Infinite Nets Game 10: On Tanking

Ian Scott McCormick

This is a bit of a manifesto

The Nets are taking on the 76ers, and as it will be for at least the next several years, this means that I will be forced to remember and evaluate Sam Hinke’s infamous “Process” and the very idea of tanking. To be clear, Sam Hinke did not invent the idea of cynically embracing losing as a means of gaming the subsequent draft classes. He’s not even responsible for actively promoting the concept. Hell, he didn’t even invent the goddamn phrase that will be credited to him. The Houston Astros sold shitty t-shirts that just featured their logo and the word Process.

But for years, the 76ers sold their fans on the concept of losing for season after season, playing squads of glorified D-League players. They sold tickets to games without even so much as humoring the concept of effort. Losing actually became a way of validating their philosophy, because at the end of that long, seemingly hopeless road, they would be given years, if not a full decade of sublime basketball. A lot of sports fans will happily endorse this plan of attack, but even while acknowledging that the 76ers have built themselves quite a basketball team, and that the Houston Astros have already been rewarded with a championship, I remain philosophically opposed to the idea of tanking. Here’s why:

The myth of the savior

More so than in any other major sport, a handful of superstars can determine the course of a season. In baseball a superstar might be responsible for 8-10 wins according to WAR (Let’s not get too deep into whether WAR is a realistic representation of how many wins a team will actually produce). When LeBron left Cleveland for Miami, the Cavs went from 60 wins to 19. Superstars don’t matter, they drive the entire league.

So when a team goes into the tank, they can say they’re looking to build a young core, but really, they’re looking for a savior. LeBron James. Tim Duncan. Shaq. The human cheat code that will win titles essentially all on their own. And to do that they’re looking to get that prized number 1 pick. But how many number one picks turn into some messiah? Let’s look at every draft pick since the year 2000

2000: Kenyon Martin (Nets)

2001: Kwame Brown (Wizards)

2002: Yao Ming (Rockets)

2003: LeBron James (Cavaliers)

2004: Dwight Howard (Magic)

2005: Andrew Bogut (Bucks)

2006: Andrea Bargnani (Raptors)

2007: Greg Oden (Trailblazers)

2008: Derrick Rose (Bulls)

2009: Blake Griffin (Clippers)

2010: John Wall (Wizards)

2011: Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers)

2012: Anthony Davis (Hornets)

2013: Anthony Bennett (Cavaliers)

2014: Andrew Wiggins (Cavaliers)

2015: Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)

2016: Ben Simmons (76ers)

2017: Markelle Fultz (76ers)

2018: Deandre Ayton (Suns)

Do I see a few saviors in there? Well, LeBron counts. And maybe Ben Simmons will get there. But do I see a few busts? Good lord. How many of the #1 picks actually won a team for the franchise who drafted them? Two, and with LeBron I would like to remind everybody that he had to come back to Cleveland as a free agent, and that he fucking left Cleveland in the dust as soon as he could become an unrestricted free agent. Now did he come back because he was from the area, which would have absolutely nothing to do with his being drafted by the team in 2003, or do we all think that he just loved the experience of playing for Dan Gilbert? Put it this way, let’s say he was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies. Does he go back to Memphis in 2014? Probably not. So really, I only count Kyrie Irving as a player who won a title for the team that drafted him. Also, he got the fuck out of Cleveland afterward. Cleveland blows.

As fans we become preoccupied with the idea that the team with the #1 draft pick is going to have the best night, but really we see greats drafted late all the time. Kobe was drafted 13th. Giannis Antetokounmpo was drafted 15th. Kawhi Leonard went 15th. What about the dynasty of our time the Golden State Warriors? Steph Curry went 7th, Klay Thompson 11th, Draymond Green 35th, and their one great ringer, Kevin Durant went 2nd after Portland said “Nah, Greg Oden is our guy.” Christ, two teams passed on Michael Jordan.

Now of course great players fall through the cracks. Drafting is difficult. To some degree it’s cherry picking to say “LOL, The Greek Freak was 15th. Why didn’t he go first? HAHA.” I’ll grant you that drafting is difficult. My point is who do you trust to do the actual player analysis and development? A front office with an actual plan and a vision for the type of basketball that they want to play, or a silicon valley dweeb who has pledged to disrupt the league by losing and cynically acquiring high draft picks with no idea of how the pieces will fit together? Sam Hinke’s thesis was that the process of rebuilding could be done without any appreciation of the game, but by the soulless acquisition of high draft picks.

And even the players who are truly great don’t often win the title for their team. Few would consider Anthony Davis anything less than one of the very best. If you’re tanking, your best possible scenario is to draft somebody of Anthony Davis’ abilities. This is his seventh season. He hits free agency after next season. Are the New Orleans Pelicans going to win the NBA championship before he leaves? I doubt it.

Then there is the other myth that…

Losing equals the best draft position

The NBA has a lottery. And though it is weighted, during Philadelphia’s ‘Process’ the odds of obtaining the number one spot in the draft purely by losing the most games was one in four. 25%. That means that you could go winless throughout the entire season and your odds of not getting the top pick are [checks notes] like over 70 percent. Maybe even 74 or 75. Suppose there is one star that you are absolutely in love with. Are you totally thrilled about the prospect of losing every single game you possibly can for a 75% chance of not getting them?

Of course, going forward those odds will be different. Starting this year, the three worst teams will have identical odds at obtaining the first, second, or third picks. In fact the team that loses the most games this year will have almost as good a shot at getting the fifth pick (.479) as they will at having a top four pick (.521). The team that finishes with the 2nd worst record has a 1-in-5 chance of drafting 6th. The team that finishes with the 3rd worst record has a 1-in-3 chance of drafting either 6th or 7th. Again, all three of these teams only have a 14% chance at getting the top pick. Is that worth throwing away an entire season of play? A 14% chance at getting the top pick, who statistically speaking, will most likely not win a title with you anyway? Again, I say no.

Finally, the myth that probably drives me the craziest…

Anything less than a title is a waste

At a certain point, you have to ask yourself why you are watching a team. Is it because you want to see them raise a banner and celebrate with a championship parade? Well guess what? Championship parades are stupid. “Woo hoo. I get to stand in a crowd full of assholes while a bunch of dudes ride by on a flatbed, on the way to some stage where Mark Madsen can dance magnificently.”

The dirty secret as a guy who has watched the the New York Yankees and Giants combine for eight championships is that titles are overrated. I’m not kidding. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed them immensely, but once the last game is over…it doesn’t resonate the way the losses do. At least it didn’t for me. There’s euphoria of recognizing that they did the thing. That lasts for maybe an hour. Depending on your responsibilities, maybe you do a bit of drinking. Maybe you eat a little horse poop. I’m not here to judge. But it doesn’t change much, and the next time your team suits up, you’re still going to want another one. Titles are nice, but they fade away (Unlike the losses, which scar you forever). So is the chance of winning a title worth packing it in for three or four years, and just hoping that your team loses so that they might one day win? Or is it far more satisfying to watch a team day in and day out, and recognize that while you probably won’t win a title at the end of the season, you might have fun along the way. How many titles do the 76ers have to win to make it worth intentionally torpedoing what is essentially a presidential administration’s worth of play? Or even a season. Especially when there are examples of teams that just did the tough work, got a fair amount of luck, and built their team while actually trying. The Warriors. The Celtics. The Rockets, who I hate, but still, no tanking. And before anybody says “Well, actually the Warriors totally tanked to get the Harrison Barnes pick” I say 1) They tanked at the end of the season, which is totally different from going into the season with the idea of losing, and 2) fuck Harrison Barnes. Sure guys. Harrison Barnes was the heart and soul of the championship Golden State Warriors.

And after that window of championships expire, what’s next? Are you happy that you’ve gotten the title under your belt and are content to play it out as a marginal team for several seasons, or is it right back into the tank? Do you become the fans who say “Well, we can’t win the title this year, so fuck rooting for these losers”? Because that is just the worst way of rooting for anything.

So to recap, Philadelphia’s process involved intentionally losing for four seasons, so that they could have marginal chances at a top draft pick, who maybe might someday win a title with the team before the era inevitably ends, as all eras do. Maybe your team ends up becoming the Indiana Pacers. Good but never quite good enough. Listen to me, enjoy that team. Trust the process of a team actually giving a shit.

Also Brooklyn slapped the dicks off of the 76ers tonight, 122-97. I guess Joel Embiid can’t afford Brooklyn rents.

The Brooklyn Nets are now 4-6 and 8th place in the Eastern Conference.

Ian Scott McCormick
Ian Scott McCormick
Ian is a New Yorker, a father, a husband, a sports fan. He covers a variety of subjects but really only appreciates burgers and cola.
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Another problem with embracing the tank for years is that it creates a losing environment in which players learn to accept defeat. This creates an indifference that can result in multiple rebuilds

King Hippo

Agree on the tank effect. Relegation ensures Lesser Footy combatants continue the old university try, so to speak.

My NFL solution has long been to replace the dumb-ass Pro Bowl with the Toilet Bowl – two worst sides in the League (who haven’t traded their 1st round pick) square off.

Winner gets the 1st overall pick, loser picks fucking 30th.

You could modify that for NBA, I suppose. I just don’t care about The Association enough to figure out how, though the Nets are now by far and away my favourite side. To me, they represent our collective madness.


That’s terrifying – imagine the spiral of awfulness a team could fall into thanks to that situation. The Browns go 1-15, and also lose the toilet bowl, so they don’t get any new talent and go 0-16 the following year. Could you imagine?

King Hippo

It makes me almost delirious with joy!

/you worry That’s Your Raiders! wouldn’t rally around Chucky, huh? 😀

Don T

Winning a championship is overrated? Gimme a break! A championship is the truest “Whatever, haytah” card to all trash talk about your team.

Though I concede that playing playoff spoiler to a hated rival makes being a total asshole (1) more enjoyable, and (2) less prone to gang beatings than preening about being champion.

King Hippo

Just ask somebody who agonized over one FOREVER. I will never forget 1983 (NC State hoops, you just say “1983” in this state, peoples know what ya mean), nor the blessed day Our Equine Lord and Saviour rode the mostly blind Terrell Davis to Superb Owl victory. I didn’t know enough to savour the first at age 9 (that ship ain’t never coming back to port), but as an adult I certainly did, and cried like a fucking baby for my beloved Donks.

My ex-wife should have known to file for a divorce then and there, but waited almost 12 more years!

Brick Meathook
Brick Meathook

I still can’t believe there’s a team called the New Orleans Pelicans. That doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and I don’t think any amount of Cajun slurring can make that happen. Nawlins Peycans. Nope, still doesn’t work. It’s just an odd combo of consonants and syllables; it feels like a cylinder mis-fires halfway through. And face it a pelican is an impressive yet pretty ugly bird. And then there’s still the Utah Jazz. You know what the Utah Jazz is? Go see the classic movie sweet Smell of Success where a hip Manhattan jazz combo is fronted by the only white guy in the group, Martin Milner, the squarest jazz musician in motion picture history. He looks like he just graduated from West Point. When the cops set him up by planting some “grass” on him, I was rooting for his arrest. The dirty cop who nails him was played by the same actor who played Ryker the cattle rancher in Shane. I was rooting for him in that movie too.


New Orleans is also responsible for this monstrosity:
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King Hippo

it’s all ‘splained by GEORGE SHINN who ruined the Hornets forever. He’s a true creep, even by professional sportsball owner standards. Got run out of CLT for having sex with a ret…special young lady.