Entering the 2022/23 season, it looked like it could be a historic year for tanking in the NBA, with Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson headlining next year’s draft class as prospects who have the potential to transform a franchise.
So far though, many of the teams expected to be involved in that race to the bottom have performed better than expected. The Pacers (5-6) and Spurs (5-7) have been hovering around .500, while the Jazz (10-3) have the best record in the Western Conference.
Still, front office executives who spoke to Sam Amick of The Athletic believe it’s just a matter of time before we see a handful of teams bottom out.
“It’s such a long season,” one executive said. “A lot of people that run and operate teams understand the risk of not winning games, as far as what it does to the fabric of your organization or your team. They do value teaching the right habits and making sure they’re putting their best foot forward and trying to win games, so I think that’s why you’re seeing teams perform better than what we thought coming out. But I do think at some point during the season, when teams realize where they’re at, they’ll adjust and do more things to try to procure the best position they can.”
Another exec put it more succinctly: “Nobody starts 0-10. You just can’t do that. But yeah, (the tanking) will happen.”
Amick spoke to 10 NBA front office executives about a variety of topics, with a focus on possible tanking teams. Here are a few more highlights from his article, which is worth checking out in full if you’re an Athletic subscriber:
- While some executives believe the Jazz remain open for business and will look to continue selling off veterans, others aren’t convinced the team will go into fire-sale mode. “I think (CEO) Danny (Ainge) won’t break it all the way down,” an exec told Amick. “I could see him keeping a guy like (Lauri) Markkanen, and (there’s a sense) that he doesn’t have the stomach for a true rebuild. That might be one team that doesn’t make moves to go that direction because Danny doesn’t believe in it.”
- Veteran center Jakob Poeltl is considered a “floor lifter” for the Spurs, so if San Antonio wants to bottom out, he’ll likely emerge as a prime trade candidate in the coming weeks and months — especially since he’s so highly regarded around the NBA. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up back there, but I also think he’ll be very much in demand (from other teams) in February,” an exec told Amick.
- Although Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has expressed confidence in the Thunder‘s future, people around the league are curious about how long he’ll remain patient if the losses continue to pile up. Amick says “quite a few teams” are monitoring Gilgeous-Alexander’s situation in addition to the Raptors, whose interest was reported in September. “You keep hearing that Shai is frustrated with the losing, and so I think that’s the Toronto thing that we’ve all heard about with their interest in Shai this summer,” one executive said. “But how far do (the Thunder) want to push this (tanking effort)?”