On June 21, the Spurs will be selecting their highest draft pick in 22 years at 18th. That hasn’t stopped some naysayers from wishing the Spurs had just tanked and moved up in the draft, especially once it became clear that Kawhi Leonard was not returning this season. However, there are multiple reasons why that would not have been a good idea.
For one, before their late season slide began, the Spurs were 34-19 (on pace for 53 wins) on January 30, comfortably in third place in the West, and it still seemed highly probable that Leonard would return at some point in the season. The reality is even if they didn’t win another game after that, they would only be picking 10th in the draft: not a spot that guarantees a star and something that can easily be traded up to from 18th.
Even if the opinion is even that was too soon and they only should have tanked once it became really really clear that they weren’t getting Kawhi back — say mid-to-late March — that was late enough in the season that they were in too deep to look back.
Also take into consideration that teams and players get extra perks (like a bonus check) for making the playoffs. Historical streaks aside, players would much rather make the playoffs than not for both monetary and personal reasons, and the Spurs weren’t going to give that up just to rise a couple higher spots in the draft.
Tanking also would have been a disservice to rest of the Spurs who fought hard, played more minutes than they were prepared to, and often found themselves outmatched but giving their all to hold down the fort waiting for Kawhi, only to have to fend for themselves once he shut himself down for good.
Finally, there’s the image tanking reflects on potential free agents to consider. Not only does it not help the images of players who are entering free agency and either looking for a payday or considering whether to re-sign with the Spurs, but it also hurts the Spurs in the eyes of other free agents. In the past opposing players have come to the Spurs, often times at a discount, hoping to contend for a championship. Seeing them tank for a merely less-mediocre draft pick wouldn’t help the Spurs’ cause in that regard.
Ultimately, most can agree that the Spurs were right not to tank this year. However, if anyone still had any doubts, hopefully this answered some questions.
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