Jeff Jacobsen/Kansas Athletics
With a loaded draft class coming up — led by Andrew Wiggins, the projected first overall pick — and the team still rebuilding, the goal for the Orlando Magic this season will be to lose and secure a superstar talent at the top of the draft. Unfortunately for the Magic, that’s the aim of other teams as well.
The Sixers are the clear favorite for the worst record in the league after a sweeping offseason overhaul. They traded away their best player in Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans in return for Nerlens Noel, who is expected to miss a bulk of the season while he recovers from an ACL injury, and a 2014 first round pick.
Philadelphia only has $40 million on the books this season, and if they decline all options, they could have a payroll as low as $11 million next summer, per ShamSports.com. About half the roster didn’t play more than 200 minutes last season and three of those players have been identified as prime trade chips. It’s going to be ugly.
The best-case scenario for the Magic is that Thaddeus Young isn’t traded, Spencer Hawes plays out of his mind like he did at the start of the 2011-12 season, and Evan Turner makes a leap. What’s more likely though, is that this team challenges the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats as the worst team of all-time and claims the top odds in the lottery.
The Suns will be bad, but they aren’t quite as well set up to blatantly tank as the Sixers. This team won 25 games last season, and didn’t get that much worse during the offseason.
Eric Bledsoe will hopefully transition smoothly to a high minutes role and will mesh well with Goran Dragic in the backcourt. The largest factor that can change this team’s fate is what they do with Dragic and Marcin Gortat. Both are good trade chips that can be easily moved, and trading either one makes this Suns team drastically worse.
Phoenix’s first round pick, Alex Len, isn’t expected to make a large initial impact, but Archie Goodwin, their late first round selection, has been pegged as a sleeper.
The Suns are expected to finish pretty close to the 25 wins they racked up last season, but that could be an over- or underestimation, depending on Bledsoe’s transition, their activity on the trade market, and their voracity in tanking.
The Jazz went into the offseason with two massive question marks, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. By letting both of them walk without protest in free agency, Utah management clearly signaled the direction the franchise would be going. And at least for this season, that direction is straight to the bottom of the standings.
The Jazz have young talent in every spot in what will presumably be their starting lineup (Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter), but the keyword there is young. All these players will be entering new roles with a lot more responsibility than they’re used to, and it’s almost a guarantee that there will be growing pains.
This team could win 27 games or 37. Utah’s win total is entirely dependent on how quickly the young players adjust to larger roles, or if they do at all.
This starts to get into iffy territory on whether or not the team is actually tanking. Danny Ainge has denied it, but so would every other league executive if they were asked if their team was tanking, and no matter what, this team will be awful.
The Celtics ranked 24th in the league in offensive efficiency last season, and will be without two of their three best offensive players with the departures of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. And Rajon Rondo, the player that rounded out that top three is out with an ACL tear. There are no clear first, second, or third options. Jeff Green? Avery Bradley? Brandon Bass?
Defense will be an issue, too. Boston’s D fell apart when Garnett hit the bench last season, as they were 8.4 points per 100 possessions worse defensively when he was off the floor, per NBA.com. Without KG, the Celtics could be one of the worst defensive teams in the league this season.
Altogether, Boston is solidly entrenched in the 25-win range, but that projection could change based on Rondo’s return date.
Charlotte Bobcats and Sacramento Kings
I’ve lumped these two teams together because it’s unclear whether or not they’re trying to lose. Both went out and got good players this offseason, which doesn’t scream tanking, but both will still be pretty bad — at least on paper.
The Bobcats and Kings will probably finish pretty close to the Magic in the standings. The difference is that it’s pretty clear the Magic are tanking. The fates of Charlotte and Sacramento are almost entirely dependent on internal development.