Count Mike Krzyzewski among those who doesn’t believe in tanking. The head coach of the Duke Blue Devils stated his very strong views about the idea that certain NBA teams are tanking to land one of the top picks in the 2014 draft. The draft is loaded with potential superstar talent, including Coach K’s own small forward, Jabari Parker. When asked about whether or not NBA teams should tank for the chance to land stars like Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle, Krzyzewski made it clear he doesn’t agree.
“As an American, I wouldn’t like to think that an American team would want to lose or create situations where you would want to lose. I can’t even fathom — I can’t go there. I can’t believe that that would happen. Maybe I’m naive and I’m going to go read a fairy tale after this. If that is happening, shame on whoever is doing it.”
Well Coach, as much I understand where you’re coming from, you are being naive. Coach K is one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time, but he is wrong on this one. In college basketball, winning is everything. You don’t have to worry about money or free agents or trades, you just recruit the best players you possibly can and go out and win as many games as you can. The more games you, the better recruits you will land. Krzyzewski has made a Hall of Fame career out of that theory, and he deserves credit for that.
However, that isn’t how things work in the NBA. The NBA is a business, and the end game is making money. The best way to make money, of course, is to win. However, the best way to win isn’t by trying to add pieces to an average group of players and hoping they get better. To win, you must have a superstar. This is not optional or ideal, it is 100% essential.
Including players who are already in the Hall of Fame and current players who are locks to be elected after retirement (Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, etc), do you know how many teams in NBA history have won a championship without a Hall of Fame caliber player? One. Just one team out of the 64 NBA champions. Think about that for a second. Only the 2004 Detroit Pistons have accomplished the feat, and they still had a Hall of Fame coach (Larry Brown) and two players who have an outside chance at the Hall of Fame (Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace).
Point is, you don’t win in the NBA without superstars, and the best way to acquire superstars is at the top of the draft. Wiggins, Randle and Parker are potentially franchise changing talents. They are the kind of players that take a team like the Phoenix Suns or Philadelphia 76ers and make them legitimate contenders for the next 10 years. That is more than worth one bad year.
I understand how a competitor like Krzyzewski has a moral opposition to tanking, but the fact remains that it is a necessary evil. Teams that win 40 games a year and get the 7th or 8th seed and a draft pick in the middle of the first round will never get better. Ask the Milwaukee Bucks how well that strategy works. However, if you tank, you might just end up with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and become the Oklahoma City Thunder.
No one in the NBA wants to lose. However, the teams that are tanking understand that this is their best chance to get back to the playoffs. Not everyone gets lucky and lands LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in free agency. For most teams, the draft is the best, and often only, way to build a contender. Coach K and people like him may not understand or agree with that, but it’s a fact. Tanking isn’t pretty, and some people may not like the morality of it, but for many NBA teams, it is the only way to get better.