I can’t take it anymore, man. I just can’t.
Everywhere I turn, it’s “tanking this”, “tanking that”, etc. Problem is, it’s coming from some of the more, shall we say, accessible and/or popular voices and as such, has been a most ubiquitous and annoying refrain.
The major problem with this, of course, is that they have it all wrong.
Let’s start simple here. What is tanking, by definition? Well, last time I checked, “tanking” means doing what you can to lose as many games as possible, thus securing the best chance at a high draft pick. Not to be confused with “rebuilding”, which involves clearing the decks and starting over, with the assumption that a poor record (and the resulting high draft pick) will be the likely result.
Now then, let’s go over this. Who is taking and who is rebuilding?
Utah is in rebuild mode. After a summer in which they willfully let their two best veteran players (Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson) walk in free agency and took two horrible contracts from Golden State in exchange for future draft picks, it became abundantly clear that Utah had grown tired of winning 40 game and sneaking into (or narrowly missing) the playoffs and were now willing to bottom out and hopefully rebuild around their young nucleus (Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, Trey Burke) and their handful of future draft picks, as well as a ton of salary cap space. Sure, their was an eye toward the 2014 draft, but make no mistake, this is your standard blueprint for rebuilding, same as it ever.
Milwaukee is a horribly run franchise that actually made an effort, believe it or not, to be competitive this year. After compiling a roster filled with average (at best) NBA players who were ostensibly to be lead by OJ Mayo, the Bucks fell victim to a plethora of injuries and before they knew it, had the worst record in the league. Still, all the injuries did was reduce them from a 33 win team to one that might win 15 games or so. Still, the Bucks plan in 2014 was to make the playoffs, even if it was a complete pipe dream from day one. They aren’t tanking, they simply suck. Just a brutal, brutal team.
Sacramento ain’t tanking either, they’re just a clueless organization building a team around a clueless “franchise player” named Demascus (or DeMarcus) Cousins. Nope, they won’t end up with a top 5 pick in next years draft for any reason other that an abundance of incompetence. Doesn’t matter if they trade for Derrick Williams or Rudy Gay or Chris Webber. This team has 27 wins written all over it, and the sad part is, they are actually trying to be good.
Who else? Well, let’s have a look at the bottom of the standings. You’ve got the Knicks and the Nets, both of whom have already traded their 2014 #1 picks, so you can count them out. Chicago is bad because Derrick Rose’s other knee fell apart, but you can’t call what has happened to them tanking until they start selling off Luol Deng and Joakim Noah or any other assets they have. Cleveland is yet another team that has delusions of being competitive but is being run into the ground by dimwits. Orlando has been knee deep in rebuilding mode since the day Dwight Howard walked out the door, but they aren’t doing anything that suggests they are purposely trying to lose games. Boston and Toronto were both considered prime tanking candidates, but that was before the rest of the Atlantic division pooped itself, leaving the Celtics and Raptors as defacto playoff contenders.
See a trend here?
Hell, let’s flash back to October, when the Suns were considered a consensus bottom three team that would be lucky to win 25 games. In possession of as many as four first round picks in the 2014 draft, the season was considered lost before it started for Phoenix. Then, they shot out of the gate with a team that was not only thriving in an up-tempo system, but in retrospect looked like they were perfectly constructed by a GM who expected them to be good, or at the very least competitive. Shit, if you count Toronto, Phoenix and Boston as accidental contenders, it’s safe to say that all of them have abandoned the tanking strategy mid-season in favor of making the playoffs or at least having a fighting chance.
Here’s the thing with this supposed tanking phenomenon. It’s one thing for writers or bloggers to talk breathlessly about losing on purpose in hopes of landing Andrew Wiggins or Jabari parker or Julius Randle or any of the other supposed future franchise players, but at the end of the day this is still the real world, and in the real world you still have fans to sell tickets to, merchandise to peddle, and perhaps most importantly, and owner who is staring intently at the bottom line. In allot of these cases, you have owners who want to win now, want to make money. Selling them the prospect of being intentionally shitty in hopes that they just might win a lottery that could perhaps garner them a potential franchise player? It’s harder than it sounds. Do you know what even two or three home playoff games can mean to a teams’ bottom line? Not only that, but the difference in revenue that can be generated by a team who is selling a playoff chase versus a team that is playing out the string? This is, after all, still a business, is it not?
And really, that’s what we’re seeing this year. For all this bluster about Tankapalooza and wacky draft lottery wheel proposals, take a step back and have a look around the league and tell me, where are these supposed tanking teams?
At the end of the day, Philadelphia is the only team that not only went out of the way to strip itself of assets last summer, but has actively done things to be as bad as possible this season, as evidenced by Michael Carter-Williams numerous absences of a dubious nature. Every other team thought to be tanking are actually either rebuilding or exceeding expectations. When all is said and done, most of the teams that appear headed for the top picks are actually teams that weren’t trying to lose. Now, this could change as we get closer to the finish line and some teams fall out of contention but for now there is almost zero concrete evidence of all of this supposed tanking. No, what we have are allot of people pushing a story that isn’t there, and for god only knows what reason.
And that’s the lesson here. Tanking is losing on purpose, like the Texans and Falcons started doing once it became apparent that their seasons were lost. Tanking is what the Sixers are doing, ostensibly because the people in charge have sold ownership on the viability of their plan to bottom out and come up big in the draft. Everyone else is either winning, competing or rebuilding. One last time, let me be clear on this: Rebuilding and tanking are two different things. Regardless of whatever narratives are being sold to you, they aren’t the truth. The truth is right there in black and white. Nobody is tanking.
Well, I’m glad I got that off my chest. Carry on.