Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dispatches from the Tank: Familiar foes Jazz, Lakers battle in unfamiliar territory (11 items)

By Mitch Kunzler, For the Deseret News

March 14, 2014

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.

For additional NBA and sports updates, follow Mitch Kunzler on Twitter at @MitchKunzler.

1 of 11. Deer season is year-round for the Bucks

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.

2 of 11. The 76ers blatantly and shamelessly nose-dive

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.

3 of 11. No Magic in Orlando

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.

4 of 11. The luck of the Irish runs dry for the Celtics

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.

5 of 11. All that glitters is not gold for the Lakers

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.

1. Draft dumbie
Farmington, UT,
March 15, 2014

The Knicks have traded away their 2014 draft pick to the Denver Nuggets, so tanking would not help them. They are not trying to tank--but like the Bucks and the Kings are just terrible, anyway.