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NBA Cellar Dwellers on the Rise

The NBA, and any professional sport for this matter, is about keeping up. With teams constantly making changes in efforts to improve, the rest of the league is left in a position to match or be left behind. For a number of teams, being “left behind” isn’t a problem, as it falls into their plans exactly. The popular term for teams that choose to lose games (or not make a significant effort to improve) in an attempt to recuperate down the road is “tanking.”

Tanking isn’t a socially popular route to success, but it is effective in its own right. If implemented correctly, and without lapse, it can be the best way for a team to improve.

The idea works this way:

  1. Losing a lot of games earns the team a better chance at securing a high draft pick
  2. Draft picks come with rookie contracts, which means guaranteed salary relief for 3+ seasons
  3. With salary relief in the fold, the team is open to pursuing open-market contracts

The process is long and grueling for players and the fan base. In the absence of shortcuts, though, it can carry with it the opportunity for future success. The most notable team to successfully implement the tactic: the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s in their mold that teams take their shot at revamping, and the effectiveness is evident in the team’s recent streak of success.

Here are some teams that have endured failure, and are on their way to recovering winning tradition.

Detroit Pistons

The road back from a 2005 Finals appearance has been a bumpy one for the Detroit Pistons. An excruciating Game-7 loss to the Spurs left the team in shambles, and though they’ve had to take their share of beatings, they seem to finally be back on the way up.

Following the upcoming season, the team will rid themselves of old losing traditions in the forms of Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey. Exit the fighting, enter exciting. The Pistons signed the do-it-all forward Josh Smith to a 4 year/$54 million contract during this offseason. Pairing him with their young big men, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, gives the Pistons their front court of the future.

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On paper, the team looks to be a floor-spacing disaster, but the success doesn’t have to be immediate. With the flexibility that the team possesses past this season, they will have the resources to address their biggest concern.

As for the back court, Brandon Knight is a solid option for the time being. A true passing point guard might be ideal, with so much muscle down low, but that too will likely be addressed within the season. Rodney Stuckey is still on the roster as a guard, and the team signed aging-but-effective point guard Chauncey Billups as well.

These are certainly short-term solutions, but regardless of immediate indecision, the team is poised for future success. That’s what this is all about. The Pistons have placed themselves in a position where winning games is no longer distant and out of focus. If they continue on this path, and avoid bad contracts, they can jump on the contender’s bandwagon in the near future.

New Orleans Pelicans

In the absence of Chris Paul, the freshly-bestowed Pelicans have made quick work of their recovery. The route they have taken has been a combination of cellar-dwelling and sound free-agent decisions. Each has provided the team with the opportunity for future and immediate success.

With the 1st overall pick in last season’s NBA Draft, the Pelicans took Anthony Davis, the über-talented forward/center out of Kentucky. While the draft didn’t provide many high-reward options, the pick was solid and the player received will certainly prove his worth. In addition to selecting Davis, the Pelicans signed stretch-forward Ryan Anderson. This season, the Pelicans traded another high draft pick, Nerlens Noel, to the Philadelphia 76ers in return for Jrue Holiday and a future draft pick. With their point guard of the future in fold, the Pelicans received Tyreke Evans in a three-team trade.

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Eric Gordon included, the Pelicans have secured themselves one of the best starting-5’s in the Western Conference. While the price tag on piece might prove to be a problem in later seasons, the team is primed for immediate success in a conference as wide open as their future.  The team’s purpose post-Paul was to return to the postseason, and develop a new winning tradition. It seems as though the team has done just that, as they have once again given the city a reason to hope.

Cleveland Cavaliers 

Cavaliers fans have been the victims of an NBA casualty. Once-in-a-generation superstars usually stick with one team in an effort to establish legacy and renouncing geographical fame. It’s for this reason that the city took such a big hit when LeBron James decided to bolt for Miami (which turned out to work in his favor).

Three long seasons removed, Cleveland is once again in a position to win games. With two 1st overall picks in the last three seasons, the Cavaliers picked up a superstar in Kyrie Irving and a promising young forward in Anthony Bennett. That’s not all they’ve done right, though. Pairing the two with underrated big man, Tristan Thompson, and the high-reward gamble in Andrew Bynum has the team primed for playoff contention.

The most exciting thought for Cleveland is that team is poised to contend beyond this season. Jarrett Jack is the player with the highest guaranteed salary going into 2014. Andrew Bynum is working with a second-year option, so if he doesn’t work out, cutting him will be the team’s option of choice. Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Tyler Zeller all have team options as well. Assuming they are all exercised, and Bynum is kept around, they will still be sitting on $17 million worth of cap space.

If you can tell where this is going already, don’t stop me now. With the potential to sign a big name in 2014, the Cavaliers will most definitely move still waters in an attempt to make a splash. An abundance of non-guaranteed contracts gives the front office all of the power they need to operate. If an opportunity to sign a player such as LeBron James were to present itself, the team will be in the mix from beginning to end. It’s this position that the team has worked hard to place themselves in, and it is in their every right to reap the benefits of early suffering turned success.

Questions, comments, concerns? Leave me a comment below or contact me on Twitter (@VoicetheStands).

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