But, it is an art. As I sit and watch this incredibly terrible Suns/Hawks matchup, I’ve come to realize this fact. This matchup, and recent match-ups of teams like these evokes an emotional response like no other. I can’t help but stare as the Suns and Hawks tally nine turnovers in the first four minutes of a professional basketball contest, as Kent Bazemore is ruled a healthy scratch for “resting,” and as players don’t even bother to contest jumpers (I’m looking at you, Dragan). It’s like a car crash–you want to look away, but you just can’t.
Does that suck? Yes. As a Suns fan, it sucks. I hate that my team is the laughing stock of the league and that they don’t even have 20 wins with less than 20 games left in the year. Whether or not the Suns end up with an Ayton or a Bagley or a Dončić, they’re still having a historically bad season, and that sucks. “At least we have Booker, Warren, and Jackson,” I hear the tortured souls of Suns fans call out, but three good players do not a team make.
Any bad team can say they have at least two good players. The Hawks have Schröder, Prince, and Collins. The Kings have Fox, Bogdanovic, and Cauley-Stein. The Mavs have Smith, Barnes, and the skeleton of Dirk Nowitzki. “At least we have ___” is the catchphrase for fans of a tanking basketball team.
Tanking has been on the minds of journalists, fans, and teams alike after Adam Silver sent a memo last week that reads: tanking “has no place in our game”. Obviously, Adam Silver is out of touch with the National Basketball Association because four teams have less than 20 wins. Many writers around the league have asked, “how can we fix the tanking problem”. In my opinion, tanking isn’t a problem that can be fixed short-term.
The changes to the draft are coming, but what good will those changes do except motivate teams to win 25 games instead of 19? Not much of a difference, and the problem of bad basketball will still run rampant. Will teams fight to stay out of the bottom three teams? Or will they realize their best shot is STILL to lose more than 55 games? This only changes the tanking landscape from a competition for 30th place to a competition for 30th-28th place. That doesn’t fix bad basketball.
Fining Cuban $600K (the equivalent of fining a man with a net worth of $1,000 less than 20 cents) for saying his team is tanking isn’t the way to fix things either. If you’ve got a vision for your team’s future, but know your team can’t do it in the present, you should be able to say that. You should be able to say you don’t think the team you have now is capable of winning, so you’re pushing for a good young player to breathe some life into your franchise. We’re at a time in the NBA where team offenses like the Warriors and Rockets are at historic highs. What’s going to level the playing field if you’re the Mavericks? Tanking.
Which brings me to my main point: tanking is an art form. Without tanking, which players would be on Shaqtin’ a Fool? How would we differentiate between ESPN’s marquee match-ups and the lowly local TV games? There will always be bad basketball. There will be a point in time where every single NBA fan’s favorite team just flat out sucks. For you, maybe that time is right now. Maybe that time was a few years ago and now you’re relishing in your team’s success. If you can’t be the best, you can sure try your best to be the worst, in order to become the best in the future.
So, I say tankers gotta tank. If your team sucks, drive it into the ground, blow it up, and start over. Show off your bright young pieces, your Devin Bookers, your Lauri Markkanens, your De’Aaron Foxes, so your fans have something to look forward to. Hire the best scouts in the business, build around your talent, and sign a free agent or two that are looking for a home. Give the dynasties some time to fizzle out, let LeBron retire (if he ever does), and go at it again. But for now, make tanking an art! Play horrible, sloppy games against bad teams and make your fans groan! How else will they appreciate what they have once you start to get good again?