By Robbie Marbury
PSDC NFL/NBA Editor
The NBA season is finally here. This is my favorite time of the year. I love football, but my heart belongs to basketball. With football and basketball going on at the same time, I look forward to many late nights of watching replays and highlights. This NBA season will be like none other we have known. Not because of Houston getting Dwight Howard, or Brooklyn getting Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, or Miami going for a three-peat. No, this year is different because we have so many teams already tanking for a better draft pick before the season has even started. There are anywhere from 4-7 projected All-Stars in the 2014 draft, and everyone wants a piece of the top half of this draft. It doesn’t matter who wins the championship this year, all that matters is who will pick first.
I will keep track of the Tank Rank for you all season long, and let you know who has the inside track on the No. 1 pick this season as well as the right to draft Andrew Wiggins among others.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
I know that the Suns traded for an injured Marin Gortat, but the Sixers traded away their only All-Star caliber player for an injured rookie who might not play this year, Nerlens Noel. At this point they are the leaders in the Tank Rank, but the reason why I believe they are most likely to keep the top spot is they have cheap assets they can dump in the coming months if they win some games they shouldn’t, or some of the other tanking teams loses more than expected. Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner are two players that would fit in well with almost every team that has thoughts of a deep playoff run. Keep an eye on the rumor mill for Young and Turner, but keep your eyes off the Sixers.
2. Phoenix Suns
I see you Phoenix. Giving up your second-best player, Gortat, for and injured Emeka Okafor is the move we needed to get the ball rolling with this tankfest. The Suns are going to be awful, and outside Eric Bledsoe or Goran Dragic, I don’t see a player that is even worth having on an NBA roster. Maybe Alex Len in a few years, but for now there are only two NBA players on this roster. The problem that Phoenix will have is that they aren’t trading Bledsoe, and the only teams that could utilize Dragic will be teams that need a backup point guard, or teams that have an injury to their starter. But, no one is given up much to get Dragic. Philly can move Turner or Young and command an additional first round pick this year. The secret weapon up Phoenix’s sleeve is the expected “hamstring injury” to Bledsoe.
3. Boston Celtics
Boston has players that don’t want to be there (Gerald Wallace and MarShon Brooks, mainly), and their best player (Rajon Rondo) is injured for an undetermined amount of time. If Boston wants to fully embrace the tanking they need to move Rondo as soon as he’s healthy and has proven he can still play. The Celtics also have Jeff Green and Avery Bradley, both of whom would get interest from teams. Boston’s trading of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett got the ball rolling, but there is more work to be done.
4. Orlando Magic
Orlando started planning for this year’s draft before anyone else. They moved Dwight Howard, held onto the bloated salaries of Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkolgu and gathered picks and young players. The Magic a bunch of young talent — Victor Oladipo, Moe Harkless, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn — they are further along in the rebuild process than the other teams on this list, but many of their young players are still raw and still need time to develop. With the young players still learning, Orlando should amass enough L’s to remain in the tank conversation up until the last game.
5. Charlotte Bobcats
Charlotte isn’t even trying to be on this list, but it’s the Bobcats, they just can’t help themselves. Al Jefferson will miss the first game of the season and maybe longer. The combination of Jefferson and rookie Cody Zeller might be the least rim-protecting duo in the league. Kemba Walker is the only perimeter player that can create their own shot, and Jefferson is the only big with post moves. They have shooters (Zeller, Ben Gordon, Jeff Taylor), but what do they do when they aren’t open? Charlotte will be in the tank race all season, without doing it on purpose.
6. Utah Jazz
Utah let three starters from last year’s team leave. They signed no one that would be considered an NBA starter. One of their rookies broke his hand (Trey Burke), and their other is a longterm project (Rudy Gobert). This season will feature a lot of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, three players who have shown potential to be borderline All-Star players, but with all the pressure on them, how will they handle it? I’m assuming not so well. Also, without anyone else on the roster even close to their level, Hayward, Favors and Kanter are going to be focus of opposing defenses for the first time. Things in Utah are going to be ugly.
7. Sacramento Kings
There isn’t too much that can be said about the Kings that hasn’t already been said. Their roster doesn’t make sense, their best player (DeMarcus Cousins) might stab a teammate at any moment, the only good news is the Maloofs are gone. As bad as an influence as the Maloofs were, having them gone isn’t going to help this team enough to get out of the Western Conference cellar. Greivis Vasquez was a good acquisition, but how does he fit in with Isaiah Thomas, Jimmer Ferdette and Marcus Thorton in a crowded backcourt? It looks like the Kings are setting themselves up to make some moves. As with every other team on this list, their potential moves will all be to decrease their value this year but increase their value going forward, well, as long as Cousins doesn’t harm anyone.
8. Toronto Raptors
Toronto traded their third-leading scorer from last season for Steve Novak, and this was considered a victory. Without a first-round draft pick, and not a lot of cash to spend, the big offseason additions for Toronto were D.J. Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough and Austin Daye. The Raptors were 38-38 last season, and their new “additions” aren’t going to help them obtain anymore victories than last year. They will need DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross or Rudy Gay to make big leaps. Gay had eye surgery in the offseason, so maybe he can improve on his 41.6% field goal percentage. If not, the Raptors will be featured in this spot for the majority of the year.
9. Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee wants to be in the playoffs so bad even though it’s the worst thing for them. Every signing they made this offseason was made in what seemed a notion to lock up the seventh or eighth seed in the East. What’s the point? The Bucks should have saved some money, sucked as much as possible, and drafted as high as possible. Milwaukee does have several assets they signed this offseason — Caron Butler, O.J. Mayo, Luke Ridnour, Carlos Delfino — that would be valuable to a playoff team. Milwaukee can trade any of those players after Dec. 15. If they aren’t in the playoff hunt, like they feel they should be, then they will host a fire-sale and jump in on the tanking.
10. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are on this list because we still don’t know when Kobe will be back, and how effective he will be when he comes back. Last season the Lakers had 45 wins with a healthy Kobe, an 80% healthy Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark and Antwan Jamison. You would be stupid to expect them to not be significantly worse with the Bryan injury, and their big free agent signings being Chris Kaman and Nick Young.
Follow Robbie on Twitter: @rmarbury