Why would a lottery-bound team bust their collective tail to get wins that only worsen their prospective draft pick? What do you gain when you refuse to tank? I could point to last year's fateful win over the Pacers where D-league callup Cedric Jackson hit a dagger three to send the season out in style. That win moved us from third place in the lotto standings to fourth, tied with Indiana. We lost the subsequent flip, and were suddenly sitting in fifth. That clutch shot seemed mighty costly. Of course, the Wizards won the draft lotto, but we didn't know that at the time. As glad as we all were to win in thrilling fashion, seeing the cost left a bad taste in our mouths.
I can't hold up John Wall and say, 'See? Always win.' I can say that draft position, while crucial, doesn't play as big a role as sheer chance does when it comes to building a contender. Kevin Durant was drafted after Greg Oden, Michael Jordan was drafted after Sam Bowie (poor Trailblazers), so losing a spot or two isn't the end of the world. Of course, if no one comes out for the draft...but we won't dwell on that. Why do we refuse to tank?
We've called it mindset, attitude, and culture. It's about bringing along that ferocious team outlook and trusting in warrior's luck. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. How many tanking teams have gone on to domination? More importantly, who could openly get away with that while facing today's media scrutiny? Maybe it's just about protecting the integrity of the game. What would Flip Saunders tell our players? 'Hey, Javale, you're at PG.' 'Andray, 20 foot fadeaways solamente, comprendes?'
Dwayne, you can get through college half-assed. Richard, you can get through life half-assed. But I'll guarantee you boys one thing: sure as hell, I'll guarantee you this: you cannot win half-assed!
I've always believed that a good coach for a young team never stops teaching, and the only way to teach winning is to win. Well, can't we just get close and grab a moral victory? So what exactly is that sentiment? What are you teaching the team when you demand 36 minutes of excellence and discipline and send in the scrubs to close out the game the rest of the team was balling for? What message does that send to the end of the bench?
Fourth quarter experience is the name of the game for a rebuilding team. When the chance appears to outplay any team for a victory you're fighting for, the coach can't be thinking about the lottery standings because the players can't. You've got to recognize those opportunities with a killer's instinct and go to for the throat. Losing on purpose dulls the competitive edge and doesn't teach the team anything except winning is optional in this league. Why would anyone not playing for their job leave it out on the floor?
It's often the last key that opens the lock.
A basketball game is broken down by possessions, with scores of decisions on both sides of the ball every time it's brought up the floor. I can't measure the value of a team focused on a single objective with all their willpower versus a team that's being told to slip up. I can't tell you that what team one learns will make them that much better than a possible higher draft pick will make team two. But fueled by a health dose of D-league energy we're seeing our team threatening to slide lower in the lottery at the finish line once again. I'm taking heart from the fight I'm seeing, looking at it as a positive sign for the future. Maybe I'll feel differently once the lottery balls are spinning, but I'll know I wouldn't have had it any other way.