(Photo curtesy of NBA.com)
The Grizzlies are slowly moving on from the Grit-N-Grind era. Getting rid of Gasol for Valencunis, Delon Wright, and CJ Miles at the trade deadline but held onto 31 year old Mike Conley. Memphis was unable to add young talent or draft picks in the trade, leaving them with only Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, and Jevon Carter as the core of their team under the age of 27 to begin next season. It’s clear that they need to have the support from their ownership to fully rebuild. Current owner Robert Pera said that this team had “50-win potential” in 2018 according to NBA.com.
Memphis only has 28 wins with 14 games left which currently slots them with the 7th worst winning percentage in the league. That’s great news for a rebuild right? The 7th highest lottery odds could land them a potentially great piece to pair with JJJ for years to come. 7th place isn’t a terrible place to be, unless of course you’re only one game out of the 9th spot in the lottery odds, in which case their pick is owed to the Boston Celtics. Danny Ainge is looking to collect on the trade that sent Jeff Green to Memphis in a three team trade that included New Orleans.
With Jaren Jackson Jr. already sidelined with a quad injury, it shouldn’t be hard to lose moving forward. This Grizzlies’s roster is made up of timelines that don’t show a clear plan, and if Memphis doesn’t tank now, that timeline doesn’t get any more clear for another season.
The NBA was shaken up when Dallas swiped the “Unicorn” Kristaps Porzingis from the New York Knicks. This move was an attempt at going all in with a roster rebuild. They've taken multiple steps to build their team for the future, including clearing out Harrison Barnes' contract and getting a young wing in Justin Jackson, who has been disappointing, but is on a team friendly $2.8 million contract. These moves have been follow ups from the initial move to get their franchise star in Luka Doncic when the Mavs traded up two spots and sent a future first round pick to the Hawks. In his first season Doncic is the clear favorite for Rookie of the Year, and has taken the NBA by storm.
The Mavericks lose their pick to the Hawks this year if that pick is outside the top five. So where does Dallas’s pick land right now if the season ended today? You guessed it, number six. They need to drop down just one spot, the only issue is that the team at number five is the Atlanta Hawks. The team that knows that if they let Dallas fall below them they don’t get the pick this year.
Mark Cuban went on a podcast last year and was talking to Julius Erving about his clear plans to tank. You might not hear Cuban on a podcast anytime soon but they need to drop 4.5 games in the standings to retain a pick. My advice to the Mavs is this; put in Dirk Nowitzki as much as possible the last 14 games and the losing will come. Send him off with 50 FGA in a game like Kobe Bryant and watch the losses roll in.
The Clippers are a completely different team than they were two years ago from when they had Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan. They also shipped out fan favorites Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic this trade deadline. At the end of the many trades the young core that they were able to obtain was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Landry Shamet, and three future first round picks. It’s no secret that this team is younger, less talented, and in a great position with multiple first round picks. It's also no secret that this doesn’t sound like a playoff team.
It's been widely reported that the focus of next year is going after superstar level free agents such a Kawhi Leonard. They have a tough question that they will need to answer; Are they a more appealing free agent destination if they are able to make the playoffs in the West with no All-Star, or if they have an extra first round pick in the 2019 draft? Their pick is headed to Boston this year if they finish outside of the lottery, which they currently are by 4.5 games. The problem with this is that they have an easy schedule for the final stretch of the season including games against the Bulls, Knicks, Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Lakers, and two games against the Cavs. While there is a path to them saving their pick so that they can aggressive try to trade for Anthony Davis, it seems unlikely.
It’s easy to see why Clippers Owner Steve Ballmer want’s to be the only team from LA to make the playoffs, but they should be thinking about the long game. The Clippers have become the place to be in LA and have a chance to expand on that by tanking.
It’s no secret that the Lakers have fallen below expectations after landing the biggest star in the NBA in LeBron James. After winning on Christmas Day at Golden State, ESPN’s BPI estimated they had an 82% chance of making the playoffs. That seemed like forever ago, in a world were LeBron wasn't hurt. ESPN's BPI now give them less than .01% to make the playoffs and their second best player in Brandon Ingram has been sidelined for the year with a scary blood clot injury. The rest of the season LeBron James will be on a minutes restriction as his only real achievement will be moving up the all time scoring list.
If they can fall from their current spot at 12th overall to 9th overall, they could triple their odds to get the number one overall pick. There is a real chance that they are unable to secure a top free agent, so they could use the improved draft pick as an asset to trade for a second tier superstar. Nobody needs to see Mike Muscala, Andre Ingram, and Lance Stephenson struggle as LeBron gets frustrated. The Lakers need to give up this season and fully embrace the tank.