Monday, March 3, 2014

Why Tanking isn't Such a Bad Thing

The 76ers have no hope for this year, but with surprising rookie Michael Carter-Williams and the promise of a high pick in the loaded 2014 NBA Draft, Philly fans can dream of a better future.
By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

This time of year, so many people are talking about "tanking," and how it's ruining the NBA.

True, it is no fun when your favorite team is seemingly losing games on purpose now, so that it can be better later. But, is it really the worst thing in the world that teams like Philadelphia and Milwaukee are being realistic, tossing short-term goals out the window in favor of long-term ones?

I for one don't think so. In fact, I'm quite the fan of tanking, and here's why.

Nothing is Guaranteed

First of all, I think we should establish that getting the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft is decided by a lottery, so the team with the worst record in the league is not guaranteed that pick. Rather, they have a 25 percent chance of taking home the draft's top selection.

If you want a case against tanking, there it is. Three out of four times, it doesn't get the first pick in the draft. That means that teams with any kind of hope in a given season probably shouldn't tank, as it isn't likely to result in them getting a very high selection.

The Cavaliers of this year are a perfect example, though that franchise did pretty much declare playoffs or bust before the season, and winning will help them keep "franchise player" Kyrie Irving in the fold.

But wait, who is this franchise player guy…

A Beacon of Hope

For the teams that do successfully tank, and end up with the No. 1 pick, they are usually presented with a huge opportunity: The chance to land a franchise-altering player. The NBA is a star-driven league. Not because NBA players are bigger prima donnas than NFL players, but because one player can alter a basketball game far more than one can alter a football game.

So, it makes sense that if you have one of these rare, dominant players, your chances of convincing other players to join your team and, eventually, win a championship, go up.

One way to land a player like this is free agency, but there is so much uncertainty there. Will a given player want to play in your city, system, culture or with your collection of players? Who knows.

But with the draft, you've got a chance to land a star, and (relatively) on the cheap. The best part of it is, unlike the NFL Draft, having the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft isn't a total crap shoot.

On the contrary, No. 1 overall picks have a fantastic track record. Just look at the last 10 No. 1 overall picks, excluding this year's Anthony Bennett (Partly because he's been bad, but also because it's far too early to weigh in on his value).

In the last 10 years, eight different No. 1 overall picks have become All Stars, five have become All NBA caliber players and two have won the NBA's MVP award.

Of course, this is a remarkable run of No. 1 picks that began with LeBron James in 2003, continued with Dwight Howard the following year, and includes superstars Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin, along with rising stars Kyrie Irving, John Wall and "oh my God he's going to be so good in two years" Anthony Davis.

But the point is, if you look at these last 10 drafts, you have an 80 percent chance of getting an All Star, a 50/50 shot at landing a truly elite player, and a 30 percent shot of landing a guy that can be the best player on a finals team (I'm throwing Rose in with Howard and LeBron because, hey, I think he can be).

Sure, there was Toronto selecting Andrea Bargnani in 2006, but they could have just as easily taken LaMarcus Aldridge, and Greg Oden went first in 2007, but injuries have slowed one of the best big-man prospects in history, and the Blazers still had a shot to draft Kevin Durant with that pick.

The point is, if you're picking first, you have a chance to drastically change your franchise's fortunes, and that's a big deal.

Contenders Get Better

Sure, as a fan of one particular team, tanking can suck. Well, tanking sucks if your team is doing it, tanking is awesome if your team is reaping the benefits of another team taking a nose dive. Every year a number of veterans and traded away from horrible teams at the NBA Trade Deadline to teams with a pulse and, presumably, a chance of winning a championship.

This is a win-win-win scenario.

The team adding the veteran player gets what they hope is the missing piece of a championship team, the player himself gets out of a bad situation, while the team trading the veteran player gets cap flexibility, usually draft picks, and a few other benefits.

Young Players are Allowed to Make Mistakes

Yes, trading that veteran player usually makes the team worse. Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes being dealt by the 76ers this year comes to mind. Philadelphia is less equipped to actually win games (it wasn't winning much anyways), but those moves will allow rookie Michael Carter-Williams to touch the ball even more. MCW had been having a stellar, though not total efficient rookie season. That's ok, rookies aren't usually models of efficiency, but you look for flashes of potential and signs of improvement. Check and check for MCW, and now he will have even more chances to learn on the job, and make mistakes without the weight of a franchise's playoff hopes on his shoulders.

Will MCW ever be an All Star on a championship contender? We don't know, but the Sixers will have a better idea by season's end, and be able to adjust their long-term plans accordingly.

Teams Out of the Race Don't Affect the Race… On the Court

We've already gone over how tanking teams can send valuable final pieces to teams gearing up for a championship push, but on the court, those same teams will do very little to affect the standings… And I like that.

Call me crazy, but I want to see Indiana earn home court over Miami because they beat Miami and the other top teams in the East, more than I want to see them earn it because a few bottom-feeders upset a sleep-walking Heat team.

Upsets still happen in the NBA, of course, and contending teams still need to play well against the lower teams in the standings, but with "tanking" teams usually sending away experienced veteran players and opting to develop younger guys, it makes those upsets less likely, and far more memorable and significant when they do happen.

If the aforementioned Michael Carter-Williams went off for a triple-double to bury the Heat in Philly, wouldn't that be more meaningful to Sixers fans that if a bunch of veterans the team was planning to dump all played slightly above their heads for the upset win?

The NBA Lottery/Draft isn't perfect, but because one player can always have a great impact on the game of basketball, teams will do everything in their power to get one of those rare talents. Tanking gives hope for the future, but teams still have to be smart and, of course, a little lucky for that hope to turn into anything meaningful.

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