Ranking The Eight NBA Teams Who Should Embrace The Tank For Victor Wembanyama

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The Athletic

Pulling the plug on a season is one of the hardest decisions a franchise can make. It’s also one of the most important.

This year, it’s perhaps more important than others. On the one hand, seemingly every team in the league is 14-14 right now, leaving the standings endgame wide open for those who would potentially put their thumb on the scale by pivoting to tanking. On the other hand, we are heading into what looks to be a very strong 2023 NBA Draft class, headlined at the top by a generational talent in French center Victor Wembanyama.

I have a bit of familiarity with this process, as we had to make that decision in Memphis in 2018. (For those who just returned from a decade-long spelunking trip to Vanuatu, I was the Grizzlies’ vice president of basketball operations from 2012 to 2019.) Coming out of January with a record of 18-32, with Mike Conley out for the season and an epic 2018 draft class looming, it wasn’t a complicated choice. We’d had little flickers of success — we even won three straight in January! — but were 7 1/2 games out of the last playoff spot. We knew.

Guiding that ship into port was ugly at times (including a 19-game losing streak and a 61-point loss to Charlotte). It turns out trading and/or shutting down good veterans makes your team worse. I should note one part everyone seems to forget: Some of those decisions would have been similar even if there was no draft at all. There’s no point in risking good veterans in meaningless games or hanging onto expiring contracts with trade value if they won’t be back.

One final thing is always important to clarify: Players and coaches keep going hard the whole time. Once in a blue moon you’ll get a hilarious Game 82 scenario a la “the Daniel Oturu game” between the Clippers and Oklahoma City in 2021, but that’s the exception. Pivoting toward the tank is almost purely a front-office maneuver, accomplished through choices about player trades and availability.

I bring this up because Dec. 15 marks the unofficial start of trade season — and the unofficial start of #tankingszn as well.

Additionally, the change in lottery odds since 2018 has also changed some incentives. Back then, it was more imperative to finish with one of the league’s very worst records, with odds as high as 25 percent of gaining the top pick. Now the odds max out at just 14 percent, and the top four spots are selected randomly.

Thus, our Memphis team in 2018 had a great chance of landing in the top three after finishing with the league’s second-worst record, and at worst was going to land fifth. The rewards for such a “performance” are more muted these days, with a worst case of sixth and lesser odds of landing in the top three.

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