I've been hearing about all the tanking going on in preparation for the 2014 draft, a tank brigade, a battalion of teams fighting for the bottom, but I don't see it.
Let's go through, and count 'em up.
OKC, San Antonio, Memphis, Houston, L.A. Clippers, Golden State. Of the 15 western teams, 6 are justified in thinking they've got a solid shot in a 7 games series against any other team in the league. It's gonna be a dogfight come playoffs.
Borderline playoff teams (5)
Denver won't be as good, they lost Igoudala, are going through a coaching transition, and Gallinari will likely miss time, but they're still Denver, the mile high city, they get 20 free home wins a year from teams thinking, "This altitude sucks, to hell with it, we've got Phoenix tomorrow (more on that later) let's skip this game and beat Phoenix instead." They're a playoff bubble team.
If Minnesota hadn't gone through injury hell, they would have been pretty good last year, and they've added Kevin Martin.
The Blazers were decent last year, had a very good starting five, and with another year of development from Lilliard, and an actual bench, they should be a borderline playoff team.
The Mavs were good once Dirk came back, and their overpaying of Monte Ellis shows they're planning to win, and so long as Dirk stays healthy, that's another team with a chance at the playoffs.
The Pelicans are all in on making the playoffs. That's five teams fighting for the 7-8 seeds. This should be one of the more competitive years for the western conference in recent memory, and that's saying something.
Teams that won't suck (3)
People who don't know much about the Jazz are underrating them. They lost Millsap and Big Al, but that's okay, they weren't the team's best players. Hayward, Favors, Kanters, Burks (No, not Trey Burke, though him too, Alec Burks) is a pretty good start to to building a good team. Their starting lineup might actually be better this year, but their bench will suck. They should get north of 30 wins, probably comfortably.
It appears that the new regime in Sacramento will try to win. Their new coach, Malone, has a track record of turning bad defensive teams into respectable ones, which is all Sacramento needs; their offense last year was actually quite good, problem was they had easily the worst defense in the league. If Demarcus Cousins starts hanging his hat on the defensive end (unlikely) they could sneak into the playoff race, but even a slight improvement defensively should steer them north of 30 wins.
The Lakers are bit of a mystery. If Nash and Gasol have bounce back years, and Kobe comes in and play at a decent level, and work out how to play with Nash, I can see them sneaking into the bottom of the playoff race. But that's a lot of ifs. They could also be okay but not that good. They could also suck horribly. It's hard to say.
All these teams could, at any time, decide to turn the tank on. I wouldn't be surprised to see a precipitous drop in winning percentage after the All-Star break. But for the moment, they're trying to be competitive (Except for maybe L.A. I don't their front office has much of an idea of what's going to happen either.)
The Phoenix Suns are tanking. I'm sure the coach and players will try to win games, but the front office has insured that they won't succeed.
West in Review
That's 11 teams trying to make the playoffs are better. Likely one of them will have injury issues derail their season. 3 teams trying to win as many games as they can. At least one of them will change their minds partway through. And one team is clearly tanking. So yeah, there's some bad basketball coming, but it doesn't seem like anything outside the norm. If anything, it seems like less tanking than usual.
Miami, obviously, the Pacers, the Bulls, provided Rose is back to form by the playoffs. I don't yet buy the Nets or Knicks as genuine championship contenders, but they think they are, and that's what matters.
Playoff contenders (6)
The Bucks should be about the same. O.J. Mayo is, I think, upgrade over Monte Ellis, though Mark Cuban apparently disagrees. Brandon Jennings is better at playing point guard than Brandon Knight is, but Brandon Knight might be at playing Basketball. Illyasova is pretty good, Larry Sanders is a monster defensively, and could improve offensively a lot if he can just polish his timing in the pick'n'roll. John Henson is good, and likely to get better. Delfino and Butler are a pair of veteran wings who can contribute. Giannis Antetokounmpo probably won't contribute anything this year, but I mention him because I think he's worth keeping an eye on.
Maybe Cleveland will prove me wrong, but it seems like if you have that many talented young players, you have to start winning games eventually.
The Pistons have a lot of talent. Josh Smith provides good defense, Greg Monroe provides good offense, and Andre Drummond deserves all the hype he's gotten, and maybe more. Imagine if Dwight Howard had less experience, worse free throw shooting, better ballhandling, and no pretensions of post skill, and boom, you've got Andre Drummond. Brandon Jennings shoots well and passes well. They could be very good, but they could also be killed by shot selection and spacing issues.
The Toronto Raptors are the biggest question mark in the NBA, even more than the Lakers or the Pistons. Their projected starting 5 had the best point differential in the league last year in just enough minutes to make you think it was due to more than just a small sample size. Will Rudy Gay's eye surgery improve his shooting? Will Valanciunas have more consistent focus? Their GM clearly doesn't know, and has adopted a wait and see strategy. They could be the 6th seed, or they could try blow it all up a month into the season, which would be complicated by the simple fact that that their good players are largely overpaid, and so hard to move.
Shouldn't Suck (2)
The Boston Celtics are a bit like the Jazz. They lost two of their older, well known players, but people miss that they still have a pretty decent roster. Danny Ainge definitely could but a stop to the whole being okay thing, though, if he finds the time amidst playing with his Deron William and Chris Paul voodoo dolls.
I'm gonna got out on a limb here and say the Bobcats will be okayish. A team featuring Al Jefferson on offense probably can't be elite offensively, but they can't be horrible either. He goes to the post and gets you 15-20 points a night with middling efficiency. Signing Big Al is the ultimate 'screw it, let's just win some games' move. Along with some improvement from their young players, they should have one of their better seasons.
Of course, either of these teams could change their minds.
The Orlando Magic could fall under the category of 'Won't suck' if the front office allows them to, particularly if Vucevic commits a bit more to defense, but I don't think the front office will let that happen.
If Daryl Morey just finished writing the textbook on how to rebuild without tanking, Sam Hinkie just finished the first chapter of its companion volume, how to rebuild through tanking. Philadelphia has a menagerie of high upside young players who all can't shoot. The Sixers plan to financially offset low attendance by opening a brick depot. I'll be surprised if they don't have the worst record in the NBA.
East In Review
Two definite tanks, two possible tanks (Celtics, Raptors) and likely one or more of the teams planning on fighting for the playoffs have to scuttle those plans due to injury or fit issues.
The League in Review
3 definite tanks. They'll probably be joined by 3-5 more tanks as the season progresses. It seems... normal. Heck, the league seems more competitive than last year or the year before, which should help those teams that are trying to lose, so yeah, don't be surprised if Philly doesn't break into the double digits. I peg the over under at 12. Poor bastards.
We've got a historically good draft coming up, and the amount of tanking is average. Which means, if a franchise has been toying with tanking, now's the time. And I'm sure a lot of GMs are thinking about just that.