March is always a unique time of year for the basketball world. We simultaneously have the NCAA tournament going on while NBA teams are in their stretch run jockeying for playoff seeding. This year is particularly intriguing as the crop of talented college kids going pro is abundant. This puts several NBA playoff bubble teams in a major moral dilemma. Get in the playoffs or tank for the lottery?
Look at the Western Conference standings and you will see Portland and Denver tied at (35-38), good for the final playoff spot as an 8 seed. Do you want a first round exit vs the Warriors or Spurs? On the other hand, do you want ping-pong balls at the NBA Draft Lottery? Now, I know what you’re thinking, being in the lottery with the lowest percentage of landing a top 3 pick normally isn’t that great, but this year all bets are off. How does PF Lauri Markkenen from Arizona sound? PF/C Harry Giles from Duke? Perhaps Malik Monk from Kentucky drops to 8 or 9 in the draft. Are these franchise players? Maybe not, but they are guys that could start on an NBA roster for a solid 7-8 years. Even players like Justin Jackson, Luke Kennard, Jordan Bell will be available late in the first round. (If you do not know those names, Google them).
Out East, the Atlanta Hawks have lost seven in a row (at the time this column was posted). They currently sit as the 5 seed in the East, but are only 3 games back in the loss column from dropping down to the 9th seed, which means you’re out of the playoffs. I bring up Atlanta because they are Exhibit A for the franchise that is perpetually stuck in no man’s land. Always just good enough to make the playoffs and do nothing, but never bad enough to end up in the lottery to get a young stud. I can speak personally on this team, as a long time season ticket holder – I want the Hawks to tank and get in this lottery! I do not need to see another first or second round playoff loss. I will take my chances the ping pong ball Gods bounce our way and who knows – maybe we move up and have a shot at a player like De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky. What are the percentages of landing a top 3 pick? 5%? 10%? To that I say, what are the chances the Hawks beat the Cavs in the playoffs? About the same….5%.
Bottom line, this isn’t the year for non-contenders in the NBA to get excited about making the playoffs. It is hard for front office executives to orchestrate tanking. Players and coaches want nothing to do with it, as once the ball tips, competitive juices take over. The one way you can manipulate the competitiveness of your team night to night is either rest guys for entire games or once the 4th quarter rolls around, play your bench. I would not fault teams one bit for doing it. I would just say “tanks!”
Written by Andrew Rosenberg