There is a thrill to this, the giddy unknown, the lightness of possibility. What could they be? What will they become? You don’t know what’s inside them, how they will handle the attention and their talent and the future, but this looks like the kind of draft class where you don’t just have to luck into the top pick to change your franchise. The last time a raft of teams tried to lose to get stars, it was for the 2003 draft, where James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all went in the top five. It ended badly, but it beat the alternative.
And that is why even though Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri is loathe to lose on purpose, hates the way it can poison a culture and hurt your reputation, and has promised patience and long-range thinking, it is time to tank. You can argue that letting Rudy Gay become the first player since at least 1985 to take 37 shots and not score 30 points is like tanking, or that DeMar DeRozan and Gay’s combined low-efficiency mess is tanking, or that coach Dwane Casey’s strange rotation and in-game coaching is tanking.
But Gay and DeRozan aren’t this bad, and Kyle Lowry will get healthier, and this team will plod around the soggy middle. Yes, it would be very difficult to move Gay and get real value back. Yes, DeRozan and Lowry are in sell-low mode. Yes, Utah’s already out ahead, and Sacramento’s a mess, but Philadelphia and Phoenix and Boston have accidentally won some games, although it might not last. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski pretended to have never heard of tanking after Tuesday’s game, saying, “If that is happening, shame on whoever is doing it.”
No. Because the world is based on incentives and probabilities, and sometimes you have to work lousy jobs, or play lousy players, to get where you need to go. It won’t be easy, but tank. Blow it up. Fall apart as hard as you can, and reach for the stars.