Alleged tankers are now being touted.
Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey and Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek have earned a coveted monthly honor:
The NBA sure got it right this month; both Casey and Hornecek earned this.
Hornacek coached the Sun to a 10-3 record in December, during which time they took down Western Conference powerhouses like the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers. They've also planted themselves firmly in the playoff conversation.
Phoenix has the West's fifth-highest winning percentage and is one game behind the Clippers for the Pacific Division lead, which is nothing short of incredible.
"Relative to the expectations coming into the season, I’d say it’s hard to say anybody has done a better job than Jeff has," Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said in December, per AZCentral.com's Paul Coro.
No arguments here.
The Suns were considered obvious tankers leading into this season. Having dealt away Luis Scola and Jared Dudley, and eventually Caron Butler, they weren't going to compete in a Western Conference alive with contenders.
But Hornacek has guided the Suns elsewhere. Led by Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, they're easily this season's most pleasant surprise—though Toronto isn't far behind them.
ESPN's Marc Stein wrote in November that general manager Masai Ujiri was open to trading anyone on the roster. Staying true to that mindset, the Raptors unloaded Rudy Gay in a deal with the Sacramento Kings.
Additional moves didn't seem far behind. Toronto wasn't built to contend, so the prospect of tanking was appealing.
Which alleged tanker will make the playoffs this season?
Casey and his players had other plans, though.
The Raptors are 9-3 since trading Gay, and they posted an 8-6 record in December, enabling them to grab a 2.5-game lead in the dismal Atlantic Division.
Suddenly, they've gone from attempted tankers to legitimate playoff threats, starting off the New Year right by snapping the Indiana Pacers' five-game winning streak.
"I think the guys in this locker room believe," Kyle Lowry said of his team, per TSN's Josh Lewenberg. "We believe in each other, we believe in what we're trying to do."
Seems like they believe in Casey too, just like the Suns do Hornacek.