Tank the tank

Too good not to steal from BKNetsFan at NetsDaily.

The Nets beat the Pacers on Wednesday. Wait, let me rephrase: the Nets tore the Pacers limb from limb, kicked the snot out of their carcasses, and laughed as their families mourned on Wednesday. The fourth quarter was unlike one I can recall seeing from the Nets this season; they poured on the matches after laying the gasoline throughout the first three quarters. Jumpers fell, open layups came in bunches, and the Pacers could do nothing but watch and beg for mercy, which the Nets never gave.

Last night, the Nets went down by as much as 19, played anti-Nets, crawled their way back, and eked out a 2-point victory. I refuse to offer platitudes because I haven’t seen what happened yet; blame the rigors of reality. All I know is the shock I felt checking scores on my phone in the final hour. The Nets don’t come back, ever.

I love when the Nets win. Over the past three seasons, I’ve become so accustomed to losing that I do my best to accept it long before the game ever starts. I think I’ve only twice been confident that the Nets should win a game in the past three seasons: once against a depleted Clippers team last season, and once against the Bobcats this season. All other games, I’ve weighed the probability that the Nets win in my head, and more often than not it’s well below 50%. Wins are a brief, soft rain in a three-year desert season.

Conversely, I hate when the Nets lose. Breaking down bad basketball, as much as I do it, just isn’t fun. It’s nauseating to watch Kris Humphries and Shelden Williams botch easy rotations and engage in the particularly striking level of miscommunication that leaves opponents uncovered at the rim. I hate watching Deron Williams take bad shots, even though he excels at making them, because that means the best offensive look that one of the best team offensive players in the universe sees in the 24 seconds he can create for all five players is a fallaway for himself. It’s excruciating to think the Nets can’t do better, regardless if they actually can.

Nonetheless, we’ve had many commenters here and elsewhere that feel elated at the mere possibility that more bad basketball is to follow. Thank goodness! you say. The Nets can tear it all down! Finally, the final 30 games of the season are irrelevant again!

Basketball is, in this man’s opinion, the best game on the planet. Yet, we’re rooting for it to fail. We’re rooting for players not to make plays. We’re rooting for less than mediocrity; and somehow, that’s the right long-term decision. I’m not disagreeing with that, it is. When you’re out of the race, gear down for the next one.

The Nets have won two games in a row for the 3rd time this season, and they’ve got a chance at three tonight. Erstwhile, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist play in what’s potentially their final game of the season tonight against Louisville. Logic dictates that I root for the latter to win so I can see them more, in the hopes that next year they join the former, who I hope lose so that they have the opportunity.

A coach in middle school once told me, “I don’t care whether you win or lose, as long as you play your hardest and feel good about how you played. But winning feels good.” Regardless of my coach’s intentions, the system dictates that that’s not the right move: once you’ve lost the playoff push, get the hell down to the bottom of the standings ASAP. Abandon ship after abandoning all hope, and maybe you’ll be blessed with Anthony Davis instead of Austin Rivers. Something about that seems backwards, no?

I don’t pretend to have a solution. HoopIdea‘s come up with a few in their week on tanking, and though a select few of those few have significant merit, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out how to reward success (competing at the highest level possible) and failure (boosting teams that legitimately suck) at the same time. One early suggestion from the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference suggested we rank lottery teams based on their total wins once they’ve been eliminated from the playoff race. Another popular suggestion is eliminating the weights altogether. One particularly cool plan proposes a five-year lottery, weighing team’s records over time to assess their long-term needs. These ideas have their flaws, but they’re certainly a step above “well, crap, better toss out Mark Madsen for 30-plus minutes.

Maybe one day. Until then, the race to the bottom plunges on.