Last year, late in the season, and with the Raptors well out of the playoff picture, the team hosted the Boston Celtics at the ACC. By this point, I had fully embraced the "Suck For Anthony Davis" mentality, and since teams like the Hornets and Warriors had about the same record as the Raps did, I approached this particular game like a must-lose contest.
Fast forward to sometime near the end of the fourth quarter in said match.
The game had been close up until then, but being a rational person and having seen both the Raptors and the Celtics play before, I had no doubt in my mind that Boston was going to win. But now, the Raptors were making a push.
Out of nowhere, the crowd at the ACC started standing up, clapping and screaming for Ben Uzoh, who was on the way to posting his now infamous triple double!
I wanted to scream at everyone: "What are you doing? Don't you know we need to LOSE this game? This is the best thing for the team!"
But even if I had, no one would have listened. Toronto won and made everyone happy, but I left disappointed. I wanted the team to bottom out so that they could rebuild and put the pieces back together in a way that made sense. But they were stuck in basketball's purgatory, the worst, most dreadful place imaginable: mediocrity.
The discussion surrounding tanking was much more prominent last season. This was probably because of a certain uni-browed "soon-to-be-Pelican", but also because it seemed blatantly obvious that some teams were doing it. Mark Jackson might as well have strolled to half court in a leather suit, banging some coke bottles together and screaming, "Warriors, come out to play...but only for a few quarters."
The tanking exploits of Golden State hurt Raptors fans on a personal level, since the fruit of their non-labour was Toronto's sweetheart, Harrison Barnes, but it wasn't just Golden State; a few other teams were also tanking.
Unfortunately, those teams did not include Toronto, who had Dwane Casey using some sort of unidentifiable dark magic in order to get the team to play defence for the first time in years. The result of the aforementioned voodoo was the eighth overall pick: Terrence Ross. Nothing against Ross, who's had some moments this season, and who Casey says never misses in practice (if you listen to the Clippers announcers, Blake Griffin has also never missed a free throw or mid range jumper in practice, and is one small step away from becoming Larry Bird), but since the Raps were once rumoured to be drafting the likes of Damian Lillard or Barnes, some fans can't help being disappointed.
This season is a little different. The Raptors traded their 2013 1st round pick to OKC, and since the pick is only top 3 protected, the team will either bottom out and get one of the first 3 picks, or not pick at all. Now we've reached our dilemma: to tank or not to tank.
To clarify: I'm not a supporter of what Golden State *ahem* allegedly did. A pro-sports organization is a business, the players and coaches are employees, they get paid, and they should continue to do their jobs. And they wouldn't disagree, either. Pro-athletes are ultra competitive and always want to win - this shouldn't change.
The tanking that I'm talking about has to do with the attitude of the fan. It's not an organizational decree for the team, but a personal lens for their viewer, a new perspective with which to approach each game. To watch games through this lens will be unconventional, counterintuitive, and sometimes unsatisfying, but it might pay off in the long run. To watch game through the opposite lens is to keep doing what you've probably been doing all year, and that's to cheer on your favourite team, take pleasure in wins, and take Valium after losses. How you want to experience Raptors games for the rest of the season is up to you, but here are some pros and cons to help you decide.
Mandate: You want individual players to develop and play well, but you root for the team to lose as many games as possible, and ideally have the worst record in the league.
Pro: You'll rarely be disappointed by the kinds of close losses that have plagued the team, or any losses in general. You might sometimes be slightly unhappy with a close win...but who are we kidding, that will never happen. The more likely scenario is you and your friend having a conversation like:
You: "Oh no! The Raptors are up by 15 with 6 minutes left in the 4th!"
Friend: "Don't worry, man, the Raps are never out of [losing] it."
That kind of confidence in your team's losing ability might provide some (even if limited) satisfaction, but since in this situation, the worst thing the Raptors can do is win, the disappointment won't be nearly as devastating as this. (link to Rudy Gay not this guy) Or this. (link to Kobe). Or this. (link to something this season - this should come first)
Pro: The team might keep its 1st round pick next season and make a solid addition to the roster, leading to several seasons of legitimate satisfaction for fans. Ideally, this situations would come with a caveat of throwing away the 2012-2013 season and hopefully trading Calderon, Bargnani, and amnestying Amir Johnson. On top of all this, crushing injuries like Lowry's are easier to swallow.
Con: Your real enjoyment won't come until the lottery is determined. Rooting for your favourite team to lose is pretty unsatisfying, even if you come to terms with the reasoning behind it, so the real triumph won't be until you know the tank has worked.
Not To Tank
Mandate: You're too big of a fan to ever cheer for the Raptors to lose, and you celebrate every win like the beginning of a 20 game win streak. Ideally, the Raptors will show enough promise this season that losing the 1st round pick won't matter.
Pro: Wins will bring you regular amounts of satisfaction, and you won't feel alienated from the franchise base. You'll be able go to games and cheer on made baskets like a normal person. This sounds fun.
Pro: You still cheer for the Raptors to make good moves for the future (trading Calderon, Bargnani, etc.), and for young players like Valanciunas to develop, but you never have to feel guilty about why you want Terrence Ross to play 40 minutes. You retain your integrity.
Con: You could potentially be crushed by loss after loss, braving through a horrible season only to lose the pick and have to do it all over again. You also might develop extreme frustration with the team, as well as find it hard to deal with injuries to players like Lowry or Bargs.
Though both viewpoints are valid, I'm all in on the tank, even with the team's latest win streak. I've always wanted a rebuilding period, and this may be the closest the team ever gets while under Colangelo, who's always been a "win now" kind of guy, despite some supposed "rebuilding" attempts. Whichever way you choose to watch the rest of the season, if you're even watching at all, keep in mind that the lottery is called that for a reason, and the Raptors could have the worst record in the league and still lose their pick. More realistically, if the Raps stay somewhere around the bottom 6, the worst odds they'll have is 1 in 4. Some might argue that's too small, but that's better than zero. So what'll it be?
Shall we tank?