The art of the tank

One GM anonymously breaks down his plan to take his team to the toilet

Originally Published: October 29, 2013
By Jeff Goodman | ESPN The Magazine

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OUR TEAM ISN'T good enough to win and we know it. So this season we want to develop and evaluate our young players, let them learn from their mistakes -- and get us in position to grab a great player. The best way for us to do that is to lose a lot of games. This draft is loaded. There are potential All-Stars at the top, maybe even franchise changers. Sometimes my job is to understand the value of losing.

I know that sounds crazy, but if you're an NBA general manager like me, the last place you want to be is in the middle. There are only two outcomes there: Either make the playoffs and be first-round fodder for one of the premier teams or miss the playoffs and pick somewhere around 11th to 14th in the draft. Either way, the odds are that you stay in that middle range. It's a recipe for disaster.

You need superstars to compete in this league, and the playing field for those guys is tilted toward a few big-market teams. They are demanding trades and getting together and deciding where they want to go in free agency. It's tough for us to compete with that. So a high lottery pick is all we have.

... If you're an NBA general manager like me, the last place you want to be is in the middle.

How do you pull it off? First, you talk it over with ownership. I analyzed the team and told them what I wanted to do, the guys I wanted to get rid of and the guys with future value whom we wanted to keep. We obviously traded away some of our veteran guys who gave us a better chance of winning right now for future draft picks and young players. The owners didn't want to tread water any more than I did. They'd rather go down to the bottom with the hope of coming up, so they signed off on it. It wasn't a fight at all. In a different season, it might not make sense, but this draft certainly makes it more appealing.

Our coach understands that too. It's no secret what we're trying to do, and you can't lie to him anyway or you'll lose all trust. We never really had to tell him, because the handwriting is on the wall. He knows exactly what's going on, and he's good with it. What's hard is keeping it from the players. If you took a poll in all 30 locker rooms, regardless of how the roster looks, I bet they'd all say they are a playoff team. That's good, because you want them to play with effort and lose organically. You never tell the players not to try to win a game, but it's obvious that you're putting out a team that's just not good enough to win.

We're not alone. Look at the 76ers. Since the draft in June, I don't think they've signed a player or made a trade to add a legitimate player. A bunch of us realize that our teams aren't good enough talentwise to do anything. You're going to be bad. There's no way around it. And even if you finish 0-82, there's still a 75 percent chance you don't get the No. 1 pick. We're just going to take our lumps and hope our number gets called.

As told to Jeff Goodman

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