Over-proclamations of tanking are wearing on me, fast. It’s become the last line of ego defense for frans who’ve put too much personal pride into their franchises—which, make no mistake, describes this writer—to either take a bit of schaudenfreude-soaked glee in this disarray of other organizations or, alternately, to suggest your own home city’s losing efforts are done meaningfully. Our losing is productive. “Tanking” has become an unavoidable final move in the logic of seemingly all NBA fans.
Or maybe once it’s said enough times, the word “tank” just becomes an illness. We can’t stop saying it. It’s the idiocy of the masses, turning in a word into nothing because it just couldn’t put it down for a minute, the masses couldn’t scratching their enigmatic itch with the way that single syllable felt, leaving their mouths.
It must be something like this that’s causing the hysteria over tanking, because those who apply individual scrutiny to the efforts of each NBA team will have a hard time naming more than four true blue tankers. Aside from the Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and potentially the Orlando Magic, teams in this league are trying to win. But winning isn’t easy in the NBA.
That’s why GM-and-coach carousels spin at such rapid speed. And that carousel is why the overwhelming majority of GM’s and coaches would never intentionally lose, construct a team to lose, or in any way do less than the maximal amount of winning. Their jobs are always on the line, because the NBA is a product that doesn’t sell well in cities without playoff hope.
Contrary to the angels of our romantic roundball-loving dreams, this is not a league 100% saturated with eyes only for the championship. Middle-of-the-road competition is exactly what most NBA owners demand and expect from their franchises. The glory of a Larry O’Brien cup would certainly be nice, but’s not a carrot and a prerogative for these CEO’s in the way that consistently positive profits are.
Tanking exists, yes. But it’s done by gamblers—it’s a highly calculated risk to cut out the bottom when elite talent seems bound for the draft, but it still has little chance of reversing the momentum of a franchise. Tanking is going for broke, it’s going all in. You do it when you absolutely have to, when you’re buried and inches from death. How many well-employed men do you know, so willing to put all their stacks toward center, and risk leaving the table?