The idea behind having a team bad enough to make sure you get a top pick in a loaded draft is that the best-case scenario will happen for your team. That's what happened with the 2002-03 Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets. Those rosters were so abysmal that it ended up netting the Cavs and Nuggets the first and third picks, respectively. They ended up with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony for their tanking efforts. In the 2006-07 season, the Boston Celtics held Paul Pierce out of a lot of games and while the lottery wasn't kind to them, they ended up with enough assets to trade for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
Sometimes injuries contribute to these sudden tank jobs, like when David Robinson broke his foot in the 1996-97 season, allowing the San Antonio Spurs to end up with the top pick for Tim Duncan. We may see that with the Los Angeles Lakers this season after star Kobe Bryant and nearly every guard on the roster suffering big injuries.
However, things don't always work out for the teams involved. I wanted to look at the possible worst-case scenarios (we're talking in terms of not winning the lottery and which player that would net; not like they pick a player and he breaks his knee once a week) for these teams and where it would put them in the rebuilding process.
Here are the Week 14 Power Tankings:
|1. Milwaukee Bucks|
Record: 8-35 (1-2 this week), Net Rating: -9.8 points per 100 possessions
As of right now, the Bucks are by far the worst team in the NBA and it might not take that much for them to lock up the top lottery odds. They can't score and they can barely win games unless the Detroit Pistons are being their typical frustrating selves. But what if the lottery doesn't work out for them? What if they get leapfrogged by three teams and fall back to fourth in the lottery? Would they run with Julius Randle (consensus fourth-rated prospect right now) or go for more of a position of need?
With Larry Sanders, John Henson, and Ersan Ilyasova already manning the interior, let's say Randle isn't their cup of tea at number four. Does that make Dante Exum the automatic pick or could you roll the dice with Aaron Gordon? Sure, Gordon projects as a four in the NBA but he's athletic enough to throw a weird frontcourt of Henson/Sanders with Gordon and Giannis Antetokounmpo out there and make opposing lineups adjust to all that athleticism. The alternative is upgrading the backcourt with Exum and punting on the idea of relying on Brandon Knight to run the team. Either way, this team is getting more athletic and harder to defend with conventional basketball positioning.
|2. Orlando Magic|
Record: 12-33 (1-3 this week), Net Rating: -5.7 points per 100 possessions
The Magic currently have the second best odds of securing the top pick, but we could very easily see them fall to the fifth pick and still have two great options to pick from as they continue to reshape their roster post-Dwight Howard. They already have a loaded frontcourt, so I doubt the idea of bringing in Aaron Gordon would really materialize unless he blew them away in workouts. Instead, we could be looking at which player gets paired with Victor Oladipo in the backcourt for the future.
Drafting between Dante Exum and Marcus Smart could be an extremely difficult decision. With Exum, they'd have two rangy combo guards (well, they're trying to make Oladipo more of a combo guard this season) that create a myriad of matchup issues, but neither might be an actual full-time point guard. With Smart, you'd be making a run at a big-time scorer that would fit better in the role of Jameer Nelson. If neither Exum nor Smart are true point guards in the NBA, it could be tricky but they'd have the potential for growth at both guard positions and make the defense work on both ends.
|3. Philadelphia 76ers|
Record: 14-30 (1-2 this week), Net Rating: -8.5 points per 100 possessions
The Sixers were supposed to be so bad this season that they'd be a lock for a top 4 pick in this loaded draft and start the genius rebuilding process under Sam Hinkie. Instead, they've been a little too competitive and may have cost themselves a chance at one of those much safer picks. Luckily for them, they're not all that locked in to any position long-term, especially if they're planning on moving Thaddeus Young and/or Evan Turner. What happens for them if they end up with the sixth pick in the draft?
You get a very interesting decision for this pick. The Sixers could have Aaron Gordon landing into their lap and hope to find a Blake Griffin-esque building block both for basketball and marketing purposes. The high-flying forward in Brett Brown's chaotic fun machine could land this team on highlight reels every game. If somehow Dante Exum falls to the Sixers at six (I know this is a lot of Exum talk and a lot of sixes), could their backcourt be made with Michael Carter-Williams and Exum playing together? You would have two tall point guards with playmaking abilities and long wingspans eating up areas of the court. There might not be much shooting in the backcourt but you'd feed the chaos engine and keep being weird out there. Fun weird too.
|4. Los Angeles Lakers|
Record: 16-29 (0-3 this week), Net Rating: -4.9 points per 100 possessions
We're trying to stay realistic here with these scenarios so it's not going to be the Lakers falling from seventh in the draft order to 10th. They aren't being leapfrogged by three teams at this point in the lottery odds. But let's say one team does jump them and they fall to eighth. Is the player they can grab at eight good enough to jumpstart the roster with Kobe Bryant? They can either swing for the fences with a big man or they can swing for the fences with a wing player that complements Bryant.
Swinging for the fences with a big man would probably seeing what Willie Cauley-Stein out of Kentucky could give you moving forward or you could even reach a bit with Noah Vonleh out of Indiana. WCS has big potential and could be the rim protector to anchor a currently atrocious defense. Vonleh's stock is rising big-time though and you could have a potential All-Star power forward with him there. As for reaching with a wing, grabbing Rodney Hood from Duke would put a playmaking wing scorer next to a legendary playmaking wing scorer. Hood has shown he fits in that role at the college level, but can he do it next to Bryant?
|5. Boston Celtics|
Record: 15-31 (1-3 this week), Net Rating: -4.9 points per 100 possessions
Let's say the Celtics fall to the seventh pick in this draft and Gordon and Exum are both off the board. The C's would have a big decision to make about Marcus Smart and whether or not he should lead the rebuilding effort right away. If they take Smart, it may signal the end of Rajon Rondo's reign in Boston. It would also be a completely different direction than what the Celtics have had at the point. Would Rondo be totally expendable? You can't play these two guys together and a healthy Rondo brings some pretty good trade rumor returns.
If they want to keep Rondo, they can go big with Willie Cauley-Stein and hope he's the perfect anchor on defense to help them go after a big name free agent like Kevin Love in 2015 (a long shot) or Kevin Durant in 2016 (an even longer shot). With Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk a part of the young core right now, they desperately need someone to protect the rim and WCS is the best option around that pick.
|6. Utah Jazz|
Record: 15-29 (1-1 this week), Net Rating: -7.9 points per 100 possessions
If the Jazz end up in the sixth or seventh selection in the 2014 draft, there decision will clue us in on just how highly they think of their present young core. Trey Burke has been a good player relative to the majority of players in his rookie class, but is he the definite choice over someone like Smart or Exum long-term? If Wayne Selden or Rodney Hood have big tournaments and their draft stock goes soaring, will they feel better about not matching a max offer sheet to Gordon Hayward if that happens this summer? There's clearly no question about taking Aaron Gordon over having Enes Kanter as your power forward, so would he bring enough excitement and talent to the Jazz?
As you can see, a lot of these "worst-case" scenarios for each team aren't that bad at all, but it greatly impacts just how easily they can rebuild moving forward. As for now, we'll have to hope more teams are like the Sixers and Jazz (fun to watch lose) instead of soul-sucking (Bucks and Lakers) as we get deep into the second half of the season. Good luck to all tankers.