Tag Archives: Dwight Howard

As noted here, one of the themes to be explored this season is that a dangerous trend is developing in the NBA, where a belief that championships are the only achievements worth celebrating has led us to undervalue competitiveness. One of the clearest examples of this phenomenon is the prevalence of “tanking,” whereby teams are purposefully not as competitive as they could be in the short term, on the belief that it will maximize their chances of winning a championship in the future.

As a fan of the game, interested in seeing the league – not just my favorite teams – be good, I have a number of issues with this. This line of thinking, which accepts being terrible as an acceptable “means to an end,” takes fan loyalty as a given. To use the Sixers as an example, it assumes that Sixer fans have infinite patience, and are going to remain interested in the team over many years of lousiness. It also assumes that the Sixers have no obligation to the overall product the league is putting out; no obligation to contribute to making the league itself more interesting to the casual fan who isn’t predisposed to watch basketball all the time.

As a fan of the game, I have a gripe with those assumptions. We live in a world where people have multiple options for how they spend their time and money (making it harder for the NBA to attach a casual fan’s attention), where people move between geographic regions regularly (diminishing their connection to the team they grew up rooting for), and where people can access information about all teams almost equally (further diminishing the likelihood that they remain loyal to one team that is terrible for years). The Sixers are assuring that there’s at least one game on the calendar, each night they play, that a casual fan would have no interest in watching. I recognize that the Sixers are pursuing tanking to an extreme degree not matched by other teams. Even other teams that tank, though, are testing the loyalty of their fans and hurting the overall game, while not as dramatically as the Sixers.

In any event, for now, I’ll put aside whether tanking is good for the game, and assume that it’s an acceptable means to an end for a particular team to follow. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t work. Even assuming that a team’s only obligation is to maximize its chances of winning a championship “soon” – as opposed to, ya know, not being pathetic for multiple years – it’s not a good strategy. Look at the standings from the last 3 years: 2013, 2014, and 2015. The same teams miss the playoffs over and over! The following teams have missed the playoffs each of the last three years: Philly, Detroit, Orlando, Utah, Minnesota, Sacramento, Phoenix. Two others were in the playoffs in 2013, then fell into the lottery and show no signs of getting out; Denver and the Lakers. One of the teams that was able to pull itself out caught lightning in a bottle: Cleveland. Others who have been in the lottery at least once in the last three years hardly lit up the playoffs during the other years: New Orleans, Charlotte, Toronto, Boston, and Milwaukee.

It’s easy to say that the same teams are in the lottery every year because they don’t know how to draft. But look at who they’ve picked, and it becomes clear that they often aren’t drafting “busts.” DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Love, Andre Drummond, Andrew Wiggins, Victor Oladipo, and Gordon Hayward were all drafted by one of the teams that’s been in the lottery each of the past three seasons. None of them can be considered a bust. Anthony Davis is certainly no bust, yet he’s now in his fourth season and New Orleans has no playoff series wins to show for it.

There’s more to be explored here, but to wrap this up for now there are a few reasons why the same teams wind up in the lottery over and over:

1. Players who can make a bad team competitive are extremely rare. LeBron joined a terrible Cleveland team and made them instantly competitive. Carmelo joined a terrible Denver team and had them in the playoffs every year he was there. To different degrees, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Steph Curry, Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony Davis, and Derrick Rose all deserve credit for doing that, but in today’s game that’s about it. Tim Duncan, and Kobe Bryant joined teams that were going to be good without them, but let’s give them credit for belonging in this class, too. Let’s throw in Durant, Westbrook, Lillard, and Aldridge, even though it’s not clear exactly who deserves credit for the success their teams had. That’s 18 guys. In a 30 team league. Over a looong period of time – Pierce, Kobe, Garnett, and Duncan have each been in the league for about 20 years. Yet people think it’s sensible for a team to make itself purposefully bad in the short term on the expectation that it will make you good in the long term? I don’t get it. Seems to me that, if you’re purposefully bad in the short term, the only guarantee is that you’ll be bad in the short term.

2. When you’re bad, you’re drafting to “hit a home run.” When you’re competitive, on the other hand, you’re drafting for someone to fit into a structure that works. Just about all of the good teams have guys they drafted outside the lottery. Consider Kawhi Leonard on the Spurs and Draymond Green on the Warriors, to illustrate. Those guys are great – in the roles they’re being asked to fill. There’s no evidence, however, that they could make a bad team good. It’s not a knock on them, just an illustration of why it makes more sense to get competitive rather than stock up on ping pong balls in the lottery. Even look at my man Kristaps (what, you don’t think Kristaps is hanging out with losers who sit around blogging while stuffing their face with Doritos?) to illustrate the point; he’s exceeding anyone’s reasonable expectations, and the Knicks are suddenly 8-6, after being atrocious last year. But as good as KP6 has been, he’s only averaging 13 points and 9 rebounds. If he wasn’t on a team with Carmelo putting up 23 and 7, Knick fans would have much less reason to expect some success in the near future.

3. When you’re bad, you’ve eliminated other ways to make yourself good. The best
free agents generally aren’t leaving their team to join a bad team. And superstars hardly ever get traded for draft picks. So, if you’re bad, your only reasonable hope to get better is to do it through the draft. And that rarely works. (See item #1, above.)

Enough outta me for now. All of this will be explored further this season. For the moment, the point is simply this: Forget trying to wind up with the magic ping pong ball. Wanna win? My suggestion is to try winning, for starters.

Thoughts? Hit me up.


  • Steve Alford's Kid

    Other than the Sixers, who else among the playoff-missers could be characterized fairly as “tanking”? What if some franchises just don’t get it–because of limited resources, bad management, disinterested fan base? With the lottery system revamp, any geek with a calculator should be able to tell management that playing for ping pong balls isn’t a good strategy. So maybe “tanking” is being conflated with “poorly run” or “unlucky” or “indifferent” in this analysis.

  • Tweener

    @ Steve Alford’s Kid, I guess you weren’t listening to sports radio in NY last year, when folks were mad every time the Knicks made a game competitive, because they were in a race for the Knicks to be as bad as possible as quickly as possible.

  • Tweener

    Also, the Lakers have been, to some extent, tanking. I acknowledge that there isn’t always a bright line. But if we define it loosely as “a team not making every effort to be as competitive as it could be now, while stopping short of unreasonably restricting its flexibility in the future,” then the Lakers are there. They essentially pushed Pau Gasol out the door without any veterans who could come close to replacing him, and focused their offseason moves on adding high draft picks who weren’t ready to contribute. Sure, Gasol left as a FA so it’s unclear how responsible the Lakers were for it, but it’s not like the Lakers moved heaven and earth to get him to stay. He was benched for large parts of his final season there. And sure, maybe they simply misjudged Randle and Russell. But, if you’re pushing out productive veterans, and replacing them with 19-year-old rookies, that’s some degree of tanking. For all I know, Randle and Russell might turn out to be great years down the road, but right now the Lakers are terrible and there’s no indication that they’ll be competitive any time soon.

  • Lance

    You’re right – tanking is never the right way to go, however, let’s look at the top 3 teams in the NBA right now. Not sure if they got extremely lucky or their scouting department is just superior to others…

    Spurs – landed Duncan when they didn’t have the best odds in the lottery. Stuck with what everyone thought to be an average coach in Popovich (he was fired previously). I like to think picking Parker and Manu was smart scouting. But Kawhi – the 15th pick! He couldn’t shoot a lick in college and now he’s almost a 50% 3 point shooter. He’s the best defender in the league and probably a 1st team all NBA player. The Spurs (mainly Pop) deserve tons of credit for developing him, but they got a little lucky right? You’re telling me 14 teams looked at Kawhi and said, eh he’s not that good, but the Spurs scouts knew something else? I don’t believe that. Of course Pop gets the most out of nobodies (fat Boris, Patty “lights-out” Mills and BOGAN) and that is HUGE, but the Spurs aren’t the dynasty that we have come to love without a ton of luck.

    GSW – Curry fell to them at 7 in the draft. The Wolves picked 2 POINT GUARDS ahead of him (Kahn). That was ridiculous when it happened and still ridiculous. And no one thought this little Davidson shooter was going to be this good…no one. And Draymond – 2nd rounder who really freaking competed but had weight and height problems. Turns out he’s the absolute perfect fit for this Dubs team. And you’re totally right – no chance does Draymond make a terrible team great, but on this Dubs team, it’s the perfect harmony. Again – lucky?

    Cavs – besides for the obvious luck of Lebron being born in Cleveland and feeling the need to bring a championship to his hometown, they’ve won the lottery how many times? 4 – which has netted them Lebron, Kryie and Love (via Wiggins). (Sidenote, because I know you hate Love, – there’s a lot of talk about what he can’t do, and that’s very valid – below average defender, can’t rim protect, sometimes hangs out on the 3 point line too much, etc. But let’s talk about what he can do – he’s a double double machine, excellent defensive rebounder, excellent passer and elite stretch 4 on offense (which is quite possibly the most important position in today’s NBA). Oh and his basketball IQ is well above average. All this talk about trading Love is nonsense.

    My point is – I don’t know. But I do know that tanking is clearly not the right strategy, but not tanking is also not going to get you there. Maybe my point is – luck plays more of a role than we’d like to think?

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When LeBron came into the league, I wanted to watch him chase greatness.  Really, I did.

I’d be dishonest if I said that I actively rooted for him to surpass Magic, Michael, and Larry, but I  certainly wanted to watch him try.  Watching historic greatness is one of the most fun things for a basketball fan to do.  Fans of different generations have the guys whom they defend in arguments about who was the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time, for those who aren’t familiar with the acronym).  I already got to watch Michael, and I was interested to see what the Next Big Thing did.

I wasn’t sure I liked him – his “Chosen 1” tattoo is kind of obnoxious, as far as I’m concerned – but I was willing to reserve judgment until I saw how he handled the difficult moments. To me, that’s the true test of greatness – how one handles the difficult moments.

After watching his career in Cleveland, I felt like he was a disappointment.  It’s not that he did anything wrong, in fact, he was phenomenal.  It’s just that he didn’t live up to the hype.  (To be fair, I don’t know that anyone could have.)  True greatness, the type that puts someone among the top-10 players ever, manifests itself consistently, with hardly any deviation.  It does not manifest itself in magnificent bursts, followed by disappointing disappearances.  That’s why LeBron’s career in Cleveland – capped by his incomprehensible performance last year in Boston during the playoffs – left me feeling like he failed to live up to the hype.

In any event, by the time the off-season rolled around, that was water under the bridge, and the questions shifted from LeBron’s past to his future.  He stood at a fork in the road, with a decision to make.  (You might have heard about it.  It had its own TV show, called The Decision.)  One path was The Easy Way Out, and the other was The Path To Greatness.  He was perfectly within his rights to choose either one, so all of the LeBron defenders who tell me that it’s a free country, and we all get to choose where we want to work, can spare me. I’m not saying he didn’t have the right to make The Decision he made.  I’m saying that his Decision, like all decisions, has consequences.  And the consequence should be that he took himself out of the debate about who’s the G.O.A.T.  He might win a championship, but he’s out of the running for The Crown, The Heavyweight Championship, The Top Spot On The Totem Pole.

Rather than try to elaborate with my own words, I resort, as I often do when explaining something important, to the wisdom of Yoda.  (Admittedly, I’m too angry right now to claim to be following all of Yoda’s words.  But whatever.  LeBron’s the one who tattooed “Chosen 1” on his body.  I’m just a fat guy sitting at a keyboard.  Nobody is mistaking me for a Jedi Knight, or for one of the greatest basketball players of all time.)

Yoda knew that The Easy Way Out is not The Path To Greatness.  He explained it to Luke in the following dialogue:

Yoda: Yes, run! Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.

Luke: Vader… Is the dark side stronger?

Yoda : No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.

Quoting Yoda is appropriate, because, watching the Heat march through the playoffs this year, I think often of the scene in Star Wars when Obi-Wan and Anakin battle.  Anakin embodies LeBron; the talented young Chosen One, who does not want to pay his dues to earn the glory he thinks he deserves.  Obi-Wan embodies the great players who came before LeBron.  Each of them resisted the path that tempted LeBron (Ewing never ran to Utah to play with Stockton and Malone, Barkley never ran to Detroit to play with Isiah and Dumars, etc., etc., etc.)

Here’s a link to a video of the battle.  (If you’re not interested in lightsaber fights, you should skip to 5:30, when the important dialogue begins, or, if you’re really antsy, to about 6:50, which is right before Obi-Wan cries out “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE!!!!!)

Is comparing him to Darth Vader too harsh?  Maybe.  But he’s the one who got a tattoo that says “Chosen 1,” and then took The Easy Way Out, so he essentially invited a comparison to Anakin Skywalker.  Don’t blame me.

Whether it’s  too harsh or not, the bottom line is that LeBron’s Decision (you know, the one that had its own tv show) can destroy the game.  Now that a precedent has been set that joining up with a team that’s already set to contend for a title can be a legitimate way for a potential G.O.A.T. to boost his legacy, the future of the game has been put at risk.  Competition is the very essence of the game we love, and if it becomes possible to achieve the perception of greatness while ducking competition, well… then we gots problems.

To illustrate, ask yourself: what should Chris Paul do when he becomes a free agent?  What should Dwight Howard do?  What if they don’t want to take the Easy Way Out, but they also don’t want to be martyrs, who, just for the sake of courage, spend their careers without a legitimate chance to win a title?  Because of The Decision (I don’t know whether you heard about it – it had its own tv show), they have little choice.  Even superstars who want to take the Path To Greatness see that the obstacles on that road are now more daunting than they used to be.  Cowardice now seems like the only way for a superstar to wind up on a contender.

The game is now heading for a future where 3 or 4 teams have clusters of stars, and the rest of the teams in the NBA have no shot at competing.  In other words, the game is serious trouble.  All because The Chosen One selfishly made a Decision to take The Easy Way Out.

Thankfully, all is not lost.  LeBron has chosen the Dark Side, and his march to a championship continues, but there are still two ways for the game we love to be saved.  The first way involves we fans saving it from the selfish Chosen One.  We fans are the ones who control the legacies of the people who play the game, which means that we have control to ensure that cowardice is not rewarded.  To do so, we must pay close attention, because it is sometimes hard to perceive the difference between The Easy Way Out and the Path To Greatness.  On both roads, one needs help from teammates to reach the end.  On both roads, one can accomplish extraordinary things.  The difference is that, on The Easy Way  Out, there are places to rest, and have your teammates carry you closer to the finish line.  On The Path To Greatness, there is no rest.

Having chosen The Easy Way Out, LeBron now gets to rest.  He now winds up in the NBA Finals after having two playoff games of 15 points, and one of 16 points.  These are the types of things that happen while traveling The Easy Way Out, but not The Path To Greatness.  We fans must keep this in mind, and not treat him as one of the top-10 players ever.  Then, hopefully, the other superstars who will one day stand at a fork in the road will have the courage to avoid the path that the Chosen One selected.

The second way to save the game we love is for the Chosen One to lose.  As Yoda said: “”Stopped they must be; on this all depends. Only a fully trained Jedi Knight, with the Force as his ally, will conquer Vader.  I know it is a challenge, young Jedi, for Vader is very powerful, and he has surrounded himself with a roster of teammates who were capable of competing for a championship without him.  If you end your training now, young Jedi – if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did – you will become an agent of evil.  Because, unlike Vader, young Jedi, you do not have teammates who can carry you when you are weary.  If you rest for even a moment, young Jedi, you will allow Vader to win.  So, listen to me, Dirk, and continue to train.  Then go drop 50 on his cowardly butt, and you can save your game from destruction.”

1 Comment:

  • Enlighted One

    Wow. That is a lot of Hate!!! You definitely would be nominated for Hater of the year at the Hater’s Ball (DC Show ref).

    That being said, did Magic play with Kareem and Worthy? Didn’t Clyde Drexler and some others team up with Hakeem to win. Also didn’t Malone and Payton team up with Shaq and Kobe to win a championship. Shaq played with Kobe (arguably both could be considered in the top 5 to ever play the game). Jordan and Pippen were nominated in the 50 best players ever and Jordan is arguably the best to ever play. For all the hate that everyone has against Lebron for choosing who he works with it, it sums up to jealousy. Last night Van Gundy stated this and he made a great point.

    Lebron should be applauded and emulated. Lets look at some of the positives he has done verse others in our beloved sport – he actively sought out Warren Buffet. He took the power of making his professional life more fulfilling. Don’t we all do this when we search for a new job or career. He has two kids with the same woman and has never been accused of negative or illegal activities. So far he has embraced being a role model. He plays team first basketball – what he loves passing – the horror. He loves playing defense – don’t follow that habit.

    I hope Lebron wins, dances, and then Miami throws a party even more out there then their intro party. When this happens you will see me in the middle of it. Don’t hate because our game is captivating and beautiful to watch.

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