Tanking is never an easy thing to handle. Deciding to tank is like walking away from the girl you’ve spent all night talking to and starting over. Sure, you would’ve loved to continue to work with the one bright piece of conversation you two had like your love for Game of Thrones, but it’s hard to go the distance with just one thing to lean on.
Instead, you decide to start from scratch with someone else in hopes of a brighter future with a happy ending looming in the distance. A number of NBA teams decided to tank by walking away from the possibility of success with their stars, but they’re already seeing a new shot of success and a bright future.
It’s come to the point in the NBA where there are two paths you should be taking. One leads towards a championship and another leads towards the top of the lottery. If you’re somehow sitting in the middle, you’re doing it wrong.
That’s what a number of teams including the Knicks, Bulls, and Pacers realized their offseason. Just like that, All-Stars Jimmy Butler, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George were westward bound as the tanking option just seemed better. Even the Nets knew they couldn’t compete with the talent on their roster and shipped arguably their best player in Brook Lopez to the Lakers.
These teams were expected to spiral towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and for the most part, they have. The Nets are shockingly 3-3 despite losing Jeremy Lin for the season, while the rest sit under .500.
The beauty currently isn’t about the high draft picks that are coming to each of these teams. It’s the future playmakers that are already taking the next step.
— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) October 26, 2017
What makes most of these teams interesting is the fact that none of these trades looked fair by any definition. The stock of their stars were all plummeting, no more so than Paul George, who decided to inform the entire world he would be leaving Indiana in free agency the following season.
In order to get anything at all in return, the Pacers decided to attempt to unlock the potential of a former highly touted prospect and took a chance on Oladipo. While the sample size has been small, there has been a ton to be excited about in Indiana; a sentence that isn’t often said when a team is tanking.
Averaging 26 points per game is pretty sweet, but it’s much sweeter considering what Paul George is doing down in Oklahoma City.
The Paul George/Victor Oladipo comparison is going to be a fun one to track all season… pic.twitter.com/ku2OADoacc
— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) October 26, 2017
Realistically, it’s not fair to compare the two as Oladipo will likely get more opportunities since there are fewer stars to be fed in Indy, but his success while having a similar usage percentage has to be fantastic for Pacers fans.
The Bulls are in a similar boat. They were in the same range as Indiana last season, floundering around the eight seed in the Eastern Conference over the past few years.
Making the playoffs is supposed to be a goal for some, but in basketball, it’s a completely different accomplishment. All you did was give yourself a few extra games and the right to be smacked on national television during the end of April. Instead of getting a head start on the golf season, and binge watching all the Netflix shows they’ve missed, the team is “preparing for the playoffs.”
That’s not an issue for Chicago. The Bulls may be high-stepping their way to the race for the worst-record by tanking in incredibly ugly fashion, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t found a bright star of their own in Lauri Markanen.
He may not be lighting up the scoreboard as much as Oladipo is, but you can’t really ask more for a rookie in the first few games of his career. With 15.8 points and 10 rebounds, he’s even getting praise from King James himself.
LeBron James on Lauri Markkanen: pic.twitter.com/IUJDjanolG
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) October 25, 2017
Any time a player of James’ caliber speaks that highly of you, you have to take notice. It even got to a point where the Cavs were focusing on Markanen defensively.
He has the “Dirk” label attached to him — like every single tall, lanky shooter will till the end of time, but his hot start shows there’s a chance this Bulls’ tank job might not be as long as we’d expect. Plus, let’s not forget that this guy is coming back this season.
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) July 6, 2017
The Bulls and the Pacers may be tanking the more traditional way of dumping their stars for future assets, but the two teams residing in New York that will likely spend their season at the bottom of the garbage pile decided to go a different route that is still extremely effective.
For the Knicks, they essentially received a big pile of nothing that was wrapped in a bow and sent in the shape of Enes Kanter in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. Kanter isn’t expected to be a big part of the future, but the departure of their disgruntled star left plenty of room for a Unicorn to graze freely.
Knicks 107, Nets 86
Kristaps Porzingis: 3rd 30-point game of the season, matching total from first two seasons combined. ? pic.twitter.com/lxR27aaIL1
— Bucci Mane (@Buccigross) October 28, 2017
Everyone knew the potential Porzingis had as he spent his first two seasons ruthlessly murdering people around the hoop, but that’s all it was: potential. With Melo serving as the second banana in OKC, New York is his city now.
The Big Apple is a brutal place if you’re not playing well, but Porzingis has stepped into the spotlight seamlessly. His 26.5 points per game average is the fifth-highest mark in the league, showing that he’ll likely earn his first bid to an All-Star game.
If you take a short trip on the 5 train from MSG to the Barclays Center, you’ll be able to see another way to move your team in the right direction. It’s no secret that the Nets have been the worst team in the league over the past few years making it extremely difficult to label them as a team that’s tanking.
They aren’t contending anytime soon since they haven’t had a top draft pick thanks to the legal robbery that occurred during their infamous trade with the Celtics, so wins aren’t on the horizon. There was no reason to keep one of the team’s best players, Brook Lopez, around anymore and they exchanged him for higher potential in D’Angelo Russell.
Snitches normally don’t do well in Brooklyn, but Russell’s ability to lead the team with the most points scored per game thus far has people quickly forgetting.
D'Angelo Russell is the 5th 21-yo since 1983 to have 90+ points and 20+ assists in the first 4 games of a season (22.5 & 5 per game) pic.twitter.com/ah4YRbhRnl
— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) October 25, 2017
It’s never easy tanking for the thought of a potentially happy future. It’s rare that teams win these trades, as game-changing players are seldom found in a star-driven league. Hitting the eject button brings you to rock bottom, but you’d be surprised about the amount of gems you find on the floor.