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Sprucing up a boring semantic discussion about tanking vs. rebuilding

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Don't call it "tanking!" I mean, unless you really want to. I don't care.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

"The Celtics missed out on Love so they are clearly tanking this year!"

Some variation of this has been repeated ad nauseam on twitter, forums, and this blog in the last few days and weeks. I strongly disagree with that statement as well as the sister-statement of "they SHOULD tank now."

Granted, my argument is largely semantics, which is always pretty boring, even for us nerds.  So to spruce things up a bit, I'm going to wildly interject random hot sports takes in between my measured rational viewpoints.  Hope you enjoy.

First of all, let's go back to the term "tanking."  What does it mean to tank?

What actually is tanking, and which NBA teams actually do it? - SBNation.com

"Tanking," as we are to understand it, is a team's intent to do less than everything it can to win. It is a concerted effort over several months (and perhaps several seasons) by a team to deliberately not be as good as it could be. It is considered cheap, disingenuous and dishonest, the byproduct of a flawed system where a team can be rewarded for being bad and where deliberately losing is thereby a strategic decision.

Are the Celtics making a concerted effort to deliberately be not as good?  The team still employs Rajon Rondo, added Marcus Smart and Tyler Zeller, and expects improvements from Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk.  They even went out and added Evan Turner for more scoring.

Evan Turner is the ultimate tanker thou!

Well, he was on the ultimate tanking team, and he was inefficient but then again, I'm not sure if anyone was going to be efficient in that system with those teammates and the low expectations dictated by the team.  He's not a perfect player by any stretch, and he didn't work out well at all in Indiana, but that doesn't mean that he's out there trying to make the team worse.

In fact, Brad Stevens, the coaching staff, and all the players have every motivation to win games next year.  Winning is money, plain and simple.  Every time a guy steps on the court, he's looking to show the world how good he is at basketball and how much he deserves his current paycheck and how much more he deserves in his next contract.

Guys pad stats on bad teams!

That's true, but it isn't always effective in terms of getting guys paid.  Look at our new friend Evan Turner for example.

David Falk claims Evan Turner could 'have made in excess of $10 million a year' had he stayed in Philly | Ball Don't Lie - Yahoo Sports

If you’ll recall, Philadelphia boasted what was far and away the NBA’s fastest offense last season, amping up per-game numbers for each of its participants along the way. Even during that run, though, most mindful NBA observers were looking at Turner’s $8.7 million qualifying offer for 2014-15 and assuming that the Sixers would decline that particular option, not keen on spending that much money on a player that barely tops the "meh" meter even when things are completely aligned in his favor – like playing on a terrible team with an ultrafast offense that can pump up your stats.

GMs know the difference between pumped up stats and legit metrics that measure basketball value.  The only way Turner was going to get $10M a year was by going to Indiana and proving that he could be exactly what they were hoping for when they traded for him - a jolt of scoring and versatility coming off the bench on a winning team.  He didn't do that so he's settling for a short term deal that's just a portion of the MLE.

Besides, on a crowded roster like this one, guys are going to need to earn their playing time by doing things that make the coach happy.  Brad Stevens is highly motivated to win every game, lest he tarnish his golden-boy image.  The 6 year contract gives him job security, but if he wants to earn another contract after this one, he's gonna want to win.

None of this matters, Danny Ainge is going to trade Rondo and Bass and Green and everyone who's ever been good at basketball!

Well, that might happen.  If it does, then yes, that will be tanking.  Because one of my favorite sayings is "Players and coaches don't tank.  Front offices tank."

Still, I feel like there needs to be a different term for what the Celtics are currently doing.  They don't really NEED to get a high draft pick next year.  I mean, it wouldn't hurt really, but it isn't like they are hurting for an influx of young talent.  They've got young players and picks scattered all over the place to the point where I can't even keep track of them all on a daily basis.

What they want is to cobble those assets up and send them to another team that WANTS to start rebuilding again, in exchange for a legit star player that will fit in well next to Rondo and whomever else they can get.  But those deals don't happen easily and they might not happen at all.

Basically the Celtics are less in tank mode and more in ambush mode.  They've got the firepower to make things go BOOM, but until they have a target, all they can do is sit and polish their guns.

They are doomed to mediocrity.  If you can't compete, you have to tank!

In general I think it is true that in the NBA it is very, very difficult to skip steps.  When you are stuck in a rut, you often need to take a step back before you can step forward.  Yet at some point you have to actually step forward.  Just because we were able to take a quantum leap in 2008 doesn't mean that's how it is always going to happen.

The Wizards and Bobcats/Hornets got better last year and are primed to get even better this year.  The Pacers got gradually better and were supposed to be Heat killers this past year before someone let all the air out of their balloon.  Not all contenders are built overnight.

Maybe we don't have the chops to make the playoffs next year, but coming in 9th or 10th in the East isn't the purgatory that many make it out to be.  The draft pick will be lower, but if we're winning close to 50% of our games that will mean that some of our young players have figured something out and are playing really well.

To put it another way, would you trade down 5 or 6 spots in next year's draft if it guaranteed that Olynyk, Sullinger, and Smart all maximized their talents and one or two of them emerged as a potential All Star?  I mean, I don't know about you, but I'd take that deal and take my chances that the lower draft pick would also be useful down the line.

We're going to lose Rajon for nothing!

Stop it, I already went over this.

Danny has no plan!

Well, to a certain extent this is true.  He doesn't have just one plan.  That would be foolish and he's not a fool as far as I can tell.  I'm pretty sure he's got goals and contingency plans and lots and lots of flexible options.  Kind of like a basketball play, he's got an idea of where he wants to go and where people need to be to execute the play.  But every situation is unique and you have to be able to adapt and adjust on the fly as the play unfolds.

Ainge has the tools to make something happen but hasn't found the right opportunity yet.  We'll see if something develops or if he'll be forced to play out the year and take his chances in the summer of 2015 with lots of cap space and draft picks.

So if you want to call that "tanking" I guess I can't stop you.  I just think it is painting with too broad a brush.  Rebuilding sounds a lot better and it actually seems to indicate forward progress.  I sure hope we make forward progress this year.  If not, you'll be seeing a lot more hot sports takes out of me.