Updated tank rankings: Jan. 22-28 "The Expansion"
The NBA is back, again! After the rumor mill for the trade deadline seemed a little too quiet, the Woj-bombs are back with a bang, most notably the Blake Griffin-for-a-pick-and-no-more-$173-million-contract trade that came out of left field on Monday. That was followed by a second Woj-bomb the next morning involving Nikola Mirotic to the Pelicans, which actually fell apart not long after and became the rare defused Woj-bomb:
What the Griffin and now-defunct Mirotic trade have in common is that both involve non-playoff teams swinging deals with the recognition that these trades could make them worse for this season; in other words, a little bit of tanking. Now, there is a chance that the Clippers improve following this deal, but with Woj reporting that they're still searching for trades involving Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan, that could very well change in the next eight days. The buyer's market still has less demand than the seller's, but timely injuries to the likes of John Wall, Andre Roberson, Kevin Love, and Demarcus Cousins could change that — sellers will need to cash in on contending teams' desperation (i.e. Clippers to Pistons), as well as avoid the opinions of Kristaps Porzingis.
As the deadline inches closer, we're beginning to get a better sense of the direction of a lot of teams, and with that it's time to put a magnifying glass on the losers: the expanded Tank Rankings! Going forward, all 14 non-playoff teams will be listed, and their rankings will be determined based on how far they've gone to suck as well as if they should be doing even more to improve their pole position in the race to the bottom. Sure, the Knicks may still be trying to get that eighth seed, but there's now a gaping hole in Oklahoma City at the starting shooting guard spot in which Courtney Lee would fit perfectly. Not to mention a potential bidding war between the Cavs and Warriors for Kyle O'Quinn now that Kevin Love could miss up to two months. Onwards to the rankings:
1. Orlando Magic (Prev. rank: 2)
It finally happened: the Kings have been dethroned. The Magic enjoyed a pair of losses this week, most namely a home loss to the aforementioned juggernauts which is why they've leapfrogged them for the top spot. The Magic now own the worst record in the league and are taking full advantage of Nikola Vucevic's broken hand. Vucevic is reportedly being told to play video games to rehab his left hand, which is a little too on the nose for a Magic season that feels like it's being simulated in 2K.
2. Sacramento Kings (Prev rank: 1)
How the mighty have fallen: a 2-2 week for the Kings has set them back some, however they still seem just as committed to the tank as before. It was about time De'Aaron Fox started producing given his hefty workload, and Buddy Hield is a threat to get hot and swing a game on any given night. Either way, the roster is probably the least talented in the league, and imminent trades of George Hill and Zach Randolph should keep the Kings awful.
3. Phoenix Suns (Prev. Rank: 6)
The Suns had been underperforming their tank expectations until this week, where an 0-4 run was capped off by a home blowout to a potential contender in the Knicks. In the same way that Celtics-Warriors was a reminder of who the best team in the league still is, Knicks-Suns was a reminder of who one of the true tankers still is.
4. Memphis Grizzlies (Prev. Rank: N/A)
The Grizzlies have reasserted their top-five position in these rankings following their announcement that Mike Conley will undergo heel surgery and miss the rest of the season. Earlier this month Conley said that he planned to return at some point this season, however the tank has officially made its way to Memphis, and with it comes season-ending surgeries and Tyreke Evans trade rumors.
5. Atlanta Hawks (Prev. Rank: 5)
Really not much to say about this team except that they still suck. I had been skeptical about how bad they could really be given that they're coached by Mike Budenholzer, but they've proven me wrong yet again. Look for them to really ramp it up soon if they can offload their veterans before the deadline.
6. Dallas Mavericks (Prev. Rank: 2)
Interesting stat to note with the Mavs: they're fourth in the league in three-pointers attempted and sixth in three-pointers made, per NBA.com. That doesn't make the Mavs good, but it does mean that they're a threat to get hot on any given night and steal a couple games based on their shooting.
7. New York Knicks (Prev. Rank: 4)
This was the first week that the Knicks really looked like true tankers: O'Quinn missed two games with a mysterious calf injury (not the best timing when they should be showcasing him as much as possible for potential trades), Hardaway rested one, and so did Porzingis. That tank was halted however by the previously mentioned heat check game against the Suns, and now one of the biggest storylines for the Knicks involves Joakim Noah's "dismissal" from the team. I find debates over what to do with Noah pretty pointless, because unless Scott Perry can pull off an Ujiri-like deal in which a team gives away a very valuable asset (unprotected first round pick!) for a washed piece of garbage, then I don't see anything happening with Noah. The Knicks can't trade with the Knicks unfortunately. It's disappointing to see this situation unfold because Noah's leadership and defensive knowledge could've had some value to the Knicks, so seeing that he's become a locker room disturbance is unfortunate and officially makes him the worst contract in the league. The Knicks have actually done the impossible and one-upped the Stoudemire contract. How's it goink?
8. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls had been enjoying a renaissance ever since the return of Nikola Mirotic and the ascendance of Kris Dunn, but an 0-4 week and Mirotic trade rumors that have hit a boiling point have them right back in this race. Don't be surprised if the Knicks-Bulls rivalry spills over into the tanking sphere.
9. Los Angeles Clippers
Jerry West deserves a medal for ridding the Clippers of the Stoudemire contract 2.0, and the rest of the roster is still on the table. According to Woj, the Clippers are trying to rebuild on the fly without gutting their roster, which, I mean, is kind of impossible. Even the Celtics sucked for a year before turning things back around. The Griffin trade gave the Clippers a direction, I'll trust West to see his vision out.
10. Charlotte Hornets
There's been no momentum yet on any sort of Kemba Walker trade so the Hornets tank remains on standby. If a Kemba trade were to happen a Dwight Howard deal would also seem logical; he could be the consolation for a team that misses out on DeAndre.
11. Brooklyn Nets
It's the last year that the Nets are losing their first rounder, however their record still holds some importance as the Cavs can use their pick in trade discussions. The better the record that the Nets have, the more likely the pick is to get moved for help around LeBron; the eighth pick is easier to let go of than a top-five one. That being said, it's unclear what exactly Cleveland can get with that and if whatever it is is even enough to move the needle. With the way that this season's gone, they should be prepared to build around a Nets pick-Kevin Love core going forward.
12. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are going to lose their pick no matter what, and the final outcome of that pick is looking spicy for either the Celtics or Sixers. There haven't really been any rumors about the pick from either the Celtics or Sixers, so not much to monitor here.
13. Utah Jazz
With Cousins gone and Blake Griffin traded, it's not inconceivable that the Jazz could sneak into the playoffs. Gobert is back and Mitchell still looks awesome, so the firepower is there for a second consecutive playoff berth.
14. Detroit Pistons
After taking on that Blake contract the Pistons better not be tanking. Congrats on Lob City lite, Detroit.