DimeMag

Sink Or Swim? Breaking Down The NBA Playoff Chances For 10 Potential Tanking Teams

In basketball, one thing is guaranteed: someone will win and someone will lose. This season, it appears the entire Eastern Conference (save Indiana and Miami) are playing Twisted Metal and driving tanks, trying to see which team can blow up the quickest. That wasn’t anymore evident than when Toronto shipped away Rudy Gay and received a McDonald’s value meal in return.

To bring this into perspective, the culumitive record for the Eastern Conference is 140-185, while the Western Conference is sporting a record of 185-140. Besides the Utah Jazz, who are giving Richard Jefferson 28 minutes per game, the West is stacked with a plethora of teams that seem ready to compete for a playoff spot. But, in the East, can anyone really name anyone outside of Indiana and Miami that can be a threat to any playoff contending team in the West? I mean, Atlanta is the No. 3 seed right now with a record of 11-11 and Boston comes in at No. 4 with a record of 10-14.

Honestly, things will change and the East can’t be THIS bad, can it? And what about in the West, where the worst of the bunch have to face a barrage of competent teams all year? I know just the names of Andrew Wiggins (who looked amazing Tuesday night with 26 points and 11 boards) and Jabari Parker make everyone salivate like a famined dog, but really? Whatever the case is, some of these teams that appear lottery-bound need to be examined and see if we can articulate how close these teams are to the playoffs. So let’s play CSI: Tanking Edition and see if we can make sense out of some of these teams.

Here are 10 of the worst teams in the NBA… and their chances of making the playoffs.

*** *** ***

TORONTO RAPTORS (7-13)
When a team trades away their best player, it usually happens for a reason. The Raptors just acquired Rudy Gay last season and less than a season later, he’s changing uniforms once again. Having Rudy Gay as the best player on your team just screams mediocrity, something the Raptors have been labeled as their whole existence.

According to Hoopshype.com, the Raptors payroll this season (2013-2014) is $70,914,043. The Raptors payroll in 2014-2015 looks to be around $41,000,000 and it will be around 13,250,000 in 2015-16. Three of the players the Raptors received in the Rudy Gay trade have options for next season (Vasquez, Patterson and Salmons). The Raptors decided Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan weren’t going to bring a Larry O’Brien trophy to Canada so they blew up the roster and filled it with stop-gaps that won’t be in Toronto for long.

Seen with the Philadelphia 76ers this offseason, the Raptors finally realized mediocrity is a death sentence. A team must go all the way to the bottom to rise back up, which is exactly what the Raptors are attempting. Even with losing Rudy Gay, the Raptors still have a solid player in DeMar DeRozan, who is averaging 21.5 PPG on 43 percent shooting this season. DeRozan can be used as a building block or the future, or a hefty casino chip to be cashed in before the trade deadline.

The Raptors play in possibly the worst division in basketball history (record-wise) this season in the Atlantic Division. I’m sure the Knicks, Nets and Celtics (when Rondo returns) will improve as the season progresses, but right now it’s ugly. With the Raptors in perpetual “tanking” mode, they will have to lose a lot of games against teams that might be worse than them. This could all backfire on the Raptors, especially in the Eastern Conference where it’s not unheard of for a team under .500 to make the playoffs. The Raptors might have to consider trading DeRozan to ensure their lottery chances are safe. Poor Raptors fans, it never gets any better.

So how close are the Raptors to the playoffs? Well, with DeRozan still in the fold, I’d say pretty close. With the makeup of this team right now and considering how putrid the East is, they may still be contending for an 8th seed near the end of the season. The Raptors are relatively close to the playoffs and only a piece or two away from actually making the playoffs. It would have been interesting to see how Gay and DeRozan would play together for a whole season and how many wins they could accumulate. The Raptors will definitely need to blow this team up a little more if they are looking to wins the right to a Wiggins, Parker or Randle.

ORLANDO MAGIC (7-15)
The best thing about the Orlando Magic is that no one envisioned this team would be the winners of the Bynum/Howard/Iguodala trade two seasons ago. Instead of reaching for immediate success like the Lakers, Sixers and Nuggets did in that trade, the Magic took a backseat and collected young raw talent that these teams were throwing away. Now some of these players (Vucevic, Harkless, Nicholson) are actually resembling legitimate NBA talent. Let’s not discredit Arron Afflalo, who is averaging 21.6 points, four assists and 4.6 boards this season and even torched the Sixers for 43 points earlier this month. Even if Afflalo doesn’t fit into the long-term plans of the Magic, he’s certainly raising his trade value. The Magic have so much young talent on their roster, including Victor Oladipo, who looks more and more like a future star each game. The future is extremely bright in Orlando and with already having two lottery picks in the star studded 2014 NBA Draft, start to lookout for the Magic.

Still, the Orlando Magic are still paying Gilbert Arenas $22,346,536 this season to do… well I’m not sure what he’s doing. When asked if he will ever play in the NBA again by TMZ, Arenas responded “Hell no” and then said he’s done playing basketball. Apparently, he’s still playing at the local YMCA however.

Oh yeah, the Magic are also paying Hedo Turkoglu $12,000,000 to not play basketball. So, there’s that. But, let’s get back to reality. The bad news is that the young core in Orlando will still need a couple years of development to really start looking like a team that can compete, even in the East. With that being said, Arron Afflalo might actually be a decent enough NBA player to tether the Magic toward playoff contention instead of the ping-pong balls, so the Magic might look to cut ties with him before the wins start to accumulate.

The Magic are still a couple years from playoff contention. The young core still needs a few years to develop and they are still missing a point guard, with Jameer Nelson getting older by the second. The young talent is there, but there isn’t necessarily a superstar in that group. Vucevic looks like one of the best big men in the game (14.6 points and 11.1 boards this season) and if Oladipo is the player we all expect him to be, the things are on the right track. The jury is still out on players like Harkless, Tobias Harris and Andrew Nicholson, but all three have shown promise. The Magic need a few more seasons for their extremely raw talent to develop and draft a couple studs in this season’s draft before the playoffs should even be discussed.

UTAH JAZZ (5-19)
Utah is showing the NBA how to tank with five wins and 19 losses this season. You had to figure this would be the result when Richard Jefferson is playing 28 minutes per game and producing 10.1 points. The Jazz only have $16,280,435 committed to their payroll next season, meaning they will have room to lure star players to Utah. Plus, in 2015-2016, the Jazz literally have nothing committed in salary. So, the Jazz will have plenty of money to convince a high-priced free agent to come to Utah. Or, they could win the WPR (Wiggins, Parker, Randle) sweepstakes. The Jazz did receive 2014 and 2017 first-round draft picks and two second-round picks from the Warriors in the Andre Iguodala trade, plus a 2018 second-round pick from Denver. It may take time for the Jazz to cash in on all these picks, but it’s better than nothing.

Trey Burke is in Utah too and he looks great this season with 12.8 points, 4.6 assists (1.3 turnovers) and 3.7 rebounds. Along with Derrick Favors, he’s a great piece to build around and should give fans in Utah some hope. I can’t believe I just wrote this much about a team with five wins, but there is a light at the end of every tunnel.

But regardless of what I said above, this is still a very bad team. Gordon Hayward is supposed to be a pretty solid player and his 16.7 PPG this season might convince someone that he is. But, shooting 40 percent from the field and and 29 percent from deep are looking like Josh Smith numbers and not a player that deserves a big contract after the season. Everything is just bad here. The Jazz are 26th in the league in scoring at 93.3 PPG, while giving up 102.0 PPG (27th in the league). Their defensive rating is 29th in the league at 110.5 and their offensive rating doesn’t get much better at 101.0 (25th in the league). I think you get the point here.

Utah is just nowhere close to the playoffs. Unless a miracle happens, this team won’t see the playoffs for a long time. I have no idea who will be on this team next season or the season after, so the future is really foggy, especially being in the West. The first-round picks they have from the Warriors are nice, but the Warriors will be a very good team for a long time, so those picks won’t be anywhere near the lottery. If the Jazz wind up with Wiggins, Parker or Randle then the fog may begin to clear. No matter the results of the 2014 NBA Draft, the playoffs shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same paragraph as the Utah Jazz.

CHARLOTTE BOBCATS (10-12)
There actually is good news for the Bobcats. First, they will be going back to the Hornets name next season and the Bobcats will hopefully be put to bed for good. This will get rid of all the bad recognition that comes with the Bobcats name. Besides that, the lottery picks the ‘Cats have been accumulating over the years are developing and are looking like solid NBA players.

Kemba Walker had a 31 point, 5-rebound and 5-assist performance in a victory over the Warriors earlier this month. The former UConn standout is averaging 17 points, 4.5 assists and 4.2 boards this season. Besides Walker, there’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is a freakish athlete and one of the best wing defenders in the league. If he can develop a consist offensive game, he’s on pace to be an Andre Iguodala-type player.

Plus, the ‘Cats just inked Al Jefferson to a 3-year $41 million deal. Jefferson can be a solid anchor down low for the Bobcats (15.1 PPG and 9.2 RPG) and will look to be a great mentor to Cody Zeller. There is talent in Charlotte that has been developing for a few seasons and the Bobcats might turn the corner before most of us expect.

The Bobcats aren’t scoring at all, but they are playing exceptional defense, like one of the best defenses in the NBA, on par with the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers. The ‘Cats are giving up 92.4 PPG which is SECOND in the NBA. You know what they say, defense wins championship. I’m not sure if the ‘Cats will win a championship during my lifetime, but it’s a saying for a reason.

However, even though the Bobcats are 10-12 and hold the fifth seed in the garbage pail that is the Eastern Conference, there are still areas that need much improvement. The ‘Cats have found a way to score less points per game (90.5) than the Utah Jazz, even though they have more talent. I swear it’s something about that Bobcats name that makes them terrible no matter who is on the roster. There will always be bad news in Charlotte as long as Michael Jordan is the GM and this team is named the Bobcats.

But the playoffs are actually a possibility for the Bobcats this season, which is crazy for a team that has won 28 games the past two seasons, including the worst record in NBA history in 2011-2012 at 7-59. The Bobcats will probably wind up having one of the better season in franchise history and I can see them sneaking into the playoffs. Charlotte has never won a playoff game and has only made the playoffs once in their nine-year history. While most teams are interested in tanking, I’d love to see the Bobcats get into the playoffs. It would be a great step forward for their franchise. With an extremely weak Eastern Conference, the Bobcats may have an opportunity to sneak into the playoffs and win their first playoff game in team history.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS (5-17)
It’s hard to have good news on a team that has five wins, but here goes nothing. Maybe the best thing about the Bucks is the fact that they have a player named Giannis Antetokounmpo. Try pronouncing that one. Well, the Bucks statistically have the ninth-best defense in the NBA, giving up 98.7 PPG. The Bucks roster actually does have talent, which is why the 5-17 record is misleading. They aren’t the Sixers, who have a roster full of people that leave announcers in awkward silence after trying to figure out who scored the last basket. There’s O.J. Mayo, Brandon Knight (who has never been the same since the whole Kyrie incident), Caron Butler (injured), Larry Sanders (injured), John Henson and a couple other recognizable names. If the Bucks can get healthy then they might be a half decent team, but they dug quite the hole for themselves.

Here comes the fun part. The Bucks are like that Christmas present under the tree — wrapped in a huge box — that you are positive is some sort of awesome gift, but when you unwrap it… it’s a pair of socks and an ugly Christmas sweater. The Bucks look awesome on paper, but it just hasn’t come together on the court. They are the worst offensive team in the league. The Bucks are scoring 89.6 PPG, which is the worst in the NBA. Brandon Knight is shooting 35 percent from the field, Gary Neal is shooting 38 percent from the field and Caron Butler is shooting 39 percent from the field. As a team, the Bucks are 29th in the league in field goal percentage at 42 percent. It’s hard to win games when the ball just refuses to go in the bucket.

I see the Bucks being a fringe playoff team at the end of the season, being a few games under .500 and having the opportunity to sneak into the playoffs. There’s just too much talent on this team for me to think differently, especially in the East. The Bucks may have accumulated a lot of mediocre talent, but it’s talent nonetheless. The Bucks are close to being a playoff team, especially with Mayo, Ilyasova, Sanders and Knight under contract for the next few seasons. Give this team time to improve their chemistry and they could turn into a very fun team to watch in the coming years.

CHICAGO BULLS (8-12)
A few weeks ago Derrick Rose did discuss a 2014 playoff return… so it could happen. Regardless of who is on the Bulls roster, they still have one of the best defenses in the league (third), giving up 92.7 PPG. When a team is only scoring 92.3 PPG as a team, the team better be playing top notch defense. If the Bulls coach was anyone other than Tom Thibodeau then this team would have self-imploded by now.

I never thought I would ever type these words, but the Chicago Bulls need Nate Robinson more than ever. Seriously, there is no one on the Bulls that can create their own shot. Jimmy Butler is out for a few weeks with a big toe injury and Luol Deng missed Wednesday’s game. An already depleted roster can not afford to lose talent like that. Just keep in mind that the Bulls scored 32 first-half points against the Knicks last night. The Knicks scored 31 points in the second quarter alone. The Bulls only scored 78 points last night, there is literally no one capable of creating their own shot on this team.

I’m not sure what the Bulls are doing. Right now they look like a mediocre team that will grab a low end playoff seed and get bounced out in the first round. A lot rides on this next month of basketball in Chicago because a fire sale could be in order if the winning doesn’t pick up. I know this is hard to swallow, but the Bulls might need to close the Derrick Rose chapter for the time being (at least until he proves he can stay healthy), blow the team up and pray for some luck in the NBA lottery.

A playoff trip is certainly possible. When you play some of the best defense in the league, you will always be in games with a chance to win. However, like we saw last night in a loss to the Knicks, the Bulls don’t have a closer. Chicago erased a 23-point lead against a terrible Knicks team, but lost the game because they had no one that could score in crunch time. The Bulls still have a lot of talent, but they desperately are in need of a shooting guard that can score at will. There’s no Nate Robinson, not even a Rip Hamilton there to score. If this roster remains the way it is, the Bulls can sneak into the playoffs. I’m not sure if thats the best thing for the franchise, but the Bulls won’t give up.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (8-13)
Kyrie Irving is an absolute killer and one of the best scorers in the NBA. The franchise is in good hands with Irving manning the point guard position.

Andrew Bynum is actually playing basketball and playing great basketball at that. Bynum is only averaging 8.9 points and 5.2 boards, but it’s much improved from the 0.0 points and 0.0 boards he averaged in zero games for the Sixers last season. Bynum looks good and if he can stay on the court, the Cavs might have something special on their hands.

Tristan Thompson is finally starting to turn the corner and is averaging 11.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. There’s talent in Cleveland, it just all needs to come together. Right now they look like a bunch of independent players. If they become a team it will be dangerous.

Yet Dion Waiters is shooting a better percentage (42 percent) from the field than Kyrie Irving (41 percent). Anthony Bennett looks like a bigger bust than Kwame Brown (2.1 points on 24 percent shooting) and is only playing 10.4 MPG. Anthony Bennett looked like a complete reach on a draft night and he’s done nothing to disprove this notion. Drafting Bennet No. 1 overall might have set the Cavaliers back a few years. There’s something haunting Cleveland; the basketball gods just don’t like them. The offense is lethargic at 93.1 PPG, with a roster full of players that can score. This should be one of the more electric offenses in the NBA with Waiters and Irving, but it just looks bad right now.

The Cavaliers are close to a playoff team, and they might be able to sneak in this season. Kyrie Irving has to make the playoffs eventually, right? If Bynum manages to stay healthy, then this team should squeak into the playoffs. There’s too much talent on this roster for me to think otherwise. This might be the year the Cavaliers finally make the playoffs and stop making yearly trips to the NBA Draft lottery. This all might depend on the health of Bynum, which just sounds weird saying.

PHOENIX SUNS (12-9)
The Suns are off to an extremely hot (pun intended) start at 12-9. There’s tons to be happy about with Phoenix moving into the post-Nash era. Eric Bledsoe is becoming one of my favorite players in the Association. He’s scoring 18.6 points and adding 6.2 assists and 4.0 boards this year, so it appears that his explosion as Chris Paul‘s backup last season wasn’t a fluke. Next to Bledsoe, Goran Dragic is playing some of the best basketball in his career. For a player that only averages 10 points for his career, Dragic’s 18.4 PPG, along with 6.3 APG, are surprising numbers. The Suns might have a two-headed monster at point guard, which is a great problem to have for a team that only won 25 games last season. Miles Plumlee is almost averaging a double-double at 9.6 points and 8.3 boards per game. The Morris twins are both averaging double-digit points per game. This is one of the better shooting teams in the league too, shooting 47 percent from the field (sixth in the NBA) and 36 percent from deep (10th in the NBA). For a team that looked like prime candidates for the WPR sweepstakes, the Suns are showing a lot of fight and have legitimate talent.

At the same time, I hate to play the no-fun role, but the Suns are still a lottery-bound team. Only about 25 percent of the season has been completed and I don’t think anyone expects the Suns to keep winning games. At some point in the season, the Suns will come back down to earth, especially playing in the West where the competition is at its highest. The Suns can’t possibly keep this up. The Suns are a young team that is refusing to give up and it’s great basketball to watch. Unfortunately, the tires will fall off and we will all remember why the Suns were one of the top tanking candidates before the season started.

The playoffs are just not happening. The Suns are still a few pieces away from being a playoff team. Outside of the starting five, there isn’t much to talk about. The bench is extremely young and weak and this will be exposed as the season moves on. The lack of depth on the Suns roster is going to hurt them. The bench consists of players like P.J. Tucker, Archie Goodwin, Dionte Christmas and Ishm Smith. That’s not a bench worthy of earning a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Also, I don’t see a legitimate two guard on the Suns roster. Maybe Bledsoe can slide over, but he still looks better as a Russell Westbrook type point guard than a two guard. He’s most effective with the ball in his hands, so he should be playing point guard. However, the Suns still have a lot of great young talent that should have plenty of playing time this season to develop and excel. The Suns are still a few years away from playoff contention, but the future is a lot brighter than it was last season.

PHILADELPHIA 76ers (7-16)
For a team that has a roster made up of many unrecognizable names, the Sixers have shown a lot of fight this season. The wheels have fallen off a bit lately (they haven’t won a game in regulation in a month), but they still have victories over the Heat, Bulls (with Derrick Rose) and Rockets. Michael Carter-Williams looks like the front runner for Rookie of the Year with 17.7 points, 7.3 assists and 5.8 boards per game this season. Plus, Spencer Hawes is STILL shooting 45 percent from three-point land and is taking four threes per game, I absolutely love it.

Let’s not forget how exciting Tony Wroten is either. Wroten is averaging 13.2 PPG on 44 percent shooting this season. The best part about Wroten is that no matter if he’s 1-for-12 or 3-for-3, he only needs one shot to heat up. Also, Tony Wroten is the first player in NBA history to record a triple-double in their first start, putting up 18 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists in a 123-117 victory over the Rockets on November 13. The Sixers are the funnest team to watch in the NBA and you can’t help but love these guys.

There’s so much to be happy about in Philadelphia, besides all the losses this season. There is a franchise point guard in place, Nerlens Noel will be a factor in this league for years to come, Thaddeus Young might stick around for a few more years and then there are those two beautiful 2014 potential lottery picks the Sixers have. The fanbase will have to deal with the losses this season, but if the lottery goes their way this offseason, then the fans might be screaming for joy in the near future.

This team still consists of a roster of unknown players that probably shouldn’t be playing in the NBA. Guys like Brandon Davies (who?), Elliot Williams (who?), Lorenzo Brown (who?) and Hollis Thompson (who?). The Sixers will still lose a lot of games this season and will be one of the worst teams in the league. If Sam Hinkie winds up trading Hawes, Turner or Young, I’m not completely convinced that the Sixers can win more than a handful of games this season.

In the end, the Sixers are nowhere near the playoffs, but that’s exactly how the fans want it. The fans have bought into Sam Hinkie’s tanking plan and expect the losses to pile up. Philadelphia might disown the Sixers if they somehow snuck into the playoffs. They would lose their first-round pick to the Miami Heat from the Arnett Moultrie trade and the franchise would be set back for a while.

The Sixers will need a few years to accumulate talent and make a playoff push, but it’s in sight. With Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel as the poster boys for the future of the Sixers, there’s not a lot to complain about. With two lottery picks in the upcoming draft, who knows what the future holds for the Sixers? The future looks bright and Sam Hinkie has this franchise headed in the right direction. Not right now Philadelphia, but your time will come.

SACRAMENTO KINGS (6-14)
DeMarcus Cousins looks like one of the best centers in the league and the attitude issues seem to be at a minimum. He’s averaging 22.5 points and 10.5 boards this season. The Kings just acquired Rudy Gay too, who’s averaging 19.4 points and 7.4 boards this season. Those two could form quite the formidable duo — at least Cousins will be there to clean up all the misses from Gay’s 39 percent shooting. Isaiah Thomas has been flat out ballin’ this season with 18.3 points and 5.4 assists and with Greivis Vasquez gone, Thomas no longer has to look over his shoulder. He’s only playing 28.7 MPG, but that should increase as he takes over the main floor general duties in Sacramento.

The Kings still only have six wins. Rudy Gay has yet to play a game, but he’s not going to be the savior of the Kings franchise. It didn’t work in Toronto last season as they missed the playoffs in the East and there’s nothing that makes me believe that Rudy Gay will make the Kings a playoff team in the West. But honestly, the Kings fanbase should be optimistic. There’s talent in Sacramento and if it all meshes together, it could make for a fun time.

But I doubt they make the playoffs. The Kings are close, however. If DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay can become a dangerous 1-2 punch, then the Kings will be competitive. There’s just too much firepower in the West for the Kings to have a shot this year. The Kings will be in the playoffs in the future if the roster stops changing. The Kings seem to have a different combination of players every season, not leaving the core players time to build chemistry. If that can happen then the losses will start to dissipate.

Which of these teams have the best chance at the playoffs?

Follow Drew on Twitter at @dcorrigan50.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.

×