PBT’s Top 10 Stories of 2014, No. 2: Tanking

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I do a fair amount of sports talk radio interviews across the nation, and through most of 2014, no matter what corner of the nation the station was located in, two topics almost inevitably came up. One was LeBron James and the drama that surrounded him in both Miami and Cleveland.

The other was tanking.

It has become part of the national conversation about the NBA — and the part that is an embarrassment to the league. The perception that a franchise would intentionally try to lose as many games as it could — even if the strategy made sense long term — was offensive to the American sports psyche. As the NBA moved through a fantastic playoffs in 2014 tanking was an ongoing parallel conversation. It was a PR nightmare for the league. It got to the point that the owners almost voted this summer to radically change the NBA Draft Lottery system to thwart the most egregious tanking. However, the owners backed away from that ledge at the last minute.

Let me be clear: No coach nor any player intentionally tried to lose a game. There is no evidence of this. Nobody is throwing games in a 1919 Black Sox sense.

Rather some organizations are intentionally putting a product on the court that is not going to win many games. There is logic to the plan. First, keep your draft picks and stockpile others in trades as you send out your veteran players. Next, be bad so your draft pick is as high as possible (the luck of the lottery will determine just how high). Play those young draft picks and inevitably be bad again — they learn on the job and you get more draft picks. Eventually you have a nice core of young talent for the future.

It sounds good on paper, you can sell that. But it’s ugly to watch in person.

Let’s be honest here — we’re primarily talking about the Philadelphia 76ers. Other teams have gone this route, but not like the Sixers.

Sixers GM Sam Hinkie has become the poster child of tanking. Back in June 2013 Hinkie traded All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for a draft pick, which they used on the inured Nerlens Noel, who didn’t play a game in the 2013-14 season. Hinkie traded Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes for guys that were not going to help then win games, plus some picks. This past draft the Sixers took Joel Embiid, a promising center but one not expected to play this season. Meaning the Sixers would be bad in the 2014-15 season — and they have been, they are 4-26 and again on their way to a top pick.

There are other teams, both in the past and currently, that have tried to be bad to get good. But nobody has tried to be this bad and been this naked about there intentions.

If you put a bad product out on the court people are going to complain.

It should be noted there was far more of an outcry outside Philadelphia than in it. Sure, there are some unhappy season ticket holders, but that’s not the norm. We talked with Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com for the PBT Podcast and she said that the first year fans were fully on board with the plan. Now the fans that are showing up to the arena are supportive of the players, but there is a growing exhaustion in the city with this much losing. They get what is going on, but the hope with this team seems very far off.

To be fair, in 2018 we’ll be saying Hinkie was a genius or a fool with this strategy, but it’s hard to know how it will pan out before then.

The question is how will the tanking perception and talk alter the NBA landscape going forward. There is always going to be a little of this — you need star players to really win in the NBA and the only way for middle to small markets to really land those elite players is through the draft. If they can be bad and increase their odds, they will. The Bucks did this in 2013-14 — they entered the season thinking they could be a playoff team, but when things went sideways they embraced being bad and got Jabari Parker for it. But this season the improving Bucks are a playoff team.

The Sixers are an ongoing conversation. And the question is in response will the owners change the lottery system to discourage that level of tanking in the future? And would that even work?

Report: Nets assistant GM Trajan Langdon named GM of Pelicans

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The New Orleans Pelicans continue to rebuild their broken front office. Now that David Griffin has taken his place as the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, the Pelicans are reportedly adding another name to their executive staff.

According to Shams Charania, Brooklyn Nets assistant general manager Trajan Langdon will join Griffin in the New Orleans front office as the team’s new general manager.

Langdon started his front office career as a scout with the San Antonio Spurs, and was named assistant general manager of the Nets in 2016.

Via Twitter:

Brooklyn is a team that has done more with less as of late, and has acted as efficiently as they can particularly as they’ve tried to recover from the moves of a former GM. The Nets moved Billy King Out of the GM job in 2016 in favor for Sean Marks. The Pelicans fired Dell Demps in February.

It looks like the Pelicans are going to do all they can to get Anthony Davis to stay, and that includes a new front office team, upgrades to their practice facility, and a better health and training staff.

Langdon could be just a piece in the puzzle, but he could also be part of the group that has to figure out the best trade package for Davis if the day comes. Either way, New Orleans is regrouping as they move forward with the number one overall pick where they will presumably take Zion Williamson.

Bucks lead East finals 2-0, and now series shifts to Toronto

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry have more than held their own against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton so far in these Eastern Conference finals.

Other than some pretty boxscores, the Toronto Raptors have nothing to show for those efforts.

The supporting cast hasn’t supported much for Toronto, and with what is almost certainly a must-win Game 3 of the East title series looming on Sunday night at home, Raptors coach Nick Nurse is weighing lineup tweaks. Nurse suggested Saturday that Serge Ibaka may start at center over struggling Marc Gasol, and Norman Powell may get minutes that would figure to come at Danny Green‘s expense.

“We’ve got to be better, man,” Nurse said Saturday. “We’ve got to be more physical, we’ve got to hustle more and we’ve got to work harder.”

He may as well have punctuated that by adding “or else.”

In this playoff format that was put into play in 1984, teams that win the first two games at home of a best-of-seven series have ultimately prevailed 94% of the time. And that’s the luxury Milwaukee has right now, leading the series 2-0 after rallying to win the opener and then controlling Game 2 start to finish.

“We can’t rest,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We can’t relax. We can’t assume anything.”

So the odds are stacked against the Raptors. Nurse was told the lack of success teams have when down 0-2 in a series, and insisted he doesn’t care.

“I don’t really give a crap about that,” he said. “I just want our team to come play their (butt) off tomorrow night and get one game and it changes the series.”

Leonard and Lowry are outscoring Antetokounmpo and Middleton 107-77 – which would figure to have been a boon to Toronto’s chances.

It hasn’t worked that way.

Add up everyone else’s scoring in the series, and it’s Bucks 156, Raptors 96. Rebounding has been one-sided in both games, with Milwaukee controlling things on the backboards. Bench scoring has tilted heavily toward Milwaukee as well.

“We’re just trying to be us,” Bucks center Brook Lopez said. “We’re not playing any differently, regular season or postseason. We’re just trying to go out there and play Bucks basketball. It starts with our defense. Getting stops. Getting out. Playing in transition. Playing with pace. Sharing the ball and being aggressive and attacking the basket.”

The Raptors don’t have to look at the history books to know this series isn’t over.

All they need to do is recall the 2012 Western Conference finals. Leonard and Green were with top-seeded San Antonio, and Ibaka was with second-seeded Oklahoma City. The Spurs won Games 1 and 2 at home – then lost the next four, and the Thunder went to the NBA Finals.

“We have another chance to bounce back on Sunday,” Gasol said. “That’s all that matters right now. That’s all that matters.”

 

Andre Iguodala sits fourth quarter with “lower leg soreness,” to get MRI Sunday

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DaMarcus Cousins. Kevin Durant.

Now you might be able to add Andre Iguodala to the list of injured Warriors. He only played 18 minutes in Game 3 Saturday night, none after he was taken out with 7:49 left in the third quarter. Asked about that after the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr listed a hockey injury — lower leg soreness — and said an MRI was coming.

If he has to miss time, that would be another blow to the Warriors. Up 3-0 on Portland, Golden State can close this series out without him, but the Warriors are going to need Iguodala and Durant — and, ideally, Cousins — against the Bucks or Raptors in the NBA Finals starting on May 30.

Iguodala made friends and influenced people when he went back to the locker room late in the first quarter, deciding to flip off the hallway camera on his way.

We will see if the League has anything to say about that or lets it slide.

 

Jordan Bell spectacularly missed dunk, but Warriors reaction was perfect

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Golden State was starting to make its comeback, cutting the lead to eight midway through the third quarter when Draymond Green found Jordan Bell for the breakaway dunk and…

Ouch.

What was impressive though was the Warriors reaction. First, Steve Kerr didn’t take him out. Didn’t bench him, instead left him in and with that showed confidence.

Then there was Draymond Green, who was on ESPN’s Mic’d Up, and was heard encouraging Bell.

Then there was assistant coach Mike Brown, who tried to get Bell out of the moment, in a great story relayed by Ethan Straus of The Athletic.

“So Jordan played against my son Elijah,” Brown explained. “My oldest son played at Mater Dei High School in Orange County and Jordan played at Long Beach [Poly]. So they had a lot of games back in the day. So I went up to him and he thought I was serious, because we took the time out. He’s about to walk out of the huddle and I walk up to him and say, ‘Jordan, listen, don’t worry about the dunk. I saw about three or four of them back in the Long Beach days and you bounced back.’ He fell out laughing. He said, ‘Ah, MB, I didn’t do that back then!’ I said, ‘Yea you did! It’s all good, though!’”

It worked. Bell never lost confidence, never stopped playing the way he plays, and soon enough there was this.

With Portland going smaller and counting on their offense more, Bell is going to have a larger role in that matchup. This is exactly how you build up the confidence of a player so he will come through for you in those moments.