With the 2014 NBA Draft set to be one of the best in recent memory, "tanking" was a hot topic entering this season. A handful of teams clearly seemed set up to fail, with the light at the end of a tunnel of losses being the chance at one of the potential superstars in this upcoming draft.
While a few of those teams expected to be bad have indeed been bad, some of the alleged "tankers" have shown some unexpected promise, and a few surprise teams have been among the league's worst.
Let's start at the bottom. The Milwaukee Bucks were criticized this offseason for attempting to remain relevant despite being stuck in NBA purgatory, but a mix of injuries and underachieving has them with the worst record in the NBA at 3-15. As SB Nation's Tom Ziller said a few weeks ago, instead of choosing to rebuild, the rebuild appears to be coming to Milwaukee.
The second-worst team in the league is over in the Western Conference. That would be the Utah Jazz, one of the few poor teams in the West and one of the teams expected to be bad. The Jazz have some nice young pieces in place, but they essentially signaled their intention to punt on this season when they allowed Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to walk for nothing and instead took on bad contracts like Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins. Utah has played better of late and is now 4-16, but expect plenty more losses to pile up.
Besides the Sacramento Kings, the rest of the bad is in the East. The New York train wrecks are just ahead of the Bucks in the standings, but even if those two teams do wind up missing the playoffs, they both likely won't be able to take advantage of this stacked lottery. The New York Knicks dealt their 2014 first-round pick in the Carmelo Anthony deal, while the Atlanta Hawks have the right to swap picks with the Brooklyn Nets.
Ahead of the Knicks and Nets are two teams who were expected to lose a lot and two teams who were hoping to be much improved. The Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic were two of the teams many pegged as "tankers," and although both teams are under .500, the results haven't been quite as bad as predicted. The teams with higher aspirations, the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers, have been nothing short of disappointments, but the East is so bad the playoffs should remain a legitimate possibility.
A couple other teams to keep an eye on are the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Bobcats. The rebuilding Celtics are just 8-12, but they currently sit atop the woeful Atlantic Division and are patiently awaiting the return of Rajon Rondo. Meanwhile, the Bobcats sit at the No. 8 seed in the East, although their 8-11 record is 11th worst in the NBA. If the Bobcats finish outside of the top 10 in the draft, the Chicago Bulls will get their pick.
Here's a look at the current teams outside the playoff picture:
|New York Knicks||4||13|
|Los Angeles Lakers||9||9|
|New Orleans Pelicans||9||9|