Tanks for nothing.
The good people of Philadelphia were given another reason to stay away from Sixers games this season when new coach Brett Brown casually dropped this bomb this past week when the team played the Cavaliers in Columbus, Ohio: Rookie center Nerlens Noel will be sidelined for the entire season as he continues to recover from knee surgery.
And the tanking goes on.
Well, actually, they really aren’t tanking, because Brown, a rookie head coach and a former an assistant with the Spurs, doesn’t have a lot of talent to begin with. Like almost none.
The Sixers, on merit, won’t win more than 15 games, if that.
In Philly, the recent talent flow has been all one-way — out of town — with Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday and that real prince of a guy, Andrew Bynum, leaving during the last 15 months, and very little coming back in terms of proven NBA players.
Other than Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner — maybe somebody’s idea of a good bench but not exactly a Big Three — the Sixers’ cupboard is practically bare. The best of their young players is supposed to be Noel, who was projected to go No. 1 last June, but fell to New Orleans at No. 6 because of a knee injury suffered as a Kentucky freshman. He went to the Sixers on a draft-day deal that sent Holiday to New Orleans.
As one NBA coach put it after seeing the Sixers in preseason, “The Heat might be able to beat that team just by putting four guys out on the floor.’’
Still, there is misguided talk that the Sixers are tanking the season to get the most Ping-Pong balls for a shot at Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, the 6-8 guard who they’re already calling the next big thing to hit the NBA.
You hear the same charges being leveled against Phoenix and Orlando. But as we get ready to start the NBA season this week, it’s almost impossible for those teams to tank when they’re running a really bad team out on the floor to begin with.
That’s why David Stern, for now, doesn’t seem at all concerned about the tanking issue.
“There’s been no discussion at all,’’ he said, referring to whether the topic came up at the owners’ meetings this past week in New York.
There’s nothing illegal when teams gut their rosters for a long rebuilding project. In fact, the smart ones do it when a player of Wiggins’ vast potential looms on the horizon.
The commissioner knows tanking when he sees it, even if the league doesn’t have a history of doing anything about it. Tanking occurs when teams that have talent and can win start playing hanky-panky with their roster so that they improve their chances of losing to get a shot at a game-changer in the draft.
Think Houston in 1984, when the Rockets lost with the express purpose of securing Hakeem Olajuwon in the draft. Think San Antonio in 1997, when Gregg Popovich kept injured starters David Robinson and Sean Elliott as far away from the court as possible in an effort to get Tim Duncan.
That same season, the Celtics also viewed Duncan as the next franchise superstar and key to their rebuilding and tried to lose as much as humanly possible. As he later admitted, M.L. Carr sometimes pulled key players out of fourth quarters of winnable games, including once when David Wesley was hitting a million three’s, en route to 15 wins. But Rick Pitino saw the Ping-Pong balls bounce the wrong way, dooming his chances for Duncan and dooming his rebuilding campaign.
Despite their woeful roster, the 2002-03 Cavs were accused of tanking to get LeBron James when they won only 17 games. Now, it’s all going to be about having a shot to get Wiggins, son of former Rocket guard Mitchell Wiggins, and the most hyped player out of high school since James.
“One thing I’ve learned over the last 36 years is you better let the season play out and see what really happens,’’ Stern said. “Because sometimes, given the competitive nature of our players and given the high level at which the game is played, particularly after the top six or eight teams, we have teams that can surprise, and maybe there will be some surprises this year.’’
Given the history of the league, it just won’t be a surprise if a few teams that have talent and can win at some point start tanking. When they see where it got the Rockets and Spurs, in the end, their fans will thank them for it.
Tanks for nothing.