This is a bit of a manifesto
The Nets are taking on the 76ers, and as it will be for at least the next several years, this means that I will be forced to remember and evaluate Sam Hinke’s infamous “Process” and the very idea of tanking. To be clear, Sam Hinke did not invent the idea of cynically embracing losing as a means of gaming the subsequent draft classes. He’s not even responsible for actively promoting the concept. Hell, he didn’t even invent the goddamn phrase that will be credited to him. The Houston Astros sold shitty t-shirts that just featured their logo and the word Process.
But for years, the 76ers sold their fans on the concept of losing for season after season, playing squads of glorified D-League players. They sold tickets to games without even so much as humoring the concept of effort. Losing actually became a way of validating their philosophy, because at the end of that long, seemingly hopeless road, they would be given years, if not a full decade of sublime basketball. A lot of sports fans will happily endorse this plan of attack, but even while acknowledging that the 76ers have built themselves quite a basketball team, and that the Houston Astros have already been rewarded with a championship, I remain philosophically opposed to the idea of tanking. Here’s why:
The myth of the savior
More so than in any other major sport, a handful of superstars can determine the course of a season. In baseball a superstar might be responsible for 8-10 wins according to WAR (Let’s not get too deep into whether WAR is a realistic representation of how many wins a team will actually produce). When LeBron left Cleveland for Miami, the Cavs went from 60 wins to 19. Superstars don’t matter, they drive the entire league.
So when a team goes into the tank, they can say they’re looking to build a young core, but really, they’re looking for a savior. LeBron James. Tim Duncan. Shaq. The human cheat code that will win titles essentially all on their own. And to do that they’re looking to get that prized number 1 pick. But how many number one picks turn into some messiah? Let’s look at every draft pick since the year 2000
2000: Kenyon Martin (Nets)
2001: Kwame Brown (Wizards)
2002: Yao Ming (Rockets)
2003: LeBron James (Cavaliers)
2004: Dwight Howard (Magic)
2005: Andrew Bogut (Bucks)
2006: Andrea Bargnani (Raptors)
2007: Greg Oden (Trailblazers)
2008: Derrick Rose (Bulls)
2009: Blake Griffin (Clippers)
2010: John Wall (Wizards)
2011: Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers)
2012: Anthony Davis (Hornets)
2013: Anthony Bennett (Cavaliers)
2014: Andrew Wiggins (Cavaliers)
2015: Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)
2016: Ben Simmons (76ers)
2017: Markelle Fultz (76ers)
2018: Deandre Ayton (Suns)
Do I see a few saviors in there? Well, LeBron counts. And maybe Ben Simmons will get there. But do I see a few busts? Good lord. How many of the #1 picks actually won a team for the franchise who drafted them? Two, and with LeBron I would like to remind everybody that he had to come back to Cleveland as a free agent, and that he fucking left Cleveland in the dust as soon as he could become an unrestricted free agent. Now did he come back because he was from the area, which would have absolutely nothing to do with his being drafted by the team in 2003, or do we all think that he just loved the experience of playing for Dan Gilbert? Put it this way, let’s say he was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies. Does he go back to Memphis in 2014? Probably not. So really, I only count Kyrie Irving as a player who won a title for the team that drafted him. Also, he got the fuck out of Cleveland afterward. Cleveland blows.
As fans we become preoccupied with the idea that the team with the #1 draft pick is going to have the best night, but really we see greats drafted late all the time. Kobe was drafted 13th. Giannis Antetokounmpo was drafted 15th. Kawhi Leonard went 15th. What about the dynasty of our time the Golden State Warriors? Steph Curry went 7th, Klay Thompson 11th, Draymond Green 35th, and their one great ringer, Kevin Durant went 2nd after Portland said “Nah, Greg Oden is our guy.” Christ, two teams passed on Michael Jordan.
Now of course great players fall through the cracks. Drafting is difficult. To some degree it’s cherry picking to say “LOL, The Greek Freak was 15th. Why didn’t he go first? HAHA.” I’ll grant you that drafting is difficult. My point is who do you trust to do the actual player analysis and development? A front office with an actual plan and a vision for the type of basketball that they want to play, or a silicon valley dweeb who has pledged to disrupt the league by losing and cynically acquiring high draft picks with no idea of how the pieces will fit together? Sam Hinke’s thesis was that the process of rebuilding could be done without any appreciation of the game, but by the soulless acquisition of high draft picks.
And even the players who are truly great don’t often win the title for their team. Few would consider Anthony Davis anything less than one of the very best. If you’re tanking, your best possible scenario is to draft somebody of Anthony Davis’ abilities. This is his seventh season. He hits free agency after next season. Are the New Orleans Pelicans going to win the NBA championship before he leaves? I doubt it.
Then there is the other myth that…
Losing equals the best draft position
The NBA has a lottery. And though it is weighted, during Philadelphia’s ‘Process’ the odds of obtaining the number one spot in the draft purely by losing the most games was one in four. 25%. That means that you could go winless throughout the entire season and your odds of not getting the top pick are [checks notes] like over 70 percent. Maybe even 74 or 75. Suppose there is one star that you are absolutely in love with. Are you totally thrilled about the prospect of losing every single game you possibly can for a 75% chance of not getting them?
Of course, going forward those odds will be different. Starting this year, the three worst teams will have identical odds at obtaining the first, second, or third picks. In fact the team that loses the most games this year will have almost as good a shot at getting the fifth pick (.479) as they will at having a top four pick (.521). The team that finishes with the 2nd worst record has a 1-in-5 chance of drafting 6th. The team that finishes with the 3rd worst record has a 1-in-3 chance of drafting either 6th or 7th. Again, all three of these teams only have a 14% chance at getting the top pick. Is that worth throwing away an entire season of play? A 14% chance at getting the top pick, who statistically speaking, will most likely not win a title with you anyway? Again, I say no.
Finally, the myth that probably drives me the craziest…
Anything less than a title is a waste
At a certain point, you have to ask yourself why you are watching a team. Is it because you want to see them raise a banner and celebrate with a championship parade? Well guess what? Championship parades are stupid. “Woo hoo. I get to stand in a crowd full of assholes while a bunch of dudes ride by on a flatbed, on the way to some stage where Mark Madsen can dance magnificently.”
The dirty secret as a guy who has watched the the New York Yankees and Giants combine for eight championships is that titles are overrated. I’m not kidding. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed them immensely, but once the last game is over…it doesn’t resonate the way the losses do. At least it didn’t for me. There’s euphoria of recognizing that they did the thing. That lasts for maybe an hour. Depending on your responsibilities, maybe you do a bit of drinking. Maybe you eat a little horse poop. I’m not here to judge. But it doesn’t change much, and the next time your team suits up, you’re still going to want another one. Titles are nice, but they fade away (Unlike the losses, which scar you forever). So is the chance of winning a title worth packing it in for three or four years, and just hoping that your team loses so that they might one day win? Or is it far more satisfying to watch a team day in and day out, and recognize that while you probably won’t win a title at the end of the season, you might have fun along the way. How many titles do the 76ers have to win to make it worth intentionally torpedoing what is essentially a presidential administration’s worth of play? Or even a season. Especially when there are examples of teams that just did the tough work, got a fair amount of luck, and built their team while actually trying. The Warriors. The Celtics. The Rockets, who I hate, but still, no tanking. And before anybody says “Well, actually the Warriors totally tanked to get the Harrison Barnes pick” I say 1) They tanked at the end of the season, which is totally different from going into the season with the idea of losing, and 2) fuck Harrison Barnes. Sure guys. Harrison Barnes was the heart and soul of the championship Golden State Warriors.
And after that window of championships expire, what’s next? Are you happy that you’ve gotten the title under your belt and are content to play it out as a marginal team for several seasons, or is it right back into the tank? Do you become the fans who say “Well, we can’t win the title this year, so fuck rooting for these losers”? Because that is just the worst way of rooting for anything.
So to recap, Philadelphia’s process involved intentionally losing for four seasons, so that they could have marginal chances at a top draft pick, who maybe might someday win a title with the team before the era inevitably ends, as all eras do. Maybe your team ends up becoming the Indiana Pacers. Good but never quite good enough. Listen to me, enjoy that team. Trust the process of a team actually giving a shit.
Also Brooklyn slapped the dicks off of the 76ers tonight, 122-97. I guess Joel Embiid can’t afford Brooklyn rents.
The Brooklyn Nets are now 4-6 and 8th place in the Eastern Conference.