Tanking is a dirty word around the NBA.
The reason is it implies a lack of effort or desire, and no team wants that reputation (or to establish that culture). But it’s also a matter of semantics — you and I might well argue that a team that lets all its good talent walk to build around a young core and get some high draft picks is tanking; those teams would deny that saying they are trying to win, just with a younger core.
Enter the Milwaukee Bucks, who went from a backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings (a pair that mixed like oil and water) to Brandon Knight and Gary Neal with O.J. Mayo handling the ball a lot. The Bucks were the eight seed last season and are unlikely to be that high again.
But don’t use the word taking, as GM John Hammond said at Knight’s introductory press conference, as reported by the Journal-Sentinel.
“Some people use these words like ‘tanking,’ so to speak,” Hammond said… “We’re by no means in that mode whatsoever. We’re trying to remain competitive. I think we can be a competitive team. But also we really want to start focusing on the youth of this team and start talking about things like a championship-caliber team. Can they develop into a core like that? I think they can.
“We’re going to have to have the right kind of people, people that say I want to be a part of that and I’m going to work hard to become that.”
Of course, the right kind of people would be Andrew Wiggins or Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon or some of the other guys near the top of the 2014 draft.
Part of this is just marketing — you don’t want to give fans a reason not to show up for a season, not to watch the games on television.
The Bucks are not going to be good, but they likely are better than a few teams that have, how shall we say, tried much harder to go young. With Mayo and Larry Sanders the Bucks can win a few games. They are not tanking in the “we don’t want to win” sense.
But if they lose a few games this season and get a good lottery pick next summer, that’s not the worst outcome.