This is the discussion no one wants to have, certainly not Erik Spoelstra, and certainly not now, with his Miami Heat coming off an inspiring preseason moment in San Antonio.
It also is one that could prove both avoidable and moot if internal preseason optimism translates into something tangible through the first few months of the season.
But at some point, what Spoelstra often terms “outside noise” could be accompanied by even more of the types of notions already circulating around the Web, that if ever there was a season for a team to roll out the tank, this could be it.
So why are four-letter words like “Heat” and “tank” being linked when everything the franchise stands for would indicate otherwise?
_The number of championship contenders this season might be as minimal as in recent memory, with the Cleveland Cavaliers the overwhelming favorite in the East and the Golden State Warriors in a similar position in the more-competitive West.
Factor in the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers and that might be it for contenders, with all due respect to the Boston Celtics’ addition of Al Horford.
_This Heat team might only be built for the moment, with an abundance of rental players.
They may not say it, but based on their abilities to return to the free-agent market next summer, this season is about setting up the future for players such as Dion Waiters, Derrick Williams, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson and Luke Babbitt, among others.
Now, if something tangible is built with Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, then talk certainly can begin in earnest about a foundation.
_The Heat are in a position where the 2017 NBA draft seemingly has to be maximized, with their 2018 first-round pick due to the Phoenix Suns from the Goran Dragic trade unless it is among the first seven, and the Heat’s 2021 first-round pick (unprotected) also due to the Suns from that deal.
Yes, the Heat hold their 2017 first-round pick free and clear.
_There should be minimal competition when it comes to racing to the top of the draft positioning (heck, any tank might not have to be that much of a tank, anyway).
The Philadelphia 76ers, even in the wake of Ben Simmons’ foot injury, have vowed to live in the moment with the Colangelos now in control.
Similarly, the Sacramento Kings, with the opening of their new arena, are sending a message of immediate improvement (their 2017 first-round pick goes to the Bulls if it is not among the first 10 selections).
The Brooklyn Nets have no motivation to go into the tank, with the Celtics holding the right to swap first-round position, as a result of the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade in the 2013 offseason.
As for other potential bottom-feeders in the East, the New York Knicks clearly are placing a priority on the coming season, adding Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, while the Orlando Magic have to produce if management wants to continue in place.
As for the rest of the West, the Los Angeles Lakers’ first-round pick goes to the 76ers if it is not among the first three selections; the Suns already are loaded with draft possibilities with those incoming picks from the Heat; and a pair of coaches will have more on their mind than the long view, with Alvin Gentry needing to make a statement with the New Orleans Pelicans, just as Michael Malone has to do with the Denver Nuggets.
_Oh, and the 2017 NBA draft is expected to be really, really good, including incoming freshmen such as Josh Jackson, Dennis Smith, Markelle Fultz, Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Jonathan Isaac and several intriguing overseas prospects.
For example, put Jackson into the Heat mix with the youth of Whiteside, Winslow, Richardson and Johnson and you could have potential similar to what the Minnesota Timberwolves are expected to offer this season.
No, “Just Tank Baby” will not be the Heat’s motto starting Oct. 26, nor should it be. But this is an organization that also appreciates what it means to seize moments.
“In ’08, I was smart enough to say, ‘It really is time to get a lottery pick,’ ” Heat President Pat Riley said in June in discussing what turned into the ill-fated gambit with Michael Beasley. But that also was a year that Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, even Danilo Gallinari and Brook Lopez were available.
This is a Heat team smart enough to recognize when winning was not a priority in that 2015 regular-season finale that featured a rotation of 48 minutes of Henry Walker, James Ennis, Tyler Johnson and Beasley (as well as 41 minutes of Zoran Dragic).
The question this year is whether or when such thoughts might come earlier. Because, already, they are being hinted at elsewhere.