Unless you have stacks upon stacks of cash like the Los Angeles Lakers or the New York Knicks, the best way to improve your team is likely through the NBA Draft, the annual tradition of 19-year-old basketball players stumbling through their first TV interviews.
Some of these guys will be good. Some great. And some will be Darko Milicic, a player who, by the way, EVERYBODY thought was going to be great, and then suddenly wasn’t. I guess even the experts are wrong sometimes.
The draft becomes that much more important when your team is located in a cold-climate city and you don’t have South Beach nightclubs to help convince free agents that this might be the city for them. Or when there’s no real history of winning associated with your ball club. Or when you’re named after a movie about dinosaurs. Or when it’s located IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY THAN THE REST OF THE NBA.
Morally, I’m against it. I think it’s wrong. But I’m starting to come around to the idea that the best way to improve the Toronto Raptors is to lose a lot of games this season, what NBA fans refer to as “tanking.” Basically, the worse an NBA team’s record, the better its chances are of landing a high pick. Finishing 7th or 8th in your conference might get you a playoff berth but it’s also a good way to ensure that you continue getting a 7th or 8th seed (and likely a first-round playoff exit).
Most of the time, to be really good, you have to be really bad first.
I have problems with this system. I’m not the only one. A model that encourages teams to win less games on purpose just shouldn’t be part of professional sports, period. NBA players are getting paid millions and millions of dollars to lose? Are you serious?
Enter one of my least-favourite expressions: It is what it is. You can’t deny that this flawed system is what we have right now and as long as we do, it’d be shortsighted not to acknowledge its existence and act accordingly. If you don’t play the system, the system will play you (or something like that).
Want another reason why a chance at a top pick next year would be extra sweet? Well, barring injury, Toronto-born Andrew Wiggins will be the number one pick. There’s no point in even debating it. It’s happening.
Not only would this be great because he’s from Toronto. It would be great because he’s one of the most highly-touted players in recent memory. I’m reluctant to use the words “sure thing” because nothing in this world is for sure. But Wiggins is a sure thing in the same way that LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal were sure things. He instantly becomes the face of whatever franchise selects him as soon as his name is called. The 18-year-old they call “Canada’s LeBron” is a franchise-changing talent. And teams are taking notice.
- The Boston Celtics basically threw their 2013-14 season down the toilet when they traded away their two best players (Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce) for three first-round draft picks. This is a move towards the future. But it’s also a potential move towards the top of the stacked 2014 draft.
- The Philadelphia 76ers shipped Jrue Holiday, their blossoming 23-year-old All-Star point guard, for the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, Nerlens Noel. Noel was expected to go much higher than sixth so there’s no doubt that the Sixers got a nice piece back. But this is hardly a win-now move. This is a tank now, win later move.
- And depending on what you think of Andrea Bargnani, either the Raptors or the New York Knicks are trying to win less games this year. The Raptors traded Bargnani to the Knicks for a package headlined by Steve Novak and three picks. That’s how polarizing Bargnani is. You’re not even sure if you want him or not. Speaking of the Raptors, if they unload Rudy Gay to the Detroit Pistons for basically nothing, as has been reported, consider the Raptors to officially be in tank mode.
As a fan, the worst thing about tanking is playing a season without hope. It’s giving up on a season before it’s even begun. The Halloween tradition of “Maybe we’ll be good this year” turns into looking forward to the following Halloween. We are forced to put our hope on hold.
In Toronto, the tanking contingent has been alive and well for at least the past few seasons. “Just one more year of futility,” say the tanking advocates. But at a certain point, don’t you just have to be satisfied with what you have and go ahead and leave it all out on the floor? Remember that thing called effort?
This is the problem with having a mediocre to bad NBA team. The idea of tanking is always hanging there, tempting those who understand the business of the NBA. A league that rewards poor play (especially when teams know this and react accordingly) goes against the fundamental spirit of sports.
But it is what it is. So sure, let’s take a swing at Wiggins. If we miss, we can always tank again. I heard the 2015 Draft is promising.