There has been a rather strange phenomenon taking place in the NBA this season. It is something that has not been seen in quite sometime. For a surprising number of teams, the art of “tanking” seems to have deserted them. This year was meant to see the basketball landscape filled with more mediocre teams than potentially ever before as a result of a bumper draft class coming up in 2014. Except nobody really seems to have read the script. There aren’t many overly dreadful teams in the league right now and the Orlando Magic, who themselves are better at this point than most expected, may just have fallen into a very promising position.
The Phoenix Suns. A team most expected to be the worst in the league coming into this year. Currently at 16-10, the sixth seed in the Western Conference and very much in the playoff mix. If the upcoming draft is as loaded as we know it is, why are the Suns doing their best to get away from the better picks by being this good? It is hard to tell professional athletes to lose on purpose for a year of course and the Suns have been a great surprise. Even in the awful Eastern Conference, teams like the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors all appear to have pushed on as expected. Even the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks, who have been awful this year, appear to be at least heading in the right direction, even if the playoffs at this moment looks beyond both of them. All of this leaves Orlando, a team at 8-19, 13th in the East, looking much worse than they actually are. Anybody who knows the team can see that Arron Afflalo could be an outside bet to be an All-Star. Nicola Vucevic is one of the top five centers in the league already and rookie Victor Oladipo is progressing as planned. Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless both have bags of potential and are yet to really show it as well. So how has a team with this much going for it managed to fall so much when the beginning of the season brought some early wins and renewed confidence this rebuilding job was further along than people thought?
Obviously there are much better teams around. The schedule has not been too kind to the Magic either, but losing now is literally the best thing this team could be doing. Most Magic fans would have believed a top 10, maybe even top seven, draft pick next year could have been possible. With the team falling to the lower ebbs of the standings like this, the No. 1 pick may not seem as far away as some may have thought. If Orlando could nab Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins to put with their current crop of players, they could make some serious noise not too far down the road. It was never quite meant to be like this, yes Orlando was going to have many bad days but not so many that they ended up being serious contenders for the top pick. But through the unforeseen improved play of teams like Phoenix, Orlando is being pushed closer to what could turn out to be the top pick next year.
Fans and media members alike have spent a great deal of time talking about how Phoenix have defied expectations to become a very good team already without the help of the super draft that is on the way. That is all well and good, but they can’t win a championship with the roster they have. Teams spent years trying to position themselves so that when the 2014 draft came round, they would have the best odds possible of taking one of a number of potential game changers from the college pool. All of a sudden the Suns get some wins and teams like the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers aren’t as bad as advertised and people want to rush to give them praise? Tanking should be every poor to average team’s goal at this point in time and people are forgetting that. Through no extra effort the Orlando Magic now look like their odds in the next draft will have been enhanced, something a lot more teams should take a stab at. Of course the Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks are also beyond poor, but Orlando is now in that mix of bad teams as well, when they really aren’t all that bad at all. Losing today to win big tomorrow, it is about the best Christmas present the Orlando Magic could ask for and they haven’t even done anything.