Everyone expects 2013-14 to be a banner year for tanking in the NBA.
The 2014 NBA Draft is absolutely loaded, and a number of franchises have gutted their rosters, refused to sign long-term free agents, and otherwise sacrificed the present to acquire future assets.
Despite the negative connotations associated with tanking, you should be happy if your team has a long-term plan to get good by temporarily being bad, rather than trying to win 41 games and lose in the first round of the playoffs year after year.
Tanking shouldn’t be dirty word.
The two most obvious examples of tanking this year are the Phoenix Suns and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Both of those teams, ironically, won their season openers last night.
The Suns have made a handful of trades over the last 15 months in order to go all-in on the 2014 Draft. In three separate trades they gave up Marcin Gortat, Robin Lopez, Luis Scola, Hakim Warrick, Kendall Marshall, and Shannon Brown, and they got three 2014 first-round picks in return.
They also traded Jared Dudley — their best perimeter player from 2012-13 — to the Clippers for the young but raw Eric Bledsoe.
Last night they beat the Portland Trail Blazers — a team NBA nerds all loved coming into the year — 104-91.
The Sixers also made some eyebrow-raising trades to set themselves up for the future this offseason, obliterating much of the roster in the process. Coming into the season, Sixers coach Brett Brown said that his team had “six NBA players” on it.
Philly was one of those teams stuck in the middle — not good enough to meaningful contend, but not bad enough to get a top-three draft pick necessary to land a superstar.
So this offseason they blew it up. They traded Jrue Holliday (their lone All-Star) to New Orleans for Nerlens Noel and their 2014 first-round pick. They let all of their free agents walk for nothing, and didn’t sign anyone to replace them.
“They got considerably worse. They got amazingly worse. Kwame Brown could see serious minutes this season. It’s going to be a disaster of the worst order and it’s honestly a waste of every player with more than three years’ experience to even show up.”
The roster is so bare bones that Philly has actually failed to reach the minimum salary requirement. As a result they have to split the difference between the salary floor and their current payroll among the players they have. They are paying extra money to not have an extra player.
Last night the Sixers, naturally, beat the two-time defending champion Miami Heat 114-110. Rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams had one of the best debuts in NBA history, and the Sixers snuck up on a Heat team that didn’t even bother to play Dwyane Wade.
In all likelihood these two results are a coincidence. The Sixers and Suns are going to be bad. But the lesson here is that structural tanking isn’t as easy as it sounds. While you can dismantle your roster with the goal of getting a high pick and rebuilding from there, your players and coaches are trying as hard as they can on an individual level to win every night.
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