It doesn’t take Keith Olbermann to call this a countdown. Nor does it take Beyonce, Rush, and T.I. Nor would Europe be wrong in calling it the final countdown. Perhaps even Megadeth wouldn’t be going too far in calling it a countdown to extinction. With just 8 games to go in this Somali election of a season, the Bobcats are essentially providing shoulders for better teams to cry on. Teams like Detroit and Miami. Detroit was able to break a 3-game losing streak thanks to the Bobcats’ typical offensive ineptitude and defensive grotesquerie. The following night, the Bobcats did the impossible by making Joel Anthony look like a dominant center (side question: why is it pronounced “Jo-EL,” like he’s a native of Krypton? Is it a French thing?) in a game completely devoid of irony that allowed the Miami Heat to—at least for one night—feel good about themselves.
Rafe Bartholomew wrote an article on the Detroit game for Grantland, cheerfully titled “Fate Worse Than Death: Bobcats-Pistons.” The piece accused the Bobcats of tanking. “Will someone tell the Bobcats they can stop tanking already?” Bartholomew asks, “With nine games left in the season, Charlotte is 6.5 games behind Washington, the NBA’s second-worst team.” That the Bobcats are tanking is the obvious conclusion to make, and I agree that the Bobcats indirectly chose the “tank path” last year when they began auctioning off all of their expensive players with above-average abilities. But I don’t think the players themselves are tanking. Let’s face it, even if this team was playing at the peak of its powers, exactly how much better would they be? As much as I bash Tyrus Thomas, his best year was 2008-9, when he averaged 10.8 points and 6.5 boards. Nor will I be bouncing my grandkid off my knee one day and telling him I saw every game of DJ Augustin’s magical 2010-11 season, in which he averaged 14 and 6. Basically, all I’m saying is that this team might have crash-landed with a thud, but they were a North Korean-built rocket to begin with.
And what about those moves that management made? Since Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace were sold off, what exactly have they done? I mean, I love Gerald Wallace more than most of my own family members, and I can barely mention his name without crossing myself, but he couldn’t boost the Trail Blazers past a 4-2 first-round playoff ouster, and now he’s injured for the Nets. Even the seemingly indefensible move to cut ties with Tyson Chandler only looks really bad in retrospect. Tyson Chandler has been sensational last year and this year, but when he was with us in 2010, I vividly remember cursing him harder than Axel Foley’s boss. And there was a reason why: he missed 32 games with assorted injuries (after missing 37 the season before), had the highest turnover average of his career, and averaged just 6 and 6 a game. So although I thought management was cheap for letting him go, I certainly didn’t think that almost immediately upon departure he would transform into a planet-crushing, defensive Voltron. All in all, I think management has been mostly prudent and the players have put in earnest, if unsatisfactory efforts. If they’re having a season that reminds me of Deepwater Horizon spill footage, it’s not because the team isn’t trying.
In short, I think tanking is a media-generated meme, much like the notion that we should “feel sorry” for Tim Tebow for receiving all of the attention that he supposedly never asked for (hello, before he was even drafted he made an ant-abortion ad…during the Super Bowl! Does that sound like someone who’s trying to fly under the radar?). And like in-game brawls, tanking happens just as much in other sports but only takes on a sinister tone when it comes to the NBA. I wonder why that is? I just can’t seem to think what it is about basketball players that’s different from other team sports…