- Which teams should follow The Process blueprint and tank for the future? We examine six squads that should punt next season and think long term.
As organizations throughout the NBA stockpile weapons in a race to the next superteam, some are left in the dust, either without the superstar they drafted (hello, Indiana and Chicago), or without a superstar in recent memory (nice to see you again, Orlando). These teams have the option of cobbling together enough spare parts to compete for a playoff spot, but many choose to swing the other way, rocketing to the bottom of the standings in order to secure a top-five draft pick.
The 76ers have been the most tanktastic team over the past four seasons, fully embracing The Process to the tune of four top-five picks and back-to-back No. 1 overall selections. However, after signing quality veterans J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson in free agency, it looks as though the organization is finally ready to pursue a playoff berth.
So who will be the next Philadelphia? Here are our top tanking candidates for the 2017-18 season.
Many thought Chicago would enter a rebuild near the trade deadline last year and ship Jimmy Butler before the All-Star break. But the infamous GarPax duo opted to go the other route, keeping the Bulls’ core of Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo together through the entirety of the regular season. The result: a first-round exit at the hands of Boston, and a cents-on-the-dollar deal for Jimmy Butler during the NBA draft.
Rondo was waived prior to July 1, and Wade is likely hoping to follow suit sometime in the near future. Reports indicate that the three-time champion will begin the season with Chicago, but if the Bulls’ brass has any wits about them, they’ll ship Wade to a contender or buy him out within the first few months of the year.
What does that leave on the Bulls’ roster? Not much. Their new franchise players are a pair of recently acquired Timberwolves in swingman Zach LaVine and point guard Kris Dunn along with 2017 No. 7 overall pick Lauri Markkanen. They also have a smattering of young players who have shown some promise in Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine, but it would be a real shocker if Chicago made the playoffs even in the diluted East.
With few bankable assets, the Bulls’ path the relevancy is now through the draft. They struck gold with Derrick Rose in 2008 and again with Jimmy Butler in 2011, and maybe the Bulls can pull off some more draft magic next year. For now though, they must be patient with a thorough rebuild.
Despite winning just 23 games in 2016-17, there were plenty of reason for optimism last year in Phoenix. Devin Booker made a real leap and emerged as one of the league’s upper-echelon scoring guards, and T.J Warren had his best season to date. Although, with a staggering six players under 21 entering the season, the Suns should be in no rush to compete.
Phoenix’s main focus moving forward will be developing its young talent, especially its wings. Josh Jackson will need to vastly improve his jump shot as a rookie, and last year’s No. 8 overall pick Marquese Chriss must focus on giving consistent effort on the defensive end.
The young guns will rack up the minutes next year, and in a stacked Western Conference, they’ll rack up the losses as well.
New York Knicks
As we’ve noted before, the Knicks face two paths with Carmelo Anthony moving forward: ship him and build toward the future, or keep him and compete for an ultimately meaningless playoff spot in the East.
As is the Knicks’ way, they’ve continued to contradict themselves over the past week. New York seemed to signal it would embrace the latter plan after inking Hardaway Jr. to a four-year, $71 deal, but reports persist that they are engaging both Houston and Cleveland in trade talks for Anthony.
So say New York goes through with the Anthony trade and builds around Hardaway, Kristaps Porzingis and No. 8 pick Frank Ntilikina. That’s a team still a ways away from playoff contention. And if the Knicks aren’t contending, they might as well be tanking. Despite their avalanche of missteps, the Knicks’ brass has drafted well since Porzingis’s selection in 2015, and New York might as well hit rock bottom and attempt to strike gold again next June.
It’s striking how quickly Atlanta fell off the map. Just three years ago the Hawks were the darlings of the NBA, a 60-win, East-coast version of the Spurs. Atlanta’s starting five even shared the Eastern Conference Player of the Month award in January 2015.
However, that magical 2014-15 regular season proved to be the zenith of Hawks basketball in the 2000s. A Conference Finals sweep to LeBron and the Cavs was followed by two sub-50 win seasons and the departures of Al Horford and Paul Millsap in back-to-back summers.
The Hawks are now left with just one of their top four scorers from last year after Millsap, Dwight Howard and Tim Hardaway Jr. left the team this off-season. And expecting the combo of Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore to carry an NBA offense is a laughable idea. The days of Atlanta being a constant presence in the playoffs are likely over.
Some wonder if the city of Atlanta will support a sub-30 win team next year, but is there really any tangible benefit to the Hawks finishing 10th in the conference as opposed to 14th? Probably not. Atlanta won’t be able to recruit a new face of the franchise via free agency. Better to seek one out in a stacked 2018 draft.
Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard took a fair share of blame for the Paul George deal, and for good reason. While most expected Indiana to receive a haul of picks and young assets for George, the Pacers came away with $84 million of Victor Oladipo and former No. 11 pick Domantas Sabonis.
The deal leaves Indiana in a state of limbo. The pairing of Oladipo and emerging big man Myles Turner is intriguing, however, there’s little chance it grants the Pacers more than 30-35 wins.
Indiana’s leadership has eschewed the idea of a rebuild in previous seasons, and that’s possibly why they held onto George for so long. Nevertheless, now is the perfect time to start over and construct a roster around Turner. It’s not hard to envision Indiana sinking down the standings by mid-March. The Pacers already made an error in holding onto George as long as they did. They shouldn’t compound the mistake and attempt to be pseudo-playoff contenders next year.
As presently constructed, the Orlando roster looks like an island of misfits. The Magic sport a slew of wings who haven’t proven they can shoot, and seven young players who will fight for time in three frontcourt spots.
Orlando has shown some signals it wants to compete in 2017-18, but if things go south quickly, those plans should be tossed away. Both Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon were in-and-out of trade rumors last season, and the Elfrid Payton experiment at point guard has been less than promising, to say the least.
Former No. 5 overall selection Mario Hezonja struggled to improve his jumper in his second NBA season, but Orlando won’t give up on him just yet. Pair him with this year’s first rounder Jonathan Isaac, and the Magic could have two stretchy wings for the future. Playoff contention, however, is still a long way away.