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By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor - Archive - Email
No one in the NBA is tanking
Nerlens Noel If building through the draft is how it's done, how can you fault either the Celtics or Sixers?
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Recent events in the NBA have suggested some teams will be tanking the 2013-14 season in order to get higher picks in next year's draft.

Tanking is such an ugly word. How in professional sports, can a team purposefully lose games? That goes against the fiber of competition, which is the driving force of men and women talented enough to practice their craft at this level.

Tanking is when players don't try, or management doesn't play healthy players.

Tanking is not occurring now in the NBA, nor will it next season.

The two main teams associated with the notion of tanking next season are the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics. The idea is that both teams will stink so badly they will enhance their chances at high pick in next year's draft, which some are already calling the greatest thing in the history of professional sports.

Accusing these two storied franchises of tanking is misleading. They will not be good teams in 2013-14, that's for sure, but what Philly and Boston are doing is rebuilding.

A friend of mine once astutely said, "In the NBA, more than any league, you need to get really bad to get really good." The theory is sound. The structure of free-agent rules benefit the teams that have players already under contract, or teams that play in cities with beautiful weather.

It's impossible for certain teams to lure high-class free-agent talent. The Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves and 76ers won't get great players to sign with them. There's no real reason to explain it, other than stars want to go where they can win championships, and enhance their brand. That happens in Miami, New York and Los Angeles.

So, with that in mind, the draft becomes the only resource for a struggling team to improve. Take the Oklahoma City Thunder, for example. They get the second pick in the draft, select Kevin Durant, get top-five choices in Russell Westbrook and James Harden and now they're a powerhouse, even if they flipped Harden for garbage.

Teams like OKC don't have the cash to sustain that group, let alone sign free agents. They built from the draft, and imagine doing that in next year's draft, when Andre Wiggins will be the prize, but eight players could be All-Stars.

If building through the draft is how it's done, how can you fault either the Celtics or Sixers?

Boston amassed 15 draft choices in the next five drafts with their recent dealings. All it cost them was Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry and a little flip on draft night.

Garnett and Pierce are going to have their numbers retired one day by the Celtics. They are both going to the Hall of Fame.

Reality is, the Celtics made the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference with them this season, and even with a returning Rajon Rondo, that position wouldn't rise, as the ages of those stars do.

And Philadelphia is now tanking because it shipped Jrue Holiday, a 23-year-old All-Star point guard, to New Orleans for the rights to Nerlens Noel, who most thought would be the No. 1 pick in the draft, and a first-rounder in next year's draft.

Let's dig deeper here and start with Holiday. He is a good to very good player who will never be great. He's a top-12 point guard in the league who made the All-Star team because the team needed two guards and Derrick Rose was hurt. Holiday was even affordable, but the Sixers cleared out that money in a hurry.

If the Celtics weren't going anywhere with two Hall of Famers with a championship pedigree, where were the Sixers going with Holiday? They got burned badly in the Andrew Bynum deal, and any chance of contending at the rate they were going was non-existent.

They have Noel, a potential game-changer on the defensive side, and their first-round pick, Michael Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-5 point guard. Those are two great pieces, but the very fact they got a first-rounder in next year's draft was brilliant. It may be protected through the fifth pick, but the Sixers will have a high pick of their own.

That's because they're going to be dreadful.

That's where the tanking notion comes into play.

The Sixers will have a rotation of Carter-Williams, Evan Turner (who turned out not to be a cornerstone as the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft), Thaddeus Young, Noel, Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen, Arnett Moultrie and Jason Richardson, possibly.

On talent, that's a bottom-five team in the NBA, no question. But having a bad roster doesn't mean they're tanking. If Turner and Young start amassing DNP- CDs, then we can talk about tanking.

New general manager Sam Hinkie has a plan. Why would it be worth wasting money on Paul Millsap or J.R. Smith or Monta Ellis if the end result of this plan isn't for years? They should just sign them to play for four years and show them the door when it comes time to really start winning?

And here's a weird news flash for those who think the Celtics are cheating the game - they're not going to be as bad as some think. Oh, they'll stink, but with Rondo, a top-20 player in the league, how can you reasonably accuse them of tanking?

Disqualify Rondo and the C's still have Avery Bradley, Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger. All are above-average NBA talents and Wallace might even help.

They're actually taking on payroll in their convoluted attempt to lose games in order to improve. Wallace will be Boston's books longer than Garnett, Pierce or Terry will be Brooklyn property.

Has it dawned on Hinkie or Boston's Danny Ainge that, maybe, if their respective teams are bad, their draft status will improve? Probably, but just don't confuse shrewdly rebuilding with tanking.

Tanking ... such an ugly word.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- If I had to hazard a guess, I think Dwight Howard goes back to the Los Angeles Lakers. Everything will hinge on whether the Houston Rockets can shed enough salary to sign Howard's good buddy Josh Smith. Plus, there are a lot of perks to L.A.

- Reported free-agent signings I like: Tony Allen back with Memphis; Mike Dunleavy with Chicago; and David West back with Indiana.

- Reported free-agent deals I don't like: Tiago Splitter back with San Antonio (four years, $36 million is a ridiculous amount of money); Martell Webster back with the Washington Wizards (four years, $22 million is ridiculous, period); and Tyreke Evans (four-year, $44 million offer sheet from the New Orleans Pelicans is way too much.)

- Movie Moment - I have seen 22 of Entertainment Weekly's recently released list of the top 100 movies. Hockey editor Dan Di Sciullo has seen all 20 in the top 20. Yeah, but can he recite every line from "Clue?"

- TV Moment - Speaking of "Clue," checked out "Whodunnit" the other night. It's a show that's basically a series of murder mysteries. It's flawed badly. There isn't much clue-wise for the audience member to come up with his or her theory of the murder. Basically, it stunk, so, of course, I'll be watching again.