Entering The Demilitarized Zone

It’s better to be terrible than mediocre. That’s what pretty much anybody who follows the NBA will tell you about rebuilding a team. Hanging around at the fringe of the playoffs for a couple of years can set your franchise back for many more to come. A team that has some decent pieces, but not enough to feasibly compete in the near future can easily find itself in this kind of “NBA purgatory”. You do not want to end up in a situation where you narrowly miss the playoffs, have the 13th or 14th pick in the draft, and then miss out on any potential superstars. It’s inevitable, however, that some teams will find themselves in this situation every year. The solution to this problem is easy, really…

(explosion sounds)

Tanking.

I’m not so concerned with the idea that the lottery somehow needs to be fixed to avoid tanking. Instead, I prefer to focus on the system that is currently in place. As it stands now, you’ve got a weighted lottery and the worse your team is, the better chance you have at jumping into the top three picks. Therefore, once you’ve recognized that the team is unable to actually compete, tanking for a better draft pick is probably the best strategy. It’s easy to say that as someone simply observing from the outside, but how many fans really want to get on board with that idea? Obviously, fans want what is best for their team –but does that include rooting for losses in order to improve draft position?

I don’t mean to always bring the Cavaliers into it, but they are one of the teams currently dealing with this exact situation and it can be applied to several teams across the league. At the trade deadline, the Cavs were a handful of games out of the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference (despite being several games below .500). At that point, you’ve got a decision to make: gun for that last playoff spot or liquidize assets and build for the longterm. It’s fairly apparent that they decided upon the latter (trading away Ramon Sessions, simply attempting to acquire draft picks instead of current players, etc.). In my opinion, that was the correct move. It’s important for the front office to identify the fact that the current core is not adequate as currently composed. The Cavs are still a couple of impact pieces away from having a solid core to build around and eventually make a run at the postseason. Unfortunately once you make that realization, there’s still 30 games left to be played in the season. Now what?

So you’re a fan of a team that isn’t going to make the playoffs or even if they do make the playoffs, they will likely be the victims of a demoralizing beatdown — what do you do? When they think with their brains, most NBA fans know that it’s beneficial for their team to be as bad as possible, get a better draft pick, and then build around that young core of players. However, many fans do not think with their brains, they think with their hearts. How do you go from passionately rooting for a team every night to hoping that they lose just to acquire more ping-pong balls in the lottery? In short (and I’m speaking from experience), you don’t. When I sit down to watch my favorite team play, I’m watching and reacting as if I want them to win. Every night. And this is despite the fact that I know all too well that losing and getting better lottery odds is what’s truly best for the franchise. When the Cavs aren’t playing, I’m anxiously watching the scoreboard of the teams surrounding Cleveland at the bottom of the standings, hoping that they’ll pull off a win and jump the Cavs. After the Cavs lose, I’m understandably bummed out, as any fan would be when their team loses. After about 10 minutes or so, I remember: damn, that was a good loss.

It’s easily one of the most uncomfortable and peculiar feelings for a fan. It feels morally wrong to be rooting against your team. You’ve got that little part of you that’s saying, man, if only we got into the playoffs, we could really up our game and give Chicago a scare. How do you sit there and watch you team actively blowout the existing roster in order to completely tank the remainder of the season, as the Blazers recently did? You’ve got Warriors fans booing their owner because he traded away a fan favorite, with the team’s best long-term interests in mind. Ultimately, I’ve come to deal with it by basically playing two roles. Most of the time, I’m working as an armchair general manager. When my team isn’t playing, I’m reading scouting reports and hoping that they can lose just a few more games to move up and grab this prospect — it’s all-out tank mode. Once my team takes the court, however, we’ve entered the demilitarized zone. I want to win — no tanks allowed.

Seth Carstens