Teams Prepare for NBA's Ping Pong Derby
But something I'd call "slow-burn tanking" certainly exists. This happens when teams give up a portion of a season -- or in some cases an entire season -- for rebuilding purposes. You don't do this by playing the worst players on your team, or making unsavory in-game decisions. You do it by trading or waiving just about everyone who can play and who doesn't figure figure into your future.
The Kings did it last season, under the guise of saving salary. Trading John Salmons and Brad Miller (two of the team's three most productive players in 2008-09) certainly helped the bottom line, but it didn't free up free agent dollars (Sean May's $800,000 was the biggest offseason expense for the team) and in fact hurt long-term financial flexibility. But it made the '08-09 Kings worse, and the team easily clinched the NBA's worst record, which came with a nice prize: the best chance at Blake Griffin.
The Kings, of course, got shut out of the top three, so it didn't work. But there's no denying it's better come May to have the No. 1 shot at the No. 1 pick. Just about every team in the league would die for a 25-percent shot at John Wall this summer. Unfortunately for 29 of those teams, New Jersey has it locked up, some seven games worse than the next closest squad.
How do the others from the NBA's cellar suss out at the start of March? To that, we turn to our retro-themed Ping Pong Derby. As in previous years, the teams are ranked in order of what probability they would have of winning the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft if the season ended today. Each Pong ball represents 1 percent, to provide a graphical interpretation. The numbers on the right show how many games "behind" New Jersey each team sits.
The Nets and Wolves are very secure in their slots: it's almost guaranteed New Jersey will have a 25 percent probability of winning the top pick, and that Minnesota will have a 19 percent probability. The Warriors look fairly secure at the third-largest shot at Wall; after Golden State, it's a mess. Indiana, Sacramento and New York have identical records right now, with Detroit one game better, Washington two games better, and Philadelphia three games better. This order could, and should, be rejiggered every day from now til the ides of April. If teams end the season with identical records, their shares of ping pong balls are pooled and split evenly (extra odd chances awarded by coin flip), so conceivably an extra win could be the difference between a 1-in-10 chance at Wall or a 1-in-20 chance.