Winning in sports is everything, right? That's what we're told, but apparently that's not always the case. In the latest edition of ESPN The Magazine, one anonymous NBA general manager admits his team is tanking the season for a high draft pick next year.
"Our team isn't good enough to win and we know it," the anonymous executive tells ESPN's Jeff Goodman. "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."
This NBA executive admits tanking the 2013 season to grab one of the blue chip prospects available in the 2014 NBA draft. The most lusted after prospect in the most loaded draft class in years is Andrew Wiggins, the 18-year-old Canadian potential superstar affectionately known as "Maple Jordan," a nod to his homeland and His Airness. Draft Express predicts Wiggins will go number one overall next year. Sports Illustrated just put him on the cover, and mentioned him in the same breath as Wilt Chamberlain. In Canada, sports channels are making excuses to put him on air.
Wiggins is a freshman at Kansas this year, though many expect his college career to end after this season. (He scored 16 points in his college debut.) Wiggins attended the basketball-centric high school Huntington Prep in West Virginia before committing to the Jayhawks. While in high school, Wiggins was very good at making everyone else on the court look very, very bad. (There are unconfirmed, totally unfounded, but so ridiculous they need to be acknowledged rumors Adidas is ready to throw $180 million at this kid.)
The anonymous general manager explains teams need superstars — like Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh — to compete in the NBA, but it's impossible for all but the best teams to recruit those kinds of players since superstars — like Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh — want to play together on superteams. What's the general manager of a bad team to do? Well, their only hope of becoming competitive is to score a superstar-to-be in the draft by being so bad they can get a top pick. So the strategy is: lose, lose, lose all the way to the bottom in order to climb back to the top.
The team owner and coach know, but the players have no idea. "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," the GM says. "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."
So, which team admits to tanking here? Well, it's unclear. A number of teams traded away veteran players for draft picks in the offseason. The Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers all made major moves for top draft picks in the 2014 draft this summer. There are other teams, too, who are planning major moves. Anonymous GM says "look at the [Philadelphia] 76ers," at one point, so we can rule them out. (Unless that was a conscious ploy by both the executive and Goodman meant to throw us off the scent...)
But you know which team would make a whole lot of sense? The Toronto Raptors. Putting Wiggins in Raptor purple in front of his hometown fans (he's from nearby Vaughn, Ontario) would sell season tickets and jerseys by the thousands. Drake wants people to get excited about these Raptors. He knows Maple Jordan already. Andrew Wiggins would get people excited for these Raptors. Please let it be the Raptors. After going 34-48 last season, they don't have that much further to fall.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.