holiday
|Record||Place in East||Playoffs?|
|2010-11||41-41||7th||Lost to MIA in 1st Round|
|2011-12||35-31||8th||Lost to BOS in 2nd Round|
Which would've kept Philly in the dreaded "No Man's Land" between bona fide contender and embarrassing bottom feeder for the foreseeable future. That's no way to compete for a championship in today's NBA, and never really has been.
Whether the Sixers look just as smart in the future depends largely on how the team fares in its pursuit of young talent over the next few years. They're already set up to "compete" for the worst record in the NBA in 2013-14 and could dip even lower depending on what Hinkie and company decide to do with Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner.
And who the Sixers eventually tap as their next head coach, now that Michael Curry and Brett Brown have emerged as the frontrunners, per ESPN's Marc Stein.
In any case, the Sixers are screwed for 2013-14, which is exactly how Hinkie wants them to be.