Fasten your seat belts, NBA fans. Tanking season is here! We are roughly half way through the 2017-2018 NBA season. With the Celtics owning the Lakers pick if it falls between 2 and 5, it feels like the right time to examine the field. Increasingly, this season seems like it could turn into an EPIC tankathon. There are a few reasons.
First, as I’ve written about before, Golden State’s stranglehold over the league has persuaded a few franchises that there is no better time to be awful. Just look at how Chicago and Atlanta gutted their teams this past off season. As of January 12th, 10 teams were on pace to lose at least 50 games. For comparison, here is the number of teams to do that in the previous five years, starting back in 2013: 9, 8, 8, 7 and 8. Secondly, the NBA lottery rule changes will go into effect next year. And here’s why THAT’S important: Right now, the team with the worst record gets a 25% shot at the first pick, while the second-worst team gets a 20% chance. Next year, the worst three teams will all have a 14% chance at the top pick. Simply put, this is the last time the odds will be in favor of the two worst teams. And why is that important in THIS draft? Meet Marvin Bagley and Luka Doncic, two game-changing talents at the top of this draft. In conclusion, I want to remind readers that none of these factors even mention the all-important economics that are inevitably involved given this is the NBA…TRANSLATION: When the price tag for top-level free agent talent has surpassed $40 million per year, owning a top pick who you can control for FIVE YEARS AT A FRACTION OF THAT COST is what I will forever call a NO-BRAINER. Like I said, fasten your seat belts.
If I could take one team to be worst, it would be Atlanta. I believe they are an absolute LOCK to be in the bottom five. They are a half a game worse than Orlando, which has gone and ungodly 4-26 over the past 2 months. Even if they get Nikola Vucevic and his 17 pts and 9 rebounds per night back, they look like the closest other team to a lock here. After that, Sacramento stinks and looks likely to be in the top five. And then it gets interesting. The wild card in all of this is Memphis. There’s always an out-of-the-blue team during tanking season, and the Grizz are it this year. Star point guard Mike Conley has been out for two months now and no one seems to have any clue if or when he’ll be back. Memphis, 13-27, was 7-6 when Conley went down. The Lakers are fifth worse as of this writing, a half game better than Memphis.
Here’s the good news: A number of teams hovering around LA are showing signs of improved play. Dallas (one game ahead of LA) bottomed out at 9-25 but has rallied, going 6-3 since. Likewise, Phoenix started 9-21 amidst a coaching change but has gone 7-5 since. Finally, Chicago started 3-20, but has done a complete 180 by winning 12 of their past 19 games. They just got Zach Lavine back as well, a significant addition considering he averaged 19 ppg last year. Old friend Brooklyn has played very well without D’Angelo Russell, who is scheduled to be back mid-month. Also, as Celtic fans know full well, Brooklyn has no reason to tank given it does not own its pick.
The possibilities here seem endless. However, the fact to remember is that the Celtics look like they are going to have a very legitimate shot at yet ANOTHER top pick this year. And to receive it from their hated rival, the Los Angeles Lakers? Such a scenario would only add to the history and lore between the two franchises, two teams more intertwined than any other tandem in sports.
While the Brooklyn heist has gotten all the publicity, and rightfully so, for Danny Ainge, the draft trade with Philadelphia to acquire not only Jayson Tatum but the rights to this Lakers pick (or Kings/76ers) is starting to look similar. Given the fact that we already have a game-changing talent out of that deal in Tatum, this deal has higher upside given the possibilities at the top of this draft. Celtic fans are no strangers to it, and now they can yell it every night at whatever Lakers opponent happens to pop up on the television screen: “BEAT LA!!!”.