Culbreath: Avoid the TanksWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
This past Tuesday, while you were watching the Toledo Rockets football game against Buffalo, there were a couple of college basketball games being played in Chicago that featured some of the best new talent in the game. They called it the Champions Classic, and played it at the United Center. It featured 2nd ranked Michigan State upsetting top-ranked Kentucky 78-74, and was followed by 5th ranked Kansas hanging a 94-83 loss on #4 Duke.
This was more than a doubleheader of headlining teams, though: this was a showcase of talent. Representatives for all 30 NBA teams were on hand to get a good, hard look at the kids who were going to be playing at the next level. Amongst them, three freshman: Kansas’s Andrew Wiggans, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, and Duke’s Jabari Parker. Despite their youth, they’re considered the top, second, and fourth best picks in this year’s upcoming draft. And they did everything right Tuesday night on the national stage: impressing the nation with skill that those GMs had to be drooling over… and that’s staying nothing of the Michigan State team that will very likely ascend to the top of the polls after showing the Baby Cats what a little experience means in this game.
After the doubleheader was in the books, though, Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke had a message for all those general managers sitting in the suites: don’t even think about taking a dive to get these kids:
“As an American, I wouldn’t like to think that an American team would want to lose or create situations where you would want to lose. I can’t even fathom — I can’t go there. I can’t believe that that would happen. Maybe I’m naive and I’m going to go read a fairy tale after this. “
He is, of course, talking about the notion of tanking a season for a higher draft pick. The worse your season, the better the help you can get out of the incoming class. This year, it’s packed: you land in the lottery, and you’re getting immediate help.
The NBA is an odd beast when it comes to it’s draft. The NFL gets a lot of attention, and a lot of those first round picks may or may not start right out of the gate. But they’re one of 52 players on the roster. One of 22 starters. In the NBA, that player is one of 13 on the roster, and 1 of 5 starters. One guy can do so much in basketball, that a player with superstar talent can bring a team out of the basement into the playoffs. Winning it all takes a combination of talent and coaching, but if all you need to do is win enough to sell tickets, then you can’t go wrong.
Which is what makes tanking all the more tantalizing.
And fans jokingly call for it all the time. The Cleveland Browns looked like they were prime candidates to throw the season away for a shot at Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel, but Rob Chudzinski has taken the scraps on that team and made them half-way competent. That’s a matter of pride, and props to Chud to doing that. (Besides, you’re not going to out-suck the Jaguars or Buccaneers this year.)
This isn’t all random conjecture by Coach K, by the way: CBS Sports says that one anonymous GM admitted that conversations were had in the front office about maybe holding their nose and flushing this season for a shot at top talent. Nobody’ll admit to it, and there’s not many teams that seem to be showing signs of it this early on — Utah might be the lone exception, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they really are just that bad.
All that being said, any fan (or GM) that would advocate taking a dive for a better draft pick is no longer looking at the bigger picture. The loss of interest of the casual fan while your team racks up loss after loss may or may not be recovered, even after you have that top tier talent, because there’s nothing to guarantee that they’ll work out in the pros. Just as Portland how that Greg Oden pick worked for them. And with the NBA using a lottery system, there’s no guarantee that you’ll end up in a position to make that turn-around pick anyways! A season thrown away at an intangible.
GMs like the draft because it’s safer than anything else they do. Free agents can coast once they sign their contract, and trades with other teams can always bite you in the rear. Get a top draft pick (particularly in a year like this), and it’s not hard to make the right pick. But throwing a season away to get there is a cowards way out.
Tags: CBS Sports, Champions Classic, Chicago, CLeveland Browns, Duke’s Jabari Parker, Johnny Manziel, Kansas, Kansas’s Andrew Wiggans, Kentucky, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Michigan State, NBA, NFL, Rob Chudzinski, Teddy Bridgewater, Toledo Rockets, United Center, Utah