A Guide To The NBA’s Tanking Teams

These teams are falling on their swords for a chance at Anthony Davis. But have they done enough?

1. Why Teams Are Tanking

Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

Anthony Davis (Right) is the best NBA prospect to come out of college since Kevin Durant or LeBron James (depending on whom you ask). He’s a skilled and dominant big man who was a 6 ft.1 in. point guard until a growth spurt two years ago turned him into a 6 ft.11 in. forward. This means he can handle the ball and pass like a little guy, but while blocking everybody’s shots and kicking ass down low. He will be the first pick in this summer’s draft.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Left), Davis’ college teammate will most likely be the second pick. Kidd-Gilchrist is a small forward who will immediately make whatever team he’s on better. He’s a great defender, he’s tough, and he has a quickly developing offensive game.

Teams are tanking for a chance to draft these guys. In the NBA, every team that doesn’t make the playoffs is entered into a lottery to decide who has the number one pick. The worse your record, the more lottery balls you get.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

My beloved Cavaliers are pulling out some classic tanking techniques. They’ve sat their rookie star Kyrie Irving (the result of a tanked season himself) for weeks with a banged shoulder. They traded Ramon Sessions (currently playing well in LA) for the privilege to pay Luke Walton. They’re giving huge minutes to guys on 10-day contracts. These are some great moves if you want to lose games. And it’s mostly worked. The Cavs have dropped 11 of 14 since the trading deadline, but you can only try to lose so much. And when it comes to playing tank-legends like Raptors and the Bobcats you need to take your tanking to the next level. The Cavs couldn’t and got two costly wins in the last week.

Current Draft Slot: 6
Current Lottery Odds For The Number One Pick: 5.4%
How Else They Could Tank: Antawn Jamison is getting pretty old. He looks like he could use some rest.

3. Toronto Raptors

MIKE CASSESE / Reuters

The Raptors are perennial leaders when it comes to the art of losing on purpose. For the last two years they’ve been playing something of a long con. By drafting talented Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas with last year’s 5th pick, despite knowing that he wouldn’t be able to play in the NBA for at least another year, the team was able to sell their fans on the fact that they were improving without actually improving on the floor. It was a masterstroke of tanking.

Things could still be worse, though. Jose Calderon has decided to use this season to remind everyone how good he can be, by being among the league leaders in assists. But even Calderon is doing his part to help (hurt) the team, by leaving last night’s game with an “eye injury.”* Losing their point guard is a surefire way to get a better draft slot.

Current Draft Slot: 5
Current Lottery Odds For The Number One Pick: 8.8%
How Else They Could Tank: Calderon should probably rest his eye for the year. You can never be too careful with those things.

*I’m aware that his eye injury was most likely legitimate and not driven by the will to lose.

4. Sacramento Kings

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

It’s somewhat unfair to call what the Kings have done this year “tanking.” They’re just a terrible basketball team that looks like they were assembled by a crazy person. Tyreke Evans, Boogie Cousins, and Jimmer Fredette? That’s not a basketball team, that’s a totally watchable sitcom (Two Guys, A Mormon, And A Shitty Basketball Team, Wednesdays on ABC).

That said, there have been signs of tanking. JJ Hickson looked totally lost during the entirety of his stay in Sacramento. He averaged 4.7 points per game and 5 rebounds. As soon as the Kings waived him and Hickson found himself in Portland his game returned to him. Since the move Hickson is averaging 14 points per game and 7 rebounds. So was it tanking?

No. Tanking implies that there is a workable basketball operation that is intentionally performing below expectations for the purpose of adding a high draft pick. Once that draft pick is added a truly “tanking” team will be able to flip a switch and look like a halfway decent basketball team. This does not describe the Kings. They’re just dysfunctional.

Current Draft Slot: 5
Current Lottery Odds For The Number One Pick: 11.9%
How Else They Could Tank: They could hire Keith Smart as their interim head coach… Oh wait.

5. New Orleans Hornets

Chris Graythen / Getty Images

The Hornets (owned by the NBA itself) are in a spot reminiscent of last years Cavaliers (who would eventually win the lottery and draft Kyrie Irving). After trading Chris Paul earlier this season (as though they had a choice) the team has been interesting to watch. Head Coach Monty Williams deserves tons of credit. These guys think they can win every night, and if they had any talent outside of Eric Gordon (who has missed most games this season) they probably could.

No other team among the tankers (with the possible exception of Cleveland) is more ready to turn a lottery win into immediate on court success. This Hornets team with Anthony Davis would be dangerous night in and night out.

Current Draft Slot: 3
Current Lottery Odds For The Number One Pick: 15.6%
How Else They Could Tank: Monty Williams should go scout some foreign players. Sure they have scouts to do that, but Monty’s going to have to coach these guys eventually…

6. Washington Wizards

Where to begin. The Wizards suck so badly. If you tried to convince me that they’ve been tanking for the last 4 years I’d believe you. The process has paid off though in the past. Star point guard John Wall is the product of a tanked season, but the team has struggled to put anyone else around him.

The Wizards made one of the more controversial moves in the tanking industry earlier this season when they traded away JaVale McGee and Nick Young (talented crazy people) and got Nene back for their trouble. Now Nene is an honest to goodness basketball player, while JaVale and Nick Young are pendulum players (an amazing moment followed by a disastrous moment followed by an amazing moment and so on). So how was this move beneficial to the tanking operation? Because Nene has been hurt (allowing the team to continue to suck royally), while still providing them with something of a workable core should the Wiz get one of the top picks in the draft. John Wall, Nene, and Anthony Davis is something to build around. Having a guy like JaVale on your team is fun, but you don’t want him anywhere near a talented rookie. His crazy could be contagious.

Current Draft Slot: 2
Current Lottery Odds For The Number One Pick: 19.9%
How Else They Could Tank: Nene is supposed to return later this week, but he probably hasn’t visited his family in Brazil in some time. Give him a vacation!

7. Charlotte Bobcats

The Bobcats aren’t even fun to talk about. They do not resemble a basketball team. Now they will undoubtedly go into the NBA lottery with the best chance at landing the number one pick, so doesn’t that make them the best at tanking? No. Anthony Davis is a great player, but this team with Anthony Davis would still suck. And if any team could hurt Davis’ development it would be the Cats. Michael Jordan would probably just go to practices and call Davis soft. Or ugly for that unibrow. He would crush Davis. Why? Because he’s a terrible NBA owner that cares more about feeling superior to his players than he does about building them up. I hope he loses the team in a poker game. Or better yet, to Bill Murray on the golf course. They actually hang out, right? That wasn’t just for Space Jam, right? Right?

Current Draft Slot: 1
Current Lottery Odds For The Number One Pick: 25%
How Else They Could Tank: N/A.

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