NBA teams have two commodities for sale to their fans, and they tend to be mutually exclusive.
The organizations enjoying present success, and especially title contention, are selling wins. The ones that are losing sell hope for the future, which usually comes in the form of tantalizing young players the team hopes (there's that word again) will one day form a core that allows it to sell wins.
That brings us to this year's hope-sellers. These six teams, more crudely known as tankers, aren't in position to make a playoff push and probably wouldn't have interest in that endeavor anyway.
The Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Orlando Magic have all made moves to weaken themselves this season, putting the focus on cleaner books, draft equity and young talent acquisition. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves are also out of the mix for a play-in spot. Maybe they haven't given up on 2020-21 as obviously
In an ideal world, every NBA team would want a floor-stretching center who could overpower mismatches down low, defend the rim and survive when switched out onto smaller ball-handlers in the open floor. Trouble is, there's basically one of those guys in the entire league, and his name is Anthony Davis.
Of the various non-megastar alternatives at the 5, the rim-rolling, shot-blocking big is a solid fallback option. Jarrett Allen, whom the Cavaliers acquired for the paltry sum of Dante Exum and the Milwaukee Bucks' 2022 first-rounder, is one of the best.
Allen is a genuine deterrent inside. Opponents hit just 49.1 percent of their attempts within six feet when Allen is the primary defender, a figure bettered among high-volume paint protectors by only Jakob Poeltl and Myles Turner. For some perspective, Rudy Gobert, who's likely to win his third Defensive Player of the Year award this season, allows a 49.5 percent hit rate.
Add to that a career field-goal percentage of 61.4 percent and a defensive rebound rate that has ranked in the top 20 percent among bigs the last two years, and Allen's interior impact is clear. Next season will be Allen's age-23 campaign, which suggests there's still plenty of room for growth—especially now that he's free from a Brooklyn Nets situation that saw him continually lose minutes to established vets, despite his often superior play.
Cleveland must navigate Allen's restricted free agency this summer, but the cost of retaining him shouldn't get too exorbitant. For all his skills, Allen is still fundamentally a role player at a position the league is increasingly reluctant to lavish with big money.
For the Cavs, who have two smallish and defensively suspect guards in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, Allen is an ideal mistake-eraser and lob-catching safety blanket. His presence should make life easier on both ends for his developing teammates, which only adds to his importance going forward.
The Cavaliers snagged a cornerstone for next to nothing, and said cornerstone has performed well in exactly the ways the organization must have hoped. That's cause for real optimism.
Detroit Pistons: The Jerami Grant Contract Looks Just Fine
as those first three teams, but their priorities are similarly future-focused.
None of these teams can market present success, but each has a source of hope to keep their fans excited about what's ahead.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Jarrett Allen's Perfect Fit
The $60 million deal Detroit handed Jerami Grant this past offseason was a big bet on a role player many thought couldn't scale up his game.
Though the Pistons aren't reaping many benefits in the standings, Grant has proved doubters wrong by averaging a career-high 22.5 points per contest. As you'd expect with a huge spike in usage, the rangy forward's scoring efficiency is down. But Grant's PER is higher than ever (and above the league average of 15.0 for only the second time), while his box plus/minus is also far better than it's ever been.
Grant would still be best utilized on a good team as something other than the top option on offense, but he demonstrated the ability to create more of his own looks than anyone could have anticipated this year. If the Pistons ever acquire stars to slot ahead of him in the pecking order, he'll become an overqualified support piece. That's a good thing.
At $20 million per season, Grant is being paid like a marginally above-average starter. At the very worst, that's a fair deal. But it's easy to imagine the 27-year-old blowing past the production he's managed in a breakout 2020-21 season once someone else is ready to help him shoulder the offensive load. (Looking at you, Killian Hayes.)
Added bright-spot bonus: Saddiq Bey, who came off the board 19th in the 2020 draft, looks like a surefire rotation weapon who'll spread the floor and has the frame to hold up defensively for years to come.