51 Q: Besides Sixers, who else is tanking?

3 Comments

By now, we know the Philadelphia 76ers’ program. They’re entering year three of the Sam Hinkie era, year three of #TrustTheProcess, year three of completely disregarding the idea of being a competent NBA team in the name of collecting assets. It’s a controversial strategy, but a logical one for what they’re trying to accomplish. They’ve been a lightning rod around the league for arguments in favor of lottery reform and other preventative measures to combat this blatant lack of competitiveness. But the problem isn’t as widespread as it seems: a look around the league heading into the season shows most of the bad teams at least trying to be better, even if they won’t be successful.

The closest thing to another all-out tank job looks to be the Portland Trail Blazers, who lost four out of five starters, including LaMarcus Aldridge. In their place, they’ve loaded up on prospects. The highest paid player on their roster (until next year, when Damian Lillard‘s massive extension kicks in), is Al-Farouq Aminu, making just over $8 million. Moe Harkless and Tim Frazier figure to be rotation players on this team. With the core of a perennial Western Conference contender gone, GM Neil Olshey is instead opting for a more palatable version of the Sixers’ model. It helps their watchability that they already have a franchise player in place in Lillard. Around him, for now, they’re just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping to hit on a few fringe players and pick up extra first-round picks by taking back bad contracts (their cap room is almost unlimited). It’s a sound plan for where they find themselves in a post-Aldridge existence, but it’s going to be ugly, at least for this season.

Most of the rest of the teams that might have been seen as tanking have made legitimate moves to get better. The Lakers have a stated goal of getting back to contention soon, which is absurd, but they’re not going to purposely lose in what will likely be Kobe Bryant‘s final year. They made a few big offseason acquisitions of legitimate NBA rotation players, including Roy Hibbert and Lou Williams, and have No. 2 overall pick D'Angelo Russell and a healthy Julius Randle in the fold. If everyone is healthy, they’re going to be at least competing to be in the group of teams just outside of good enough to seriously compete for a playoff spot in the west. Ditto the Kings, who added Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli. Everything could go to hell in a second for them — it’s always in play there — but at least on paper, they figure to be better.

Even in the notoriously inferior Eastern Conference, there are going to be more teams shooting for 30 wins than the Knicks’ 17. New York had a solid offseason of signing veterans and taking incremental steps to being a normal basketball team. The Nets, as mediocre as they may be, have no incentive to tank since they don’t have their own pick in next year’s draft. The Pacers are getting Paul George back. The Pistons should be better with a roster that actually fits Stan Van Gundy’s style.

That’s not to say some teams won’t pivot strategy during the season when they see that a playoff spot isn’t happening. The Nuggets are a prime candidate. Right now, they’re a strange mishmash of quality veterans and completely unproven youngsters that, on paper, should be worth a solid 35 wins. If they decide to blow it up, though, it will be easy to move the contracts of Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari. Denver already took a step towards this youth movement by unloading troubled point guard Ty Lawson and handing the keys to No. 7 pick Emmanuel Mudiay. A rookie point guard is always a tricky proposition, even when it’s someone as talented as Mudiay, but at least for now, he has competent teammates that will at least be competitive every night.

Charlotte is another team with a lot of variance in how their season could shake out, and Rich Cho has never been afraid to shake things up. It’s not impossible to imagine a world where they’re competing for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference; it’s also not impossible to picture them winning 20 games and having a fire sale in February. Nicolas Batum, just acquired this summer from the Blazers, is a prime candidate to be moved to a contender as a rental if the Hornets’ season falls apart.

For as much attention as the act of tanking gets in the conversation around the NBA, there are only two teams actively engaging in it from the start. A look around the league’s lower tier shows most teams taking steps to improve, at least in theory. Whether they will or not is a different story, but at least they’re trying.

Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman, possible first-rounder, staying in 2020 NBA Draft

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Michigan State power forward Xavier Tillman went No. 23 in the last mock draft by Kurt Helin and Rob Dauster.

That’s the type of confidence in Tillman that has him staying in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Michigan State release:

Michigan State men’s basketball rising senior Xavier Tillman Sr. (Grand Rapids, Mich./GR Christian) announced today that he would remain eligible for the 2020 NBA Draft and plans to hire an agent.

Tillman doesn’t look like a typical first-round pick. He’s an upperclassman, 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds and not an elite athlete.

But he just knows how to play.

Tillman is a physical interior defender who’s mobile enough on the perimeter. His basketball intelligence typically outshines his physical limitations.

That also goes for offense, where Tillman is also hamstrung by lackluster outside shooting. But Tillman can screen and finish or pass – a useful combination for a roller in the NBA.

I’m not sure whether Tillman will go in the first round. Teams tend to value higher-upside players, as the draft is often the best opportunity to acquire a star.

But Tillman was darned effective in college and has a reasonable chance of being effective in the NBA. In this draft, that should make him a first-round pick.

Must watch: Lonzo Ball halfcourt alley-oop to Zion Williamson

Lonzo Ball Zion Williamson
Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Damn. This is just a thing of beauty.

Lonzo Ball and Zion Williams have a connection on the court and the Grizzlies got a look at it up close and personal Monday.

NBA TV has another angle

In a must-win game for 0-2 New Orleans, Zion played more in the first half than we have seen recently, but he was still under 10 minutes total. He had 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting, leading an energized Pelicans team that led by seven at the half.

Thunder’s Dennis Schroder leaves bubble for birth of child

Dennis Shroder child
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dennis Schroder was not in uniform when Oklahoma City lost to Denver Monday. He wasn’t even in Orlando.

Schroder left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of his child, something the team knew was coming but came up suddenly Monday morning, coach Billy Donovan said pregame (reporting from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin inside the bubble).

 

“I’m not gonna leave my wife by herself while she’s having a second baby,” Schroder said when he talked about this with reporters previously. “(Dennis) Jr. is still 17 months old, so I’m for sure gonna go there and support her and try as much as I can to be there for my family.”

Congratulations to the Schroder family, we hope everyone is happy and healthy.

The Thunder will miss Schroder while he’s gone. He is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate averaging 19 points per game while shooting 38.1% from three. The Thunder are at their most dangerous when Schroder is paired with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a rotation that we will not see for a while.

The first round of the playoffs starts Aug. 17. Schroder can return to the team, the question is how long he will be in quarantine when he does. If Schroeder has a negative coronavirus test for seven consecutive days before his return, he will be in quarantine for four days. If he does not get tested, or if he exposes himself to the virus unnecessarily while outside the bubble — for example, picking up wings from a strip club for dinner — he will have a 10-day quarantine.

The Thunder could use him for what will be a tight first-round playoff series in a very balanced West. Schroder may or may not be there, he has higher priorities right now.

Oklahoma state Rep. threatens to increase Thunder’s taxes for kneeling during national anthem

Oklahoma City Thunder kneel during national anthem
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Oklahoma City Thunder – like all NBA teams (minus a few individuals) – kneeled during the national anthem.

That powerful protest calls attention to racism, particularly through police brutality. It is highly patriotic to work toward ending those shameful practices. Though some have distorted the underlying message, the protests have largely worked. In the years since Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, Americans have developed a heightened sensitivity to racism and police brutality.

Of course, there are still many opponents of anthem kneeling. The demonstration causes a visceral reaction (which is also why it has been so effective). At this point, it’s hard to stand out among the critics of anthem kneeling who keep making the same, tired arguments.

Oklahoma state representative Sean Roberts found a way.

Roberts, via Oklahoma’s News 4:

“By kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the NBA and its players are showing disrespect to the American flag and all it stands for. This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation’s police, its ties to Marxism and its efforts to destroy nuclear families.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma. Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024.

Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family.”

This is outrageous.

It’s outrageous that the Thunder get such a targeted tax break. The franchise is a private company that should succeed or fail based on its own merits. While it’s easy for NBA fans (like readers of this site) to get caught up in the league, professional basketball isn’t actually important for the greater good.

It’s outrageous that a company’s tax status could depend on how its employees exercise their freedom of expression. The First Amendment still exists.

Ultimately, Roberts almost certainly doesn’t have the power to do what he’s threatening. This is grandstanding for political gain. It gets Roberts into national headlines and little else. Mission accomplished, I guess.

So, Roberts builds a reputation as another big-government politician – someone who wants to use the heavy hand of government to dissuade free expression.