With the season more than a quarter of the way complete, should the Lakers, Grizzlies, Bulls, Raptors and Celtics strive for as many victories as possible or shoot for a high draft pick? Our 5-on-5 writers weigh in.
1. Should the Lakers tank the rest of the season?
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: No, of course not. This is competition. That's my stock answer. But on the other hand, sadly, it may well be the best basketball strategy. There are about 10 good West teams standing between the Lakers and immediate success. And any other kind of rebuilding is hampered by two realities: Hardly any elite players dream of being Kobe's sidekick, and the Lakers have already traded away about as many future picks as the rules allow. Their 2014 first-rounder is the lottery ticket this franchise must bet the farm on. Caveat: The Lakers make a ton of local money from winning -- from TV, tickets and sponsorships -- which could be tough to give up.
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: They should, but they won't. It is pretty clear that, even if fully healthy, this Lakers team is a cut below the teams that are vying for the last couple of playoff spots in the West. They've played with more vigor and chemistry than last season's edition, but sadly are short on talent. They own their 2014 first-rounder, but not 2015; still, hard to see Kobe Bryant accepting "shutting it down" for the season.
James Herbert, Hardwood Paroxysm: Yes, but they're basically already doing the right thing. The Lakers can build by giving Mike D'Antoni young players who can run and shoot, raising their value and making smart trades. If they can move Pau Gasol to a contender for assets that will pay dividends down the road, they should.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop Network: Emphatic "yes" on this one. The Lakers don't have trade assets. Yes, they're a storied franchise in a desirable market, but it's extremely difficult to go from "no trade assets" to "title contender" without the help of some pingpong balls. Tanking is the obvious play here.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: No. If they wanted to tank they should've traded Gasol before he started having this type of season. They should've held Kobe out until February. There seems to be a misconception about tanking. It is not done by players and coaches during games; they are competitors. It is done by front offices and on the inactive list. Also, Kobe doesn't tank.
2. Should the Grizzlies tank the rest of the season?
Abbott: No, of course not. This is competition. But on the other hand: The Grizzlies and the Bulls are alike. With a little tweak, or even without, we know the rosters could be really good. This is where the NBA rules get totally loco. The model in which hoops mimics real life says hang in there, tough it out, and you never know what's going to happen. That's what I'd like to watch. The NBA model, though, is the 1996-97 Spurs, and how they used a proven good roster plus one major injury and some shenanigans to get a Tim Duncan dynasty.
Elhassan: No. This is a playoff-caliber team that is missing arguably its most important cog on either end of the floor in Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies had a rough start to the season but seemed to hit their stride, winning four games in a row before the loss to San Antonio in which Gasol suffered his injury. If they can keep the boat afloat until Gasol returns, the season can still be saved.
Herbert: No, they should stay the course and try to find a way to upgrade the small forward position. Once Marc Gasol comes back, this team could still be dangerous. Also, trading Zach Randolph could backfire if Ed Davis puts up big numbers and raises his price tag.
Strauss: No. They already have a young core in place with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. That combination, if healthy, should be enough for multiple playoff appearances. Memphis just needs to make some trades to move on from the old team identity (Z-Bo, Tony Allen) to a new one.
Windhorst: No. They have veteran players and their best defender is hurt. When Gasol comes back they should try to put things back together for a second-half run.
3. Should the Bulls tank the rest of the season?
Abbott: No of course not. This is competition. How sick is the NBA, considering that you and I get to live our lives more or less without ever being asked to fail intentionally? But because of weird league rules, Tom Thibodeau and Joakim Noah -- beautifully among the most competitive people in the history of the planet -- do have to wrestle with such realities. A solution from a parallel universe: Maybe Thibodeau's scrappy crew could claw its way into the postseason, as you know it wants to, then trade its playoff spot to Dan Gilbert and his Cavaliers for lottery balls. Wouldn't that make both franchises happy?
Elhassan: Not yet, but the day of reckoning is approaching. The East is a cesspool and all it takes is a solid above-.500 month to ascend to third-seed status, which brings with it an easy opening playoff round opponent and perhaps an extra 10 days for Derrick Rose to get ready to return. But the Bulls are struggling mightily to manufacture points; if they can't acquire someone who can create offense, they might be better off regrouping for next year.
Herbert: Maybe. It depends on what sort of return they can get in a Luol Deng trade, and if they can acquire a point guard that would be able to salvage their season. What they shouldn't do is let Deng walk in free agency and bring Derrick Rose back next year to a team that's otherwise unchanged.
Strauss: Gigantic yes. They're overspent and constrained by the uncertainty of Derrick Rose's future. Apart from the eventual addition of Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls lack viable options for improvement. The draft is the only way to suddenly add a hugely important player on the cheap. Could you imagine if they drafted local kid Jabari Parker? The chance alone is reason enough to send Tom Thibodeau on a one-year sabbatical.
Windhorst: Yes. They should make a trade (or trades) that gets them out of the luxury tax. That would alleviate the pressure to do so next season and enable them to perhaps spend some money in the offseason (and go back into the tax) to support Rose in his return.
4. Should the Raptors tank the rest of the season?
Abbott: No, of course not. This is competition. But for the Raptors, it almost works in reverse! There is a raging contest in the East for lottery balls, and the Raptors, with their nine wins, might already be too far behind. Which is sad. Seriously, in today's Hollinger Playoff Odds, Toronto is 79 percent likely to make the playoffs, not because they're any good, but because in this lose-o-rama environment, so many teams are so much worse. What they really need is for the Nets and Knicks, who don't have picks or losing strategies, to start climbing the standings.
Elhassan: Aren't they already? Trading Rudy Gay away might have dealt the biggest blow to this team's chances at being awful this season. Scoring efficiently, getting their bigs more touches, defending ... what type of heresy is this?!
Herbert: Yes, tear it down. This team isn't going to be a contender anytime soon, so lose big. Trade Kyle Lowry, then trade any player who is playing too well. The Raptors need a top-five pick, and as presently constructed, they will not get one.
Strauss: That's the plan, right? This is another team that lacks quality trade assets, though they can perhaps fool the Knicks into thinking otherwise. The Raptors haven't had a star since Vince Carter, and Jonas Valanciunas has been a mild disappointment. The draft is the smart avenue to take.
Windhorst: Yes. They are in bad need of another core player or two, and the best way for them to do that is to develop their younger players by playing them and by adding talent via the draft. This decision had already been made.
5. Should the Celtics tank the rest of the season?
Abbott: No, of course not. This is competition. And that front office might be so good they can expect to find similar value from a lower pick. So maybe the wins cost less here in terms of long-term player quality. On the other hand, there needs to be some strategy to get at least one more star in Beantown, and the 2014 lottery is about as good as that gets. I know, that's fuzzy. I hate that any teams have to wrestle with this.
Elhassan: No. For a Boston team trying to forge its new identity under a young head coach from outside of the NBA bubble, it is more important to establish team culture than to play for pingpong balls. Unfortunately, that should coincide with an incredibly deep draft, but they could do more damage than good by trying to stack the deck against a winning season.
Herbert: Yes, sort of. The Celtics should be trying to trade every experienced player on their team not named Rajon Rondo. Boston is starting over, so every option should be on the table. The way Brad Stevens has his team playing defense, though, truly tanking might be tough.
Strauss: No, they've outsourced their future tanking to Brooklyn. With another team providing draft picks in coming years, the Celtics can just focus on building a winning culture. Brad Stevens seems to be doing an excellent job of that so far. There isn't enough reason to interrupt the process.
Windhorst: No. This is not a young team, this is a veteran team. It is very hard to tank with a veteran team and can do more damage than good. I think they should gauge the Rondo trade market and see if it opens opportunity, but this is not a team built to lose. You can see that clearly by the Celtics' play.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Brian Windhorst writes for ESPN.com. Amin Elhassan writes for ESPN Insider. Henry Abbott, James Herbert and Ethan Sherwood Strauss write for TrueHoop.
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