In the tank: The value of losing
It was a dark and stormy night . . .
Clearly, I’m prepared to tank this column.
It will be done as covertly as possible, sprinkling in some run-on sentences and dangling modifiers and mixed metaphors throughout so that the intention isn’t too obvious.
I could get in trouble for that.
The goal is to make it bad enough to secure the top spot in the upcoming draft, at which point I’ll select Strunk and White, and my copy will sing for seasons to come.
It can’t be that easy, can it?
Apparently some NBA front office types believe so, judging from an anonymous story told to Jeff Goodman of ESPN in October.
He quoted an NBA general manager saying: “Our team isn’t good enough to win and we know it. So this season we want to develop and evaluate our young players, let them learn from their mistakes — and get us in position to grab a great player. The best way for us to do that is to lose a lot of games. . . . Sometimes my job is to understand the value of losing.”
The concept of tanking isn’t new, nor is it exclusive to the NBA. But there’s fertile ground for it in the NBA this season because of the way a select few teams stockpile stars while much of the rest of the league stays stuck in the rut of mediocrity for years.
Encouraging that attitude of not trying to win as many games as possible is the fact that the 2014 draft class is lined up to be one of the best in decades. It’s unusually top-heavy.
Besides the Big Three of Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Kansas’
Andrew Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker, who were tabbed as high picks before the college season started, other players like Kansas’ Joel Embiid, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Dante Exum of Australia have emerged as can’t-miss prospects.
What that has done is make it more of a high-percentage play to tank this year, because the worst team in the league still has a great shot to get one of these players even if the ping-pong balls don’t roll your way at the draft lottery.
In the wake of the “Suck for Luck” campaign started by NFL fans in 2011, when Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck was the jewel of the upcoming draft, you could envision “Riggin’ for Wiggins” or “Mishandle for Randle.”
“Hari-kiri for Jabari,” anyone?
Usually, it’s at the end of the year that you hear grumbling that teams aren’t putting forth their utmost, when it becomes apparent that their season is going nowhere and it might be worth their while to tank out and at least improve draft position.
Goodman’s story indicates that tanking is now a long-term strategy for building a team and not just an impromptu move late in a lost season. The sad thing is, there are fans who actually support and encourage such a plan.
There are any number of reasons why the whole idea of tanking — not to be mistaken with fixing, which is illegal and rooted in an entirely different motivation — is wrong-minded. The one I keep coming back to, and which drives in part my refusal to root for my teams to lose under any circumstances, is that there’s no guarantee that the guy you’re getting will ever live up to the hype, anyway.
It’s worth noting that Luck, who certainly has turned into a good player and should continue to improve, is currently rated in the lower half of NFL quarterbacks, lower than Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill was considered a consolation prize once the Miami Dolphins turned around an 0-7 season in 2011 to screw up what some of their fans hoped would be a perfectly winless “Suck for Luck.”
Miami took him with the eighth pick, after Luck went to the Indianapolis Colts and the Redskins traded up to get Robert Griffin III at No. 2.
After Goodman’s story came out, fans naturally engaged in Whodunnit to speculate which NBA team would so openly employ a tanking philosophy.
Based on the dumping of veterans, among other factors, the lineup of suspects included the Phoenix Suns, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz, Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks.
If the standings are any reflection, Orlando, Milwaukee and Utah . . . we’re looking at you. At 14-9 and in second place in the Pacific Division, you’re not trying hard enough, Phoenix.
The entire Atlantic Division is acting as if there’s a collective tanking reward.
But again, is it worth walking the line between getting a stud in the draft and perpetuating a culture of losing?
At least one college coach with future NBA players on his roster doesn’t think so.
In a phone interview with SportsNet New York, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, while praising the quality and depth of the draft, said there isn’t a “transcendent” player along the lines of Tim Duncan or LeBron James who can carry a team for years.
At the Champions Classic in Chicago, which featured Randle and Kentucky against Michigan State, and Parker’s Duke team against Kansas, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he couldn’t fathom NBA teams tanking to position themselves for a specific college player.
If nothing else, that would be un-American, Coach K said, this whole losing-on-purpose thing.
“Maybe I’m naive, and I’m going to go read a fairy tale after this.”
Coach, you’ve come to the right place.
It was a dark and stormy night . . .