Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Marcus Smart, Anthony Bennett, Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo et al. may not excite you as NBA Draft prospects for 2013, but plenty of NBA teams are still busy positioning themselves to secure premium draft picks this summer. The word "tanking" is an ugly term used to disparage and discredit the efforts of moribund franchises to plan for the long-term amid disappointing seasons, but that's what is happening at the bottom of the NBA standings. The lower you get, the better odds you will have of landing a top-three pick in the draft.
That's not to say things are pretty in the cellar of the association. LeBron James has more win shares (17.5) than the Bobcats have actual wins this season (17), and the Orlando Magic (18) aren't exactly safe from LeBron's advances at this point. Meanwhile the Cavaliers have shut down Kyrie Irving and dropped even farther in the standings, but the Suns, Pistons and Hornets are primed to lose the majority of their games down the stretch as well.
The Suns have decided to take Goran Dragic out of their lineup despite the fact that he's (a) the best point guard on their roster and (b) he's completely healthy. It will create another debate over the virtues and evils of tanking, but as the team shifts time to rookie point guard Kendall Marshall in pursuit of the best odds in the draft at a franchise-changing pick, Tom Ziller made some important points about the shifting priorities of losing teams:
I don't actually oppose tanking. Not all bad teams do it. And there's no faking being the worst: Charlotte and Orlando are the two worst teams in the league by a solid margin, and they'll finish the season with the top chances at the top pick. Some teams value going into the offseason on a run. Some teams prioritize learning about their own players. Some teams want those ping pong balls.
A lot of people have a problem with that last one. So it's a problem when a team is as obvious as the Suns are being. Because this is pretty much an indisputable piece of evidence that tanking exists, the sort of thing the NBA can't ignore when folks who don't like tanking point it out.
Should Dragic be a healthy scratch? No. But would it be acceptable if the Suns had instead decided to play him less minutes to develop their younger players -- like what they've done subtly with Luis Scola and Jared Dudley? That's the real question. Because the dogged pursuit of more wins right now for terrible teams doesn't exactly make sense. It's all about the future, and here is a look at where everyone is headed.
2013 NBA Draft Lottery Standings
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