It's all in the math, kids. You should have paid more attention in Data Management
The tanking issue has been talked to death this offseason, so the obvious move was for me to spill more ink over this much-maligned strategy. I'll spare you the rehashing of arguments; you can read up on the anti and pro arguments (as they pertain to the Raptors) on your own time.
If you want the Raptors to tank this season...you're probably an idiot. I don't say that to insult your intelligence. It's just that the strategy of tanking is pretty stupid, and it's especially stupid for this year's version of the Toronto Raptors.
But fine, let's say you want to tank. Let's say you want to intentionally make the team really bad to land some ping-pong balls. How bad do you have to be, and how many ping-pong balls would you get?
Let's evaluate (skip to the jump!)
BUDGET: TOP 5 PICK
First, let's create our budget. If you believe the draft reports, the next upcoming NBA draft will be loaded with future all-NBA'ers. Multiple future all-NBA'ers. It's going to be one for the history books. Pick your favourite draft class; '84, '96, '03, whatever. It's going to be like that!
And one of the prospects is Canadian?! Maple boners up!
Okay, let's step back into reality for a second. I'm no draft expert by any means (I hate college basketball; it's on at the same time as NBA basketball, which is much better; why would I want to watch two teams worse than the Charlotte Bobcats play for little-to-no stakes), but there are a lot of things to consider.
First, none of these dudes have declared for the 2014 draft just yet. Not even one. A lot of things can happen between now and the draft; they could get injured, they could flop, they can decide to opt out of the draft, etc etc. It's too early to make any definitive statements (don't count your eggs).
Second, if so many excellent players are coming for this draft, the extra competition might dissuade them (or at least their agents) to enter the draft. Why? Consider this; the difference in the salaries of the number one pick, as compared to the number 5 pick is a whooping 35%! Parlay this difference over the duration of the rookie scale contract (4 years, assuming all options are picked up), and it represents a difference of 5+ million.
But let's put all that aside for the sake of argument, let's assume that there will be FIVE franchise players in the next upcoming draft. Five is a lot; there are ~10 franchise players in the NBA at any given time.
Let's set the goal at landing a top-five pick (yes, I know that it's very possible that one of those golden-geese slips through the top-five, but then you're arguing against tanking). How can you land a top-5 pick? Consider the following odds (per Wikipedia):
The odds of landing a top 5 pick drops lower than 10% after the 8th seed (by reverse seeding), so let's just set the bar there. However, if you're really insistent on getting a top-5 pick, you probably wont be satisfied unless you have the 5th seed. But hey, since we're already stretching it, let's just play with the idea of 8th or better.
How shitty do you have to be to be 8th or worse? I've compiled the average records of the bottom-10 teams over the last five years. They are below:
Okay, so you'll basically have to win less than 29 games to get a bottom-8 record. This is tricky enough in a normal year, but this should be extra difficult in a year where so many teams are poised to tank (or at least be horrible).
But at least we now know what the goal is (per tanking). In order to have a 10% chance (or better) at a top-five pick, the Raptors need to win less than 29 games next season. With that in mind, let's see what they'll need to do to achieve this feat.
THE COST (jettisoning players)
With the help of Arturo Galletti, I've estimated that the Toronto Raptors, as currently constructed, will win ~47 games when healthy, or ~40 games if things go haywire (due to injuries). You can look over that estimation here. Let's just split the difference, and say that they'll win 43.5 games next season. How can we trim that to 28, or lower?
Simple subtraction; 43.5 - 28 = 15.5. We need to trim 15.5 wins from this roster. How can we do that? Let's look at each player's projections below:
Option 1: Trade away Gay and Lowry (~0% chance at top-five; ~10% at most)
Okay, boom. This is easy; just jettison Lowry and Gay! Their contracts are expiring anyway! This could totally happen! Tank!
Except, what would they bring back? If it's just cap space and draft picks, you're covered, but what if they bring back actually productive players? Plus, their raw win numbers are a product of their WP48 and minutes played. Their minutes will have to filled by someone (~70 minutes per game between them).
For example, if you bring back league average players, you'll be getting 12 wins back (70 MPG*82 games*0.100 WP48/48 minutes). That's not going to work.
Okay, maybe you bring back really shitty replacement level, filler contract players. Except, would you be happy for that return? Just filler guys for Gay and Lowry? Remember, we gave up a first rounder for Lowry, and an expiring + Ed Davis for Gay. You're cool with squandering all that for 10%? Sure, don't make decisions on sunk cost, but goddamn that's a horrible return.
Option 2: Trade away Fields, Novak and Johnson (~10% chance at top-five)
Fine, let's not throw away Lowry and Gay. Let's just toss out some of our productive vets. What about trading away Johnson, Fields and Novak. That's 16.5 wins right there. We'd be at 27 games! Tank!
Except, what's the market for Fields? He's definitely too expensive/shitty to not get a bad contract/salary back. Novak might net you a 2nd rounder, or a middling prospect, but that's just 2.5 wins.
Worst of all, this scenario would involve trading away Johnson (who is on a really reasonable contract for 2 more seasons). Ask yourself this; can you realistically expect a first-rounder back for Johnson? I know UM fleeced the Knicks for Bargnani, but that's the exception, not the rule. Also, Johnson is arguably the team's best player. Throwing him away for a 10% chance at a top-five pick is a little silly, no?
There's also the returning players. That's important. They'll likely bring back ~7 wins back (if they're average), which would only bring the Raptors to 34.5 wins, which wouldn't even be a bottom-10 pick (thus, ~0% chance at getting top-five).
Option 3: Fuck it all; trade Lowry, Johnson and Gay (~1% at top-five, max ~100%)
Okay, you've played the YOLO card. You've traded away Lowry, Johnson and Gay (all for players who won't produce this year; average players nets you ~12 wins back, which only brings you down to 30.7 wins, which is outside of the bottom-10).
This brings the Raptors to ~17.7 wins, which is right around what you need to get the worst record in the league (thus, 100% chance of picking in the top four). Except, you've had to trade away Lowry, Gay and Johnson for absolutely nothing (in the short term; you can presumably only get filler + draft picks back, but you're unloading 30+ million dollars of salary so it's unlikely).
Option 4: Trade JV, Johnson, Lowry and Gay for nothing (~100% chance that every Raptors fan giving up on the team, and life)
Let's not even go there, but yeah; definitely a top-five pick.
So there you have it. Assuming that you want a top-five pick, the Raptors need to win less than 29 games next season to get a 10%+ chance at one. In order to do that, the Raptors would have to trade away a bunch of assets (and in most cases, get nothing in return) to get below 29 wins.
If that's what you want, then you go ahead. Personally, I'm going to pass on the tanking. There better be five Lebron James's in this draft class, because otherwise the cost of tanking is just too great.