Tanking Revisited

The land of Blazermania is in a post-devastation way right now. Like a disaster area after the clean-up crews, FEMA, the media, and insurance payouts are gone, Blazer fans are in a sad malaise looking around at what once were the shiny hopes of dynastic championships. "Wreck it all and start over" is a prevalent thought.

Probably due to this malaise, it seems like the issue of measuring success of this team only by its ability to win (multiple?) championships comes up more often. It's been disturbing me lately because it seems like "tanking" or otherwise razing the team down and sacrificing whole seasons on the hope of more lottery-bound picks has gained momentum and adherents.

Why should it bother me? Isn't it a viable strategy? I've been noodling this one over--because it is a viable strategy--but I loathe it every bit as much as I loathe teams like Miami that simply buy up stars and purchase their championships.

This came home to me as I was watching the opening play of some mid-conference college teams. You're a booster of, say, University of Northern Iowa. You purchase their season tickets and attend all their stuff as an alumnus. Why? I can guarantee you that UNI will never, ever, ever win the NCAA tournament. They will never land the high-prospect high school athlete. Your hopes and dreams and cheers and money will always end in futile defeat if you measure your loyalty to UNI by the championship banners that hang from the rafters.

Instead, you cheer for other reasons. The MVC banner, the occasional top-10 ranking, the Cinderella-style stunning defeat of a major power in the first round of the NCAA, the occasional Kyle Korver type player who makes the NBA (even when they're from a rival school like Bradley Creighton).

I want cheering for Portland to mean something. I live in Illinois but read the news obsessively and am absurdly happy to pay for the NBA ticket and watch games until midnight. I do those things not necessarily because I expect a championship out of that investment. I do not want Portland to purchase banners by bringing in large numbers of free agents from other cities. I do not want Portland to intentionally tank in order to land rookie prospects.

Instead, I want Portland basketball to mean something distinct and separate from other teams. I have to think it's true in college sports as well where alma mater teams mean something special to the fans that have been there and associated with the school.

  • I want an offensive system that is not star-dominated but team-oriented and passing-oriented. A system that makes near-stars out of lackluster players so that they seem to have their best years with Portland. I don't like seeing Frye or others being said to work better in other systems.
  • I want a signature defense of hustle. That's one of the reasons I loved Grant and have high hopes for Leonard.
  • I want smart draft picks that yield smart players able to operate in complex systems. Good teams can't draft the athletic studs in the first 6 rounds? Fine, get the sound talents that have the chops to run the "Portland system." Could this have been Andre? Was this what made Stockton great?
  • I love international players. I liked Petro and Sabonis and Sergio and Batum and even Khryappa (sp?) and all the rest. It makes me feel better to think I could travel to Spain or some place and be able to talk Blazers with folks.

I also want to make the playoffs. I want to cheer for someone in the post-season. But if I have those other things, I don't necessarily need the banners and the dynasties. I think of runs from Utah and Portland and Phoenix among others and I can be content with that. Even better that, unlike UNI, we can actually win a championship out of this.

So no tanking please. No more quadrant grids telling me when I should or shouldn't be happy based on potential. No more whining about how hard it is to watch a team that can't possibly win it all. It's not why I watch.

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