I realize by now many of you are probably sick of the tanking discussion, which I leaped into last week by posting my clarification of the term and defense of rebuilding mere hours before TrueHoop ratcheted up its efforts to combat tanking via HoopIdea. Slowly, however, I find my understanding of the issue starting to crystallize as I read other people talk about tanking.
The process started on Saturday, when Matt Steinmetz of CSN Bay Area wrote a column hoping that “the player the Warriors draft this summer is worth it.” It, of course, refers to the losing the team has done lately with multiple starters (including newly acquired Andrew Bogut) out due to injury. There are a couple of possible responses to this. One completely rational argument came from Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News, who pointed out the Warriors weren’t exactly sacrificing a chance at the playoffs and that going all-out for this season had already resulted in plenty of disappointing losses.
I’m not even sure Kawakami goes far enough. To me, losing games with young players is better than losing them with more or less the same cast of characters Golden State has run out there for years. The loss to New Jersey on Friday that was the proximate cause of Steinmetz’s take also featured Jeremy Tyler showing flashes of what he could become as a post scorer (granted, against poor defenders), Charles Jenkins offering solid minutes at the point and Klay Thompson getting force-fed clutch possessions to see whether he can be a go-to guy. Giving rookies these game opportunities has value above and beyond the draft implications of the Warriors’ results.
From the outside, watching players like Jenkins, Thompson and Tyler succeed and fail is part of the fun of investing deeply in the NBA. Whatever success they eventually have can be measured against their early steps–some false, some true. I recognize not everyone feels the same way; one Golden State fan replied to my tweet Saturday asserting that my position on rebuilding is really that losing can be fun with the comment that watching the team is “freaking awful.”
Still, I think the same position informs my disagreement with Rob Mahoney‘s assessment that Portland’s front office and coaching staff/players aren’t on the same page when it comes to goals the rest of the season. From a realistic standpoint, surely the Blazers’ decision-makers didn’t expect the team to go 5-5 in its first 10 games after the roster was blown up. But I fundamentally don’t think winning games with Luke Babbitt, Jonny Flynn and J.J. Hickson playing key roles is the same as winning games with Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace. We already knew the ceiling for that group, which had run its course. With the exception of impending free agents Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford (who holds a player option), Portland’s current rotation is made up of players who could be part of Portland’s future. Seeing them have some success offers much more hope for the future than watching veterans rack up late-season wins that don’t translate into a playoff spot.
Ultimately, for me the issue is much less about whether or not teams are winning or losing late in the season and much more about who’s doing that winning or losing.