This is not an anti-tanking screed. Fans of most lacking NBA teams would prefer their favorite squads do as much as they can to improve their lottery status, while trying out and seasoning burgeoning young talent along the way. We’re usually not one to fall in lockstep with what the league’s head office dictates, but it’s true that there is a difference between “tanking” and “rebuilding,” and the annoying hand-wringing and kvetching from many a national columnist and too-precious website scribes has truly gotten out of hand.
With that in place, there are a dozen NBA teams that have absolutely no reason to win another game this season, which is a bit of a shame considering that there are over four weeks left before the playoffs start. That’s where we’re at, and here are what these teams have to lose, should they win:
Milwaukee has the worst record in the NBA, working through a miserable season that we’ve sadly had to document several times. The team is in that worst of all spots personnel-wise, fielding a litany of mediocre players either in or past their primes, as the rotation was put together in the hopes that the Bucks could replicate their pointless 2012-13 run to the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed. Barring a historic run of poor play from another team, the Bucks should end up with the worst record in the league, which only gives them a 25 percent chance at the top pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Sweet run, John Hammond.
The Sixers are two games in back of the Bucks for the worst record in the league, if you’re fond of calling such a designation some sort of race, and they remain a columnist’s go-to whipping post when it comes to referencing teams that have given up on 2013-14. Of course, Sixer fans don’t mind this, because the team’s previous front office and coaching administrations gave up on intelligently building a long term winner by securing the rights to solid but limited players in years prior, and with cap space, heaps of draft picks, and four potential high end draft picks in the 2013 and 2014 drafts set to hit the roster in 2014-15, the fact that the 76ers are essentially holding an extended D-League training camp in 2013-14 will be forgotten soon enough.
Magic general manager Rob Hennigan is rightfully credited for “winning” 2012’s Dwight Howard deal, but this truly is slim praise. It’s not to his credit that Kobe Bryant made life miserable for Howard, that Andrew Bynum doesn’t really enjoy basketball in Philadelphia, and that the Golden State Warriors made shrewd win-win deals to acquire cap space for Andre Iguodala. As it stands, Hennigan’s team entered a rebuilding year in 2012-13 without a high end lottery pick, and it had to use the end result of that terrible season on a second overall selection in Victor Oladipo that doesn’t really seem like a star in the making. Rob will have another go in this year’s draft, cap space to work with in the summer, but this really is a slow rebuild. It’s not his fault, Hennigan is paying for the sins of a previous administration that dragged its feet, but the Magic still have a long way to go.
Like the Magic, Boston entered its rebuilding turn without the benefit of a boffo lottery pick, but the team’s upcoming draft lineup is quite enticing. Coach Brad Stevens has done his best to shoo away the tank job doubters, guard Rajon Rondo has let it be known that he wants to stick it out through the rebuilding effort (whether or not this is a good idea, with Rondo in his prime, is up for debate), and the team has heaps of picks to work with in the future. With Brooklyn vaulting ahead of Atlanta in the standings, Boston will take in the Nets’ first rounder alongside its own lottery pick, and it has the right to swap picks with the (presumably declining) Nets in 2017, on top of grabbing Brookyln’s first rounders in 2016 and 2018. They’ll also get the Clippers’ pick next season, alongside all their own first round selections. All while hashing out what has been a pretty competitive rebuilding season in 2013-14.
The Jazz are another go-to sportswriter pick as a team that was built to lose, but the team truly did the right thing in letting both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson go during the 2013 offseason, even if both players are enjoying career years with their new teams. Though both forwards are at their peak at the moment, and Utah’s replacements (in a way, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter) haven’t exactly blossomed into stars, the franchise wasn’t doing itself any favors by retaining the veterans for another go at the bottom of the Western bracket. Entering the salted earth rebuilding fray with a middling first round pick (Trey Burke), the team has sound upcoming cap, draft, and potential coaching prospects as it initiates yet another turnaround.
In spite of going for the gold in 2012-13, in spite of its attempts to remain competitive in 2013-14 and in spite of the ludicrous contract extension it gave Kobe Bryant earlier this season, the Lakers do truly figure to be in good shape as it whiles away the end of this miserable season. Both Bryant and Steve Nash have been declared out for the season, and should the team decide to waive Nash and say goodbye to Pau Gasol, they will have heaps of cap space this summer. The team might not be able to glom onto another maximum-salaried star, which could be a good thing, and between the space and a boffo lottery pick, this might be Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak’s chance to prove us all wrong. Good thing, because they owe both the Suns and Magic first round picks in the years to come.
Frankly, we’re not sure what the hell the Kings are thinking. We could slough this team off as playing with new owner money, but this is still the franchise that let smartly let Tyreke Evans go last summer. Dealing for Rudy Gay and extending DeMarcus Cousins may seem like a desperate grab at a low end playoff berth, but both players have enjoyed the best individual seasons of their careers while working in Sacramento this season, even if the Kings’ particular needle hasn’t shifted much. The Kings are in a weird spot, as they wait out endless arena-building machinations, while wondering if Gay will pick up his player option for 2014-15 – one that will push the team close to the luxury tax. Better make that 2014 draft pick worth its weight.
The Pistons are all full of lame ducks, with general manager Joe Dumars likely to leave this summer after 13 full seasons running the team, and interim head coach John Loyer no certainty to hang around. The experiment that added two shot-happy scorers in Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, two guys that aren’t all that great at making shots, hasn’t worked, and the Pistons will have to lose like hell in order to dip down into top eight in the lottery if it wants to hang onto its first round pick. Otherwise, the selection goes to Charlotte. If Detroit does make it through the lottery without having to give up the pick, Charlotte will grab it unless it’s the first overall selection in 2015, and it becomes unprotected in 2016. All for getting out of the final year of Ben Gordon’s contract, which expires this July. Whoever takes over for Joe D will have a miserable task on their hands.
The Cavaliers made what seemed like sound moves at the time last summer, going after free agents Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack, fully committing to push this young team over the top and into the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The slow, lottery pick-heavy rebuild hasn’t done much for the team’s win/loss record, though, as the Cavs are still 4.5 games out of the last spot in the Eastern bracket with just 15 games left to play, even after dispensing draft picks for win-now types like Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes, players who are both enjoying career years while working on expiring contracts. The Cavs want to end this season on a winning note, in opposition to potentially earning better lottery odds, but a possible season ending injury to Kyrie Irving could change the team’s line of thinking.
It truly has been a right bummer of a season for NOLA, because while we criticized the move to give up two potential lottery picks for Jrue Holiday, and wondered if Tyreke Evans was worth a free agent commitment, this team did have the potential to turn into something interesting, and it’s still tough to click away from the Pelicans on the League Pass dial – witness Sunday’s Anthony Davis highlight reel for proof of as much. The team will probably be giving up a lottery pick to the Philadelphia 76ers in this year’s draft this summer unless the team is quite lucky in the lottery, and vaults up into the top five. The Pelicans will enter 2014-15 nearly at the salary cap level with three players making eight figures and several roster spots to fill. This is not ideal, and the franchise really needs to lose it up in order to keep its pick.
Listen, Ty Lawson is doing his part. He’s missed 17 of his last 19 shots from the floor, spread out over two road games in Miami and Atlanta, and despite the 20 assists he’s dished out over those two contests (a win over the Heat, a loss to Atlanta), Ty has also coughed up eight turnovers over that stretch. He’s trying. The Nuggets? They’re a mess, as has been the case all season, playing without Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson and JaVale McGee, shunning the since-traded Andre Miller and about to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2003. The Orlando Magic are due to take in either Denver or New York’s first round pick in this June’s draft, set to be Denver’s (that is to say, “worse”), and the Nuggets will be allowed New York’s selection. Not a bad hop-up, but certainly not a panacea for a team that doesn’t seem to have an image nor franchise player.
The Knicks have no reason to lose. They don’t have a first round pick in this year’s draft, they probably want to convince Carmelo Anthony to either opt into the last year of his current contract this summer, or sign an extension at age 30, and the team is still hoping to make some hay out of its nearly $90 million (not including luxury taxes) payroll. The squad has actually worked as a top five offense in the weeks since Andrea Bargnani went down with an elbow injury, and it’s going to try its damndest to overcome the 3.5 games that separate them and the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks.
That’s right, NBA. The New York Knicks are your hard-charging, win-coveting ideal.
Get here soon, playoffs.
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