We have learned a lot so far in this college basketball season. Chief among them, though, is that LSU freshman Ben Simmons is good at basketball. Really, really good. He's averaging more than 20 points and 12 rebounds despite playing on a team so ordinary that opposing defenses can focus all of their attention on the freshman. Barring something truly dramatic, Simmons is a stone-cold lock both to go first overall in the draft this year and to be a star when he arrives in the pros. He's a difference maker - the kind of player that teams will do anything to get.
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Now, I'm not going to suggest that teams would tank to get him. Oh, come on now - it's the NBA, of course teams are tanking. The NBA is the greatest venue for tanking that history has ever seen. So, which teams could aggressively pursue the chance to select Simmons? And what could it mean for bettors down the stretch this year? Let's take a look:
Philadelphia 76ers (4-36): The Sixers have been tanking to select Simmons for three years - even before they knew they were. This is what the whole plan has been about. They have just four wins - and a roster that is overachieving to have that many. They have been forced into some front office and coaching changes, but there is nothing that the brain trust can do with the players they have to turn them into a winner. They just aren't good. They are all but a lock to have the most balls in the lottery - and they will do what they can to ensure it. The fun is only getting started, too. If they pick Simmons they'll be freed up to trade Noel or Okafor and acquire more assets - like high draft picks. This rebuilding approach of the Sixers is fascinating theatre - a show that appears to be on an indefinite run.
Los Angeles Lakers (9-31): The Lakers were a long-proud franchise. Now they are going to be tanking like crazy. The incentive is very high. If they wind up with a Top 3 pick this year then they keep the pick - and get another much-needed piece for their rebuild. If they pick fourth or later, though, then the pick is gone. That pick would wind up with Philly, who got it after it has bounced around since the Lakers first traded it for Steve Nash. The Lakers will be looking to keep their pick. Luckily, that just means that they have to keep doing what they are doing - including playing Kobe as much as he can possibly play. He's like a one-man tanking machine at this point in his career, and the more he plays the more potent his tanking superpowers become.
Brooklyn Nets (11-28): The Nets look like they are tanking, but the only team that hopes they are is the Celtics - Boston has their pick this year. Getting Simmons as part of the trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce - which is already a remarkably strong trade for Boston - would be incredible. As hard as it might be to believe, though, Brooklyn is playing as bad as they are not because they are tanking but rather just because they are terrible.
Minnesota Timberwolves (12-28): The T-Wolves could also lose this pick to the Celtics, but they would have to be a lot better than they are right now - the pick is protected for the Top 12 picks, so Minnesota would have to finish 13th or better to lose the pick. Not happening. They have a lot of young talent with this team, but it has been a very rough year. Guys who should be taking a step forward aren't - I'm looking at you, Andrew Wiggins. More talent wouldn't hurt, and what they are doing isn't working. This could be a real contender in the tanking derby.
New Orleans Pelicans (12-26): This one is fascinating. These guys were supposed to be serious contenders this year. Instead, Anthony Davis has been hung out to dry all year, and the team is just awful. They are going to have to blow this thing up - only Davis is a certain keeper. If they keep doing what they are doing they could have a nice young talent to add to what they have so far. The playoffs are an impossibility given their recent play, so they might as well embrace their badness and get the most for it that they can.
Phoenix Suns (13-27): Like Minnesota, they only have one win in their last 10. They got started on the tanking early, it seems. They aren't good, and they need a lot of work to get there. They have both their first-round pick and Cleveland's this year, so the better their pick is, the better off they could be down the road - whether they keep the picks or use them as assets to get a player they need.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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