It's that time of year when NBA trade machines and insider
gossip hijack basketball discourse. Trade deadline season means
absolute chaos for just about anyone involved in basketball from a
management, player or media perspective. For better or for worse,
I'm pulling the "we live in a society" card and conforming.
The Tank-O-Meter is back for the second time this season to
assess how seriously teams should consider folding for the
remainder of 2021-22. Teams are rated on a scale from 1 (playoffs
or bust) to 10 (do not even think about winning a game again) based
on how much a rebuild helps the long-term franchise outlook.
A key part of any good rebuild is maximizing selling out at the
trade deadline. It makes sense to get a read on what teams should
do before Thursday to build their chests of assets and get out of
the limbo of a weak postseason push. You'll see a Tank-O-Meter
reading for each of these 10 squads, plus the usual Sour
If you're new to the Sour Rankings, here's a refresher: Unlike
the typical "power rankings" that repeat themselves throughout
sports media, Sour Rankings are a bizarro-world counter. These
rankings highlight the top-10 most frustrating NBA franchises
throughout the season, and they will be updated every week to match
the twists and turns of the league.
This is not merely a bottom-10 of your typical best-to-worst
outlooks. You will see championship contenders and playoff hopefuls
mixed in with struggling squads. Teams well under .500 may never
touch the Sour Rankings because they are on track with their
respective processes. Injuries, drama, transactions and generally
underwhelming play will earn you a spot on this list.
The central question is ultimately this: How good should you
feel about the direction of each franchise? Let's get going.
Escaping the Sour Rankings: The New
Orleans Pelicans got Brandon Ingram back from injury and
immediately started winning. They're currently on a three-game
stampede and have even moved into the Play-In tier of the Western
Conference standings. Boston is also rolling on a five-game win
streak with perhaps the hottest defense in basketball, suddenly
tied with Toronto and Brooklyn for sixth in the Eastern
10. Charlotte Hornets (28-26) — Tank-O-Meter reading:
The Hornets sink into the Sour Rankings as they tough out a
four-game losing streak with defeats against the Los Angeles
Clippers, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat. Their
run to the All-Star break is daunting; it features 6 games in 11
days and includes matchups against the Toronto Raptors, Chicago
Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves and Heat (again).
According to Heavy's Steve Bulpett, Charlotte
is also looking to trade PJ Washington, which still doesn't make
much sense to me.
Charlotte shouldn't consider bottoming out as long as the team
has confidence in its young core. The Hornets have the pieces to
either become buyers or sellers at the deadline, and are right in
the thick of a competitive East playoff race. At the absolute
minimum, this is great experience for guys like LaMelo Ball and
Miles Bridges, and the Hornets are still a threatening offense on a
(Last week: Unranked)
9. Detroit Pistons (12-41) — Tank-O-Meter reading:
Easy reading for Detroit — the franchise has already been near
the bottom of the league all season. The Pistons can really
supercharge the current rebuild with how they approach the trade
deadline regarding veterans like Jerami Grant and Cory Joseph.
But Detroit still cracks the Sour Rankings, because even in the
scheduled losses, it just feels like there's been too much
uninspired basketball. Honestly, what young talents on the roster
do you feel better about from the start of the season besides Cade
Cunningham? I'd say there's an argument for Saddiq Bey and...
that's about it. Detroit still has several questions to answer
about the team's identity, and those questions can be answered even
(Last week: Unranked)
8. Utah Jazz (32-21) — Tank-O-Meter reading:
Utah battled to a win against the Denver Nuggets and dismantled
the flailing Nets this week, bringing some stability after a
five-game skid. However, reports are back (this one from ESPN's Brian Windhorst) that
Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are "at each other's throats."
Mitchell once again denied the rumors, and who knows at this point
what's grounding the reports. But it's never good to hear.
No, the Jazz should not tank — they're still fourth in the West
standings even in this rough patch.
(Last week: 6)
7. Indiana Pacers (19-36) — Tank-O-Meter reading:
The Pacers dealt Caris LeVert to the Cavaliers
yesterday in a trade that brought back an expiring (and
injured) Ricky Rubio, a lottery-protected first-round pick that
will likely convey this season and two additional second-rounders.
That's not a bad return for a team that simply needs young talent
in waves, and draft picks always add some trade
Moving LeVert for that package signals a rebuild is on the way.
It's long overdue. Now, the Pacers have to get what they can for
Myles Turner, Justin Holiday and their other vets. I do not think
Domantas Sabonis is a "must-trade" due to his sheer skill. But
Indiana also can't be afraid to accept a good offer. They're one of
the primary teams to watch ahead of Thursday.
(Last week: 4)
6. Portland Trail Blazers (21-33) — Tank-O-Meter
Here's another team giving off "rebuild" vibes. The Trail
Blazers traded Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Clippers
this week for Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson and a
future second-round pick. That return feels underwhelming
considering Portland gave up two very good rotation players. But if
they like the uber-athletic Johnson, so be it.
With no Damian Lillard return in sight, Portland should really
sell at this deadline. What does being in a Play-In race even mean
for this franchise? Young trade pieces and the NBA Draft are the
best way to find game-changing talent. CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic
have been involved in trade rumors recently. I wouldn't be
surprised if both had new homes by Thursday evening.
(Last week: 7)
5. New York Knicks (24-29) — Tank-O-Meter reading:
One day, Deuce McBride and Immanuel Quickley will join the
starting lineup and everything will be alright in New York. For
now, the Knicks remain a woefully inconsistent basketball team that
can't be trusted — but can't be counted out — on any night. If I
had my way, Tom Thibodeau would commit to playing the youth;
Quentin Grimes, Quickley and McBride would see serious playing time
increases, and New York would head into the offseason with a good
draft pick and an enticing young core. Then again, it's Thibs.
By the way, read this excellent piece from Mat Issa
that further highlights how the Knicks are leaving Julius Randle
out to dry.
(Last week: 5)
4. Sacramento Kings (20-35) — Tank-O-Meter reading:
James L. Edwards III of The
Athletic says that the Kings have reported
interest in Jerami Grant. This comes after all the
will-they-won't-they drama surrounding a Ben Simmons trade and the
availability of De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. Of course,
smokescreens exist in trade gossip, but I still can't rationalize
most of the reported targets for Sacramento.
This is a bad basketball team. The Kings have the second-worst
offensive rating in the NBA over the past few weeks in addition to
their perenially-porous defense. Sacramento may be two games out of
10th place, but the team would have to unseat several better squads
in the San Antonio Spurs, Trail Blazers and Pelicans. As repetitive
as selling is for this squad, it's the logical step.
(Last week: 2)
3. Los Angeles Lakers (26-28) — Tank-O-Meter reading:
I audibly chuckled reading this reaction from Nekias Duncan on
Frank Vogel's rationale benching Russell Westbrook late against the
Knicks. L.A. won that game in overtime, but it sure wasn't thanks
to either player. Even though the Lakers went 2-1 this week, the
lasting image will be the game-winner from Clippers guard Reggie
Jackson on Thursday. The purple and gold are now down to ninth in
the Western Conference.
The Tank-O-Meter reading remains the same: You don't tank with a
healthy LeBron James.
(Last week: 3)
2. Washington Wizards (24-28) — Tank-O-Meter reading:
Washington's downward spiral continued last week with two
one-sided losses to the Bucks and Suns. The Wizards did manage a
106-103 win over Philadelphia, but they've now been usurped by the
Atlanta Hawks for the final Play-In bid. Does being on the outside
looking in change anything from a directional perspective?
I think the Wizards are at the most polarizing trade deadline
crossroads of any NBA team. They could make a desparation play for
a star to help Bradley Beal and swing on someone like Domantas
Sabonis. Or, Washington could send out its solid veterans in
return for young talent or draft assets — at the risk of losing
Beal this offseason. Moves have to be made by Thursday, but I
couldn't honestly say what the right direction is.
(Last week: 1)
1. Brooklyn Nets (29-24) — Tank-O-Meter reading:
Whew... An eight-game losing streak, complete with some epic
meltdowns, has the Nets in the Play-In tournament. And that's not
even the worst part amidst the firestorm of rumors surrounding
James Harden's potential availability. Whether or not he gets
traded, Harden is showing visible disinterest at a critical point
in Brooklyn's season. It's hard to consider the Nets a legitimate
title contender with the way they've played over the past three
(Last week: 8)
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