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SportsMonday: Anti-Tanking 101

Why is it so hard for so many professional commentators to understand that tanking is the death of sports? Does it have something to do with the fact that they don't buy tickets?

Since Derrick Rose was injured, many seemingly intelligent voices have called for the Bulls to lose on purpose - i.e., to tank - to gain entry into the draft lottery of non-playoff teams and secure a high pick later this year. And, true, the 2014 collegiate and international talent disbursal projects as top-heavy with serious prospects like local guy Jabari Parker (Duke preceded by Simeon) and Andrew Wiggins (Kansas) as top attractions.

But fans who buy tickets do so with certain fundamental assumptions. Primary among them is that the team they are paying to see will try its hardest to win. It isn't exactly complicated and yet people continue to advocate that the Bulls blithely violate that trust.

This column is the introduction to Anti-tanking 101, by the way. We will be running through the basics. A more nuanced take on the issue, Competitive Fire 202, will be offered next semester.

Even more observers hopped on the "lose on purpose" bandwagon when Luol Deng was traded. In fact, there is a belief that Bulls management signaled its plans to tank when it moved Deng for draft picks and financial relief. That was not the case.

Deng's contract, one that has paid him $71 million the past six years, will end at the end of this season. Let's pause here for a moment and note that hopefully thinking fans don't believe that the Bulls did anything wrong when they made a "take it or leave it" $30 million contract extension offer to Deng shortly before he was traded.

The Bulls forward had an opportunity to accept that deal, and if he had it would have had the Bulls had paying him more than $100 million during his career. In other words, he was not mistreated in any way shape or form.

Well, he was mistreated at the end of last season, when the Bulls botched his post spinal-tap treatment. Deng suffered complications after a shoddily performed test to see if he had viral meningitis, complications that he has described as "life-threatening." But team president John Paxson apologized for that mistreatment right after the trade.

Otherwise, it was been a very fortunate run in Chicago for the forward from South Sudan by way of Egypt, London and Duke.

So the Bulls moved Deng and received picks of dubious value in return. They also received center Andrew Bynum, but due to Bynum's unique contract (in that it was guaranteed for only the first half of the season), the Bulls were able to then cut him and move out of luxury tax land (where teams with payrolls above the salary cap reside and pay penalties to the league).

The Bulls now have Portland's second-round picks in 2015 and 2016 and may receive a Sacramento first-round pick at some point in the next three years. The funniest part of this deal is the Bulls now become big Kings fans. The draft pick they received is top-12 protected this year and top-10 protected the next two years. If the Kings don't get out of the bottom 10 in the league in 2015 or '16 (they almost certainly aren't getting out of the bottom 12 this season), the Bulls get a Kings second-round pick instead.

The Bulls have promised that the money they saved will be plowed back into the team in the next few years. We'll see. First and foremost, the Bulls better use plenty of it to amnesty Carlos Boozer the day after the current season comes to an end. The current collective bargaining agreement in the NBA allows teams a one-time ability to take one player's salary off the salary cap books, though the team still has to pay the player.

I have long been skeptical that Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf would agree to pay Boozer for not playing for the Bulls no matter how many times (at least three per game) Boozer blows defensive rotations and allows opposing teams free access to the basket. The forward's contract has one year left after this season at a cost of more than $16 million. But maybe the money saved with the Deng deal makes that move more palatable for ownership. And if they amnesty Boozer, the Bulls will have a lot of room under the cap to sign free agents in the coming offseason.

The other fundamental fact is that even if tanking was acceptable, it almost never works. Prospects are tricky business (just ask the Cubs). In basketball, most high picks become serviceable players. Very, very few become difference-makers on championship contenders. If having high picks - even in loaded drafts - was a sure-fire path to success, teams like the Kings and the Bobcats would have moved up into perennial playoff status years ago.

The beautiful thing in Chicago is that if there isn't a professional coach on the planet less likely to tank than Tom Thibodeau. If the Bulls are planning on tanking, they'll have to fire the coach first. And then they'll have to trade Joakim Noah, and then still, in the terrible Eastern Conference, the Bulls might not be able to lose their way out of the top eight.

In other words, tanking isn't happening (oh, and the Bulls have also won five in a row to move into the fifth spot in the conference). So people, why not enjoy another year of indomitable Bulls like Noah and Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler fighting for every last scrap of success? They will be in the playoffs and they will have a chance to win at least one series, just like last year.

That's a hell of a lot better than rooting for a lottery pick.

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Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Jun 24, 2017

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