Tanking: A Praiseworthy Strategy in the NBA

I’d like to tip this off with a story.

Caron Butler was addicted to Mountain Dew, and drank at least a 6-pack every waking day. Sometimes he would wake up in the middle of the night, pop a top, down a Dew and go back to sleep. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I generally just pee or drink a glass of water – the absolute last thing anyone wants or needs is to down a can of carbonated sugar-water. Anyways, he claimed that it was an addiction that he could not control.

However, one day, Caron mustered up the strength to go cold turkey on “Doing the Dew.” Predictably, he lost 11 pounds, and drastically improved his overall health and conditioning. Despite his love for the chemical-infused, artificial beverage with a disconcerting amount of Yellow 5 (the rumors about Yellow 5 were actually mythical), he knew that giving it up would benefit his future.

Where is this going? Well, some NBA GMs have a similarly unhealthy addiction – the addiction to mediocrity. If a franchise continually makes the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed, the GM may keep his job; however, that shouldn’t be the overall objective. Bryan Colangelo arguably set the Raptors franchise back another 5 years by trading for Rudy Gay. The trade made them better – no doubt – but no better than a 7 or 8 seed, and certainly not a legitimate contender. Luckily for Raptors fans – all 13 of them – the board realized this, and fired him soon after.

In reality,  a GM should want to be known for architecting the perfect roster that contends for a title year after year. When the stars age, the youth takes over. When the team needs a big man coming off the bench to help them in the playoffs, he orchestrates the perfect trade at the deadline. He passes on Michael Beasley to take Derrick Rose. These are examples of what an NBA GM should strive for – because in the NBA, mediocrity is actually rock bottom.

As the upcoming NBA Draft is so rich with talent, the 2013-14 season is a great one to be really bad, but a horrible one to be average. Ultimately, the only way to transcend continual mediocrity as an NBA franchise is to exercise some patience, bottom out, and find a franchise-changing talent through the draft.

NBADraft.net Top-7 prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft:

1. Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), 2. Jabari Parker (Duke), 3. Marcus Smart (Okla St), 4. Julius Randle (Kentucky), 5. Wayne Selden (Kansas), 6. Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky), 7. Joel Embid (Kansas)

There are five Tankers that are sacrificing success over the next 82 games for one of these franchise-saving, ticket selling phenomenons. They choose to sacrifice because they see the bigger picture – to prove that there is a method to the Tanking Madness. But as some teams are better Tankers than others, I decided to rank the Top-5 Tankers of 2013-14.

5th Best Tanker – Milwaukee Bucks – Projected Record: 26-56

NCAA BASKETBALL: FEB 20 North Carolina at Boston College

Milwaukee is never going to land a big-time free-agent because Milwaukee looks like this, and not like this, or like this. Realistically, tanking the 2013-14 season is the only option left for this limbo-ridden franchise.

Allowing Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick to skip town, signing O.J. Mayo, and then executing The ‘Brandon Swap,’ trading Jennings for Knight, puts the Bucks in the running for a top lottery pick next summer with the opportunity for bright future soon thereafter.

All this said, the Bucks have some nice parts to their unfinished puzzle.

John Henson played his painfully thin body off in the Summer League, averaging 14.7 points and 13.7 rebounds per game, O.J. Mayo has the tools to be a dynamic 20 point scorer, Brandon Knight will have a chance to grow as an NBA point guard, and Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders will both be double-double threats every night.

Jesus, this team isn’t too bad… Well, except when you consider that the Eastern Conference will most-likely have 5, 50-win teams for the first time in this millennium. I also think there’s no doubt that this team finishes behind the Celtics and Bobcats unlike ESPN’s Predictions.

I almost forgot – they also signed the ‘Pizza Guy,’ Zaza Pachulia. I know, I know. Bad Joke.

4th Best Tanker – Utah Jazz – Projected Record: 22-60

Trey Burke

When I think about this Jazz team I can think of only questions. Unfortunately, I have no answers. Here are my questions:

Will Trey Burke struggle like he did in the Orlando Summer League (likely), or will he contend for Rookie of the Year (less likely)?

Will either former number 3 overall pick, Enes Kanter (2010) and Derrick Favors (2011), ever improve and live up to his potential?

What happened to Andris Biedrins after the 08-09 season when he averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds per game?

How pumped was Burke when Raul Neto announced that he’d be playing in Spain again – so he didn’t have to worry about possibly being the second-best rookie point guard on his own team?

Can Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks generate enough offense to be considered an adequate NBA scoring tandem?

Is there such thing as fun nightlife in Salt Lake City?

SOMEBODY GIVE ME ANSWERS! In all seriousness, the Jazz could be slightly better than a 22-win team, but I doubt they make it to 30.

3rd Best Tanker – Phoenix Suns – Projected Record: 20-62

8513_Gortat

The Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat, recently returned to the US from his native, Poland, to find out what’s actually wrong with his foot because apparently Poland doesn’t have adequate doctors. As he’s been trade-bait for a while now, I’m guessing that many NBA teams are taking an interest in Gortat’s foot.

For the Suns, getting rid of Gortat for a few draft picks or young players would help them bottom out. It’ll also allow for the young nucleus of the Morris Twins and Alex Len to develop to eventually take over the paint in Phoenix.

(Phoenix also just traded Luis Scola to get Plumlee, Gerald Green and Indiana’s first rounder.)

Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic will be a cute little backcourt – as in really small – and depending on the play of Archie Goodwin, the Suns may ship Dragic out-of-town as well. The youth movement in Phoenix is officially a work in-progress!

2nd Best Tanker – Orlando Magic – Projected Record: 18-64

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No need to smile, Glen, you’re going to lose a lot of games this season.

Overall, this roster is just weird. It’s heavy with tweeners, light on players that can create offense, short in height… and in talent. With Glen DavisArron Afflalo and Tobias Harris taking 15 shots per game, I just don’t see the Magic getting to 20 wins this season – there are about 28 better ‘big-threes’ in the NBA…

That being said, I recently watched some Tobias Harris single-game highlights and noticed 2 things: first, Marquis Daniels didn’t box him out once which definitely inflated his 30 and 19, and second, Harris has improved a lot. He should put up some decent numbers this season – I’d say 15 and 7 is a good guess for where he’ll be.

Regardless of any positive comments I’ve made about Orlando, the Magic will be crossing their fingers on lottery night in 2014, with good odds in the Wiggins Sweepstakes.

Also notable – Victor Oladipo is 9/2 to win ROTY which might be the only thing besides the lottery that the Magic will win this year. ZING.

Best Tanker – Philadelphia 76ers – Projected Record: 14-68

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DING! DING! DING! We have a winner! Hats off to the 76ers!

Here’s how they did it:

They let Andrew Bynum and his bad knees/contract go to Cleveland, traded Jrue Holiday for the (at one point) consensus number 1 pick, Nerlens Noel, and the Pelican’s 2014 1st round pick, they decreased their payroll by a lot, and are now toying with the idea of sitting Noel for a majority of the season.

Brilliant on all accounts – the Sixers have perfected the art of tanking!

Additionally, the future looks bright for the 76ers. Michael Carter-Williams won’t have much competition at PG, and should naturally progress throughout the season. Evan Turner will get a lot of shots as he looks to take his game to the next level. And who knows? Royce White may surprise the world, and actually play an NBA game this season. I can’t wait to hear his first interview as an actual NBA player with anxiety disorder – his interview/article with Chuck Klosterman was absolute dynamite.

All in all, the Sixers should end up with a lot of the ping-pong balls on lottery night.

Here’s a tank.

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Las Vegas NBA Summer League: Days 9-10

Morris Twins

Markieff and Marcus Morris

 

The 2013 Las Vegas Summer League ends today, and oh, what a ride it’s been! I’ve been frustrated at times, like when I watched the Pseudo Miami Heat turn the ball over 60 times in their first two games, or when I watched Tony Wroten average 12.2 points per game on 25% from the field (the lowest percentage of the top-50 LVSL scorers by 5.5%). Despite the many turnovers and bad shots, I’ve been pleasantly entertained by the NBA Summer League product.

As the majority of the Summer Leaguers won’t make NBA rosters, they will soon face the decision of trying to latch onto a D-League team and grinding it out, or playing overseas. It’s an interesting decision, both financially and personally. In the D-League, players get direct exposure to NBA executives, but get paid like burger-flippers  – $19,000/$13,000/$25,000 are the three salary brackets. Overseas, these same D-League caliber players are paid significantly more – $65,000 is about an average salary. In a market where average ex-NBA players like Nenad Kristic get paid millions, I’d choose the overseas route.

For most of these players the decision is less about chasing a bigger paycheck in a foreign country – where they will likely experience an extreme level of culture shock – and more about their lifelong dream of grinding it out to make it to ‘The League.’ Here’s a decent article that breaks down the financial logic behind the decision behind going overseas or grinding it out in the D-League. However, I’d like to revisit this topic later in greater detail.

Back to the Summer League…

Quincy Acy

Quincy Acy

 

On Saturday… Despite 28-point outbursts by both Dwight Buycks and Quincy Acy, the Raptors lost to the Suns 103-98 in Saturday’s first quarter-final matchup. The undersized forward, Acy, even showed his new outside shooting touch, going 2-4 from behind the arc. I didn’t know he had that in his game, but the guy whose beard might be better than James Harden’s or Reggie Evans’s, was a force inside and out for the Raptors. For the Suns, Archie Goodwin and Marcus Morris stood out by scoring 20 and 23, respectively, in the victory. Kent Bazemore had the only other notable performance on Saturday, scoring 26 points, but had 7 turnovers in the Warriors’ 83-77 quarter-final victory over the Lakers.

On Sunday… the semi-finals: Heat v. Suns & Bobcats v. Warriors.

Suns 91 Heat 89

Marcus Morris

Marcus Morris

 

In the first game of the day, P.J. Tucker led the Suns with 19 points, and Marcus Morris chipped in with 17 points on 6-9 from the field as the Suns came away with the 91-89 victory to advance to the finals. Phoenix fended off a 20-point efforts from Heat roster hopeful, James Ennis (25 pts), and from D-Leaguer, James Nunnally (24 pts).

Warriors 75 Bobcats 67

Draymond Green

Draymond Green

 

In the penultimate game of the Vegas SL, the Bobcats disappointed everyone watching (me, mostly) by sitting all of their good players – Biyombo, Zeller, MKG and Jeffery Taylor all had DNPs. Just when we thought the Cats actually had a chance to win something, they chose to revert back to losing.

For the Warriors second-year tweener, Draymond Green, had double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds. He looks noticeably thinner, and was taking people off the dribble like a 3 while still rebounding like a 4. Despite the improvements to his body, Green will have a tough time finding minutes for the Warriors after the additions of Andre Igoudala and Mareese Speights.

The Championship: Pseudo Suns v. Pseudo Warriors

The Pseudo Phoenix Suns played their big-name young players in every game of the Las Vegas SL, and earned their spot in Monday’s Championship game against the Pseudo Golden State Warriors. It’s been entertaining to watch the chemistry between the reunited Morris twins, as they’ve led the Suns in scoring (Markeiff: 14.2 / Marcus 13.8) and to a perfect 6-0 record in the LVSL.

Opposing the Suns in the Championship Game are the Warriors, who have won 12 straight Summer League games dating back to 2010 – a fairly meaningless streak in the grand scheme of things, but certainly notable. While Kent Bazemore’s athletic dunk made some noise the other day, his overall play is what Warriors fans should be most excited about. The athletic 6’5” guard is averaging 19.6 points on 44% shooting with 5 boards per game, and looks like he could end up being a valuable asset in the upcoming season for Golden State.

I don’t think Golden State has the size to contend on the boards with Phoenix, and should have a tough time matching up with the Morris twins.

Championship Prediction: Phoenix 83 Golden State 72