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SportsMonday: Tank The Tank

Teaching young, potential stars to play winning basketball is slightly more important than a draft pick, even one in the top five. The Bulls continued to tank the tank last week and they sure as hell should keep it going for as long as possible. They are now 15-8 in the second 23 games of the season after going 3-20 in the first.

The reaction from the local sports commentariat to the Bulls spanking the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday was to point to the Hawks and say, "Now that's how to tank!" as if the Hawks' current, crushing season of losing on purpose is the obviously successful way to build a basketball contender.

That couldn't be further from the truth. The fact is, no true NBA contender, let alone champion, has been built through even a one-year tank, let alone the sort of multi-year job that would probably be required to make it work.

The 76ers (there is no city required in front of that nickname is there? Whoever decided on this moniker for the basketball team of brotherly love should get a medal) are the team that is always held up as the example of a successful multi-year tank.

Many people still seem to believe that "The Process" will be proven right; that Philly's four-year tank will be shown to be the wave of the future of building successful basketball teams.

What a bunch of malarkey. The Sixers have a shot at winning a playoff series this year (the three critical stages of basketball greatness are "winning a playoff series," "contending for a championship" and "winning a championship"). But they are still a long way from championship contender status. And even if they do make it, A) no other team is going to do a four-year tank - it is a betrayal of fans that everyone, from NBA commish Adam Silver on down, knows is unacceptable, and B) no one else is even close to making even a two-year tank work.

Why everyone won't go ahead and acknowledge "The Process" ended when Silver felt forced to intervene the off-season before last, well, I guess it is just to big of a violation of a central NBA narrative for them. That was when Silver essentially told the Sixers owner to fire general manager Sam Hinkie, who had overseen the first three years of tank-a-palooza. Silver then arranged the hiring of a supposed guru at the end of his basketball professional line, Jerry Colangelo, to fix what ailed the franchise.

Instead Colangelo took the opportunity to fix his son's basketball management career. Wait, that sort of naked nepotism is not part of any sort of respected "Process!?"

Jerry hired Bryan Colangelo, who had washed out of the GM job with the Raptors a few years prior after one too many disastrous first-round picks, as the new 76er GM.

Colangelo oversaw the obvious drafting (he was the top prospect by far) of Ben Simmons the season before last and then the Sixers actually caught a break when Simmons suffered an injury and missed the 2016-17 season, i.e., he missed what quickly became, again, a forced march of 80 games of management not trying. It was that sort of forced march two years prior that had thrown previous high first-round draft pick and Chicago native Jahlil Okafor completely off track.

The Sixers gave up on Okafor in the preseason last year and finally moved him to the Brooklyn Nets a few months ago for a bargain basement price. The jury is still out on whether he can turn himself back into an above-average low-post contributor. So far, so slow for that different kind of process but at least Okafor is in a place where he has some time to put it together with a team that isn't trying to lose. The Nets are rebuilding but they are not tanking.

Bryan Colangelo then appears to have botched the first pick of last year's draft. He selected Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and, quite simply, no one knows what is going on with him. He suffered a shoulder injury early in the season and a current theory is he has the yips with his jump shot. He seems completely healthy, but when he has been seen putting up shots in warm-ups and practices it looks like he has totally lost his form.

Anyway, the Sixers might be in the the hunt for a playoff series win not because of any silly-assed process but because they got one of their non-obvious high first-round draft picks in the last five years absolutely right. They drafted the injury-prone Joel Embiid and he is a budding super-duper-star.

Very few people have a problem with teams tanking one year in a big way, and I count myself among that number. A general manger comes in after a team has a terrible year, makes the high pick that follows such a season and focuses on rebuilding in the coming year, i.e., moving out veterans, creating cap space and making way for a new generation of players.

But after the high draft pick that results from that transitional season, it is time to start trying to win again. In that process (I cannot escape that word, can I?), you don't do something stupid like trading the next year's draft pick or one of the young players you've drafted for a veteran, or overpaying for multiple free agents. You give your new young team every chance to win within that context.

If you don't, you damage your young players like the Sixers damaged Okafor. The Bulls can do whatever they want with veterans Niko Mirotic, Jerian Grant and Robin Lopez. It would be a shame if they traded Justin Holiday just because he is such a great story. But they will still have their core of three young, wonderfully promising players and no matter what happens with the other guys, the Bulls almost certainly won't lose enough to get back down in the mix for the top five number of ping pong balls at this year's draft.

And they are so much the better for it.


Comments welcome.


1. From Tom Chambers:

I've never understood the appeal tanking has to so many teams.

We could have new divisions: Western Tankers Division and Eastern Tankers Division. The problem would be "We're going to lose this game." "NO, WE'RE going to lose this game!"

These teams are impervious to revenue shortages because of television and the attendance of blind sheep fans. That makes it easy for them to tank, and saves them a lot of work. Teams so inept now have a mantra to sell their fans: "We're not losing, we're tanking. Just you wait and see how great the results will be."

After the Bulls dynasty disintegrated through the small minds of management and labor, the teams they fielded, known to us guys as The Steaming Pile, did not really tank. Reinsdorf used the opportunity kill the roster to rake in big bucks, knowing the segment of fans who couldn't get in before would still pack the arena and he wouldn't have to pay the big salaries. Tanking in the NBA is so curious, if only because it is impossible to determine if the sophomore from Meatgrinder U. can even play.

Unless I'm missing someone else, the Cubs success at it and their championship will prove to be an aberration after their World Series win after the years of tanking. It was a slap in the face to the fans and, yet, they came. At what price must these things come? I've got news. These Cubs are not going to win another World Series. Even the White Sox didn't sink so low or, at least, never took outward pride in the tanking.

As you mentioned, the tanking infuses the entire organization with failure, even subconsciously. The attitude of the New York Yankees is that "we win around here." It is so primary to their existence, they win games they're not supposed to win, the World Series is the only goal, besides winning it.

The New England Patriots are so committed to winning that they even get into the heads of their opponents. Winning is a checklist item they don't even have to deal with, while it becomes a huge burden to a Jacksonville Jaguars or Atlanta Falcons team.

Nuts and bolts and all the puzzle pieces are just some of the problems the Bears have. They are also going to have to overcome the menacing heritage of apathy and losing for which they have only themselves to blame. If they even know the problem exists. Or care.

Then again, it'll take only eight wins to keep the fans' furnaces stoked.

P.S.: And what about the GM or director of player personnel who sits there staring at the ping pong balls with a childlike glee on their face. And then gets the eighth pick. That one cracks me up. I wouldn't send anybody.

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