To tank or not to tank?
That’s what teams are left trying to figure out at the end of disappointing seasons. For some organizations, the entire season is one big tank fest as they rebuild and try to bring some youth and cheap labor to their re-growing roster (see: Bobcats, Charlotte). For other teams, the season just hasn’t gone their way and they go with a “change in direction” for their organization so they start focusing on “the young talent” on the roster (see: Suns, Phoenix). Teams would never admit to tanking because it’s a nightmare in terms of selling your product.
Also, you can’t tell players not to try hard unless they’re Michael Olowokandi. In that situation, he’s WAY ahead of you. You have to finagle the roster and the lineups as an organization to put out a crappy product. But you can’t come out and tell the coaching staff that a guy isn’t allowed to play because you want a higher draft pick. Players get “held out with injuries” because it’s an easier sell than being “held out with hopes of landing a top-3 pick.”
I don’t have a problem with tanking either. I wish the system wasn’t constructed in a way that promotes tanking. I’d rather have an unweighted lottery because it wouldn’t give teams any incentive to put out a crappy product the last three weeks of the regular season. But the system is what the system is. You get more beer pong balls by losing more games and that means more chances at putting together the right combination to win the draft lottery. As long as the system is this way, you would be stupid not to tank in most cases.
It’s kind of silly that teams can’t admit to setting their organization up to fail in the hopes of succeeding in the lottery. If only we had evidence in specific cases to show that tanking can be fun…
The Minnesota Timberwolves have specific needs on the roster. They need shooting (even with the return of Chase Budinger and Kevin Love, it would be nice to have more) and they need athletic wings. If they let Nikola Pekovic walk this summer, they need a backup plan to start at center. While this is the strongest the Wolves’ roster has been on paper in years, there are still holes there.
The beauty of getting a higher draft pick is 1) you’re more likely to select a player with incredible talent and 2) it’s probably going to be cheaper than bringing in a free agent because of the fixed rookie scale. However, I don’t think that’s the way the Wolves should treat the rest of this season. There is too much riding on the summer and too much that still needs to be learned with what this team is for the Wolves to decide they need higher lottery chances.
There are two reasons I think the Wolves have been correct in continuing to fight for wins while hurting their lottery chances:
1) This summer, the Wolves have to make big money decisions with guys like Nikola Pekovic and Chase Budinger. If Andrei Kirilenko opts out, that will be a big decision as well. There will be significant interest in all three players. To make a well-reasoned and informed decision on keeping these three players and approaching the luxury tax, you need more evidence of how they work on the Wolves’ team and in Rick Adelman’s system. We think they work well in theory, but do they complement each other in the proper way?
And if by some chance we do see Kevin Love back in a Wolves uniform this season, you really need to know if they work alongside him.
2) The man pictured at the top of this post needs two more wins to get to 1,000 career wins. This is one of the better coaches of the last 25 years. He doesn’t have a title to show for it and he probably won’t end up getting one unless a lot of things break the Wolves’ way over the next two years. But it doesn’t take away from how incredible he’s been as a coach during his career. 1,000 wins is something he should have passed a month or two ago. Instead, the Wolves had a plethora of injuries and we know how the saga has gone.
With his wife’s health in question, he may not end up coaching again after this season. Even with a couple years left on his contract, it would only be right for him to do what’s best for his family. If that means stepping away from the Timberwolves, then that’s what he should do. If he were to step away without reaching that big round number, it would be unfortunate.
One of the things I’ve learned since I got into this business is the high regard Adelman is held in around the league. Talk to other players, coaches, scouts, and team executives around the league and mention Rick Adelman’s name. The glowing reviews gush outward in an emotional way. Coaches that have won a title, won multiple titles, been coach of the year, etc. discuss how under appreciated Rick is in the game of basketball. And it’s true. With all of the problems the Wolves have had this year, even a season of 20 games under .500 is a pretty decent accomplishment.
He’s never let his team quit. He’s never let them go without learning a lesson, even when the season seemed to be at its lowest point. He’s kept plugging away at a stressful job while he’s have an immensely more pressing matter at home to handle on the side. He’s helped Ricky Rubio grow while trying to build strength in his leg. He’s helped Nikola Pekovic learn how to become a force inside even though it means the team will have to bust out the checkbook this summer. He’s helped Derrick Williams learn what is and isn’t a good play, while learning how to trust the young player with the responsibilities needed to succeed.
The team isn’t successful, but it doesn’t mean the season has been lost. It’s just been a reminder of how finicky the world of the NBA can be. Even when everything is set up for you to take a big leap, there are always obstacles to overcome and to learn from. And that’s what Rick Adelman has done. He’s continued to teach, even as the frustration mounts. I’d be shocked if he actually enjoyed this season because of everything he’s gone through, but I bet he’s found a way to appreciate it. That’s what teachers do. They learn along with their students.
Because of his dedication and legacy, it’s important for the Wolves to learn how to win during this final stretch because it not only benefits their growth, but it also benefits the legacy of a coaching legend. The Wolves have nine chances to get two wins to put Adelman at 1,000 career wins — something only seven coaches in history have done.
While tanking could benefit the Wolves by increasing the odds, it doesn’t benefit the legacy of someone who continues to fight with and for them on the sidelines. Here’s to two more victories for Rick.