The B-Side of Tanking
The Warriors tanked last season.
Now that it’s happened and they’ve reaped the benefits there’s no point in overlooking it, nothing the league can do to retroactively to sanction them and nothing anyone needs to apologize for publicly or privately. And it’s that time of year again, as March turns into April and playoff births are clinched, meaning the league’s bottom-dwellers will begin to “play” for draft position by sitting healthy players and giving time to D-League call-ups and other roster-filler that doesn’t come close to deserving it.
Golden State was one of several teams to do it last season, but none tanked with such blatant disregard to outward appearances. To what end? The Warriors’ first round pick in June’s draft was protected, meaning they’d have lost it altogether if they picked outside the top seven selections.
But you know all of that. You endured watching Brandon Rush play with that band of fringe-quality misfits last spring, and saw the ultimate payoff when the “plan” worked to perfection: Golden State drafted seventh and took the unspectacular but solid Harrison Barnes, a player that’s become a fixture of the team’s future. All those fan eye-rolls, hush-hush injury setbacks to quality players and feigned cries of prospect development were worth it; tanking was the means to an accomplished end.
Which is one of the many reasons I’m not here to bemoan it. The system is broken and Golden State took advantage, reaping the major benefit of Barnes in the process. Teams will continue to tank as the NBA regular season winds down until there’s change to the the status quo.
But why isn’t tanking examined in a vacuum? Why are teams like last season’s Warriors almost universally chastised but presumptive playoff squads lauded for the same tactic with the goal of achieving a lower/higher seed and preferred first round matchup?
Thankfully, Golden State isn’t and won’t be subjected to this kind of in-depth scrutiny. It’s no secret the Warriors want the Los Angeles Clippers in round one; they need to win and hope Chris Paul and company do, too, to ensure it happens.
But it’s more than likely some carefully timed nagging injuries will pop up in the Eastern Conference, where the Chicago Bulls loom as a sleeping giant due to Derrick Rose’s potential return. The slumping Bulls are in realistic play for the 5, 6 and 7 seeds, putting major pressure on the team nestled below Miami and Indiana at the top of the conference: New York.
Rose or no Rose, the Bulls are a bad matchup for the Knicks; that’s common knowledge. They’re presently slated to meet in the postseason’s opening round, as well. With an ultimate goal of avoiding Chicago, shouldn’t New York tank the last several games of the season? Their age and perpetual injury concerns would make doing so easier, and if/when it happened/happens the Knicks would be praised for their foresight.
But why? The NBA is a game but it’s a professional one, where recent, dangerous precedent – hello, San Antonio! – has been set to ensure teams play to win every game. Losing squads don’t as the season winds down, obviously, and as tanking becomes rampant once again soon the reaction to it will be predictably noisy. And that’s not right or wrong, but what’s surely improper is that winning teams – like the Knicks, or the Warriors if the Clippers were in play for the second seed – tank, too, and deserve just as much auditing for doing so as their less fortunate counterparts.
So when the league’s bottom-dwellers “shut down” quality players with a week or so left in the season and New York or another team follows similar suit, realize it’s just different molds of the same clay. Both teams are tanking, both teams want to lose, but one is scolded and laughed at while the other is extolled for strategic discretion. And if the former’s a problem, the latter needs to be, too.
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