Tanking has been a hot topic of debate in pro sports, and specifically the NBA, in recent years. One of the reasons for that is the results of tanking usually aren’t too bad.
Losing games on purpose — which can be done in a lot of ways, from roster construction to lineups, etc. — isn’t fun, though, and there’s no guarantee it’ll work, despite recent success in Philadelphia and other places.
And even if a team gets lucky in the draft lottery, selecting the right players is very difficult.
When the Boston Celtics were trying to convince Brad Stevens to leave Butler University and become their next head coach before the 2013-14 season, he made it clear that tanking wasn’t something he wanted to be a part of.
“The one thing he wouldn’t do going forward was try to lose a game, or you know, ‘tank,’ ” Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca told Boston.com. “So if we were going to have a strategy, maybe like ‘The Process,’ he was not going to participate in that.”
“We said, ‘No, we’re always trying to win. We’re going to try to win on the fly and rebuild on the fly,’ ” Pagliuca said. “Who knows if we can do that or not, but that was certainly going to be the strategy. Tanking is different than developing talent. We try to keep all the good talent.”
It turned out that C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge didn’t need to tank. He made several good trades, most notably the one that sent veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets for what turned into a couple high lottery picks. He used those picks to draft Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and traded for superstar point guard Kyrie Irving. Giving up very little to acquire Isaiah Thomas from the Phoenix Suns was a solid move, too.
Now, Stevens has one of the most well-rounded rosters in the NBA, and he’s taken that talent and turned it into the league’s best team, at least in the standings, with a 15-2 record.
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