With one of the most promising groups of college basketball players in recent memory preparing to enter the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft, general managers, owners, and fans around the league are already licking their lips with excitement.
With sky-high potential talents like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Marcus Smart headlining the possible lottery picks, NBA teams will do just about anything for an opportunity at securing the next Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James — even tank the season away.
Now tanking is a generally frowned upon concept among the league, and justifiably so. The process is simple; a team will purposely lose games so that it can have a higher chance at landing a lottery pick and capture one of the best players in the upcoming draft.
Tanking is a tactic many believe the San Antonio Spurs used in the 1996-97 season to secure Tim Duncan in the draft. If the Spurs are indeed guilty of purposely losing games to get a high pick, the move sure paid off, as Duncan was able to bring four NBA championships to San Antonio.
While many teams can shamelessly lose game after game purposely without batting an eye, other teams try and uphold some sort of reputation, and by setting their roster and coaches up to fail, can lose games while still making an effort to win. In order to avoid the majority of criticism for tanking to get a high draft pick, teams must be subtle about the way they go about it.
There are several teams this NBA season that are currently in the process of tanking, whether they know it or not. As the anticipation of the NBA Draft draws nearer, and the season starts to come to a close, teams will get more and more desperate.
With that being said, here are the top teams that are either intentionally or unintentionally tanking, and how they are going about it.
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As if this year was a never-ending hunt, the Milwaukee Bucks are an easy team to target, as they continue to do what they do best: lose. They have a 13-52 record that is the lowest record in the NBA, and exactly where they want to be when it comes to tanking.
It's not that the Bucks decided from Day One that they were going to toss the season away, but that a couple of injuries forced them into the tanking direction. Promising center Larry Sanders has had multiple injuries, and isn't expected to return until late in the season, if at all. Carlos Delfino is another promising player who has missed much of the season due to a foot injury.
The injuries, combined with promising talents in Brandon Knight, OJ Mayo, and Ersan Ilyasova, have the Bucks feeling as though they are one great player away from a playoff contending team. They could be right.
While the Bucks slither along the bottom of the league, it is the Philadelphia 76ers who clearly have the worst record in sight. Early on, it seemed that they would have a decent team. Rookie of the Year award favorite Michael Carter-Williams has proven to be a great point guard. The Sixers also have two players averaging more 16 points a game in Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young, with Spencer Hawes, who nearly averages a double-double, contributing to their team's success as well. Success? The Sixers couldn't have that now, could they?
Before the trade deadline, the Sixers traded away Hawes and Evan Turner, cutting down both the talent and the moral of the team. The 76ers have now lost 18 (yes, 18) games in a row, and are closing in on the Bucks for the worst record in the league. Just a few more consecutive losses and they should have it.
When considering the Sixers' roster, it is easy to see why tanking is so attractive to them. They have lost promising rookie Nerlens Noel all year to an injury, and also have Brandon Davies and Jason Richardson also suffering from injuries. They still have Young and Carter-Williams, as well as solid guards in Eric Maynor and Tony Wroten.
When considering the possibility of adding a player like Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins to that roster, the Sixers could go from zero to hero, and would suddenly become a young, dangerous playoff threat in the East.
The Orlando Magic have struggled to fill the gaping hole Dwight Howard left, and since then, have never quite recovered. In last year's draft, they picked up a promising young guard in Victor Oladipo, but nobody expected him to turn the franchise around, and he hasn't. They have a solid center in Nikola Vucevic, and a decent scorer in Aaron Afflalo, but besides those two, they don't have any other attractive names on their roster.
They are over-paying Jameer Nelson a team-high 8.6 million dollars this year, and can't seem to shake themselves out of the negative atmosphere that seems to hover around Orlando. With a 19-47 record, the Magic are the third-worst team in the NBA. A lottery pick could be just the spark they need.
The Magic will need much more than a lottery-pick player to turn them into a contender, but they have to start somewhere.
The Boston Celtics is one of the most successful franchises in sports history. With a league-high 17 NBA championships, the legacy in Boston is truly something special.
In the offseason, the Celtics traded away superstars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets. With Ray Allen having signed with the Miami Heat the year before, the Celtics no longer had any members of their "Big 3" which had won the NBA championship in 2008.
Their all-star point guard Rajon Rondo missed most of the season with an injury, causing the Celtics to do their best to win games without him. They struggled without Rondo, and an injury to lockdown defender Avery Bradley hurt as well.
Although Rondo has since returned, the Celtics have a 22-43 record, tied for the fifth-worst record in the league. The Celtics don't seem to be tanking, but lack of talent and morale seem to have taken their toll. A good draft pick would be a great place to start rebuilding in Boston, and as bad as the Celtics are, they might as well shoot for it.
The Los Angeles Lakers are another storied franchise in the NBA, and their 16 NBA championships are second only to the rival Celtics.
Throughout recent memory, the Lakers haven't built their teams much through the draft, but through offseason signings as well as trades. Because of the attractiveness of the city of Los Angeles, and the money the Lakers have, players like Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and Pau Gasol have helped the Lakers be very successful over the years.
But with injuries to Bryant and Steve Nash, the Lakers started their season with a collection of unfamiliar faces led by Gasol. The injury bug didn't stop with Bryant and Nash, but went on to terrorize the team. The Lakers have suffered a combined 18 different injuries this season, by far the most-injured team in the league. At times, the Lakers were only able to suit up seven active players for a game, making it very difficult when players fouled out.
Although the Lakers will certainly look to improve by signing players in the offseason, it became clear this past week that they are certainly content with tanking for a lottery pick as well. Although both Bryant and Nash could have play before the season ends, the Lakers decided to shut both of them down for the season, and concentrate on next season.
This news was pleasing to many Lakers fans. They were a bit nervous that Bryant's return could single-handedly cause the Lakers to win too many games and eliminate them from the tanking sweepstakes.
Los Angeles is tied with Boston and Utah for the fourth-worst record in the NBA.
With Bryant and Nash returning next season, and the Lakers ability to attract free agents, a lottery pick could be just what the Lakers need to contend for another title.
The Utah Jazz have been perhaps the most intriguing team in the tanking sweepstakes. They haven't been definitive with any of their decisions.
On the surface, the Jazz can dodge any accusation of tanking the season because of the many different ways they have been able to stay unsuccessful. They have been smart, and it may pay off for them.
The Jazz have a young squad that is loaded with players that are dripping with potential, and with a solid player development crew, could be scary in the future.
Point guard Trey Burke has shown flashes of brilliance, Alec Burks has played like an all-star at times and the big combo of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter have shown major improvements in their post games.
With this young team, the Jazz have been able to beat some of the best teams in the league on any given night, as well as lose to some of the worst teams on any given night. This form of inconsistency has given the Jazz an unpredictable reputation, one that is very beneficial when it comes to tanking.
The erratic identity, combined with coach Tyrone Corbin's constant lineup adjustments and substitution decisions, have put the Jazz in a perfect place where they are well immersed in the tanking sweepstakes, but aren't being criticized for not trying.
The Jazz are tied with the Lakers for the worst record in the Western Conference. The two teams will meet in the second to last game of the season, a matchup that could be the deciding factor in who gets a higher lottery pick. The Jazz and Lakers are certainly familiar with each other. They have met multiple times in the playoffs, but as they are both shooting for a better chance at a lottery pick this year, the competition has certainly reached unfamiliar ground.
With Gordon Hayward wanting a bigger contract than the Jazz would prefer to give this coming offseason, a player like Parker or Wiggins could give the Jazz better production for a cheaper price. This would also give the Jazz an opportunity to go after another player in the offseason that could provide them with more instant leadership and immediate stability.
A lottery pick could propel the Jazz to the playoff-contending franchise that they have been for the better part of 20 years.
The Sacramento Kings have done everything they can to improve over the years, but it just doesn’t seem to make a difference. Even with this year’s addition of Rudy Gay, the Kings still haven’t been able to make enough difference to be a playoff-contending team.
It’s not that their roster is terrible either. They have one of the best centers in the league in DeMarcus Cousins, Gay, a great scoring point guard in Isaiah Thomas and a great bench scorer in Jason Terry.
The talent is there in Sacramento, but it just doesn’t seem like the Kings can ever do anything with it. It is very similar to the situation the Detroit Lions have in the NFL. The team is loaded with talent, but for some reason, it underachieves.
The additions of Gay and Terry made one thing clear: The Kings haven’t been tanking. On the contrary, they have actually made an effort to improve immediately. They are just terrible.
The thought of tanking is sure to have crossed their minds, and at this point, why not? With no chance of making the playoffs, and everything to gain by losing, why not shoot for a lottery pick? Don’t be surprised when they do.
Since the infamous departure of LeBron James from Cleveland, the Cavs have never been the same. In fact, the city as a whole has never been the same. The sorry state of sports in Cleveland seems to be so contagious that it affects literally every team there.
The Cavaliers sure have had some big opportunities as well. They currently have a roster that is loaded with lottery picks, and the team Cleveland has is one of the most talented in the NBA.
They have a superstar in Kyrie Irving, great centers in Spencer Hawes, Tyler Zeller and Anderson Varejao, a great two-way player in Luol Deng, and a phenomenal collection of role players in Jarrett Jack, Anthony Bennett, CJ Miles and Dion Waiters.
With how impressive Cleveland’s roster is, and how pathetic the Eastern Conference has been this year, the Cavs should easily be in the playoffs. But for whatever reason, they have a shocking 25-40 record. While the playoffs are still within reach, making them might not even be worth it.
Whatever the case is in the city of Cleveland, it is a disappointing one. Depending on what the Cavs do from now until the draft, they could either sneak into the playoffs, or yet again end up with a lottery pick, and sadly enough, it probably wouldn’t make any difference.
The Detroit Pistons are in no man’s land, and if they don’t make a decision as to how they want to play out the remainder of the season soon, then they will surely stay there.
Like the Cavs, the Pistons have a record of 25-40, a record that puts them in the hunt for the playoffs, but also in the hunt for the tanking sweepstakes. They can make a late-season push and end up in the playoffs, or toss their season aside, and hope for a lottery pick.
For many teams, making the playoffs is all that matters, but Detroit doesn’t seem like the type of franchise that thinks that way. The Pistons have been competitive in the East since they were facing Michael Jordan year after year in the late '80s and early '90s. Just making the playoffs probably won’t cut it for Detroit, it needs to be able to contend.
In order to contend, a lottery pick may be just what they need. They have a decent roster with a trio of solid guards in Brandon Jennings, Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey, but they also have great post presence with Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith.
In reality, the Pistons have a really solid roster. The type of player they need is a star that can play guard or forward and can play solid both ways. A player like Parker or Smart would give them the edge they need to become a very dangerous team, and perhaps even a title contender. It would take a couple of years to develop, but the end product could be lethal.
The New York Knicks have been a mess this season. They have gone from having the second-best record in the Eastern Conference last season, to having a 26-40 record, 3 1/2 games out of the playoffs.
The shambles the Knicks have been for the past 20-30 years has been just sad. It has caused grief among fans and disappointment amongst anyone involved with the franchise. Despite Carmelo Anthony’s best efforts, New York just can’t get into a groove.
The Knicks have announced this past week that legendary coach Phil Jackson is likely to take a job with the Knicks as head of basketball operations. This certainly seems to be steps in the right direction, but it might be a bit too late for this season.
With Jackson involved in the franchise, the Knicks very well could make the playoffs. But it isn’t likely that they would be any serious threat to the Eastern Conference contenders, and would likely get bounced out first round. With an ending like that, it would be very likely that Anthony would leave New York for greener pastures.
If the Knicks were to completely give up, get Anthony to buy into tanking, and then possibly trade up in the draft, then the Knicks could get a player that puts them in a great position to succeed. Combine that with the fact that Jackson would be making the decisions involving players, and who knows? The Knicks could contend for a title in the near future.
With the light at the end of the tunnel marking the end of the NBA season rapidly approaching, be prepared to see teams take more drastic measures to be in a good position to capture a lottery pick.
Drafts loaded with this kind of talent are few and far between, and the bottom feeders of the NBA are well aware that his could end up being their last chance to secure a player that could go down in history as one of the all-time greats. The instant benefits that come with a great prospect are clear, so don't be surprised when these franchises aren't shy about their intentions in the coming weeks.
Let the tanking commence.