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NBA Saturday: Blatt is Right Hire for Cavaliers

The Cavaliers went the unconventional route to hire their next head coach, European icon David Blatt. Was it the right move?

Alex Kennedy

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Blatt is Right Hire for Cavaliers

Nine-year NBA veteran Anthony Parker wanted to make something clear before we started our conversation about David Blatt, the new head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The two men go way back, since Blatt was the assistant coach who recruited Parker to Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2000 and coached him during some of the most successful years of his professional basketball career.

“I’m one of his biggest fans, so you’re not going to hear me say anything negative about him,” Parker said with a laugh. “If you’re looking for a balanced view of David Blatt, I’m the wrong guy to talk to.”

It’s understandable that Parker would sing Blatt’s praises and fully support his former coach. But after spending the last 24 hours talking to individuals familiar with Blatt – including those who have played for him, competed against him, worked alongside him or evaluated him from a distance – it turns out that Parker’s sentiment is the general consensus around the basketball world. Every single review of Blatt was glowing and finding someone who is willing to say something negative about the 55-year-old is nearly impossible since he is one of the most respected coaches on the planet.

Cleveland hired Blatt to become their new head coach on Friday, inking him to a four-year contract with an annual base salary of $3.33 million and incentives that could increase his yearly pay to $5 million. Some fans were confused by the decision to hire Blatt, as they had never heard of the international coach since he hasn’t played or coached in the NBA. However, the reaction from those in the know was overwhelmingly positive.

Over the last two decades, Blatt has established himself as one of the game’s best overseas coaches and he has a trophy case packed with international championships, Olympic medals and Coach of the Year awards to prove it. He turned around Russia’s national team, winning the 2007 Eurobasket championship and taking home a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. The word “genius” often gets thrown around when Blatt is being described, as he has a reputation for being an offensive mastermind and one of the best coaches in the world when it comes to game-planning and making adjustments.

Now, he’ll have the opportunity to coach on basketball’s biggest stage, leading a talented Cavaliers team that seems poised for success at some point in the very near future. Blatt explained his decision to coach in the NBA now as saying that it’s “the only challenge I have left.”

Parker, who played for the Cavaliers from 2009 to 2012 several years after leaving Maccabi Tel Aviv, is confident that Blatt will be able to duplicate his success in the NBA.

“I’ve gone on record as saying that he’s the best coach that I’ve played for,” Parker said of Blatt. “I also played for Larry Brown and Doc Rivers, but I don’t really count them in that just because I was on the bench and in street clothes for most of my time with them (laughs) so I never really got to play and experience that. But as far as everybody else, I’ve had great experiences with David. He has a great basketball mind and he’s very creative. I think one of the things that is special with David is his adaptability. You hear about coaches that have a specific style, where they go out and they need certain players to fit their style, but David is really able to adapt to his roster and kind of adjust and tailor the philosophies and strategies to the types of players that he has on the team. He’s had success with the Russian national team, with the teams in Israel, Russia and Italy and with the Olympics. He’s dealt with all kinds of different environments and competitions and rosters and cultures and stuff, but he’s successful. It’s because of how he’s able to adapt and create relationships and get players to buy in to his vision of the team. He’s done well.

“Some coaches have the ability to do the X’s and O’s, the strategies and the philosophies and they have that all ironed out, but they can’t really relate with the players, they can’t really communicate with the players and get them to buy in. Then, there are other coaches that are player coaches who can get players to buy in and have great relationships, but kind of fall short on the X’s and O’s side of things. What makes David unique, and what he has in common with a lot of the great basketball coaches in the world, is that he can do both. If you look at a lot of the coaches who have had long-term success, that’s something that they’re able to do. I think that’s his strength, that he’s able to do both of those things.”

In recent days, Cleveland had narrowed their coaching search to Blatt and former NBA player Tyronn Lue, who has spent the last four years as an assistant coach under Doc Rivers on the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers. A number of teams were trying to hire Blatt as an assistant coach, including the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves, but he wanted to take the reins of his own team. When Cavaliers general manager David Griffin approached Blatt about the head coaching vacancy, he was determined to land the job.

“I feel strongly about my fit for the job and this team’s potential,” Blatt said in a statement. “This is an opportune time to join the Cleveland Cavaliers. We are going to work extremely hard to achieve the kind of results we all expect and know are possible.”

As Blatt pointed out, this was perfect timing for his transition to the NBA, since he’s coming off of an outstanding year. Blatt and Maccabi Tel Aviv completed the triple crown this year (winning the Euroleague, Israeli-League and State Cup), and he was named Coach of the Year as a result.

Former Florida Gators star Alex Tyus played for Blatt and Maccabi Tel Aviv last season. The 26-year-old, who was the MVP of Euroleague for the month of April and made the Israeli League’s All-First Team, wasn’t shocked that Blatt was able to use his success as a springboard for an NBA job.

“We had one of the best seasons in European history,” Tyus said. “We won the triple crown – we won the Israeli Cup, the Israeli League Championship and the Euroleague – which was an amazing experience. It was not a bad year at all (laughs). We won everything.

“I wasn’t surprised to see him become an NBA coach. I’ve never had a coach like him before; he’s just different in terms of how he is off the court and as a player’s coach. He has a totally different approach and it makes you comfortable as a player. I know a lot of guys struggle overseas with different coaches and the European mentality, but he’s definitely different. Even when I look back to high school and college, I think he probably relates to players better than any other coach I’ve ever had. I’m not surprised [he’s getting this opportunity]. I could really see him doing well in the NBA. I’ve always thought of him as an NBA coach.If you’re all in and you’re willing to do anything to help the team win, you’re one of the guys that he really likes and he’s the best coach. He garners a lot of respect from players, and from everyone in Europe. He’s won at a high level in Europe for a long time, and he connects very well with players. He understands our mindset. He can relate to players, and I also think he’s a great guy. He cares about his players and if you’re one of his guys, he’ll really go to bat for you and help you out a lot.”

Around the NBA, many executives applauded Cleveland’s hire and felt that bringing in Blatt is a dare-to-be-great move that could really pay off for them in the long run.

“Cleveland deserves a lot of credit for hiring a guy that a lot of other teams have always liked, but have been afraid to take the plunge on,” said a Western Conference executive. “It’s also a smart move because if Blatt had become an assistant coach with the Warriors, after one or two years he could have become a guy who would have his pick of jobs. He is a brilliant and competitive coach who will definitely be an improvement over Mike Brown. But, of course, there will be challenges as part of the transition process. For example, he is maybe the best game-planner in the world, but now he has a lot more games to worry about and much less time to plan for them. There is a lot of work to do in Cleveland, to fix the culture, which would be a challenge for anyone. The upside though is that if they become a playoff team, Blatt has proven to be the rare coach that can outcoach his opponent when he has time to prepare. In the NBA, this could make him a coach that can steal a playoff series.”

Although hesitant to make the following comparison because he didn’t want to put too much pressure on his former coach, Parker feels that Blatt is very similar to San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.

“I think the best comparison is Popovich,” Parker said. “I hate to say that because of the timing of it after the kind of year that the Spurs had and what they’ve done for almost two decades now. But in terms of the coaching style, I mean his teams move the ball, they pass, there’s spacing, they keep it open and, like I said, David tailors his offense based on his roster, similar to what the Spurs have done and the evolution that they’ve kind of undergone since Tim Duncan has been in the league. You see him kind of getting on guys and holding guys accountable, but you won’t ever hear those players saying anything bad about Pop. I think that David is able to walk that line as well. I just hesitate to say Popovich just because of everything that comes along with saying that name and comparing the two. It’s almost like when people are comparing players and say, ‘Oh, he’s the next Michael Jordan.’”

Like Popovich, opposing players dreaded having to face Blatt’s teams.

“I never played for him, but I played a lot against him and I think he has all the abilities to be successful in the NBA,” Dallas Mavericks guard Gal Mekel said of Blatt. “He won every title possible in Europe, he has a great basketball IQ and he always gets the most out of his players.”

“He’s a great dude, he’s literally a genius and he has a lot of ambition,” CSKA Moscow guard Aaron Jackson said. “He is on top of the world – deep young team with the number one draft pick and Kyrie Irving.”

Blatt will inherit a Cavaliers squad that won just 33 games last season, missing the playoffs in the depleted Eastern Conference. However, the roster features young talent such as Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev (who played for Blatt on Russia’s national team) and whoever the team selects with the No. 1 overall pick in next week’s draft.

“If anyone can [maximize Cleveland’s potential], it’s him,” Parker said. “I think one of the key things with David is he’s able to relate to players and get them to buy in. With the Cavaliers, I think there’s definitely talent on the roster, but getting players to buy in, believe in the vision, come together and play as a team is the key, as it is anywhere. But I think it’s a good situation for him because he definitely has talent to work with there. It’s not a situation where he has to wait for two or three years to get players to be able to do anything with. I think that he’ll hit the ground running there and they have the ability to make some noise, so we’ll see.”

“I think he’ll do a great job regardless of who’s there,” Tyus said. “He does well with what he has to work with. He’s the type of coach, especially playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv, where management always had a lot of say on the players that they brought in, so he always had to work with guys that he maybe didn’t necessarily want. That’s a whole European thing; I don’t know if NBA teams work like that too. But he’s always done a good job of having good teams and getting the best out of his players, regardless of who they are and I think that that’s something that’s going to help him out a lot right away playing with Cleveland. He does a great job of adjusting. We played a lot of four-out, one-in [last season], and I know in the NBA that’s something that works sometimes. But I think he’s really good at adjusting to whoever his personnel is, so I think he’ll do well.”

While Blatt has drawn praise for his offensive strategies, Parker and Tyus feel that he’s a well-rounded coach who is equally effective on both ends.

“I think most people, maybe from the outside looking in, would say that his strength is on the offensive end of the ball,” Parker said. “I think that he gets a lot of credit for a lot of the innovative things that he has done offensively and some of the offensive sets that he’s put in that have worked out. Those get a lot of the attention, but he’s a defensive coach as well. I think he’s balanced. I don’t think that he’s light on either end.”

“You just have to be able to make an impact on the game in different ways; that’s something that Blatt really looks for,” Tyus said. “I would say that he’s really good at both offense and defense. He has a good balance. Defensively, he definitely wants his players to be able to guard their man and make plays because those are obviously the most important things defensive wise. And then on offense, he has a lot of good strategies and can use players to their strengths.”

The Cavaliers decided to think outside the box by hiring Blatt, making him the first NBA head coach to come straight from Europe. Only time will tell if Blatt can duplicate his success in the NBA, but the move certainly seems promising today.

Bulls Pursuing Magic’s Arron Afflalo

One name to keep an eye on this summer is Orlando Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who may be traded before the start of the 2014-15 season.

The Charlotte Hornets had previously been mentioned as a potential suitor for Afflalo and now the Chicago Bulls are pursuing the veteran shooting guard as well, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

Orlando is clearly rebuilding, which is why the 28-year-old is “very available.”

The Magic had a number of conversations about Afflalo prior to last year’s trade deadline, but ultimately held onto their swingman.

The Magic have the No. 4 and No. 12 picks in the 2014 NBA Draft, but they could be open to acquiring additional picks or young assets.

Chicago has the No. 16 and No. 19 picks in the draft, which could make them an intriguing trading partner for the Magic.

Last season, Afflalo had a career-year in Orlando, averaging 18.2 points per game on 45.9 percent shooting, which is why his trade value is at an all-time high.

His contract is also very attractive to teams, as he’ll make just $7.5 million in the 2014-15 season and then has an early termination option the following year or can opt in to another $7.5 million salary.

Chicago really struggled to score and shoot the ball last year, so their interest in Afflalo makes a lot of sense.

 

 

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Jimmy Butler’s Potential Absence Could Doom Minnesota

Should Jimmy Butler miss an extended period of time, the Minnesota Timberwolves could lose footing quickly in the tight Western Conference playoff race.

Dennis Chambers

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Say it ain’t so, Basketball Gods.

In his first game back from the All-Star break, coincidentally after logging zero minutes in the glorified exhibition game, Jimmy Butler left Friday night’s game with an apparent knee injury.

If the worst comes to fruition — a season-ending injury — Butler would join a laundry list of players whose seasons have been cut short.

 Butler’s Minnesota Timberwolves are in the midst of battling for position amongst their Western Conference peers for playoff spots. At the time of Butler’s injury, seeds three through nine are all separated by one game in the loss column.

Calling it a tight race out West would be a vast understatement. With a few more than 20 games to play, the seeding could land in a different order on basically a nightly basis. And for a team like Minnesota, losing their All-Star and veteran presence could be catastrophic.

But, not all hope is lost.

David Aldridge reported Friday night that there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Given how tight the race is amongst the conference, losing Butler for any extended period of time is going to be a big blow to the way Minnesota operates. Very literally, Butler produces a drastic improvement on both ends of the court his team.

On the surface, Butler’s averages are good. They don’t blow you away, but it’s clear that his presence is felt on a nightly basis. 22.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and five assists with a 59.3 true shooting percentage is more than worthy of an All-Star selection. But to the naked eye, it doesn’t scream that he’s the team’s most valuable player by a long shot.

So, let’s dig a little deeper.

When Butler is on the court, Minnesota benefits from a 116.3 offensive rating. Houston and Golden State have 115.7 and 115.4 offensive ratings for the season, respectively. The addition of Butler creates more free space for the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins to play with.

Speaking of those two, with the addition of an established superstar like Butler, they’ve been able to focus more on playing basketball than leading a locker room, allowing for growth in their games — Towns especially.

Truly coming into his own as one of the league’s best big men this season, arguably nobody on Minnesota’s roster benefits more from Butler’s performance on the wing than Towns does. On the court together, Towns sports a pretty 114.1 offensive rating, which produced a satisfying 9.3 net rating. That’s winning basketball.

Take Butler away, though, and things get ugly. Fast.

Because of his vast arsenal of offensive versatility, Towns’ offensive rating doesn’t suffer when Butler isn’t in the fold. But his defense? Well, it falls off of a cliff. Towns’ defensive rating balloons to 120.9, bringing that once impressive 9.3 net rating all the way down to -6.5. Butler alone accounts for a 15.8 point swing in Towns’ net rating. The levels of codependency from Towns to Butler in relation to effective basketball are incredibly concerning if the latter is lost for an extended period of time.

Basketball isn’t just a two-man game, though. So, while Minnesota’s younger All-Star benefits greatly from his elder counterpart, maybe the rest of the roster isn’t in such bad shape without him, right?

Wrong.

In fact, as you could probably assume, the production for the Timberwolves as a whole plummets when Butler grabs a seat on the bench. Shooting percentage, net rating, assist rate, rebound rate, finishing at the rim, defending and just about any other conceivable statistic you can find is worse for Minnesota when Butler isn’t on the floor.

Beyond all of the stats though, Butler represented more to the Timberwolves this season. He was the star to get the team over the hump. The veteran two-way impact player that could take just enough of the load off of the two budding studs in Towns and Wiggins to make Minnesota a threat night in and night out. Tom Thibodeau brought Butler over from Chicago because he knew the level of work ethic and leadership he would bring to a team that had talent, but needed guidance.

Up until Friday night, the pieces were falling into place.

The state of Minnesota will hold its collective breath while waiting for the results of Butler’s MRI. For the sake of Timberwolves fans, the organization and most importantly, Butler himself, hope for a clean scan.

Without it, and without Butler, the team could find itself in a free-fall amid this clustered Western Conference playoff race.

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Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards Aiming For Consistency

Spencer Davies has a one-on-one talk with Otto Porter about the Wizards’ up-and-down season and why they’ve been clicking over the last few weeks.

Spencer Davies

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When a team loses an All-Star point guard after dropping four out of five games while other teams continue to improve and climb up the standings, it’s usually a sign that things are headed south.

But the Washington Wizards have debunked that thanks to a commitment from literally every man on the roster to step up. Since John Wall went down with injury, they’ve won eight out of their last 10 games and are a half game back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the number three seed in the Eastern Conference.

Why that is, is simple—there’s a balance.

“Everybody eats” is the mantra that Wall’s backcourt partner Bradley Beal came up with when the tide started to turn and the D.C. family has been living by it for weeks now.

The setback has definitely forced them to alter their style of play, but it hasn’t been a bad thing so far, according to Wizards head coach Scott Brooks.

“It’s definitely a challenge missing one of the best guards, one of the best players in the league,” Brooks said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “We’ve had to change definitely the way we play a little bit. We couldn’t expect our point guards to play like John. His speed you just don’t come by often.

“We have to play a little different. I think guys have stepped up defensively. We’ve played well. We definitely had some favorable games go our way with the scheduling, but the challenge is ahead of us now. We’ve got a lot of tough games coming up, but we just have to still keep playing and focus on each game.”

Otto Porter has been somebody who’s really kicked it into gear at a higher level and looks like himself again after a tough start to the New Year. Since January 30th, he’s averaging 18.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and over a steal per game. On nearly 14 attempts per game during the stretch, he’s shot above 52 percent from the field.

When asked how Washington can best fill the void of Wall while he’s on the sidelines, he said it’s not possible to. Rather than focusing on that specific facet, it’s a responsibility of the group collectively to keep trending in the right direction.

“You don’t,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “I mean you just have to, next man up. You really can’t. X-Factor is everybody steppin’ up. With the guys that we have, it’s very simple. Just go out there and play for each other.

“Getting out in transition. Getting stops. Creating points. Threes. The ball going from side to side. That’s how we play. We goin’ through adversity, so we took the challenge.”

Mind you, this is a Wizards team that was once reportedly divided in the locker room. There were rumblings of disdain among certain players. Tweets, Instagram posts, and on-air interviews fueled the fire even more as the losses continued to pile up.

However, we all know the solution to any sort of rough patch is winning games. As soon as the victories started to come, the noise started to quiet down more and more.

“That’s with any sport for real,” Porter told Basketball Insiders after inquiring whether the negativity was overblown.

“I mean you gon’ have your ups and downs. You gon’ have that. But we’re gonna stick together no matter the wins or the losses. We’re gonna stick together. We’re not gonna let anything break us apart. That’s just how we feel.”

The All-Star break came at a good time for Porter, who admitted to Basketball Insiders that he was playing through with nagging injuries in the first half of the season and getting a week to see family and recuperate “was what I needed.”

In the meantime, he kept in contact with Beal, who was experiencing his first All-Star weekend in four years, except this time around he was selected by Team LeBron as a part of the big game.

“All-Star, he said he was mad busy,” Porter told Basketball Insiders of Beal’s hectic three days in Los Angeles. “That sucks ‘cause you know you really wanna—I mean All-Star is cool, but the guys all busy during All-Star. Seeing people, events, stuff like that, so you don’t really get a break. He enjoyed it though.”

Porter raved over the season Beal has had and what it’s meant to Washington. There hasn’t been a change in mentality at all, but the improvements are evident.

“He’s always been motivated,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “Each year he’s adding bits and pieces to his game every year that make him a threat and it shows this year.”

Another teammate of Porter’s that has taken on the challenge is Kelly Oubre. This month hasn’t been kind to him so far as a shooter, but taking the season as a whole, the third year forward is hitting a career-high 36.9 percent of his threes and averaging close to 12 points per game.

Not only that, but Oubre is always locked in defensively with an in-your-face method of guarding his opponents. It’s a physical style that constantly bothers opponents and most of the time, it works.

“He’s been improving,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “He’s been putting in a lot of work. I’ve seen him put in so much work this offseason on his shot improving his mechanics and it’s paying off.

“Aggressive defensively, getting his hands on a lot of balls, deflections, steals. That’s what we want from him every game.”

Brooks has rewarded Oubre and Porter’s efforts by giving them a ton of playing time, something that he doesn’t see changing anytime soon considering the job they’ve done with the extra load.

“They’re gonna have to keep playing a lot of major minutes and keep getting better along the way,” Brooks said. “Otto’s really steady, solid. He’s started to make some shots again.

“And Kelly, he hasn’t shot the ball well in February, but we need him to break out of that and start shooting the ball better. With Kelly to me, it’s always how he’s locked in and focused on the defensive end.”

In order for the Wizards to continue scaling the ranks in the East it’s going to come down to consistency, a hurdle that they’ve tried to clear in past years and have a goal of leaping this season.

“We have to,” Brooks said. “Firstly, just takes that consistent effort to win games. This is not an easy league. Nobody feels sorry for you. Nobody gives you wins. You’ve got to go out there and earn it.

“I like the spirit of our team. We’re willing to accept the challenges. We know it’s not gonna be easy, but I like how we’re playing.”

Porter’s personal goal is to make it through 82 games healthy, but he agrees with his head coach about Washington’s top priority as a team.

“Right now yeah, it’s consistency,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “And just sticking to what we do, sticking to our character. We know what type of players we are. We know how to play the right way and play Wizards basketball, so that’s what we’re gonna focus on.”

So far, so good.

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NBA Daily: Tank Tracker 2018

Basketball Insiders looks at the NBA’s race to the bottom as teams jockey for lottery position.

Buddy Grizzard

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With the NBA All-Star game behind and the home stretch of the regular season ahead, this is the time of year when contenders contend and pretenders stop pretending. It’s time for the NBA’s annual race to the bottom with a crowded field featuring four teams from each conference with better odds of getting help through the draft than making a playoff run.

Although Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for public statements detrimental to the NBA for saying the Mavericks should tank, the assumption here is always that players play to win. Every year the NBA Draft brings 30 new first round picks with guaranteed contracts into the league (minus any players that opt to play overseas). That’s 30 NBA jobs that will be taken away from veterans and given to rookies, not counting second-round picks and undrafted free agents who will take still more jobs. Rank-and-file players are playing for their place in the league, not to help their team get in position to draft a potential replacement.

Here we’ll look at teams that are clearly out of the playoff race and factors that could impact draft position as the final stretch of the season unfolds. Below is a tweet from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski from September showing odds to land a top-three pick. This is the final season under the old lottery system (odds in parenthesis) before the new system takes effect next season.

Starting next year, the four worst teams will have nearly-identical odds to land a top-three pick. Since this is the last year in which teams dramatically increase odds of landing a top-three pick the more they lose, the race for lottery position could be as fun to watch as the race for playoff position. With a deep talent pool for the upcoming NBA Draft, the plot gets even thicker.

The Playoff Contenders

Before we look at teams that are clearly not contending for a playoff spot, we’ll mention teams that are out of playoff position but fighting to get in. In the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Pistons acquired Blake Griffin before the trade deadline and are only 1.5 games behind the Miami HEAT for the eighth playoff seed. If Detroit can get point guard Reggie Jackson back healthy — a big if — then the Pistons could get into the playoffs and constitute a scary match-up in the first round.

Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post tweeted Wednesday that Jackson has been cleared for light running and shooting as he continues to recover from an ankle injury.

Also in the East, although the Charlotte Hornets appear headed nowhere, it’s a veteran-heavy squad that will do all it can to claw its way to a playoff spot. With point guard Kemba Walker making a second All-Star appearance and veterans Dwight Howard and Nicolas Batum uninterested in building through the draft this late in their careers, expect Charlotte to do everything in its power to close the five-game gap with the HEAT.

In the West, although the Clippers moved on from Griffin, the team remains just one game behind the eighth-seed Pelicans with a 7-3 record in its last 10 games. The Clippers are another veteran-laden squad with too much pride to play for lottery balls. However, the Clippers’ hopes of being a playoff spoiler are complicated by the league’s hottest team, the Jazz. Utah owns a league-best 11-game win streak and sits a half game behind the Clippers.

Honorable mention goes to the Lakers, which sit a dismal eight games behind the Pelicans in the Western Conference standings. The Lakers have almost no chance to make the playoffs but won’t be participating in this season’s tank-a-thon since either the 76ers or Celtics will own its first-round draft pick. L.A. traded two future firsts for Steve Nash in 2012 but has yet to convey the final pick due to protections in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The pick will go to Philly if it’s first overall or lower than fifth, but will otherwise convey to the Celtics. The 76ers used the pick with added protections to move up last year and draft Markelle Fultz with the first overall pick.

Additionally, the Nets do not make the list since the Cavaliers own their unprotected first round pick from the Kyrie Irving trade with the Celtics. The Nets aren’t tanking, they just lack the talent to compete and currently hold the league’s fifth-worst record.

New York Knicks, 24-36

The Knicks are the last entrant into the NBA’s annual race to the bottom owing to Kristaps Porzingis’ season-ending ACL injury. Prior to the injury, the Knicks were doing everything in the team’s power to start the post-Carmelo Anthony era with a playoff appearance. With Porzingis now sidelined for an extended period, the goal shifts to improving the talent around him.

Chicago Bulls, 20-38

The Bulls recently announced that Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba will replace veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday in the starting lineup. Both received a DNP-CD in Thursday’s one-point loss to the 76ers. This is a team in naked tank mode, but it has the most games remaining against other teams on this list. Chicago has its tanking work cut out for it, but the recent lineup decisions show that the Bulls are serious about getting the job done.

Memphis Grizzlies, 18-38

While the Bulls are shameless in pursuit of lottery balls, you can’t blame the Grizzlies for the horrendous injury luck that put the team in this position. It’s a lost season for Memphis, and help in the lottery could be difficult to find since only the Bulls and Magic have more games remaining against teams on this list.

Orlando Magic, 18-40

The Magic have the second-worst record in the East but are matched by the Kings and Mavericks. Counting the Grizzlies, this makes six teams with only 18 wins. This is the heart of the tanking field, and the Magic fully committed when it traded starting point guard Elfrid Payton, a former lottery pick, for a future second-round pick. Orlando has a six-game stretch against teams in playoff contention that should help, but it also has a large number of games remaining against lottery contenders.

Sacramento Kings, 18-40

The Kings did well to get out of the $19 million owed to George Hill next season in a pre-deadline trade with the Cavaliers. Losing the team’s starting point guard also has the benefit of more minutes to develop De’Aaron Fox while upping the odds of adding a quality piece next to him in the draft. Unfortunately, the Kings had a recent stretch of four wins in ten games.

Dallas Mavericks, 18-40

No caveats or disclaimers are needed here since Cuban has gone public with his desire to lose as many games as possible. Aiding Cuban’s cause is that the Mavs are tied with the Hawks and Suns for fewest remaining games against teams on this list.

Atlanta Hawks, 18-41

Equal to the Suns for the league’s worst record, the Hawks come out of the All-Star break in pole position for the Tank 500. However, the team is 4-6 in the last 10 games and lost a ton of close games this year. The Hawks are literally better than the record suggests, and join the Magic and Kings by insisting on shooting themselves in the foot with late-season wins that could poison the lottery well.

As NBA.com’s K.L. Chouinard noted, the Hawks have a net rating of +9.1 in minutes Ersan Ilyasova and Dewayne Dedmon share. Only John Collins and Isaiah Taylor have out-performed this combo among two-man units that have shared at least 200 minutes.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer wisely opted to limit the pair to 227 minutes together this season, but the Hawks seem like a team in danger of tumbling out of position for a top-three pick despite how well-positioned the team is currently.

Phoenix Suns, 18-41

When it comes to the gold standard in tanking, nobody tops the Suns. The team shares a league-worst record with the Hawks, has a tough remaining schedule and is showing how it’s done with a 1-9 record in its last 10 games. With the team’s litany of poor draft selections and disastrous trades and free agency decisions, the lottery is the only place Phoenix can turn to for improvement. The prediction here is that nobody out-tanks the Suns the rest of the way.

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