There's a reason "Trust the Process" became such a popular term when the Philadelphia 76ers decided to blow up their once playoff-worthy team for future assets under general manager Sam Hinkie in 2013.
That's because the word “tank” is almost taboo in the NBA. “Rebuild," “Reload” and "Trust the Process" are the more accepted terms, but they all mean the same thing: a team prioritizes internal development and draft assets in favor of short-term success, aka winning.
For many small-market teams, the draft is the only avenue to acquire premium talent, and even though the draft rules have been tweaked, the worst teams will likely receive a relatively high lottery pick.
For the upcoming season, a lot of teams are aiming for the playoffs, but like every year, some teams will go home disappointed. In a supposedly loaded 2021 draft with freshman phenom, Cade Cunningham, as the prize of the class, some squads should seize an opportunity to draft a future franchise cornerstone. And the only one to guarantee that chance is to blow it up. Here are five teams that should seriously consider tanking this season.
Oklahoma City Thunder
It appears general manager Sam Presti got the memo, seeing as the Thunder have been gobbling up draft picks like the Cookie Monster.
As usual, the Western Conference will presumably be a bloodbath, so the Thunder seemed to have made the right decision to go young and build around budding superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Along with SGA, OKC has Darius Bazley and Luguentz Dort who could take their game to the next level. They’ll be expected to score, defend and facilitate at a high level for their teammates. While that's a nice trio, it should still lead to a poor record in 2020-21 and a juicy lottery selection.
But there are worse teams in the league, so the Thunder will have to sell off more pieces if they can. George Hill, Trevor Ariza and Al Horford could all be traded or bought out this season to ensure the Thunder have the best chance at a top pick.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs just had their impressive playoff streak snapped, which is perhaps a sign from the basketball gods that it's time to rebuild.
But with a couple of weeks before the season starts, the Spurs don't appear to be a team that wants to Trust the Process. Veterans LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills — who are all older than 30 — are still on the team. While Aldridge and DeRozan are still solid players, they probably aren't going to lead the Spurs back to the promised land.
While their large contracts cap their individual trade value, all of the Spurs’ veterans are tough, reliable players who could help take a contending team over the top.
On the bright side, San Antonio has a growing stable of young two-way guards and wings who could be an excellent supporting cast for a superstar. DeJounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, Keldon Johnson and recent lottery pick Devin Vassell all have shown the necessary skills to succeed.
If the Spurs tank the season and acquire a high pick, they could already have their next playoff squad.
New York Knicks
Surprise! The CAA Knicks are in store for another awful season.
While fans probably want to gauge their eyes out seeing this, but the team needs to continue to prioritize the development of their younger players.
Can RJ Barrett fix his jump shot?
Can Mitchell Robinson play better defense?
Can Obi Toppin’s elite pick-and-roll play translate to the league, and can he improve his defense from atrocious to average?
That's a lot of questions. And answering them should be the goal for the Knicks' campaign.
The Knicks, more than almost any team, need to add a young superstar like Cunningham.
The Pistons are the team that is farthest away from completing their rebuild. They still employ Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, and just bizarrely signed Mason Plumlee to a three-year deal. They also let their most promising young player Christian Wood walk this offseason. But it hasn’t been all doom and gloom in the Motor City, considering they did select three players in this draft in Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey who could all make an impact in their rookie seasons.
Hayes was perhaps the most promising sign that the organization is turning their focus to the long term. At 19, he’s one of the youngest players in the draft, but he could turn into a strong starting point guard for the future.
Luckily, if they lose enough games (which is likely), the draft is stacked with wings. From Jalen Green to Zaire Williams to Terrence Clarke to Jalen Johnson to Brandon Boston to Jonathan Kuminga, there will be a plethora of potential future stars to pick from.
For a Pistons team that could be the worst in the NBA, it's time to sell Griffin and Rose for whatever they can and guarantee a top pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
The Rockets have had arguably the craziest offseason in the league.
What could be next? Well, that's a Harden trade, of course.
The disgruntled superstar clearly wants out as he sees his championship window in Houston slamming shut. While the Rockets shouldn't give the former MVP away, it appears the writing is on the wall and Harden will eventually be dealt.
Without their first-round pick, there's no incentive for the Rockets to trade Harden sooner rather than later. And, as we've seen in other superstar deals, the price should be extremely high.
Either way, if — and when — Harden gets traded, the Rockets should also deal P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon and Danuel House and go into a full-on rebuild in H-Town. Heck, if DeMarcus Cousins regains his form, then Houston should trade him, too.
While the Rockets have made eight straight postseason appearances, all good things must eventually come to an end, especially in the NBA. The Rockets have enough existing talent to recoup a ton of value in the trade market. Not to mention, they are currently without a lot of future draft selections following the Rockets' pursuit for a championship.
The Rockets should be the next team to tank and start over.
Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration