SALT LAKE CITY — For all of November and early December, it seemed plausible for the Jazz to mail home the entire season. They had nothing to lose but, well, the season. Not a problem there.
But after they roughed up Oklahoma City and Denver within a week, the concept of losing games to get a top draft pick had begun to look shaky.
Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins are surely college stars and tantalizing draft possibilities. But now a Forbes magazine article says that Parker and friends might not be (gasp!) the franchise-makers everyone expects.
Meanwhile, the Jazz have won six of their last 10, the latest without Gordon Hayward, their best player. At that rate they’ll finish the season with 39 wins. That won’t satisfy fans expecting the Jazz to be among the NBA’s best. But tanking is harder than it seems.
There’s a lot of competition out there in the lowlands.
The Jazz had 13 wins after Monday’s game, fourth-fewest in the league. However, there were 11 other teams that had 15 or fewer victories.
If the Jazz intend to tank, they’ll need to take a number.
Good luck out-losing Milwaukee and Philadelphia.
Here’s an idea: How about doing their best every day, regardless of odds.
You know, like grownups.
Almost everyone believes San Antonio threw a season to acquire Tim Duncan. A handful of other teams have since looked highly suspicious. But losing for profit might be harder than just learning to win.
If the Jazz finish with the league’s worst record, it will guarantee a top-four pick. But they’ll have just a 25 percent chance of getting No. 1. A few No. 4 picks from the past: Cody Zeller, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Wesley Johnson, Tyreke Evans, Russell Westbrook, Mike Conley, Tyrus Thomas, Chris Paul, Shaun Livingston and Chris Bosh.
There’s a superstar or two in there, but also some failures.
Much has been made of Parker, Wiggins and Kentucky’s Julius Randle. This year’s draft really should be deeper than usual. Still, in the Forbes article by former Los Angeles Times writer Mark Heisler, the headline says, “NBA Wakes to Find Andrew Wiggins and Entire Class of ’14 Aren’t All That.”
Heisler’s story says Wiggins is slipping on the draft board and could end up lower than third, and none is a guaranteed superstar.
“Deep as this draft class is, its star quotient is another question,” Heisler writes.
His point: There are no LeBron Jameses or Kevin Durants in 2014. He adds there’s not even anyone as highly regarded as No. 1 picks Anthony Davis (2012), Kyrie Irving (2011), John Wall (2010), Blake Griffin (2009) or Derrick Rose (2008).
Supposing the Jazz had the No. 3 pick, consider this: James Harden was a No. 3 pick, but so were Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, a couple of talented but earthbound players. Adam Morrison was No. 3 in 2006.
Meanwhile, how would the Jazz enact a tanking? What player — especially a young one — wants to miss shots and make turnovers so the Jazz can draft someone to take his place?
If the Jazz tank, the growth of players such as Trey Burke and Alec Burks will suffer.
Hayward scored the last 17 points of the game last week against Oklahoma City. Maybe he didn’t get the memo on tanking. Richard Jefferson doesn’t look like he’s mailing it in, either.
Last on the list of guys who want to lose: coach Tyrone Corbin. His job is on the line.
Did management pull him aside last summer and say, “Go ahead and lose, we’ll have your back”?
If so, they’d have given him a contract extension.
A team can lose by manipulating substitution patterns. But how does a coach stop his reserves from playing hard? The Jazz lineup of Diante Garrett, Jeremy Evans, Brandon Rush, Burks and Kanter built a 10-point lead over Oklahoma City during a productive second-quarter run last week.
That’s poor tanking by any measurement.
Monday against Denver, Jefferson scored 16 points, Rush made all three of his field-goal attempts, Kanter landed five of 10 shots, Garrett had four rebounds and two assists and Burks had his best game as a pro (34 points).
The Jazz don’t have the most talent, but in 2014 they can still trade for players or draft position, and will have serious money to spend on free agents.
Tanking in 2014 isn’t a sign of smarts; it’s a sign you’re out of ideas.
In matters of beauty and basketball, it’s usually best to let nature take its course.
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