The 2014 NBA draft class has been hyped to the point of no return, high-schoolers are being projected as perennial all-stars and there are a number of teams that are going to give tanking a go this season in an attempt to land one of the many gems available, but which team has the best shot of getting the highly coveted no. 1 pick?
The Celtics have pushed the self-destruct button on their roster and have plumped for a full blown re-building project, initiated by trading coach Doc Rivers to the Clippers and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets, seemingly stockpiling hundreds of first round draft picks in return. The next move may or may not be trading enigmatic point guard Rajon Rondo in an attempt to suck even more next season. With or without Rondo’s services, the Celtics will have sufficient playing time for rookie Kelly Olynyk (who impressed at the Orlando Summer League with 20/8/3 on 57% shooting in 27 minutes) and sophomore Jared Sullinger, who in limited minutes last season (20 per game) put up promising numbers of 6ppg and 6rpg before the injury curse present in the NBA last season claimed him as well. With some decent players still on the roster they will finish with a better record than some other eastern conference scrubs (but not many) and will be in with a somewhat decent chance of snagging the prized first pick.
I tore into Phoenix for their offseason moves a season ago. After losing Steve Nash to the Lakers and Grant Hill to the Clippers, it was time to blow everything up using that trusty roster self-destruct button and re-build through the draft. Instead, the Suns signed Goran Dragic for $7.5 million a season directly after picking up point guard Kendall Marshall in the draft. They then signed the notoriously sluggish Michael Beasley (10ppg on barely 40% shooting last season) for $6 million over three years and confounded this by picking up the recently amnestied 32 year old Luis Scola for a three year deal worth over $12 million! Despite these attempts to remain at least somewhat relevant, they understandably backfired just enough to land Phoenix the no. 5 pick which they used on Alex Len from Maryland, and acquired the physically gifted Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers. The Suns are still stuck with Michael Beasley, but now they have two very talented young players to mould for the future, and will inevitably finish in the bottom two in the west next season to be able to add another to the mix.
Utah, who apparently had made a mess of not trading one or two of their frontcourt pieces last season, lost both Al Jefferson (to Charlotte) and Paul Millsap (to Atlanta) during free agency and have since settled on rebuilding around 9th pick Trey Burke and a young frontcourt tandem in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. The Jazz also involved themselves in the Golden State Warriors sign-and-trade for Andre Iguodala, by taking on the truly dreadful but expiring contracts of Andris Biedrins ($9 million) and Richard Jefferson ($11 million) as well as Brandon Rush for two future first round draft picks, one of which will be for the 2014 class. The Jazz may have a bright future ahead, but it certainly won’t be this upcoming season where I expect them to finish 14th or 15th in the loaded west with perhaps the second best chance of adding the no. 1 pick to a talented young core.
The 76ers fully bit the bullet with re-building this offseason, trading their lone all-star, point guard Jrue Holiday (and 42nd pick Pierre Jackson) for sixth pick Nerlens Noel and a top five protected first round pick in 2014, whilst adding 6’5 point guard Michael Carter-Williams 11th in the draft to replace him. The 76ers astutely realised that with Holiday running the point and churning out numbers of 18/4/8, they weren’t going to fully bottom out and ran the risk of consistent mediocrity that Milwaukee Bucks fans (if there are any out there..) have felt for so long. Post-trade, the 76ers have a project point guard in Michael Carter-Williams who has no pressure to perform right away, and can allow Nerlens Noel to take his time recovering from his torn ACL whilst they tank the season away. I have them finishing the regular season somewhere between 13th and 15th which gives them arguably one of if not the best chance to secure the no. 1 pick. Add to that the Pelicans first rounder and the future looks a lot brighter for Philly.
 Well, four in total, three from Brooklyn, one from the Clippers and the opportunity to swap picks with the Nets in 2017.
 Rose, Granger, Bynum, Wall, Rondo, Westbrook, Lee, Gallinari, Love, Rubio, Bryant, Nowitzki, Gasol, Howard and the list continues on and on of players who were injured for long spells or felt the ill-effects of injury throughout the season. Like I said, cursed.
 This ranks as one of the least productive free agency periods in recent memory, a team stuck unwilling to accept that the relative success of the last ten years has come to an end, and the delusion to think that Michael Beasley and Luis Scola on long term deals would help in any way.
 That is if they don’t trade the pick away for Andrea Bargnani or something equally as irrational. I would not be surprised.
 With the playoffs looking improbable (the loathed 8th seed at best) and upcoming unrestricted free agent big men Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap taking playing time away from promising young players Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, the consensus around the league was that Utah would trade at least one of them for future picks or perhaps young backcourt help. They did nothing, narrowly missed out on the playoffs and lost both Jefferson and Millsap during free agency for, well, nothing.
 With Holiday, the 76ers probably would have finished somewhere between 9th and 6th in a poor eastern conference in 2014, just missing out on the lottery and being trounced by a Miami, Indiana, Chicago etc. in the first round. Philly also owe a (lottery protected) first rounder for 2014 to the Miami Heat for the trade that acquired Arnett Moultrie, which would have left them without a first round pick at all for next summer’s stacked draft, heading into free agency a mediocre team and unable to realistically attract the top free agents. Bleak.