On the morning before the New York Knicks suffered their 37th loss of the season, when Carmelo Anthony was asked about the benefits of “tanking” he was quick to shoot down any notion of purposeful losing. As admirable as his rebuke sounded, it really wasn’t because a few hours later, it become obvious that tanking isn’t something this roster even has the skill to execute.
With just 20 games left in the season and roughly two months away from the lottery of one of the deepest draft classes in years, there seems to be a disconnect wedged between fans, players, and the Knicks front office over how to approach the final weeks of the season. Lead by Melo, Knicks players have shown no interest in pulling themselves back from a final playoff push, which is understandable considering the competitive nature of professional athletes.
Fans on the other hand seem to be split on whether to root against their team in hopes of increasing their odds for a future All-Star draft pick, or craving for the first playoff basketball games at the Garden in four years. The reality, however, is that in between these two different paths, it’s up to Phil Jackson to assert how the Knicks should end the year.
The benefits of tanking are hard to ignore when compared to an almost certain first round playoff obliteration, but what’s typically overlooked when it comes losing on purpose is that it’s very difficult to expect of players. Unlike fans, many players don’t have as much personally invested in the future success of a particular franchise due to how frequent players bounce around different teams. Front offices and fans may have the patience to wait 3-5 years for a full rebuild, but it’s not in the best interest of most players to waste away in a losing environment during their prime years.
So in other words, when Melo, Rose, and even Hornaceck give quotes about pushing for the playoffs, don’t get mad at them. Direct that anger to the front office instead since they are the ones charged with managing a team’s development into a contending one.
Tanking has become one the league’s most gnawing issues since it rewards losing and further dilutes their product of entertaining basketball. Yet, very little has been done to solve this issue and until something is done to correct it, it’s in many teams’ best interest to lose as much as possible in order to obtain better, younger, and less expensive players. After all, there are really only about 2-3 teams a year that are in contention, so without realistic hopes of winning, the logical goal for most teams is to obtain as many lottery picks as possible. This is especially so since the worst place for a team to be in today’s NBA is the massive no mans land between contention and being lottery bound.
You would be hard pressed to find any Knick player openly talking about tanking though. Even as the losses pile up and playoff hopes appear more impractical, no player is going to admit to wanting to lose and nor should they. The good news here though is that the Knicks are so bad that even when they try to win, they can’t even beat the league’s worst. Melo will continue to present himself as a virtuous hero that despises losing, but today’s fans are much more sophisticated than in years past.
Today, most Knicks fans understand how draft picks can alter a team’s next decade and already view Kristaps Porzingis as the future of the team. Some have even conceded that the only realistic timeline for being a team that can compete with the Warriors and the Cavaliers of the league is well away from now and at a time when Melo may not even be here. With New York possibly losing its luster as a prime free agent destination, it makes it even more probably that rebuilding through the draft as the most sound strategic plan.
Of course the Knicks still have a long way to go until lottery day since there are about four teams actively tanking to get Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson, or Lonzo Ball in their jersey. Currently it’s projected that picks 1 through 8 can be game changers so even without winning the lottery, there’s a good chance for a team to land some impactful players. Today with 37 losses according to draft simulations, the Knicks have a 15% chance at landing a top 3 pick and frequently end up in between picks 7-9 during most simulations.
It remains to be seen if the Knicks can join that race but it appears regardless of how hard they try to win, their best efforts will have no effect on this.
You can follow Richard Bertin on Twitter at @RichardBertin