It’s an anonymous piece, but it’s still a little refreshing to see an NBA general manager go (nearly) on record about being up front with tanking the season. It's nice to see the person behind the personnel moves cop to wanting to lose 60-plus games in the hopes of landing the top overall pick in next June's NBA draft, and a shot at Kansas phenom Andrew Wiggins (or Jabari Parker, or Marcus Smart, or Julius Randle, or ...), even if the worst record only guarantees a 25 percent chance at the top overall pick. It’s nice to see the wizard behind the curtain, even if he doesn’t have a name.
(Though the name is probably “Ryan.” Or “Rob.”)
In an ESPN Magazine interview, one anonymous GM detailed his team’s plan for the 2013-14 season – namely, the dude wants to lose a ton of games. The piece confirmed what many in the NBA have known for years, that sometimes the quickest way to the top is to fall flat on your face for a season (or even two, as the Magic will be this year), gather the requisite lottery picks, and start over with cap space when summer hits.
You need superstars to compete in this league, and the playing field for those guys is tilted toward a few big-market teams. They are demanding trades and getting together and deciding where they want to go in free agency. It's tough for us to compete with that. So a high lottery pick is all we have.
How do you pull it off? First, you talk it over with ownership. I analyzed the team and told them what I wanted to do, the guys I wanted to get rid of and the guys with future value whom we wanted to keep. We obviously traded away some of our veteran guys who gave us a better chance of winning right now for future draft picks and young players. The owners didn't want to tread water any more than I did. They'd rather go down to the bottom with the hope of coming up, so they signed off on it. It wasn't a fight at all. In a different season, it might not make sense, but this draft certainly makes it more appealing.
Our coach understands that too. It's no secret what we're trying to do, and you can't lie to him anyway or you'll lose all trust. We never really had to tell him, because the handwriting is on the wall. He knows exactly what's going on, and he's good with it.
This flies in the face of the work of some GMs, most notably Milwaukee el jefe John Hammond. Much to the consternation of many in his fan base, Hammond has consistently reloaded his Bucks roster with sorta-good players, sticking to a 35-to-45 win window, while hoping to draft well in the middle of the first round. The 76ers, Suns, Celtics, and Magic don’t want to end up in the same place, which is why they’re starting over by stockpiling expiring contracts (some more successfully than others) and draft picks.
The general manager in the ESPN Magazine piece mentioned the 76ers directly, so unless Sixers GM Sam Hinkie has gone all meta on us, we can safely rule him out of the equation as a suspect in this case. And Celtics boss Danny Ainge still has a mess of big contracts on his roster, so he’s probably out.
Suns GM Ryan McDonough, and Magic GM Rob Hennigan? Two bright young executives that know what they’re doing, two guys that wouldn’t mind admitting to such a plan under the cloak of anonymity. It’s easy for us to applaud them from afar – we’re not fans of either team, we have no rooting interest – but both GMs are doing the right thing. It’s a team game, but there are only five to a side, and only one guy gets to shoot at a time. You need to go after a star, if the opportunity presents itself.
[Photos: NBA opening week highlights]
Even if it means having a terrible season. With that in place, and even if the Bucks triple Phoenix or Orlando’s win total this season, who would you rather root for – the 2015-16 Milwaukee Bucks, or the 2015-16 Phoenix Suns?
I know who I’d rather watch, even if I have no clue who I’m going to be watching in 2016. I’m guessing Suns (and Magic, and 76ers, and Celtics) fans likely feel the same way.
(Not that they have a choice in the matter. Stock the fridge with plenty of beer this season, tankers.)
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