Here's where tanking gets really crazy: When teams with really smart front
offices are forced to mimic teams with really bad front offices.
"The process of rebuilding is extremely rough on everyone," says Raptors GM Bryan
Colangelo, "and unfortunately made worse by the reality that the whole system is
counterintuitive. Strangely, losing may help you eventually win. But players,
coaches and management are all in this place trained as competitors. How in the
world do you tell a player or coach to go out there and lay down? The answer is
you don’t. But I continually stress that even in defeat we must win in other
ways with the intent of moving the dial forward."
In other words, build with talent, build with coaching, build with culture and build with the
long-term benefits of losing.
Or take this year's worst team, the Bobcats, now run by Cho, who is well-regarded. What's plaguing the Bobcats is a
history of mistakes, but also the reality that the front office -- Michael
Jordan, Rod Higgins, Cho and company -- is not doing all it can to win right
now. If there are cheap free agents they could add to make this team better,
they have not added them. If there are better coaches available, now would not
be the time to hire them.
Cho says he made something like that a condition of his joining the team. "They called me the day after I got let go by
Portland," he recalls of the Bobcats. Cho had three years left on his Portland
contract, and had that finest of luxuries -- he simply didn't have to work. "I
had thought about taking some time off, or teaching at a high school," he told
me on a recent episode of TrueHoop TV
. "I thought about maybe
coaching high school tennis, which I've wanted to do for a long
But he flew to Charlotte for a conversation that came down to a
key moment, when Cho asked if the Bobcats really
wanted to win. As in,
did they want to win so badly that they'd be willing to follow in the footsteps
of Cho's former employer, the Thunder, who won 20 games one season, and then 23
the next, in the process of amassing the core of their current team?
In other words, Cho was asking, were they willing to lose
? "Are you
willing," Cho remembers asking, "to take a step back to take two steps
Cho says the room answered, unanimously, "yes." A few months
later, that team is 7-40.
Cho explains how the Thunder did it. When they
had cap room, they didn't use it. Massive losing streaks helped too. The team's
point guard of the future (Russell Westbrook) learned on the job while leading
the league in turnovers.
There is no suggestion that any of the players
or coaches didn't try their hardest. But the fact is the front office trotted
out a young, cheap and, frankly, bad team for a good long time. Intentionally.
During those same years they could have been, with a different strategy, far
more competitive. But if they had done that, they'd never be leading the Western
Conference right now, because they wouldn't have gotten the good players that
came with the good picks that came from losing.