Indianapolis, IN- Indiana Pacers fans are frustrated right now. Their team’s franchise player, Paul George, was recently traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder and now they are in complete rebuild mode. Rebuilding is something all NBA teams have to go through at some point, but some fans are suggesting this team do something they never do, which is tank the season for a lottery pick.
Now why would fans want this? There are plenty of reasons they will suggest.
The team has not drafted in the lottery since 1989 and has always drafted in the middle or late round. We are also in the age of the super team, and Pacers fans are reasonable enough to understand that no such team will be formed in Indiana. Hell, the team would be lucky to sign just one high profile free agent. So building through the draft is something fans see as “hope.”
With all of that being said, I am here to tell you that tanking is a terrible idea.
For the last two decades, the Pacers have made runs to the Eastern Conference Finals or further with three different cores. There was the Reggie Miller and Jalen Rose team that made the NBA Finals, the Miller and Jermaine O’neal team, and most recently the George, Roy Hibbert, and David West teams that made the Conference Finals in consecutive years. Many teams in the league would love to have that kind of history of recent success. More amazingly, they did all of this while never having a lottery pick.
With team success came lower picks, but the Pacers have drafted some absolute gems in the middle to late rounds including George (pick 10), Danny Granger (pick 17), and even though they didn’t keep him, Kawhi Leonard was drafted at pick 15. Leonard is now a top five player in the entire league.
Sure the Pacers have had some whiffs as well (Solomon Hill, Tyler Hansborough, Miles Plumlee), but it is just as easy to whiff in the lottery as it is in the middle to late round. Either way, you are usually dealing with a player that takes years to develop.
The team has made mistakes, but I have always respected the way they compete every season. They have had rebuilds, sure, but tanking is something that owner Herb Simon has never suggested, and I have always respected that.
That does not mean he is rejecting the idea just because of his ego or pride, either. The man is running a business in a small market where fans don’t always fill the stands, even when the team is contending for championships. So if the team tanks, how could he be sure that fans would even show up at all?
Sure, teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers can tank. You know why? Despite the pressure from the media, the owners know deep down that the fans will stay loyal because of 1) the size of the market and 2) the rabid fandom that has been passed down for generations. The Pacers fan base is not nearly as steady. After the brawl in 2004, it took years for fans to come back, and even when the team starting contending again in 2010, their attendance did not reflect it.
But fans that suggest tanking will argue “Why be mediocre?” Well have you seen the Eastern Conference lately? After Cleveland and Boston, it is completely wide open. Lebron James’ prime window will eventually close (or he will go West) and when that happens, you want to have a team that is one piece away rather than one that is several. Even if the team is getting bounced in the first round next year, there are benefits of being battle tested and building camaraderie that will be essential in the long run (as long as the team isn’t blown up, which is what some impatient front offices seem to do).
I mean I somewhat get it. In today’s NBA, fans love the transaction. From draft week through free agency, fans are dying to know where the rookies are going along with the established superstars. Pacers fans never have much of a reason to be excited during free agency, but if the team tanks, the draft all of a sudden becomes must see TV. “Oh look! We might get a player that Jay Bilas says is great! Yay!!! People are talking about us in the offseason!!! Yeah!!!”
If you break it down, Pacers fans know they are not going to get the “superstars of today,” but if the team is bad on purpose, they might force a “star of tomorrow” to play for them next year. It almost sounds immoral.
At the end of the day, these players are human beings fighting for their livelihood, not puzzle pieces, so thinking that guys like Myles Turner, Lance Stephenson, and Victor Oladipo want to play to lose just to give you hope is completely unreasonable.
The Pacers should stick with the blueprint that has worked for them. Rebuild but never tank. Compete year in and year out, and when draft time comes around; trust your scouts and talent evaluators to draft a player that fits your style of play along with your culture. If they see a player they are completely in love with that will be drafted high, trade up for him. Not being in the lottery for nearly 30 years is something fans should be proud of, honestly. Tanking is not the answer.