Before the 2022-23 NBA season had even started, there was a healthy faction of San Antonio Spurs fans who were calling for the team to tank to get a better draft pick. And with the otherwordly Victor Wembanyama poised to be the first player selected, it's easy to see that rationale.
But I hate the word tanking. It implies that a team of professional athletes would go out in front of fans and -- by their own volition or by some disillusioned front-office mandate -- intentionally try to lose games. That's something that I think is intolerable. And any front office or coach who asks that of their players probably shouldn't be working in professional sports.
Early in the season, many Spurs players echoed this sentiment. After a strong start, Spurs wing Devin Vassell openly spoke against the idea of tanking, saying, "I’m not going to lie, it does get frustrating when everybody is talking about tanking, tanking, tanking. We are professional athletes. We all want to play. We all want to win. And that’s how we are going to approach every game."
Vassell is spot-on with that statement. Process matters, and while some fans might look at the Spurs and think they're tanking, the reality of the situation is they're prioritizing youth and development and accepting the consequences that come with it.
That doesn't mean you can ask a bunch of 19 years old's to go out on the court and play hard for 48 minutes. That's not the right way to approach a strategic rebuild. It's a delicate balancing act that, if done well, can fast-track the development of young players and land you a top pick.
Four teams make up the thick of the Wembanyama sweepstakes -- the Spurs, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, and Charlotte Hornets. Here's who's doing it right and who's hurting their team in what might end up as a wasted effort.