"Don’t measure success by how high a man climbs but how high he bounces when they he rock bottom." George S. Patton-Noted Tanking Expert
Losing is not fun. As a species we are biologically wired to win. Losing used to equate to being an hors d’oeuvre for a sabertooth tiger. Mercifully, society has become more advanced. Marks of our evolution include things like automatic cheese graters, battery operated snow blowers, and bacon-flavored soda. We have also developed the concept of strategic losing. Humans are now capable of losing in the short term to achieve a long term goal. Declaring bankruptcy, cauliflower pizza crust, and umbrella hats are all manifestations of this concept. In basketball strategic losing is called tanking. This is an unfamiliar and possibly shocking concept for San Antonio Spurs fans. Yet, like it or not the tank is rolling into Bexar County. Spurs fans should not retreat to an underground shelter and should instead welcome the tank with open arms. Side note: for safety reasons do not embrace an actual tank with open arms.
The Spurs have only once clearly and unequivocally tanked. This happened in 1997 when they rested David Robinson and Sean Eliot due to ‘injuries’ and drafted the GOATPUFF. For those keeping track at home, that is a pretty good precedent. For the record: I don’t count the time when the Spurs drafted the Admiral after years of ineptitude. Just being bad is not tanking. Ask the Sacramento Kings. Sorry Sac-Town.
But it goes deeper. San Antonio is a city known for one of the most famous tank jobs in human history. Back in 1836, around 200 people refused to leave the Alamo with the full knowledge that an army of around 5,000 trained soldiers were knocking at the front door. Those brave souls had the option to cut and run. However ‘William Travis and Davy Crocket did a runner’ doesn’t have much of a ring to it and does not spawn a John Wayne movie. Instead they lost everything knowing that there is such a thing as a moral victory. This one loss eventually allowed for the formation of the State of Texas.
So now that we have established that tanking is not only possible in San Antonio but built into the fabric of the city, let’s look at this latest attempt at the tank. Here are four moves that not only indicate a move towards tanking, but prove that the Spurs still got it.
The Spurs Draft Josh Primo at Number 12
PATFO wasted no time letting their intentions be known. Drafting an unproven and incredibly raw prospect at a fairly high draft position screams ‘we are not going to focus on winning this year’. Traditionally these slots go to ‘win now’ type players. This is because a team that is in the lower part of the lottery typically thinks they are ‘one move away’ from contention. The Spurs made it clear that they were done with these delusions and drafted someone that could be a foundational player in a few years time.
The Spurs let Patty Mills and Rudy Gay Walk
Losing Patty admittedly hurts. Longtime Spurs fans got the chance to watch the Aussie go from a towel-waving energy guy to a cold-blooded bench assassin. More importantly, he became the face of the franchise after all other players from the 2014 championship team left the city or retired. Also, let’s pour one out for Rudy Gay. The guy came in and went to work. By all metrics, he exceeded expectations and provided a much needed dose of professionalism to an organization that runs on that sort of thing. By letting both Patty and Rudy pursue rings elsewhere, the Spurs admitted they are not currently playing for a championship this year.
The Spurs traded DeMar DeRozan
The whole concept of a sign and trade breaks my brain. So I am going to just refer to this as a ‘trade’. Admittedly it is lopsided. DeMar after all is one of the fifty best players in the league and is good enough to be a crucial part of a Lil Yachty song. However, in this trade the Spurs got something in return that fans of the silver and black are not accustomed to. They got a first round draft pick! Trading an All-Star caliber player for guys on expiring deals and picks is something that tanking teams do. And the fact that they got all of that for a player who could have just bounced is a solid indication that PATFO know what they are doing.
The Spurs Took Some Flyers
To rehash an oft-used colloquialism , the players that the Spurs picked up in free agency are not ‘needle movers’. Doug McDermott is the kind of guy you invite to a house party when you want your classmates to still think your cool but don’t want it to get too out of hand. Zach Collins , aside from shocking fans who thought he was John Collins, will probably not do much on the Spurs right away. At first glance these signings and the other aforementioned moves make no sense. Yet when looked at as part of a whole, they fit the narrative that the Spurs are punting this year. In true Spurs style, they will not be a hopeless team. There are plenty of players to root for, and plenty of storylines to watch. One example: will Pop hand Devin Vassell the Ginsu knives and let him cook? However, anyone who thinks that the Spurs are going to win a championship with this crew are as delusional as the guy who thinks that the Fast and Furious franchise will stop at nine movies. Sit back and enjoy the tank.