March 6, 2017, 12:11 pm
The Sacramento Kings are not about the tank.
Despite trading a franchise player for pennies on the dollar, with the shiniest pennies being a rookie and a draft pick, the Kings coaches and players are adamant that they’re trying to buck the odds and earn a playoff berth.
It’s hard to fault them. Nobody gets to the top tier in the world without the eye of the tiger- a certain brand of undying competitiveness. It’s insane to think that anyone involved with the game at that level would be actively wanting to lose, especially with jobs and potentially careers on the line. That competitive fire is a prerequisite for the job, which makes all the “heart and desire” takes so painfully stupid.
The guys in the front office, however? It’s a different story with a different field of vision.
The Kings, even if they make the playoffs this year or next, have a near-zero percent chance of escaping the first round. Ownership could be after a short-term cash grab thanks to the playoff gate but you have to imagine they’d prefer the perennial profits that come with winning. As such, taking the long view makes sense. If the team can squeak in and get them two sellouts in the meantime, that’s gravy. But the true focus, as presumably signaled by the Cousins trade, should be acquiring and developing young talent and draft picks.
Herein lies the rub, as the Kings own a top-10 protected first rounder this season in addition to the one they received from New Orleans. If the pick falls outside of the top 10, which it would if the Kings make the playoffs or if the lottery hands them a bad bounce, they would send their pick to Chicago in another ill-fated transaction.
Assuming ownership has properly evaluated the current roster’s ceiling and is now looking forward (a large assumption for Sacramento, yes), they have to be hoping to hold on to that pick. Management made its own bed and now have to hope the team, counter to their own goals, can bail them out from sleeping in it.
So should they tank? It’s a loaded question; one that requires us to really think about what “tanking” means.
We’ve already ruled out the players losing intentionally. I think it extends beyond hoping you lose and throwing a bushel of draft picks into the deep end to see who’ll float.
Tanking, at its most feasible and beneficial core, relies on process. Not the capital-P Process, but the way of doing things. A true tank will rely on the how’s and why’s, not the who’s and what’s. Maybe tanking isn’t the proper word for that, but losses are definitely inherent to the journey.
There’s certainly benefits to Sacramento winning games now. Much is made about players “knowing how to win,” which is one of those things that’ll be a question mark until it simply isn’t anymore. For every game they win from here on out they’ll be getting positive feedback. Shorthanded and outgunned, the Kings are on the way towards learning how to win.
In this predicament, adequate management is about filling the toolbox with the right items. You don’t want to stack the roster with guys that’ll run you into the dead zones of the first round unless you can really compete, but you can’t trot out nobodies and be happy with a pile of losses. Throwing out five young guys and watching them flounder doesn’t really help anyone. Youth needs to be propped up by strong support pieces but allowed to sink or swim to an extent that keeps a team from settling in mediocrity. You want to provide your coach and your core with enough complementary pieces to be “just enough” on your good days. It’s doing more with less while setting the stage for doing a whole bunch when you’re ready.
You want to point to your games and say “we were outmatched, but our commitment to playing the game on our terms helped us grab a win / kept us close.” It’s the reinforcement of positive habits without the stakes of truly competing. And when you lose, make those losses worthwhile. Learn something. Improve.
If the team can execute a plan and play competitive games, there’s not much more that a coaching staff can ask for. Establishing that foundation is going to be key. In truth, the team losing a ton of games while playing well – either as a result of variance, dumb luck or an evident talent gap – is the preferred outcome.
Process over results. Whether the front office and coaching staff can cope with that and proceed accordingly is up for debate. Let’s see what they do.