Lose games intentionally? No TANK you, but… | Red's Army - The Voice of Boston Celtics Fans
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Lose games intentionally? No TANK you, but…

Boston Celtics Introduce Brad Stevens

Let’s get a few things out there right away.  I am a long time Celtics fan and season ticket holder.  I prefer to see them win every game they play.  The fast start to this season has been a pleasant surprise but I’m also a fan that’s invested in the long-term success and viability as a true contender.  There, now we can move on. I don’t condone outright “tanking” when the organization from top to bottom just intentionally loses games.  In 1997 they tried this with M.L. Carr as coach and “built” an atrocious roster.  ML tanked big time and it’s been well documented.  In 2007 they didn’t tank initially.  They had every intention of making the playoffs, but got off to a slow start, then Pierce broke his foot, TA tore his ACL, the 18-game losing streak happened (and so did Oden and Durant).  So that’s why you would read the Ryan Gomes quotes about playing for lottery picks and ping pong balls.

Fast-forward 6 years, one title, one finals appearance and a ton of wonderful memories, it’s a golden opportunity to quickly become a contender again. But not just a quick handful of years like the New Big Three.  It’s especially important because in this new age NBA/CBA era, it’s simply not feasible or sustainable to do what they did when they became an overnight powerhouse by getting Ray Allen and KG.  That team had three max players with a lot of fantastic (and well-paid) role players.  Before, you had several exceptions and you could simply write a luxury tax check or absorb larger contracts (in terms of either dollars or years) to add players and keep it going (like they and the Lakers did).  But because of a harder cap and a dreaded repeater tax that not only is brutal financially, but it literally strips you of those exception options to use.

In this current scenario, a perfect world would be for the Celtics to re-sign Rondo as their max guy (with lesser penalties since he is their own player and they have his Bird rights), retain the younger players you really want as pieces (Sullinger, Bradley for example) at reasonable second-contracts and deal away the other assets for other pieces.  But hitting lottery gold in the form of a Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins or Julius Randle is huge because they are potentially franchise level players at MINIMUM NBA money for the first few years and several after that since the incentives for those players to remain on their own teams is very high.  Some notable players that stayed with their original team for their first 6-7 years (or will) because of those CBA advantages: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Chris Bosh, Rajon Rondo, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Anthony Davis (not official yet but shocked if Pelicans don’t max him out), LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Tony Parker, etc. So essentially, you’d potentially have your two max level guys (Rondo, lottery player X) during Rondo’s prime plus solid pieces like AB and Sully.  Lottery Player X COULD be giving you max production at minimum or low(ish) level money.  You’d also still have all of those picks and other players to use as chips.  Now, if you keep winning and make the playoffs you’re forced to get more creative and make things incredibly more difficult.

Sure, you could cash in all of those chips in the best case scenario, say by trading for Kevin Love for example.  But he’d likely cost you a similar package that the KG one did in 2007.  It’d be something like Sully, Wallace’s contract, multiple picks, etc.  So now you’d have Love and maybe Rondo at near max dollars and little left to fill the roster with, especially long term (which is the Lakers issue with Kobe re-signing as well as if they intend to keep Pau AND add another guy).  Or you try to get Love but you have to gut your roster and you can’t keep Rondo + another guy.

The inherent problem is the NBA’s CBA and the draft/lottery system.  There is more incentive to get younger players on low-level rookie deals more than ever because you pay them cheap money compared to their (probable) real value.  It’s not ideal but it’s the reality.  For me, I’m a life-long hardcore Celtics fan that’s invested in the long-term success.  I don’t care about any other teams or sports really, so there’s no need to sell me on anything other than having a logical plan in place to be a contender (if you presently aren’t one).  I have full faith in Danny Ainge and his staff.  He made a fantastic move by replacing Doc Rivers with Brad Stevens so getting that coach you need is already done.  You have one franchise player in Rondo (when healthy) so you need to keep him and build around him.  You also have several solid young players and other assets (picks) so now, it would be perfect to land one of these blue chippers.

I understand that it’s not guaranteed (I lived through it twice) but the NBA landscape is different now and it would be better to at least have a chance at it.  Making the playoffs would be a disaster for this year because Ainge is not going to try to obtain players to IMPROVE the team (they NEED to avoid the tax this year) so what good is it to AT BEST lose to Miami or Indiana?  Ok, so anything can happen like Paul George getting hurt or LeBron spraining an ankle (he’s a cyborg anyway so he’d just regenerate a new part on demand).  Sure, you get these young guys invaluable playoff experience but how many of them do you plan on keeping for your next, true contender?  It didn’t matter for the 2008 team that Doc, Rondo, Perk and TA endured that brutal 2007 season.  In fact they’ve said it helped them.

I know it’s not easy but this is my ideal, dream scenario.  I’m not pro-tanking at all and unless the embarrassing teams in the east can actually start winning games, I just don’t know how you give yourself a chance at the roulette wheel.  Maybe like all of the rumors are true, Ainge will simply “trade out” of the playoffs and give Brad Stevens even less good players to work with.  At this point, it’s more like Russian Roulette but hey, Danny is a gambler!

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  • Ron Flanders

    So, you’re telling me you don’t want them to win games. A lot of good stuff above, but you don’t want them to make the playoffs. For many reasons, that strategy (current CBA notwithstanding) is very foolish. I hope we mop the floor with the Nuggets tomorrow.

    • Jay O

      Not at all, and I said as much in the post. I just wanted to highlight my ideal outcome, not the only good one.

      • Ron Flanders

        That’s just how I read it. For me, what this season has done for me is take the pressure off. I don’t agonize over the losses like I used to. We can be free and just go out and play hard…but if we lose, there is a silver lining. But I don’t think we should “tank by trade” for the sake of hurting our winning percentage…only make trades if we can clear cap room and/or gather pieces.

  • Curt Hays

    You are using logic, Jay, and I support that. You are looking at this strategically and like a businessman. Good on you. I don’t care about the roulette wheel. It may be about getting titles, but it is also about making a strong showing every season. With the new CBA, teams are going to have to moneyball it if they want to win AND be profitable.
    I cannot support any system that rewards teams/players for losing. It teaches the kids in my basketball club all of the wrong things.

    • frickenWaaaltah

      Right on with that last part. The system is the real issue now. For his last trick, David Stern should take a crack at fixing the draft lotto to prevent any more ‘races to the bottom.’

      • Curt Hays


    • Jay O

      I’m with you on this, which is why I referenced that exact problem in the system currently. I’m looking at it like a fan that’s invested in the long term success. I know the team is more than willing to spend in the right situation.

    • nikolas88

      Atlanta makes a strong showing every year. Is that what you’d like us to be?

      • Curt Hays

        Clearly that’s what I was implying. I want the Celtics to be like the Hawks. I want to be over .500 every year and never win another banner. You figured me out.

        • nikolas88

          So why shouldn’t we just lose for a year to be great in the future? What will we gain by trying to be .500 this year? A banner?

          • Curt Hays

            For the NBA, sure. You make a resonable point. But now I have to explain to the 15 year olds on my AAU team why it’s okay to prepare to lose. I do not want to see my team be rewarded, even if it is Banner 18, for tanking. Granted, paying the luxury tax to do so is a bit like the Yankees, so I don’t like that either. The Spurs are setting the example. But I’m not a Spurs fan. I’m a Celtics fan. I want MY team be rewarded for hard work not for biting the bullet.

          • nikolas88

            I don’t think it’s telling them it’s ok to lose. If the roster is filled with enough young talent they just won’t be able to compete and win. They’ll hopefully develop and get better. Spurs have been lucky through the draft. Drafting ginolbi, parker n Kawhi has given them great continuity. I just don’t see it with what we have. I like what Utah has done this year. Their young talent comes out and fights hard every game.

          • Curt Hays

            This is ludicrous. You’re rephrasing “it’s okay to lose”. And liking what Utah has done this year? They are an NBA team, not an AAU club in it’s first season. Utah or Boston, it’s great to watch the young guys play hard every game, but you’re condoning managment actively allowing the team to suck. That’s condoning tanking even if you don’t point the finger at the players.

          • Jeremiah Shane Giles

            The Spurs tanked when needed.

          • Curt Hays

            You’re not wrong. What I wrote can easily lead one to interpret this as simply having a winning season. But I’m thinking of this in the context of what I perceive to be a Bostonian definition. Remember that it is Boston. Having a strong season there doesn’t mean the same thing that it means in the Dirty South, does it? In Boston it means something more akin to filling up the seats and striking fear into your opponents deep into the playoffs (even when KG and PP are old and they SHOULDN’T be in Game 7 of the ECF against Miami even after having had Game 2 stolen from them). It means NOT having a reputation for tanking. See 2013 Boston effing Red Sox.

            It means having some goddamn pride left at the end of the season.

            (that’s my soapbox, not yelling at you Nikolas)

        • nikolas88

          ” It may be about getting titles, but it is also about making a strong showing every season. ” Must have read this wrong.

  • Red’s Cigar

    What if we already have that Kevin love type player in Jared sullinger? You gotta let this play out. Can’t make any dumb trades in hopes of having a slightly better chance of winning a lottery. Let’s win the division.

    • Jay O

      That could very well be the case. What I was saying is, this instance makes it easier to allow you to possibly have both.

    • Fitzy

      you don’t trade sully, olynyk or rondo. Maybe not bradley if he signs for the right price.

  • Robert Hodgman

    One point I may make on this is that the CBA will effect all the teams, not just the Celts. So the day of the top-heavy super teams will end. Which is a good thing! Teams that want to compete will have to be solid top to bottom now, and GMs will have to use smarts and guile to build their teams, as opposed to just throwing $$$ at three superstars.
    What this means to me is the individual player will be less important than the overall team in this new age of parity. So if you have a good GM, and a good coach that gets the most out of his guys you are already better off than the consistent lottery bottom feeders that are run terribly but loaded with high draft picks.

    1. Smart/creative GM who’s right more often than he is wrong? Check!
    2. Smart/creative Coach who knows how to get the most out of his guys? Check!

    I’d take my chances with the braintrust of the Celts (who will probably not be in with the top 5 picks this year) and this roster over, say, the sixers, and their guaranteed high lottery pick this year. I would bet that the Celtics will be more competitive sooner and for a longer period of time, just because they are now being run better.

    • Curt Hays

      I had all of these thoughts as well. I’m totally with you and excited for the future.

  • Nathan

    Great piece by one of my favorite basketball guys to follow on twitter. The best written insight i’ve seen on the topic, its exactly how i feel i just havnt been able to put my thoughts together like that. Now let me send this article to everyone and say “THIS IS WHAT I WAS TRYING TO SAY”

    • Jay O

      Wow, honestly floored by your incredibly kind comment. Thanks so much for that, I really appreciate the kind words.

    • Ron Flanders

      I’d like to add that your feed is one of my favorites on Twitter as well.

  • frickenWaaaltah

    Basketball games without competition are gross, but teams that compete honestly are going to lose out. If nothing changes, tankers will get the franchise players and the championships they bring, this year and in future years. The problem now is very real. The draft lotto is broken.

    The Cavs broke the taboo against losing games by consistently not really trying to win starting a few years back. They have gotten away with it so far and so now the practice has spread and there is a race to the bottom this year. It used to be enough to just start rebuilding and play younger players to develop them. Now you have to rip off fans by not competing.

    Not every top draft pick gets you a title, but every single Celtics championship banner required a key player who was a high draft pick, although 3 out of 4 guys were not acquired in a straightforward manner:

    Russ: #2 pick 1956 – 11x championships – drafted by St Louis, acquired by trade before rookie season. St Louis knew they were trading a good player and kept increasing their demands. First they wanted hometown center and 6 time All-Star Ed McAuley. Then they also wanted Cliff “Lil Abner” Hagan, a forward who had been in the Marines for three years and yet to play for Boston.

    They were still reluctant. Red needed something to seal the deal, and his idea was genius stuff. Celtics owner Walter Brown was part owner, along with a group of other arena owners, of a popular ice dancing show called The Ice Capades. Red got him to offer a few weeks of appearances in St Louis, and it got the deal done.

    Cowens: #4 pick 1970 – 2x championships in 74 and 76 – basic pick on Russell’s recommendation; considered by many undersized and not athletic enough, a 21st century NBA team that wanted him would have looked into the possibility of trading down to get him(i.e. and getting even more value out of the #4 pick, like another lower pick). This is as much of an ensemble team as it gets for Boston; a bunch of players were still drafted in the back half of the 5-10 range. Havlicek #7, Silas #10, JoJo White #9.

    Bird: #6 pick 1978 – 3x championships – Red’s gamble/clever reading of the eligibility rules, which were soon changed – Bird would be have been #1 or #2 in the 1979 draft and gone either #1 to the Lakers or #2 to the Bulls. The Lakers drafted sophomore Magic Johnson #1, the first underclassmen to be the number one overall pick. Chicago drafted David Greenwood at #2 (who?).

    Kevin: #5 1995 draft – 1x championship – Would have been #1 if he weren’t coming straight out of high school. Instead he was drafted after Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse, and Rasheed Wallace. The Wolves mismanaged their roster to the point where they were tapped out and so traded Kevin both to help him contend for a title and so they could begin rebuilding.

    • Rich Jensen

      “tankers will get the franchise players and the championships they bring”
      In the last ten years, ‘tanking your way to a title’ has only worked for the Spurs, and the Spurs would not have won those last three titles if they had not drafted wisely outside the lottery.

      • frickenWaaaltah

        Sure, you can almost never win a title without good franchise management in general.

        The Spurs got Duncan because David Robinson was injured and missed almost the whole season, and Sean Elliot missed about half the season. Before they got Duncan, they still had some decent rotation players, but they shifted their roster around to complement what they now had. The other key addition for their first title run was Mario Ellie. He was a smart pickup but they were basically taking the best fit they could find for a vet minimum deal.

        I don’t think The Spurs were “tanking” but it certainly inspired what was to come. Other owners and GMs saw what an anomalous bad year (in this case from injuries to their two best players) could do for a mid-level team, and turning mid-level teams into contenders is a major problem GMs have been trying to solve for years.

        Lebron was pretty close to winning before leaving the Cavs. Given how things went after he left them for Miami, he probably could have won if he had stayed in Cleveland too. I think that last year he was scared of winning because he had already decided with Wade and Bosh and all their people that he was leaving for Miami.

        Dallas was…well I kind of think they were BS but would rather not say
        too much about that. I’ll just say I think it was strange how the same
        old Dirk was all but unguardable that year; he got to the free throw
        line way more than he had usually been able to.

        Detroit was a rare ensemble team, and part of the reason that happened was because Danny facilitated them acquiring Rasheed Wallace, I suspect mostly to screw over the Lakers and keep them from catching up in the total titles count.

        So yeah it’s true that you still have to run your team well, but you still usually need to get one of these elite guys one way or another. Like I said originally, 3 out of 4 the C’s won with were not straight forward draft picks; Larry was drafted by a loophole in the rules, and Russ and Kevin were acquired by trade.

    • Ron Flanders

      Pierce #10 pick

      • frickenWaaaltah

        Most, probably all championship teams also have guys picked in that range. It was a fluke that Pierce fell to 10, but then again Pierce never won a championship without #5 pick Kevin. They did get pretty close the year they lost to the Nets in the conference finals. I could see them beating the Shaq/Kobe Lakers that year but probably not if it were the high scoring Kings in the finals. That kind of makes him an in-between guy for what I mean here. It also shows how the quality of competition in the league was finally recovering from all the late 80s/90s expansion.

        My main point is that for Boston and beyond, there’s usually one HOF legend that was a high draft pick on a championship team and it probably was necessary to win the title or it wouldn’t usually have been true. Some champs had other hall of famers and if not they usually had a few other very good players.

        Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a team where one guy took a weak roster all the way. The Lakers had a pretty weak roster with some of those
        Shaq and Kobe teams. Kobe is another guy who only went as low as he did
        for an unusual reason, being a guard coming out of high school. With a
        year or two of college he’d have been a top pick.

        But ensemble teams are only a little less rare than that. By that I mean, teams without elite HOF players who were high draft picks, guys who “everybody knew” were going to kick a** right from the start of their pro careers. Heck one of the classic championship winning Cinderella story ensemble teams was the Bill Walton era 76-77 Blazers, and it was only an ‘ensemble team’ because of how injury prone and damaged Bill Walton already was. Walton was the #1 pick in the 74 draft.

        • Ron Flanders

          I disagree on the weakness of the Lakers’ roster during the Shaq era, respectfully. As for having HOF high draft pick players, yeah, that’s true, but, since the inception of the lottery, its usually for a team other than the one they were drafted on.

    • Bry

      I disagree about how the current teams must tank for the title with today’s rules. The NBA has several teams like the Cavs, Bobcats, and Wizards who are still mediocre at best despite multiple high draft picks. The Pacers have built a title contender out of picks no lower than #10. The two best players on the Celtics right now (Rondo, Sullinger) were drafted in the 20’s. More important to have a competent franchise that promotes a culture of development and winning – tanking destroys that framework.

      • Caterpillar from Italy


      • frickenWaaaltah

        Well I completely agree, and was saying that sort of thing over the summer when most people posting here seemed to be pro-tanking for the coming season.

        Over the summer I was just still kind of angry about the whole losing Pierce and KG thing and seeing this team kick some butt to prove everybody wrong was a bit more appealing to me than it is now (I still like that idea though). What I want now really is for the draft lotto to be changed so teams aren’t punished for competing, even if it doesn’t happen this season.

        It’s not just about the Celtics either; there have been so many unwatchable games this year, and just look at the mess that is the Eastern Conference standings.

        And yeah you’re right, there are even some bottom feeders out there. If they couldn’t leach off the lottery for so long, their owners would be under more pressure to sell and a new group would come in and hopefully run the franchise better.

    • Caterpillar from Italy

      You can’t seriously bring Cleveland as an example: they had LeBron and they weren’t able to build a decent team around him, they have Irving but they’re still a mediocre team with no prospectives. The environment in which players move is important: Knicks and Clippers won’t likely win anything if they don’t change culture and spirit of their messy organizations.

      It’s a mix you of different elements you have to reach.

      • frickenWaaaltah

        Yeah, I seriously am. I think Cleveland got pretty close before Lebron left and could have won one or two championships by now if he had stayed. They might even have also beaten that Dallas team where Miami failed and have more wins by now than Miami does.

        Lots of people blame his Cleveland teammates, but I think he just wasn’t tough enough yet. I think Lebron just growing up a bit more is the big reason he finally got past the Celtics and won championships. Wade and Bosh are good players, but they haven’t exactly been all that consistent, and the Miami rosters have been generally weak beyond them; the Cleveland rosters didn’t have the top end help, but were deeper/more balanced.

  • Ron Flanders

    The Celtics DNA is about winning. Tanking is antithetical to that. 2007 was largely due to injuries…but 1997 the basketball gods burned us. Rick Pitino never did things the “Celtic Way.” I guarantee you, wherever we pick, there will be VERY good players available.

  • bill_nair

    I’m enjoying the season and the tanking talk has finally wore on me. The players will play and the win/loss column will be what its supposed to be. Whether we get the 15th or 4th pick, Danny has a plan. I trust he’ll execute Plan A, B or C and put this team right back where we belong.

    • frickenWaaaltah

      Mostly I hate how the tanking issue has dogged the Celtics more than any other team, but they are one of the least guilty teams in the league so far. They still go out there and compete. So far they had one game with a lot of crap effort and that was the Houston mess and for all I know it could have been from a flight delay getting them to the hotel at 3am or something.

      Most of the East has done it more than that, and some of them have done it a lot more. The mass media personalities mostly root for other teams (New York, Chciago, LA) and one thing they can agree on is that they just really don’t want the Celtics to get another elite player. They keep pointing the finger at the Celtics to try to put pressure on them not to lose on purpose, as if that was ever their game plan anyway.

  • Pablo Alvarez

    Excellent article Jay. Sums up pretty well the situation with the new CBA.

    Most of us fans want the team to play well, win games, develop the young guys, plant the winning culture, etc., but at the same time, making the playoffs would probably be the worst scenario this year –as a non-contending team–, considering the draft class that’s coming out and the level of young/cheap players you can miss out on. Management will play an even bigger role going forward, using money wisely, drafting and dealing player properly. It’s not about tanking, since the odds will probably play against you, but doing strategic moves to increasing your chances of taking your team to the top in the mid-term.

    For example, making sure that Rondo is totally healthy in his body and mind is the right way to go, since he is the future of the franchise (right now), and you don’t really need to make the playoffs this year. You are developing the rest of the players with some expanded roles considering his absence in the rotation, and at the same time you can showcase some of them to try and deal them. Of course, as a fan I also can’t wait to see Rajon back in the court, beasting with the new team, new coach, new system, now that PP and KG are gone. Danny has done a good job adjusting to the new system by aquiring all those 1st round picks for the next few years, while gathering some young talent already on the roster.

  • Steez

    The 1997 tanking was fruitful because the prize was only the 1st pick, but next year the prize is a top 5 pick, that’s what we badly need. Celtics are taking a wrong route they will live to regret. lets be honest here, no team is selling you their star, we need to get ours.

  • nikolas88

    If we don’t get a top 7 pick in this lottery, a few years from now, we’ll be hoping we can make a lucky trade like 07. It won’t happen and we’ll be stuck in medicority. No free agents will come and no one will want to be traded here. We’ll give rondo 20 mill a year and watch him waste away, hell, he might even leave next year. Before you know we’re on another 20+ year drought. Over that time we’d have watche said lottery talents from this upcoming draft blossom into all-stars, nba mvps and finals mvps and we’ll be trying to make a “good showing”. Lakers will probably be on banner 25. Hell, the knicks might even win one. We’ll still be trying to make a good showing.

    • KGino

      I hate comments like this… What a pessimistic view from a fan. Cheer up bud, there’s plenty of franchise players who have been drafted later than 7th, and we’ll have two shots to find that guy every year for many years to come

  • Ivan Menkinoski

    I understand the hell that the front office has to go through, But for me, “The Celtic Way” that someone mentioned must never be abandoned. It is the way of our franchise, something we look up too. Don’t sacrifice that for top picks, pride and glory have to go together.

  • Suarez

    This team is winning more than it was supposed to, and that should be considered a good thing. It means it’s assets are more valuable than we thought they were. It’s probably not as good of a thing as landing a top 3 pick in the draft, but it is still good. A consolation prize of sorts.