By Vivek Hansalia and Thomas Dowling
In Defense of Tanking
Tanking. For too long it has lurked in the shadows, a “what if?” scenario that beleaguered fans of crappy sports teams have thought about as they were hunched over the counter of their weekend haunts, cheap beer in hand, looking back up at the framed Bernie Kosar jersey hanging on the walls, remembering “Red Right 88” as the day everything changed… Wait, sorry, that’s just what Browns fans have done for the past 25 years. In any case, tanking now is an acceptable option for a team to consider when it no longer can compete at a high level. I for one, applaud its rise.
Tanking in its most basic definition is the exchange of current assets for the potential to gain better future assets. Detractors criticize the strategy by pointing out what the point is in playing sports if it isn’t to win, and it is a very valid concern. I don’t condone tanking in any and every case, some circumstances don’t require such a radical plan, but it is perfect for the teams that have been stuck in the same place of mediocrity (or worse) for years. Years of an average team can take a toll on the fans and the organization not only because the franchise can’t compete to win titles or championships, but also because there seemingly isn’t any hope to get better. I loved it when my Atlanta Hawks pulled the trigger on “iso-Joe” Johnson for a bunch of roster flotsam and draft picks since I knew that the team’s future wasn’t full of first round playoff exits for the next half-decade. That is the beauty of tanking; everything changes immediately, including peoples’ outlook on the future. A fanbase can be reenergized and filled with hope for the future instead of being overcome with dread (or even worse, a collective “meh”). If you can swallow a bitter pill in the short term, the future can be so very sweet.
Tanking, when done right, can change a franchise’s future for years after the trigger is pulled. Potentially grabbing a superstar in the draft or in free agency (or BOTH!!!) is infinitely more tantalizing a scenario than being saddled with a bunch of average joes. Don’t even pretend to not agree with me here; fans love championships more than anything else. Plus, tanking is a showcase of skill, and a real GM that can pull off the perfect tank job IS a genius. Even the biggest idiot in sports (James Dolan, in case you were wondering) can ship players away for picks and prospects, but it takes true skill and a bit of luck to successfully draft players and sign good free agents. Couch GMs everywhere, including myself, can appreciate this showcase for GMing ability.
Tanking is the future, and for all of you old-fashioned fans complaining about how it’s going to ruin sports go whine about something else.
—Tank Commander Vivek
The Perils of “Tanking”
Joakim Noah recently berated Chicago “fans” for their wanting the team to lose to tank for a high lottery pick. His concerns are well placed as no NBA team should ever lose for the sake of losing, and here is why.
Tanking is an old practice for rebuilding teams. If you don’t have the talent to win, you might as well try to acquire more by picking in the lottery of the draft. The NBA is notorious for the ever feared “playoff purgatory”. The seven game series greatly limits the chances for fringe playoff teams to ever advance to the Finals. These teams consistently make the playoffs with no shot at a championship and are thus relegated to a mediocre draft position and a low playoff seed for years in a repeating cycle.
The most common way to avoid this is to “tank”. Tanking involves losing to increase draft position. However, losing for the sake of losing rarely works out. Talent alone does not win championships, and the salary cap and 4 year max for rookie contracts further prohibit an extended “tank”. Basketball requires leadership in addition to talent. When a team loses for the sake of losing, the players don’t learn how to win and there development is stunted. This is a silly/arbitrary idea on surface, but in essence these teams don’t understand how to pull together under pressure for that last stop or score. For every OKC who seeming pulled of a tank, there are a handful of teams who repeatedly pick highly yet can’t piece the talent together (currently the Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers). Both teams have had multiple top five picks in recent drafts yet have little to show for them in the improvement in their records. Additionally, as the tank extends, these players begin to reach their second deals and leave the team altogether. Therefore in order to keep a team’s own talent from leaving, the team must demonstrate some kind of direction to its players.
OKC seems to be the exception to the rule that tanking can destroy a team. Everyone can see how the perennial “tank” teams such as the Kings and Cavs are dysfunctional, but the idea of being OKC 2.0 is too alluring. Well OKC tanked differently. The team was young and the players competed but played young. This is how the tank should be done. Young players were given the time to play through their mistakes and grow while also being expected to compete at the highest level. The 76ers this year followed a similar model. Philadelphia seemed to win way too much early this year, but you could see they were progressing in the right direction. Their young players were competing and growing through their mistakes. Now, the 76ers seem to have gone from a talentless team to a team with a bright future. The Suns are another team that has instilled a competiveness in its players. The team has a young nucleus but despite their seeming lack of talent they compete to the fullest and now are firmly in the playoff picture in the stacked West.
I realize how silly this competiveness seems, but look no further than Cleveland to see what repeated losing does to a franchise. Irving, while seemingly a budding star, plays minimal defense with little consequence. Dion Waiters is running around, clashing with coaches, and playing for himself. And Anthony Bennett looks to be a massive bust despite NBA talent because he is out there without caring.
What “fans” should root for is to have your team compete night in and night out. However in a “tank” season, young players should be taught to learn from their mistakes instead of being benched immediately. Losing isn’t everything, and learning to win and compete at the highsest level is crucial for young players.
—True Competitor Thomas