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Tank Commander: Pistons accompanied by Rockets and Cavaliers near the bottom of the standings

Here are the teams fighting with the Pistons for draft position

Houston Rockets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

We’re back for another ping pong ball hoarding chapter of Tank Commander! Since the first edition came out, there’s been some movement at the bottom of the league standings, but your Detroit Pistons have continued to rack up the losses and remain in prime position to potentially net a franchise altering player in the this year’s draft.

Let’s take a look at some of the teams who have either remained steadfast in their losing ways, or have recently plummeted down to the NBA’s basement floor.

Minnesota Timberwolves (7-26)

In case you haven’t paid attention to the Minnesota Timberwolves, well... they’re still terrible. Like many other teams, they’ve had their fair share of COVID related issues. Most notably they lost Karl Anthony-Towns for a thirteen game stretch, in which they amassed a 3-10 record. They’ll also be without D’Angelo Russell for the immediate future; Russell recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and will miss at least another 2-4 weeks. That pair has only played in five games together since the start of the regular season.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly for Minnesota, a team that was trying to make the playoffs, their high-flying number one overall pick Anthony Edwards, and Malik Beasley were unable to keep the ship afloat while their franchise cornerstones missed time. And even when Towns returned to the line-up, they’ve still lost eight of their last nine games. They simply aren’t built to compete in the stacked Western Conference.

The Timberwolves were the first to cut ties with their head coach, as they fired Ryan Saunders last week. But if there is a silver lining for their tortured fanbase, Minnesota has put themselves in the best possible position to retain their first round draft pick once this season concludes. Their 2021 first round pick is top-three protected; if it falls outside the top three, then it goes to the Golden State Warriors. If that happens, it’s time to sound the alarms in Minneapolis.

Detroit Pistons (9-24)

Remember a couple of weeks ago when the Pistons won three of four games (Nets, Celtics, Pelicans), and everyone was concerned that they were winning too much? Worry no more. That was a flash in the pan, the Pistons have regressed to the mean, and they’re still not a good basketball team. Since that stretch, Detroit has lost five of their last six games, while playing their young core of Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Saben Lee and Josh Jackson heavy minutes. GREAT!

If you’re on team TANK, there is one major cause for concern moving forward. The Pistons have the fourth easiest schedule remaining per Tankathon. Should they start to overperform, they would be in position to sell at the trade deadline (March 25th) if they decided to move on from Wayne Ellington and/or Delon Wright. The former helped Detroit win games earlier in the season, the latter has been integral in the Pistons’ wins more recently.

Cleveland Cavaliers (12-21)

Ahh the Cavs. No, you weren’t disrespected earlier this season when people didn’t buy into your 8-7 start. That house of cards was destined to tumble, and oh did it tumble in miraculous fashion. Cleveland recently went on an impressive ten game losing streak (before winning their last two games) and have possibly cemented themselves as a regular in the Tank Commander series in the process.

They’ve also shelved Andre Drummond, who initially was a core contributor to their early success, as they patiently wait for a call from a GM to offer up a second round pick. Sound familiar?

It’s not that the Cavaliers have bottomed-out due to unsustainable injuries, they’ve been relatively healthy, except for Kevin Love, who’s played in just two games this season. They had their front court of the future in Darius Garland and Collin Sexton in the line-up during that ten game losing streak, but don’t have the necessary talent to sustain winning at any meaningful clip.

The Cavaliers were, and still are, a rebuilding team. They’ll need serious upgrades on the wing, or rapid internal development, and better depth should they want to be in playoff contention past the mid-way point of the regular season.

Houston Rockets (11-20)

Welcome, Houston! Since the last edition came out, the gritty Rockets team that started their season 10-9 despite trading away James Harden, has dealt with some serious injury issues, and the losses followed. Most notably, former Piston and future first ballot hall of famer Christian Wood has missed last the ten games due to an ankle injury. The Rockets haven’t won a game during that stretch. They’ve also been without Victor Oladipo for four of their last six games.

Speaking of Oladipo, his name keeps coming up in trade rumors. The Knicks are reported to have interest in the former All-Star, and it’s known amongst NBA Insiders that he’d like to play for the Miami Heat. Should the Rockets move on from either Oladipo or P.J. Tucker, then they’ll have essentially showed their hand and signified that they’re tanking.

The Rockets only keep their 2021 first round pick if it lands in the top four, if not, then it goes to the Oklahoma City Thunder due to the Russell Westbrook - Chris Paul swap. Four of their next five games are against teams that are .500 or worse - so their upcoming play may dictate their future decisions. It’s no guarantee that a bottom-four record will net a top-four pick, but odds are they’ll likely sell at the deadline and attempt to accelerate their rebuild.

DBB Community Question

When this article next comes out, what teams do you expect to fall to the bottom of the standings? And what teams from this list, if any, do you expect to climb out?