Due to the Brooklyn Nets having such a steady rise out of the NBA’s basement, they find themselves in unprecedentedly popular territory.
No one expected the Brooklyn Nets to legitimately contend for anything this season, but analyzing the results in respect to the rest of the NBA tells an even deeper story than “the Nets stink.” At 20-44, Brooklyn finds itself in the thick of the tanking race. Tanking is far from a new concept in the NBA, but it is considerably more noticeable this season.
From the Kristaps Porzingis-less Knicks all the way down to the dead-last Grizzlies, there are nine teams in legitimate contention for the No. 1 pick. Sans the Nets, who are devoid of their own first round pick, the other eight are clearly trying to lose on purpose to increase their odds.
That is obviously the smart move in a league like the NBA, where the talent is so top-heavy. If a team does not expect to legitimately compete for the playoffs, and is in need of a quality young piece to build around, why wouldn’t they lose on purpose to increase such chances?
Several franchises picked up on this long before the season’s inception, and several more joined the party after calamitous injuries to their stars. With this enlightenment, however, the tank race has saturated to a point of superfluousness.
Only three games separate the bottom eight teams, with the Nets smack-dab in the middle of them. Are there enough quality prospects to feed all those mouths?
Everyone in this tier is in desperate need of a good young player to build with. Even the Cavaliers, owners of the Nets’ first-rounder, could use a young wing or guard for the post-LeBron era. But how many will get what they wish for?
These trends are prevalent to the Nets next season, when they retain full control over their first-rounders. Will a different set of teams join Brooklyn in a comedic sequel? Will poor front offices return for another stay at Tank City after choosing the wrong prospect in 2018? How will the NBA’s front office address an issue that currently plagues a third of its teams?
The NBA is attempting to deter egregious tanking with a reformed lottery, which distributes the odds more evenly among all lottery teams. However, such new rules will only complicate the issue. Even more teams could be inclined to tank with the odds more spread out.
In a system that rewards bad teams with high draft selections, there is an incentive for noncompetitive teams to throw games. And if, say, the winning teams got better draft selections, that would only widen the already gaping disparity of talent across the league.
All these factors will perplex the league for years to come, which could impact how the Nets continue to build. The incentive will still be to lose in order to obtain a high-upside prospect to pair with D’Angelo Russell. However, the level at which they throw games might seem more natural than whatever the Dallas Mavericks are doing.
Recall that this team is extremely young, and its payroll is clogged thanks to additions like Timofey Mozgov. Legitimate contention will be unlikely for a few more years. Considering all these factors, the losses will likely continue to pile up organically.
Nets fans should be ecstatic for this. Top-tier young talent is a lot more exciting than the stagnation of Nik Stauskas‘ development. Acquiring a guy with any chance to become a star is thrilling in its own right.
The Philadelphia 76ers‘ rapid ascension only bolsters this theory. They have two superstars and not much else, yet they are in the thick of the East’s playoff race.
The Phoenix Suns are still bad, but high-upside players like Devin Booker and Josh Jackson make them a fun watch. Fans and players cling to stars.
Hence why, even with the reform of the lottery and surfeit of bad teams, the incentive will still be to tank in 2019. Russell’s Robin (or maybe even Batman) has yet to be found. Once general manager Sean Marks finds him, the success will come.