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To tank or not to tank, that is the question

Published 9:12am Tuesday, July 16, 2013

In the world of sports, there may come a time where a team’s general manager or coach has to ask himself, “Am I willing to lose in order to win?”
To some people it’s a legitimate question.
To others, words should never be spoken in the sporting realm in that order. Ever.
But the fact is, “tanking” (purposefully losing games in order to better position yourself for a can’t miss prospect in an upcoming draft) is a very real occurrence for professional teams, no matter the sport.
But with the 2014 NBA Draft looming, talks of tanking are up and running.
Yes, we aren’t that far removed from the 2013 NBA Draft, but this 2014 class is considered by some to be the most loaded NBA draft class in almost a decade.
But the way the NBA Draft works, the worse you are, the better your chances of a good pick.
So, should teams pile up on the losses just to increase the number of ping-pong balls that’ll be tossed about in their favor come draft lottery night?
Especially if next year’s draft is expected to have at least five franchise players available for selection?
I  think the most recent example of a team bottoming out for a potential franchise player was probably the whole “Suck for Luck” campaign where some fans of the Indianapolis Colts urged the team to, uh … take it easy for a few games during the 2011 season.
After all, they had every reason to, with then-quarterback Peyton Manning out indefinitely because of neck surgery and aging a bit and then-Stanford product Andrew Luck being hailed as the best thing to hit the quarterback position since, well, Peyton Manning.
Unsurprisingly, without Manning the Colts sputtered to a 2-14 record, clinched the first pick in the 2012 draft and subsequently drafted Luck.
Now, if you ask the players, they’ll tell you they gave it all they had.
Just so happens that the loss of Manning was too much to overcome.
You could buy that, because right after Luck (read: some semblance of competence) showed up under center, the Colts stormed to an 11-5 record.
This isn’t the only example of alleged tanking.
The San Antonio Spurs are widely believed to have tanked in their quest to land Tim Duncan in 1997.
Boston did the same thing for the same reason, but the Spurs reaped the spoils of defeat.
I mean hey, even in the land of mixed martial arts, there’s a buzz that now former Ultimate Fighting Championship Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva “took a dive” against Chris Weidman because he might have been bored with being the greatest fighter on the planet.
So this begs the question: Should teams or players tank?
Well, it depends on what you call tanking. For me, it’s anything a team does that harms its chances of winning games in attempts to secure future success.
But, take earlier this past NBA season. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sent his four best players home early during a long road trip.
NBA commissioner David Stern had a conniption, as the Spurs were scheduled to play the Miami Heat in  a nationally-televised game that was sure to do considerable viewing numbers for the Association.
Stern fined the team heavily, claiming that what the Spurs did was a disservice to the fans and the league.
To some people, that action constitutes tanking.
To me and other members of the media, it’s a smart coach making a smart decision that had little to no bearing on the Spurs’ future success.
To Stern, it’s the Spurs defying the league by not putting their best product on the floor, when there is no known rule that mandates it.
So even if teams tank for 2014, how will it be punished?
How can you tell – if you can tell, that is?
Should pro teams tank? My instinct says no, and I don’t think the  thought should cross an athlete’s mind.
But as a fan, who mainly wants to see the team succeed by almost any means (within reason) required, if sitting through a lost season is the price you have to pay for possibly 10-12 great ones later on, then what?
After all, there’s a saying that you have to learn how to lose before you can win.
I know some people consider tanking to ruin the essence of the game.
I believe that to be the case.
Still, when the overwhelming objective is to win, and this is how some teams go about it … maybe winning shouldn’t be the overall objective.
But then, the essence of the game would really be screwed up.
Bailey is sports editor for The Outlook.