Oklahoma City handed the NBA a blueprint, should GMs choose to copy it: Strip your team down to nothing, reap high lottery picks, play those youngsters.
Simple enough, right? Luck is needed for this to be replicable, but providence isn’t to blame for why we so rarely see an OKC plan executed. The problem is that losing in the short term goes against instinct. Winning is a tonic, it’s addictive, you need it. And like any addiction, the compulsion to win now makes a man lose perspective. Coaches bench rookies in pursuit of short term ends, sacrificing youth development to the altar of a “10th seed” season. Sacrificing youth development is bad enough, but a higher win total usually means a lower draft choice–so now the coach is sabotaging the future on two fronts. Those bastards.
But perhaps OKC’s success will usher in a new era of strategic tanking. The NBA certainly heralded as much with their Hornets house cleaning. Organic, restrained, League Pass friendly growth might just be in these days.
So with a bulging eye towards the future, I rank my Thunder Potential teams for 2012. These are currently bad squads, primed to grow splendidly if they can ward off a coach’s short term compulsion.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (Cumulonimbus)
There was much garments-rending over how LeBron left Cleveland in rancid shambles, but few noted the bizarre NBA paradox: Rancid shambles = where you want to be in this league. Rank failure is rewarded, and handsomely so. The upstart Cavs now sport the first and fourth picks from 2011. With Baron Davis amnestied, and Antawn Jamison expiring, Cleveland will have ample financial room going forward.
Despite widespread assertions to the contrary, I believe that Kyrie Irving has superstar potential. Tristan Thompson looks like he could become a valuable defensive force at the 4 spot, no small thing in this league. Promising draft, promising team.
Ointment flies: Owner Dan Gilbert seems quite impulse oriented, and he might jump at the chance to trade for the next Jamison. Coach Byron Scott has been meager with minutes for Irving and Thompson–which should buy Scott a swift conviction in the Court of League Pass.
2. New Orleans (Fair Weather Cumulus)
The commissioner waived his magic sceptre, made his team highly tankable, highly promising. Eric Gordon looks great in a league of so few impact twos and New Orleans will likely get two lottery picks next year, courtesy of themselves and the Minnesota T-Wolves.
Ointment flies: Unfortunately for New Orleans, two teams have been playing decently. One of them is Minnesota and the other is New Orleans. If this trend continues, it will take a cold envelope in a hell for the Hornets to luck into two top-five picks. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, two top-five NOH picks might be worth a thousand conspiracy theories.
The Pistons are some well-positioned brand of awful. From the throes of dysfunction, Detroit nabbed a great pick in Greg Monroe. If Brandon Knight comes through as a star PG, the Pistons have quite a duo to mix with a probable high pick in 2012. Just imagine Anthony Davis playing alongside Greg Monroe. I command you to conjure that vision.
Ointment flies: This team has a history of overpaying veterans, veterans who are apparently capable of mutiny. This might have something to do with how Monroe and Knight aren’t topping 30 minutes per game.
4. Minnesota (Chance of showers)
They might be simultaneously too good and too poorly run for eventual greatness. But it’s just as well, since the Wolves don’t have a pick next year. Kevin Love could be an unlikely superstar and Ricky Rubio could be an even more unlikely superstar. They also have last year’s No. 2 pick in Derrick Williams.
Ointment flies: Too good and too poorly run for eventual greatness. They don’t have a pick next year. A certain single-syllable GM.
5. Utah Jazz (Chance of rain)
So many recent high picks (Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward) on one team. The Jazz are an average age of “Gets carded.”
Ointment flies: There is a chance–perhaps even a likelihood–that Kanter, Favors and Hayward are below average players. I don’t want to write Enes off just yet, but his early inability to finish around the rim has me worried.
6. Washington Wizards (JaValiojumpus)
I do not love this roster. They’re simply here because John Wall has potential, Ted Leonsis tacitly supports strategic tanking, and they currently stink.
Ointment flies: They reek of a smell that attracts more flies than ointment. It is a stench that might not come off for awhile. Though Leonsis may have talked up OKC’s slow growth model, Andray Blatche siphoned 27 million from Ted’s pockets. And what if John Wall never becomes his destiny? What then?