To tank the season or not tank the season?

Posted: November 04, 2013

WEDNESDAY night at the Wells Fargo Center, I was talking to a number of Sixers fans at a pregame party thrown by the organization and its great new CEO, Scott O'Neil, before the home opener. Given that our chances of making the NBA playoffs this season appear to be nil, the conversation inevitably turned to the subject of whether the Sixers should tank games, so that they will have the best shot at the first pick in the draft and a chance to get either Kansas' Andrew Wiggins or Duke's Jabari Parker.

One wiseguy said that the Sixers don't have to tank, because they'll have the worst record in the NBA, no matter how hard they try. Three hours later, after the big 114-110 win over the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, I wanted to find that guy and tell him, in the words of the great Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend!"

But these conversations got me thinking - to tank or not to tank? It's such an emotional dilemma for us loyal fans - do we root for our teams to lose? You might expect me to say no, but the truth is, I am guilty of rooting for one of my teams to lose.

During this past baseball season, my American League favorite team, the White Sox, whom I have followed for over 50 years, were out of contention by Aug. 1. I spent the next 2 months rooting for them to lose. I admit, I felt a little guilty about it, but each day, I checked the standings to see whether they could improve or hold their draft position (third pick). There was a stretch when they got hot and almost surpassed the hated Cubs and lost the third pick, but luckily they cooled off quickly. I was elated.

Well if you are a Sixers or Eagles fan and you are contemplating rooting against your team or are actively doing so as I did, don't do it! The reasons not to are clear.

In the NBA, thanks to the anti-tanking system now known as the draft lottery, no team is guaranteed to have a good pick just because of its poor record. The odds (or percentages) are as follows - the team with the worst record has a 25 percent chance of getting the first pick; second worst, 19.9; third-worst, 15.6; fourth-worst, 11.9; fifth-worst, 8.8; and so on, all the way down to the teams with the four best records of those that didn't make the playoffs, which all have less than a 1 percent chance to get No. 1. Though the team with the worst record has the best chance, the team with the worst record has gotten the first pick only three times in 23 years!

The team with the fifth-worst record has won the right to pick first five times, and the Orlando Magic won the lottery in 1993, even though they had just a 1.52 percent chance. They picked Chris Webber and then traded him to Golden State. And remember - even if your team wins the lottery, drafting is not an exact science, so it doesn't necessarily mean you will get a great player (i.e. Kwame Brown, Greg Oden, Michael Olowokandi, and Joe Smith).

The Blazers picked second in 1984 and took Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. Granted, there were some good first picks - Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming, Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard - but it is no sure thing. So it's not worth rooting against the Sixers and their young stars Michael Carter-Williams and Evan Turner.

Now what about Eagles fans? Unlike the NBA, the NFL does not have a lottery, so the team with the worst record is guaranteed the highest draft choice. After last Sunday's demoralizing loss to the pathetic New York Giants, many loyal Birds fans began wondering whether we would be better off essentially tanking the rest of the season and finishing around 4-12, or fighting on and getting to a much less draft-friendly mark of 6-10 or 7-9.

Now I realize we are only one game out of first place in the NFC East, but after not scoring an offensive touchdown in our last two games, it's probably hard for even Dave Spadaro to believe we have a chance to make the playoffs. So I thought I would look at the relative draft positions of teams that finished 4-12 as opposed to those that ended up at 6-10 or 7-9.

Looking at the last five drafts, you can generalize that teams with only four wins will draft somewhere between fourth and sixth. Teams that go 6-10 typically draft somewhere between seventh and 12th, usually eighth or ninth. And teams with seven wins typically draft anywhere between ninth and 14th, usually 10th or 11th. Based on our experience this season, most experts and Eagles fans feel strongly that the Birds must draft a franchise quarterback in the 2014 draft.

Looking at a variety of ratings of draft prospects, it's clear that eight quality quarterbacks will be in the draft (nine if Ohio State's Braxton Miller comes out). Three of them - Zach Mettenberger (LSU), Aaron Murray (Georgia), and Derek Carr (Fresno State) - are true pocket passers who might not be a good fit for Chip Kelly's read-option offense.

So that leaves five or six choices - the aforementioned Miller, Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M - you can close your eyes and see him cavorting in Old City), Tajh Boyd (Clemson) and Brett Hundley (UCLA). So it's very likely that if we go 4-12, we will get one of these young arms who can run the read option and change our destiny.

But if we go 6-10 and have the ninth or 10th pick, or even if we go 7-9 and pick 11th or 12th, we still stand an excellent chance of getting one of the six (as not every team ahead of us will pick a QB). If you think Mariota, Bridgewater or Manziel are a cut above the other three, don't be so sure. Remember, in the 2011 draft, while franchise QBs Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton stayed on the board until the second round, first-round QB selections included Jake Locker (eight), Blaine Gabbert (10) and Christian Ponder (12), who all look as if they are on a one-way trip to Bustville.

So be of good cheer, root hard for the Birds tomorrow, and just maybe we'll win the division at 7-9 and still get our guy!


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