When you learn how to drive a car, you understand how important it is to keep your eyes on the road. But not just anywhere on the road. Look too close to the front of your hood and you'll miss what's coming up ahead. Spend too much time looking backward and you're in even bigger trouble. The right idea is to focus on the horizon and everything else kind of works itself out.
What I'm getting at here is perspective. We're Celtics fans, so the only thing that ultimately matters is adding another banner. That's a destination but even the GPS can't tell us how long it will take us to get there since there's several different routes and the traffic could hit at any time (is it clear now that I drove a long way to Thanksgiving this year?).
There will be some phenomenal days where the Celtics play well above their heads and beat the best in the world on a last fraction of a second 3 pointer. There will be days when the team plays well below their level and gets routed from the opening tip on through the end and players get fined for their accurate (if crass) description of the game. Those are outliers and the true identity of this team lies somewhere in between those extremes.
And in truth, I'm not sure if it really matters what "identity" this team develops this year. Call it a bridge year, or the start of the rebuilding project, or call it tanking for all I care. It doesn't matter because it is temporary. This team was built and designed specifically to change.
There are no guarantees and I don't gamble, but I'd be drop dead shocked if Danny Ainge didn't make a trade at the deadline with more of an eye toward the future than the present. Even if that doesn't happen, by definition things are going to change next summer.
So when it all boils down to it, I couldn't care less if the team wins or loses on a night to night basis. Mind you, I'm always going to root for my team to win, that's just an unchanging instinct. But losing doesn't bother me much this year and winning doesn't mean that much either. Does that mean I'm "rooting for them to tank?" Not at all.
I get the arguments for "tanking" and I don't need anyone to explain to me the dangers of becoming a mediocre team year in and year out. I know the draft class is special and every loss gives us more ping pong balls closer to landing one of the studs at the top of the board. I just don't see the value in losing on purpose and I think it would do a lot more damage than good in the long run.
We've already got several lottery level players on the team right now. They might not be elite stars, but they are certainly rotation players on good teams. We also have a cornerstone level player returning from injury in the not too distant future. Sending those players a message (through words or deeds) that they are not expected to win is not helpful. They are all developing habits and they will be called upon to win basketball games for us when they really matter. If they don't learn to win now, why would we assume they'd just figure it out once we decided that they should?
The players and coaches are rightly programmed to be competitive and look to win every single game. While on one level I don't think what we do or say as fans makes too much difference, on another level I think it actually does. If they hear through the press that all we want is for them to lose, that has to be demoralizing. Sure they can rally around the "us against the world" mentality, but that can only last for so long. Statistics have proven over time that teams play better at home and that fan support is a huge part of it. So yeah, I'm against tanking.
Still, rebuilding I can totally get behind. Leveling the team as we knew it to make way for the next generation was painful but necessary at some point. You can't lay a foundation when the old structure is still in place. Now we've got a new coach, a bunch of young, talented players, and a lot of future draft picks to build upon. That's both comforting and exciting in the long term.
We don't have enough talent to win a lot of games this year, so yes, our draft pick will likely be pretty good. If the lottery comes up aces ("may the odds be EVER in your favor") wonderful. If not, well, that's the breaks and we have to make smart drafting decisions and continue to develop talent. Even with the worst record there's a good chance that we'd be picking 4th and even with the top pick there's a reasonable chance that the player would be a bust or get injured. Things happen and all you can do is hope for the best.
I suppose I can summarize it thusly: I'm going to root for every win, but not get too worked up over each win or loss. I want the team to focus on winning but I wouldn't mind if they got a high draft position. I want my pumpkin pie and I want to eat it too. As long as I'm focused on the horizon, I think all of this mental gymnastics makes some amount of sense too.
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