There was once a time when sportscasters would use the term “quality loss” when discussing a certain team. Rightfully so, they received a significant amount of criticism for saying such a thing. Nowadays, teams are getting together to lose games perhaps more than ever before, or at least it is now more apparent than in years past. As some teams fully accept that they are well past the best years of their current foundational players, discussion of tanking has taken the NBA by storm.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 by the league for telling his players that losing was their best option right now. It makes sense, losing on purpose takes all the competition out of the game and makes the action less fun to watch. Regardless, some teams believe that losing now to get a better draft pick puts them in a better situation for the future. While it may seem like simple sacrifice for future glory, it often doesn’t work out the way teams imagined. Looking forward, here’s a projection of how some of the NBA’s sinking ships will fare moving into their rebuilds:
Beginning with the most vocally tanking team, the Dallas Mavericks have some things to prove moving forward. Apart from this last year’s selection of stellar guard Dennis Smith Jr., the Mavs have done horribly on draft day. Here are their draft picks from the last five years: Tyler Zeller, Darius Johnson-Odom, Kelly Olynyk, Mike Muscala, Justin Anderson, Satnam Singh Bhamara, and A.J. Hammons. The best of the lot is now averaging 10 points a game in Miami, the rest are pedestrian at best. To be fair, Dallas hadn’t had a top-10 pick since 1998 going into this last draft, but this kind of incompetence is concerning.
Their free agent market strategies have been questionable as well. Their last big move was giving Harrison Barnes $94 million while saying goodbye to fading stars like Deron Williams and trading for Nerlens Noel. Perhaps they’re simply used to putting all of their eggs in oddly-shaped baskets; it worked when they drafted Dirk Nowitzki.
Unless Dallas goes with the more obvious and conservative choices, their draft status won’t matter. Despite Smith’s success this year, drafting a 6’1″ guard known for his leaping ability is a sketchy move in this league. Right now, multiple mock drafts project the Mavs picking up Duke big man Marvin Bagley in the top 5. This is exactly the safe and obvious choice that Dallas needs to begin to truly rebuild.
Even though Mark Cuban and co. are perhaps used to success thinking outside the box, unless they play it safe, they’ll stay barnacled to the Golden State ship out West for longer than they’re anticipating.
The Suns currently hold the second-worst record in the entire NBA, second only to the Memphis Grizzlies, who are currently on a 15-game losing streak. They’ve enjoyed great success in recent drafts, including their addition of blooming superstar Devin Booker and the very athletic Josh Jackson and Marquese Chriss, along with shooter Dragan Bender. Their intent has been clear to this point: build a strong frontcourt to go with a backcourt featuring Booker. They’ve signed Tyson Chandler to mentor their big men, but none of their young bigs seem ready to stick around.
They seem to be constantly competing with Los Angeles in the free agent market, including this last season when they were allegedly in talks to sign Blake Griffin, who went right back to the Clippers. This inability to build through free agency is making Phoenix a better drafting team, which will likely be on display this year.
As they compete with Memphis to be the most disastrous franchise in the League, Phoenix has a very real possibility to land the #1 overall pick. The obvious pick for them is Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton, perhaps the most NBA-ready player in the draft. His dominance in the front court will pair perfectly with Booker on the outside, and create a Kobe-Shaq sort of tandem, minus the drama.
They have a leg up on most other tanking teams with the one young foundational player in place, they’re just one or two stars away from being a legitimate team.
The best player on the Hawks right now is Dennis Schröder and that’s about all anyone needs to know. Atlanta is the only team that might actually be trying to win games but legitimately doesn’t have the talent to do so. In a matter of three seasons, they’ve lost Paul Millsap to Denver, Al Horford to Boston, and Dwight Howard to his own weird world where he’s still relevant.
Atlanta can’t possibly believe they have any kind of foundation (apart from Kent Bazemore) to build on. They’ve demonstrated their ability to round up decent talent in the free agent market, and will have a top-5 pick to help out this year.
The best recommendation for the Hawks (or any team) is to avoid Luka Doncic like the plague. He’s not long enough to compete at the 3, and not quick enough to score as a 2. Atlanta needs a foundational player, and Doncic is simply not going to be it. As long as they go safe and go big in this draft (Ayton or Bagley), they can lure somebody in free agency to build a good foundation.
The Grizzlies are the Lindsay Lohan of this season. Once successful and at least mildly entertaining, now an absolute dumpster fire of drama and mascara. The early-season firing of coach David Fizdale was a misfired reaction to locker room issues that have plagued the team. They are overpaying Mike Conley and Marc Gasol is not the leader they need.
Memphis needs the next LeBron James or Gregg Popovich to fix the issues they have. While this is not likely, choosing the best leader, not necessarily the best talent, in the draft is the best solution.