Nba nerd

Which Treadmill Were The Rockets On?

One of the big problems around talking about tanking is that everybody seems to define it differently depending on the narrative they want to tell. Consider this article on Yahoo Sports:

Tanking is not the practice of losing as many games as possible in order to get a franchise savior in the NBA Draft. Tanking is the practice of rebuilding a roster by fully disassembling it, maximizing cap space, and collecting assets. And yes, sometimes "collecting assets" includes collecting what Houston GM Daryl Morey calls "the number one asset in the NBA" — a top-five pick on a rookie contract

This comment is...less than useless. If you're simply defining a word as whatever it is you want the word to mean – with no regard to how the rest of the world defines that word – then you aren't actually contributing to the discussion. If I refused to understand that people actually mean "brings up the question" when they say "begs the question" – because literally nobody still uses that phrase to mean "assuming the concluson of an argument" anymore – I'd just be this useless third wheel in every conversation because none of my responses to the proverbial question would make any sense.

In other words, how the hell can a team that hasn't had a losing season in nearly ten years ever be considered an example of "tanking"? How can you honestly say, with a straight face, that this is what anyone means when they use the word "tanking"? In fact, I thought getting bounced in the first round of playoffs every year was the dreaded "treadmill of mediocrity". That was a phrase coined to justify tanking, because, clearly, those teams weren't going to land a franchise player as fast as those teams that land a coveted top draft pick. Obviously that never happens.

Come on. Tanking is not a rigorously defined term, but no one but the author of this piece will claim that it means winning 42+ games every year.

But you have to think about the narrative. The simple narrative, which Occam's Razor tells us is the most likely explanation of success in the NBA, is this: good players win games. Good players stay good. Teams that get good players win games, and stay good. Exhibit A: the Spurs. Their two-decades-long courtship of excellence goes way beyond landing Tim Duncan. Consider the fact that they are currently on an 18-game winning streak, while on pace for setting a record for "lowest minute total for top 5 rotation players". Or put simply, the Spurs still crush opponents when Duncan, Parker, or Ginobli sit out games or play 20 minutes in a game, and this has been happening for years.

But frankly, that narrative is ****ing boring. It's way more exciting to use narratives around luck, conspiracy, or a spinning tale in which our hero GM had to bend the laws of space, time, and the CBA to somehow construct a winning team even though all of the big market teams were out to get him!

Patrick seems to inhabit a different universe than I do. I guess in Patrick's alternate universe, the term "tanking" is rigorously defined and the entire "rest of the world defines that word" exactly the same.

In my universe, folks almost NEVER agree on what is considered tanking. It's why you have lots of articles with titles like "Why 'rebuilding' in the NBA is not the same thing as 'tanking'" or "What actually is tanking, and which NBA teams actually do it?". In my universe, it is almost a daily occurrence that some writer will define tanking in a way different than I do.

As it happens, I think that the definition of "tanking" used by the linked Yahoo! writer is precisely the opposite of how I think the term should be used. As I use the term (and think the term should be used in general), tanking IS "the practice of losing as many games as possible in order to get a franchise savior in the NBA Draft" and IS NOT "rebuilding a roster by fully disassembling it, maximizing cap space, and collecting assets". But to say, as Patrick does, that the whole world uses the term one way seems to me to be wrong.

(I think, BTW, that the Rockets were in fact rebuilding in summer 2012. But that process was accelerated when Harden became available later that summer, so we never got to see a rebuilding Rockets team on the floor. If you define tanking as rebuilding - which, again, is not how I define it, but is how the linked writer defines it - I think that the article is accurate in characterizing the Rockets process in summer 2012.)
I think that tanking (in any context) involves trying to lose games in an effort to gain competitive advantage. (Sometimes both teams try to lose, and then one will win despite trying to lose.)

Playoff teams may tank in this more general sense. For example, the 2006 Clippers may have deliberately lost to the Grizzlies to get a better playoff position. Ostensibly in response, the NBA changed it's playoff format.

Houston isn't trying to lose, so they're not tanking. This alternative notion of tanking seems like the sort of thing that an apologist would come up with.
Good God Al! Is it possible for you to miss Patrick's point more than you actually did. You claim that Patrick said, and I quote, " to say, as Patrick does, that the whole world uses the term one way seems to me to be wrong."

What did Patrick actually say? and I quote, "Tanking is not a rigorously defined term."

Of course, Patrick goes on to say "no one but the author of this piece will claim that it means winning 42+ games every year." In other words, whatever the definition of tanking might be to someone ... winning 42+ games every year AIN'T IT.

There is a world of difference between a consensus about what a word means and a consensus about what a word definitely does not mean. For example, you and I (and other reasonable people) may disagree about what is "good" food and what is "bad" food, but pretty much human can agree that dog poop is not "good" food. If someone tried to convince you that dog poop was good food, you think they were nuts.

Well, that is what the writer is doing. How can anyone claim a team that hasn't had a draft pick higher than 12 since 2006 is tanking?

Sure, people rarely agree on the precise meaning of many words, but human interaction pretty much requires that words have SOME meaning.

Do you honestly think that if you asked 100 random people/basketball fans/NBA fans/NBA front office personnel to define tanking that someone would define it as "rebuilding a roster by fully disassembling it, maximizing cap space, and collecting assets"?

I rarely comment on this or any other site because I don't have the time or inclination, but on some occasions I see something written that involves such a combination of irrational thought/cognitive dissonance/irony/etc that I just have to respond.

Congrats for making the list.


You beat me to it Aeneas, that was an impressive display of incomprehension by Al.
Al,

What Aeneas said.

The color "red" is also not rigorously defined, because you might think something is Maroon and I think it is red. But we can both agree on what's NOT red, like (for example), honeybees and polar bears.

And if you try to bend the word "red" to describe the color of both of those things, then basically, I get to ignore your opinions about the color red.
Patrick, a few things.

1. Although I don't agree that Houston ever tanked, I do agree that they "began tanking". They were planning on tanking and then James Harden popped up and they changed direction. The only problem was, they never got a chance to play any games because they got a chance to improve their team during that same summer. Now, I would never go as far as to say they tanked, but I don't think the Yahoo article is THAT far off.

2. The color red is in fact rigorously defined. It's definition is visible light with wavelength in the range of 635 to 700 nm. Maroon actually happens to also be defined, it's a combination of red, green, and blue with specific amounts of each one. The color of any object can be measured and determined with precision and we can scientifically determined whether something is red or maroon.
Galin,

What proof do you offer for #1? This probably boils down to the fact that I think Scola, whom they amnestied, is terrible, and Asik, whom they signed, is very good.

I don't agree that amnestying an awful and overpaid player and signing a good center are evidence that they were beginning to tank.

Also, the Harden signing wasn't in the summer, it was like 3 days before opening day, at the end of the preseason. Your memory of that offseason differs from mine in many ways, it seems.
I agree that any team intelligent enough to sign Asik probably wasn't trying to tank. As usual they were building assets which did eventually lead them to getting a star player.
Smh at this dumbass semantics garbage. Patrick is completely right. Say what you will about "tanking doesn't have an exact accepted meaning" and all this other pseudo-philosophical shit, but it's pretty obvious that when people say "tanking", they mean "trying to lose." And the Rockets were sure as fuck not doing that.
I agree with Patrick that the Yahoo Sports article's treatment of "tanking" falls well outside the coverage of the term "tanking" as used and widely understood by NBA (and other sports) fans generally.

I do think that, even when we restrict ourselves to the definition of "tanking" as an organization (particularly the front office, but conceivably the coaches and players) "intentionally trying to lose games," there's plenty of room for debate about what that actually looks like, and therefore which teams are actually tanking.

For instance, it's become the conventional wisdom that the Sixers are "tanking." It's true that we’ve seen a lot of Byron Mullens in a Sixers uniform lately, but the fact is, Hinkie took over a terribly managed team, laden with bad players on even worse contracts, and he’s managed to turn these “assets” into a ton of picks.

There’s a big difference between, one the one hand, buying into the “treadmill of mediocrity” theory and destroying a good team in order to lose, and on the other hand, blowing up a bad team with bad contracts in order to start fresh with a major youth movement. I think what Hinkie has done has been generally popular with the Wins Produced set, and I don’t know if it’s fair to call what he’s been doing “tanking,” as has been suggested on this site and elsewhere.
But no, obviously, the Rockets aren't tanking. I just don't think the Sixers are either; at any rate, saying the Sixers are tanking would be a very narrow construal of the intentions they've displayed under Hinkie.
But no, obviously, the Rockets aren't tanking. I just don't think the Sixers are either; at any rate, saying the Sixers are tanking would be a very narrow construal of the intentions they've displayed under Hinkie.
Patrick,

When I said summer, my point was before the regular season started.

And as far as signing Asik, I'm not sure that just because a team signs one or two decent players, it automatically means they are not tanking and that they plan on winning immediately. Do you really think Houston's team before signing Harden was going to challenge for a playoff spot?

Where I'm going with this is, what do you think Houston's plans were for that season if Harden wasn't on the market? I guess we'll never know, but to me it doesn't sound like they were gonna fight for a playoff spot. I could certainly be persuaded otherwise, open to further discussion.
If Harden wasn't on the market Houston would have still signed Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons would have still been awesome, and they would have had Kevin Martin on their roster for the year.

That probably wouldn't have been enough to make the playoffs in the west, but it looks like a 0.500 team that hangs around contention for the 8 seed until the last week of the season to me. It certainly isn't a tank job by any means.
Galin,

There's a huge difference, though, between failure to "challenge" for a playoff spot, and intentionally destroying the kind of mediocre-to-moderately-good roster that the Rockets had before the Harden trade (and the Howard signing, also). The Rockets have understood for years (and do so more acutely under Morey) that intentionally screwing up a team so as to improve one's draft position is a losing game; whether or not they expected to "fight" for a playoff spot absent Harden, Howard etc. tells us nothing about whether, before the H/H acquisitions, they had intended to worsen the team so as to improve their draft position.

I think history suggests that the Rockets were not doing that (tanking); they were on the treadmill for a while, and then acquired a few superstars to complement competent players, and now they're a contender. The Rockets aren't a tanking team. Their hypothetical and counterfactual plans in the absence of Harden, etc. are not really relevant to the evaluation of their strategy over the last few years.
BPS and John,

good points. I actually somehow forgot Kevin Martin was on that team, I guess that makes a decent difference, among other things. I've just recently started following NBA in more depth and it seems I didn't do my research well enough this time :)
Galin,

Most posters lack the honesty, guts, and self-confidence to admit any error, regardless how minor. Good show.
^ This

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