The Brooklyn Nets losing doesn’t necessarily benefit them during the season. However, it does wonders for the Eastern Conference come draft time.
The Brooklyn Nets are in an unusual position heading into this offseason. They do not possess their own pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
They sent it to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Cavs’ epic trade with Boston that shipped Kyrie Irving off to the Celtics. Because of this, Brooklyn has no incentive to tank, since a better draft position is only helping the reigning Eastern Conference powerhouse Cleveland.
How far could this draft pick fall and what would it mean for the league? Let’s dive into the Tank-a-thon and figure it out.
The Nets are 23-49 through 72 games as of March 22. Wednesday night, Dwight Howard took Brooklyn down with a monstrous 32-point, 30-rebound night. They have 10 games left, all of which are against Eastern Conference teams. Two of these are against the Chicago Bulls, and one is against the Orlando Magic, both of whom are tanking. One game comes against mediocre Detroit who is in win-now mode, but (almost certainly) will not make the playoffs.
That leaves six more games against various playoff teams in the East. They play one more time against Toronto, Cleveland, Miami, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Boston. Most likely, they are not going to beat any of the playoff-bound teams who really need each win in order to have the best possible seeding.
Both games against Detroit and Charlotte are at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and optimistically, they could win at least one of them. Against the Magic, the Nets are 2-1 so far in the regular season series, and given how little Orlando wants to get wins, they should be able to handle this one.
The Nets play the Bulls two times in a row for games 80 and 81. One is at home, one away. The Bulls have been competent against lower-end teams this season, but are facing some injuries at the moment. Kris Dunn has just been put in a walking boot after a setback for what coach Fred Hoiberg described as “like a turf-toe type injury” per the Twitter account of Cody Westerlund.
Rookie Lauri Markkanen has been dealing with lower back soreness but should be able to return for the games against Brooklyn. Even Zach LaVine is out with a knee issue. He has missed the Bulls’ last two games but participated in non-contact practice on Tuesday. He should be able to play by the time the Nets face Chicago. The Bulls have no incentive to win, so expect the Nets to win both of these games. The Bulls have been warned by Commissioner Adam Silver about resting players, but they have been just awful recently anyway.
It seems the absolute best case scenario for Brooklyn is going 5-6 to end the season, which would give them 28 wins. However, this seems unlikely, and I would lightly pencil them in for 27 wins.
At the pace that the worst teams are going, there are four teams with no chance of ending with more than 27 wins: Memphis, Phoenix, Orlando, and Atlanta.
The Bulls are actually one win above Brooklyn as of March 22 with 24, but their schedule is even harder than the Nets’ and, in all likelihood, they will only win two or three of their remaining games, which will leave them at 26 or 27.
Sacramento and Dallas are the last remaining teams in the tank race, with 23 and 22 wins, respectively. Sacramento, at best, could win five of their remaining games. They could very well also be right around 27 wins. Dallas might be able to pull out three or four wins, but most likely they will be at 25 or 26 wins when the season is done. Their roster has been pretty shabby, but with Dennis Smith Jr. sitting multiple games with an ankle injury, they may actually be more competitive. However, owner Mark Cuban is all about tanking, as we figured out during a podcast with Julius Erving…
Given the remaining schedules for the bottom-end teams, Brooklyn will most likely end the year with the 6-9th worst record. www.tankathon.com uses probability algorithms to guess where teams will finish the Tank-a-Thon. They give Brooklyn a 4.3 percent chance at grabbing the number one pick, a 4.9 percent chance at the second, and a 5.8 percent chance at the third. There is an 83 percent combined chance it is 7th or 8th, and about a 2 percent combined chance at the 9th or 10th pick. So what does this all mean?
The Nets have to send this pick to Cleveland, who have placed a ton of value on it. They ended up not using it as a trade piece during the trade deadline frenzy earlier this year. Since they ended up trading their own 2018 pick, they were not allowed to trade the Nets’ pick until the 2018 draft. The draft this year is pretty loaded and crawling with potentially franchise-altering big men. DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Michael Porter Jr., and Mo Bamba are just some of the top prospects and which position is least threatening on Cleveland’s roster? Well, a couple, but they could use a decade’s worth of All-Star level big man talent quite a bit. And that may very well be what’s at stake with the pick from Brooklyn.
Due to circumstances both in and out of the Nets’ control, their underwhelming season is helping the Cavaliers’ long-term outlook. Cleveland’s offseason success is almost completely at the whim of LeBron James’ decision to stay or leave. What would convince LeBron to stay? A star coming to join him and All-Star Kevin Love. What could convince a team to send a high-end player to Cleveland? A great pick in this star-studded lottery.
There is a solid chance that Cleveland might be only just starting its reign over the Eastern Conference if the ping pong balls end up falling their way. And they have Brooklyn to thank for it.