March 15, 2010
"You get out there, your natural instincts are to try to compete to win the game. Rather than, 'Oh, I'll miss this shot.' No way."
Tanking is impossible, Rodney Carney tells us. It's true, his version of tanking would be hard for even the most unmotivated of the NBA corps to stomach. He's not wrong, in his own regard.
But, overall, tanking is quite possible. It happens all the time in varying degrees, and there really, truly, is nothing wrong with it.
That last bit might be hard to stomach as well, but talk to any fan of any team not going anywhere.
Talk to a Knick fan. Which batch of transactions would that Knickerbocker backer prefer: The ones that jettisoned able-bodied players for expiring contracts and eventual cap freedom some months and years down the line? Or, the transactions and trades designed solely to sneak New York inside the lower edges of the playoff bracket?
Minnesota Timberwolves fans? I'm sure a good chunk of them are less than pleased with where their team currently is at, and some I'm confident still house significant suspicion of David Kahn's rough first year as GM. But they wouldn't hesitate for a second to prefer 2009-10 - with all that young talent, cap space and draft picks on the horizon - to the summers in 2005, 2006 and 2007 -- offseasons that saw Kevin McHale desperatly try to buttress his team back into the first round of the playoffs.
The Timberwolves started tanking 2009-10 back in June. The 76ers? Probably about a month ago. The Knicks? The minute they hired Donnie Walsh.
Chicago? Two weeks from now, when they sit Joakim Noah(notes) and Luol Deng(notes) down for good. The Nets? They could never afford to tank because their bench is too terrible to begin with. The Clippers? When they kicked Mike Dunleavy upstairs and set the wheels in motion to dump Marcus Camby(notes).
Everyone tanks, and those who aren't tanking are ticking off their fans. I'll drive to Chick-fil-A midday and listen to Indianapolis radio guys begging Jim O'Brien to play A.J. Price(notes) more, and for the team to lose Earl Watson(notes). After the shock of hearing that the local radio guys know who A.J. Price is wears off, I then have to note that these radio guys are pleading for their team to tank.
Everyone tanks, and there's nothing wrong with that. This league is designed around the idea that teams have to develop at their own rate and only truly get great once much of one team's core hits their prime at the same time. The problem with the "tank" ideal in the eyes of the media lies in the way you can anticipate the top two picks in that summer's draft by the time Christmas hits, so it's a cheap column gimmick - "and just see if they can get their hands on John Wall in June."
You don't get that in baseball, which almost completely turns itself into a glorified Triple-A outfit by mid-September. And you're not going to get that in football, where three third-round picks are often better than one first. It's specific to the NBA and that's ... that's OK.
Ask any fan. Do they want to see Damien Wilkins(notes) in Minnesota in March, or do they want to see Wayne Ellington(notes)? Not because they, eventually, want to see John Wall, but because they want to see what they have in Ellington, even if it isn't much. NBA fans know what's up, and they don't need some aggrieved-on-their-behalf national talking head shouting "will someone think of the sanctity of competition?" every spring.
Springs that usually don't spring tanking teams toward John Wall, by the way. I've brought this up before, but the two most recent and most "egregious" examples of tanking saw the Bucks and Celtics pack it in down the stretch of 2006-07 in order to grab Greg Oden(notes) or Kevin Durant(notes). The two teams finished with the worst and second-worst records in the NBA, which meant that the worst they could do in the draft lottery was fall to fifth and sixth in the draft order.
And that's exactly where they ended up. All that tanking, fifth and sixth in the draft. Because the lottery works. You tank for lottery balls at your own peril. You'd be stupid to lose games on purpose.
You'd be finally getting it right if you decide to give up on your sham of a season and start to develop what's already there.
So, yes, Rodney Carney. Teams do tank. They don't lose games on purpose, but when you're bringing Jodie Meeks(notes) in as your first player off the bench instead of Thaddeus Young(notes), the writing's on the wall.
And as we get into full-on tanking season, I implore you people, have some fun with it. Have a sense of humor and a sense of the long term. This is part of what makes this league actually kind of interesting.