by Larry Flynn
The hometown Philadelphia 76ers had one of the most abysmal NBA offseasons in recent memory.
Trading away first-time All-Star Jrue Holiday for the injured Nerlens Noel on draft day was, no doubt, a move that will cost the team wins this season.
Despite having ample cap space to sign quality players, the new General Manager Sam Hinkie decided not to use the team’s available resources to improve the roster.
Why would the 76ers make such head scratching moves? Isn’t the point of sports to win as many games as possible?
Instead of competing this season, the Sixers have employed a strategy known as “tanking.”
The philosophy of tanking is simple; the theory states that, instead of trying to remain somewhat competitive without any realistic hope of truly competing for the championship, it is best to lose as many games as possible in order to gain a high draft pick in the lottery.
As ideal for the future as this theory may sound, tanking is not a reliable strategy for NBA front offices to pursue.
The first problem with tanking is the myth that a higher draft pick automatically yields a better player.
The last draft that did not have a bust selected in the top five was the stacked 1996 draft. Yet, even in the 1996 draft, Kobe Bryant was picked with the 13th selection, Steve Nash with the 15th selection and Jermaine O’Neal with the 17th selection, two of whom are shoe-ins for the Basketball Hall-of-Fame.
In every draft since 1996, teams have received a top five pick with expectations of receiving a franchise-changing star.
But the Portland Trail-Blazers, who picked oft-injured Greg Oden over all-star Kevin Durant, will tell you that a top draft-pick does not always guaruntee glory.
The Detroit Pistons, who infamously picked Darko Milicic instead of superstars like Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, are another example of a failed top-five selection.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, take a look at the Indiana Pacers. The highest selection the Pacers have made in the past few years was Paul George, picked 10th in the 2010 NBA draft.
Paul George went toe-to-toe with Lebron James in the conference finals and emerged as a superstar with his stellar play against “King James” himself.
Roy Hibbert was selected 17th in the 2008 draft, 15 spots below Michael Beasley, who is fighting for a chance to be on an NBA roster.
George Hill was acquired on a draft-day trade for the 15th pick, who ended up turning into Kawahi Leonard.
The Pacers are a prime example of the proper way to build an NBA team.
Sure, superstars are picked in the top ten of most drafts; but there are many franchise players who fall into the mid-first round.
The Pacers never employed this “tanking” strategy that many teams pursue today. Instead, youngsters like George and Hibbert have matured in a competitive environment and in a culture that values winning.
Most proponents of tanking like to point to the Oklahoma City Thunder as one of the success stories for this strategy.
The Thunder are one of the NBA’s most dynamic teams lead by superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They will compete for the championship for many years to come.
But the Thunder fell victim to one of the pitfalls of tanking in the 2012 NBA offseason.
Harden was up for a contract extension, and the team needed to make a decision about what type of contract to offer their sixth man and future All-Star.
Harden was coming off a miserable performance in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, but was still viewed as an integral part of the team.
The Thunder wanted to keep Harden, but were forced to trade him to the Houston Rockets in a deal that yielded the team pennies on the dollar.
They were forced to do this because, being a small-market team, they could not afford Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, as well as James Harden.
Furthermore, the Thunder were lucky to have Durant, Westbrook and Harden in the first place.
Instead of picking these star players, they could have easily ended up with Greg Oden, Michael Beasley and Johnny Flynn, all of whom were monumental busts and are either fighting for roster spots or entirely out of the league.
Unlike the Thunder, the Charlotte Bobcats are a testament to the failure of tanking. Instead of picking foundational big men like Brook Lopez, Serge Ibaka or Roy Hibbert, the Bobcats selected DJ Augustin in 2008, who is a backup on the lowly Raptors.
In 2011, Kawahi Leonard, who averaged a tremendous 14.6 points per game and 11.1 rebounds per game against Lebron James in the Finals, was available when the Bobcats passed over him twice for mediocre role players like Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo.
The Bobcats have continued to draft mediocre players into an organization that clearly does not value winning.
They are likely to miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season and for the tenth time in the franchise’s eleven year history.
History shows “tanking” a season is not a sure-fire way to build a championship contender.
Instead, it is best to keep the team competitive, build a winning atmosphere,and make sound selections in the mid-first round.
Not only is this the right basketball decision, but it is also the ethical decision.
Philadelphia 76ers fans don’t want to see Noel in a suit and a knee brace for half the season.
Sixers fans don’t want to see long two-point jumpers from Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner more than they have already. Instead, basketball organizations owe their fans a team that will compete for wins every night.
Will the 76ers plan end up working? There’s a chance that they win the lottery and select star freshman Andrew Wiggins with the first selection. Maybe Michael Carter-Williams and Noel turn out to be stars. But both the Sixers’ organization and its fans should not expect such a story-book ending.