Monday, March 3, 2014

Don't be angry at Bryan Colangelo for tanking -- he couldn't even if he tried

So, Bryan Colangelo, the namesake of this past-its-best-before-date screed factory, admitted to tanking the '11-'12 Raptors season at the Sloan Sports Analytic Conference at MIT this past weekend. And our lovable beat grunt, sensing some perceived outrage at Colangelo's perceived rebuilding project during the strike shortened season, took it upon himself to stick up for the little guy (little guy being a giant, wealthy basketball executive who performed super poorly at his job for at least seven years).

The combination of Colangelo's campaign for to re-write a history that would have earned the title "Worst GM in the NBA" if not for David Kahn, and Doug Smith's not unexpected giant swing-and-miss of the point, has inspired me to pull out our late, loved gimmick and FJM the shit out of this charged defence of who-the-fuck knows:

Of BC and doing the right thing but using the wrong word

Perhaps the most telling part of the Bryan Colangelo story that surfaced Friday was how people have glommed on to one word.

"Shitty?" Is the word "shitty?" As in, "I, Bryan Colangelo, am a talented wearer of French cuffs but shitty at generally managing an NBA team."



It is the hot-button issue in the NBA these days, the connotation that teams are trying intentionally get worse, and therefore lose games, in an effort to get lucky in the draft or the draft lottery and throwing it out there as he did as part of a far more wide-ranging discussion took away from the reality of his situation and the reality of the NBA today.

In an electronic conversation Saturday, Bryan admitted the use of the word was “misused, misinterpreted and inappropriate” but, really, in a lot of ways the whole thing was, to me, much ado about nothing.

I don't think it was any of those things even a little wee bit. Bryan Colangelo wants you (and you and you at home) to believe he was setting up the Raptors to shit the bed because it backwards rationalizes six previous years of asset mismanagement. This is the same dude who, just last summer, intimated that the team would have been in better shape had management not tied his hands and demanded he produce an immediate playoff team. Now he claims he was strategically positioning the team for the draft lottery. It rings about as true as a flunking student claiming he's actually very smart but chose not to try.

Look, we all know where I stand on the issue of “tanking” which to me is intentionally making your team worse. For instance, what the Philadelphia 76rs have done is despicable and I hope the fail miserably. They gave away an all-star in Jrue Holiday for a kid they knew might not play this entire season and if that’s not trying to lose, I don’t know what is.

It's a gamble to acquire assets. Maybe the Sixers could have competed this season but they were most likely not a playoff team with Holiday, even in the atrocious East. They bought high on Holiday and chose instead to turn him into draft picks and the rights to Nerlins Noel, who many touted as the best talent in the '13 draft. Now they're playing rookie Michael Carter-Williams who is, so far, half the shooter Holiday is, but makes less than a third thanks do those sweet rookie-scale contracts. They also hold ALL THE DRAFT PICKS. Is that despicable? Are they throwing games? Are they grabbing Ricky Davis rebounds? Maybe they'll whiff on the draft pick(s), or maybe the NBA whiffed on the whole draft or maybe even if they find the next John Wall or Kyrie Irving or even Kevin Love, they'll never reach the promised land. I don't know how to handicap that possibility but whether or not Jrue Holiday is manning point for them is hardly a last straw.

If there’s a Basketball God, the Sixers will finish with the fourth worse record and drop in the lottery to seventh in a six-player draft.

Is it weird that I wouldn't be in the least surprised if Doug Smith actually believed in basketball theism?

On the other side of the coin, what the Milwaukee Bucks have done, I am quite fine with. They suck, no question about it, but they suck because they tried to be okay and failed, they are not the worst team in the league because they want to be.

They sucked the right way! But they don't nearly have the assets or the financial flexibility to accept salaries, sign free agents or trade draft picks. You might be fine with it, Doug, but should Bucks fans be?

What happened in Toronto bore no resemblance to Philadelphia whatsoever and those taking Colangelo to task for what he said are missing a bigger point.

This unnamed *those* are missing the bigger point and so is Doug. Sam Hinkie, GM of the Sixers, divested of expensive or soon-to-be expensive players that might have nabbed them an extra few wins in exchange for a platter of assets that could help them win three or four years down the road. Bryan Colangelo traded a first-round pick for James Johnson then traded James Johnson for a second-round pick. The Raptors landed on the 8th pick and chose Terrence Ross (projected to go about 14th). Had Colangelo really wanted to "tank" he would have divested assets like Bargnani and Kleiza. But, of course, he didn't have the wherewithal to know which of his players were good and not good at basketball. And that, Doug Smith, was the biggest point.

Now, if he’d given away, say, DeMar DeRozan for a bucket of has-been 34-year-olds on expiring contracts, I would have been all over him for trying to lose but he didn’t.


We have had our issues in the past – I thought the DeMar DeRozan contract extension was ill-advised because they were bidding against themselves, I said right off the bat that getting Rudy Gay for Jose Calderon and Ed Davis may have improved Toronto in one area but weakened the Raptors in two others – but I’m quite okay with the season in question and how he handled it.

Yeah, you did say the DeRozan contract was ill-advised but in the weakest possible terms. I don't even have to look back at your reaction at the trade for Gay since you just hedged right there. Right in front of me! Do you owe Colangelo money?

He had some young kids he wanted to find out about and he did. It’s not much different than this year, when the Raptors have a couple of young kids they want to find out about in Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas and they are finding many positives. Heck, the Raptors were a Ben Uzoh triple double – A BEN UZOH TRIPLE DOUBLE!!!! – from perhaps getting a higher pick and that’s about as far from giving away talent for nothing – which is what tanking is to me – than imagineable.

Again, Sixers gave away talent for real things... but I digress. Yes, we agree, the Raptors were not great in '11-'12 because they were not great. Bargnani was making more than $9 million. Barbosa, more than $7. I've argued that their 22-44 record was a surprising over achievement that included the emergence of Ed Davis, a fantastic Calderon season and even Bargs had a few good shooting nights.  I wrote about it here.

I know Bryan pretty well, having been around him for the entirety of his time with the Raptors and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that he hated when his team lost. He used the word “painstaking” to describe them and, trust me, it was to him.

I truly believe you believe this. I believe he believed this. I do not believe he had any idea what the difference between a good and a bad team was.

He would never do anything to assure that they did and when he typed Saturday of his Boston appearance “I was very clear that I never asked the coach to intentionally lose games, nor would I ever do so, but rather to establish a culture and develop our young players which would come at an obvious and unavoidable cost...losing an inordinate amount of games” he was absolutely right.

He didn't ask the team to throw games. What a gentleman. Also ?

There is such a hugely negative connotation these days to “tank” that using the word obscures the bigger issue.

Is the negative connotation furthered by your description of the Sixers strategic plan as "despicable?"

The there is no doubt that the current system is flawed, just as there is no doubt the league office is aware of those flaws and that the system needs studying, a fact commissioner Adam Silver has acknowledged since he took over this month.

If the result of the draft lottery system is that Sam Hinkie gets rewarded and Bryan Colangelo got canned then I think everything's working fine. Even if there are real consequences to warped incentives, I am certain Bryan Colangelo was never both holding the cards and making the right reads to take advantage.

The discussion on Friday centred on the idea of a “wheel” for awarding teams draft picks in perpetuity and whether they fix things that way, which I don’t think it’s workable because there are so many future picks bouncing around from trades that it seems blatantly unfair to make such a radical change with an uneven playing field.


But whether it’s that or they use a two-year record window or go back and pick a spot in the season and use it as a basis for the draft, something has to change.


I will say this with much conviction:

If Bryan hadn’t used the word “tank” when discussing a system that rewards failure and is counter-intuitive to the goal of teams – which is to win games and have young players get the opportunity to improve or to find out what they really are – it would have either been a non-story or a lot of people would be saying today: “Hey, he’s making a valid point that everyone agrees on, they need to find a way to fix things.”

The object of basketball is to win games AND have young players get the opportunity to improve?

Maybe in some crazy circular way, he kept alive a conversation that the league’s owners and GMs should be have more seriously now.

Maybe in an inane, circular way, Doug Smith believes that the Sixers are bad, the Bucks are good and that Bryan Colangelo was savvy enough to tank. Also ???????????

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