The NBA doesn't want teams to push the red button.
Flattened lottery odds made the race to the bottom less of a sure thing, and last year's addition of a play-in tournament expanded the list of "postseason" entrants in each conference to 10. Those are clear disincentives to trading away talent and losing on purpose.
Finish a season with the worst record in the league and, congratulations: You have only a 14 percent shot at the top selection, exactly the same as the teams that finished with the second- and third-worst marks. Tanking isn't what it used to be.
It'll be particularly challenging to try a blow-up strategy this season. The first-round picks most organizations would want in exchange for their costly vets are in short supply.
In light of all that, the situation has to be especially hopeless to justify demolition—marked by a shortage of promising young cornerstones, a lack of direction, a few too many miles on the mediocrity treadmill, overpaid players who can't raise the franchise's ceiling, impending contract quagmires and/or a culture that locks a team into a losing rut.
It has never made less sense to blow the whole thing up. But if anyone's going to hit that button, these teams should be the first ones to consider it.
We should probably start with the handful of contractual decisions nudging the Chicago Bulls toward a fresh start, as their play this year hasn't been bad enough on its own to justify a position here. Chicago is in the mix for a play-in spot.
With that said, it's already decision time on Lauri Markkanen, who failed to reach an extension agreement with the Bulls prior to the season and is now ticketed for restricted free agency this summer. The No. 7 pick in 2017 has shown flashes of stretch scoring (career 35.7 percent from deep) with an occasional attacking mean streak. But he's had injury issues every year and is still without a position on defense.
The Bulls clearly have a number they didn't want to reach on his new deal. Although they'll have matching rights this summer, failed extension talks often portend a breakup.
Zach LaVine is a valuable high-usage scorer, but his annual habit of giving away more on defense than he gets on offense is intact. He's been a consistent net negative throughout his career, but he's never had a lower on-off differential than the one he's posting in 2020-21. He has one more year on his deal after this one. If the Bulls view Coby White (similarly shaky on D) as their long-term answer at the point, they can't go forward with LaVine as his running mate. You can't plug two holes in the dam when they're both this big.
Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky's 2021-22 salaries are only partially guaranteed, and Otto Porter Jr.'s deal comes off the books after this year, too.
Chicago could move one or all of these players for value, and it should. None of them project as being worth what they'll be paid next year—least of all Markkanen, who could see a windfall offer sheet in what's looking like a thinner-than-expected free-agent class.
Over the last three years, the Bulls finished 13th, 13th and 11th in the East. This core, if retained, doesn't have the punch or upside to dramatically improve on those positions.
It's time to cut bait on everyone but White, Patrick Williams and Wendell Carter Jr.
The James Harden trade got the ball rolling, and the Houston Rockets would be best served by riding this wave of future-focused momentum.
John Wall's presence complicates that approach. He's on the books for $91.6 million over the two season after this one and ranks among the league's least palatable contracts.
Victor Oladipo's expiring deal is definitely one to shop, though. Houston, clearly unwilling to pay the luxury tax in recent years, opted to take him back in the Harden deal over Caris LeVert—a younger, cost-controlled and arguably better option. The Rockets might be perfectly happy letting Oladipo walk for nothing, but they could also extract a pick via trade, ideally without taking back long-term salary.
P.J. Tucker, who's also on an expiring deal, should incite a bidding war among contenders.