Into the Crevasse We Go

I’ve been pretty focused on keeping this site as entirely NFL-related, but today I have to switch to the NBA.  See you next week if you don’t care, but there are some parallels in strategy to be found.

For some reason, most franchises in professional sports are seemingly loathe to “tank”.  I discussed this last year after Nick Foles’ last second TD for the win.  At that point, it was 100% clear that the optimal outcome for the Eagles would have been to lose the game.  Had the team lost, it would have had the #3 overall draft pick, allowing them to take Dion Jordan (if they wanted him; there were rumors they did).  We have no idea if that is the case, but the point is that the Eagles, during that game, did NOT make the optimal decision (i.e. losing).

There are a number of potential reasons for that.  Players aren’t “wired” that way.  It’s not fair to the fans.  The object of the game is to win. Etc…

Those are all bullshit.

There’s a larger discussion to be had about what fans should really value in their favorite sports teams; consistent regular season entertainment or a “go-for-it” title-driven mentality.  That’s a post for another day, but for now I’m operating under the assumption that the goal (from the fan’s perspective) in any professional sport is to win the title.  If that’s the case, the Eagles screwed up last year, as many teams do.

So what?

For those of you watching the NBA draft last night, you can see where I’m headed. The Sixers, under new GM Sam Hinkie, made moves last night that CLEARLY define the near term strategy as follows: LOSE.

My timing yesterday was impeccable.  I mentioned that Jrue Holiday was the only real reason to watch the Sixers.  By far the team’s best player, he is an All-Star PG, just 23 years old, and has the potential to be among the best in the league at his position.

Last night the Sixers traded him.

For a player who might not play a single game next year.

The full return is a player named Nerlens Noel and a 1st round pick next year (1-5 protected).  Noel is recovering from a torn ACL, but he’s 7 feet 6’11” tall, the most athletic player in this year’s draft, a day one defensive force (may lead the league in shot-blocking when he plays), and arguably the highest “upside” player in the draft.  Franchise centers are incredibly difficult to find, making Noel extremely valuable, provided his ACL heals.

That’s almost irrelevant though.  The real key here is the 2014 draft, which is projected to feature Andrew Wiggins and a host of other top-level talent.  If things play out according to the odds, the Sixers will have a good shot at the #1 pick, as well as another 1st round pick (I’m guessing between 10-15).

Wiggins is a Kevin Durant-level prospect.  He’s a day-one franchise changer, and the type of player NBA teams must have in order to compete for a title.

That’s why, for the Sixers, losing is the near-term optimal strategy.  It’s borderline amazing that the team appears to have accepted this so transparently.  Without Jrue Holiday, the Sixers will be a truly awful basketball team, and a Thad Young injury away from being historically bad.

In any case, Philadelphia sports fans are now presented with an incredibly rare opportunity:

You can and SHOULD be rooting for the Sixers to LOSE every game next year.  The team’s GM, Sam Hinkie, is flying the “tank” bat-signal.  That means you don’t even have to feel guilty about rooting against them!

Whereas the Eagles last year insisted upon “fighting the good fight”, to the detriment of the team’s future, the Sixers are fully embracing the Lose-to-Win philosophy.

The Sixers, one way or the other, will finally escape from the sports purgatory that is NBA mediocrity.

So steel yourselves, Sixers fans; we’re done with pretense.  It’s time to climb down into the darkness.  This coming season, down is up and up is down; the only way to win is to lose.  In other words, your team is about to crawl to freedom through a river of shit.

Best pack your soap.

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19 thoughts on “Into the Crevasse We Go

  1. While the Eagles might have made a bad choice, it is less damaging than been constant mediocre in the NBA. In the NFL, one superstar unless named Peyton Manning, Luck or RG3 can not win a championship or turn around a franchise. A mediocre team in the NFL has a good chance to win the SB or improve to elite team based on solid drafting where that is simply not possible because it is much easier to spot the superstar pre draft in the NBA.

    Take the Sixers, they never tanked before this season and because they had Iggy and last year Jrue, they would always make it as the 8th seed, be bounced by the Heat or Bulls and then get another meh player.

  2. Fantastic article. Hinkie has really done the impossible by procuring an elite front-court talent, a promising PG prospect, and laying the foundation for possibly TWO top-level talents next year AS WELL AS tons of cap room for an attractive 2014 free agent class.

    • Obviously too early to tell, but it looks like we might have a GM (Hinkie) who is going ALL IN on the analytics. Both Noel, MCW, and the Iranian rated very highly for analytics guys. Certainly looks like we may be moving to a more heavily quantitative management strategy then we’ve ever seen before.

      I dont know if that’s good or bad, but I’m really intrigued to see how it plays out.

  3. If the tickets remain as cheap as Marlins tickets, I might have to take up cheering for them to lose courtside as my new hobby.

    • Im with you. It’s going to be fun. Not to mention we get to scoreboard watch all season hoping to see Boston and Charlotte winning and New Orleans losing just enough to be outside the top 5 picks.

      On Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 2:14 PM, Eagles Rewind

      • Look for the “Riggin’ for Wiggins!” signs. That’s where you’ll find me.

      • I was hoping someone would come up with a more catchy slogan! That’s definitely better than “Tank for Wiggins”.

        On Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 3:18 PM, Eagles Rewind

      • I’ve seen “Winless for Wiggins” being floated around, too, if that suits your fancy.

      • Winless for Wiggins is the leader in the clubhouse now…Catchier (though it’ll seem a bit strange once the team wins a game)

        On Mon, Jul 1, 2013 at 10:20 AM, Eagles Rewind

      • After writing that, I realized you could probably put Nick Foles’ last minute win squarely into that category…

        On Mon, Jul 1, 2013 at 10:20 AM, Eagles Rewind

  4. agree and disagree. In the NBA simply based on the way the cba and everything is structured this is absolutely the right play. The NFL, not too sure. Every win in the NFL has value the regular season is a gauntlet of 16 incredibly significant games. Now the value is obviously based on perspective. As the coach andy is paid to win game and so are the players. They also get paid based on past performance so every catch and TD or block or sack is $$$ to them. So in a sense players aren’t “wired” that way. Plus in the NFL draft talent is more evenly spread out than in the NBA draft. I do think though that the sixers have decided to tank the “right” way by just flat out not fielding a competitive team. The lions kind of accidentally did this for years. Either that or Matt Millen was a genius ahead of his time.

    the NBA’s biggest problem is the “false positive” they encourage by setting it up so half the freaking league makes the playoffs hereby guaranteeing that 70% of the league falsely believe that they accomplished something and are only a tiny bit away from winning it all when in all reality the 7 and 8 seeds are just the “best of the worst.” Watching the sixers squeak into the playoffs the last 7 years was brutal because I knew it just set them up to be mediocre forever.

    • In the NFL there’s enough parity and few enough games that you can’t plan to tank pre-season like the Sixers are doing. However, once your already deep into the season (see the Eagles last year), the equation changes. Obviously there’s not as big a difference in the NFL draft (except the top pick in a franchise QB year), but the principle remains the same. The reward isnt nearly as large, but that doesn’t change the analysis at the most fundamental level.

      On Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 3:05 PM, Eagles Rewind

  5. It is not right to have a bunch of good players and have them play to lose. That is to the detriment of the player and the winning attitude the team is trying to develop. In the NBA, though, the solution is simple: get rid of your good players and trade them for futures… guys who will be better in time but not now, or picks. Pick up bad veteran players and a year of their bad contracts in exchange for more picks in the future.

    Furthermore if you get the top player in the NFL draft like this past year, how much of a difference would it make? We would have gotten Joeckel instead of Johnson? Is it worth teaching players losing habits for that difference?

    • I agree completely. Athletes are super competitive by nature and the best ones are often extremely proud. I think most athletes would lose respect for a coach or organisation that asked them to lose. I can’t think of a single thing that would be more hated (imo) by the best players on your team.

      Which is beside the point anyway. Go watch the wrestling (the fake kind) if you want to watch someone paid to lose. Otherwise the sports world will soon be treated to pathetic displays of two teams both trying to lose. At that point it isn’t sports but competitive bureaucracy as organisations compete to see who games the system the best.

    • True, see my other comment response. There’s a difference between “coaching to lose” and coaching with an eye to the future. Reid had no reason to do that though. If it were me, I wouldn’t have thrown the game, but I certainly would have given young players some major reponsabilities and seen what they could do. If they win, great, maybe you’ve uncovered a player you otherwise wouldn’t have. If they lose, all its done is improve the draft position.

      On Mon, Jul 1, 2013 at 2:32 AM, Eagles Rewind

  6. A couple of people have touched on it already, but I do think it bears focusing on that this argument demonstrates the one fundamental weakness of the quant viewpoint. As noted above, the NBA and NFL are vastly different leagues and games. The NFL players have shorter careers, and many of them (like many OGs, NTs) are aiming no higher than to be a functional role player for a few years. First of all, asking these guys to give up on one of their few seasons in the league is a quick way for a coach to lose all respect in the locker room, especially from the guys who aren’t quitters. Second, as hinted at in some above comments, football is much more a team game than the NBA. “Culture” is much more important. Most guys on the team have to have a team first mentality for the team to succeed. Sacrifice yourself and your stats for the team to win. While not completely absent from the NBA, it seems to me that this issue is much less important. Coaching to lose is once again going to destroy the coach’s credibility for the players that matter when it comes to time to change the message the next season.

    There was a scene in Moneyball (at least the movie) where there was a player traded to the Phillies because he didn’t have a winning attitude, despite being one of the better players on the team. That really stood out to me – you can’t focus solely on the quant philosophy to be successful. You have to remember sports psychology plays a big role too.

    So my take is slightly different. I have no problem with the Sixers tanking, but I also have no problem with Andy Reid still coaching to win. As you said, it’s harder in the NFL, but if you’re going to tank, you need to do it pre-season, with the players you’re putting on the field, not by having the coach coaching to lose. You could ruin a whole crop of useful and necessary role players by doing that.

    • The coaching aspect certainly complicates things. Andy Reid obviously had no incentive to lose. Since he has full control over the game-day roster and personnel groups, obviously that makes tanking impossible.

      That brings up a larger point, which is that the coaching staff/front office/ownership all have to be on the same page. As soon as their incentives become misaligned (like last year), everything goes to hell.

      Very good point about the career lengths. Also, a bigger issue is the non-guaranteed contracts. The NFL is a bit of an anomaly in that the players are ALWAYS short-term focused, they have to be. That’s where the management and coaching comes in. Ideally, you wouldn’t “try to lose”, but you might put a bunch of younger players out there. They’ll still try their hardest, but you have to assume they won’t be as good. At the same time, you keep the players respect, giving a lot of role/young players a chance they’ve been waiting for (for some their only real chance).

      It’s a difficult situation. I’d never advocate a coach actually telling his players to throw a game. That’s ridiculous, and would likely not only lose the team psychologically, but probably warrant a league-office reprimand and discipline.

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