Knicks coach David Fizdale was asked this week if the Knicks would consider tanking the 2018-19 NBA season if Kristaps Porzingis is ruled out as he recovers from ACL surgery.
"Tank?" the first-year Knicks coach responded. "We will not ever tank."
The Knicks — like a handful of other teams around the NBA — may not actively tank this season in terms of intentionally losing games. But the product they put on the floor isn't expected to be very good.
As the losses pile up for those franchises across a dark and bleak winter, their fans will dream of landing players like Duke's phenomenal freshman duo of R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson.
With that in mind, my man Josh Newman and I introduce the unofficial "Tanking Slogans" for the upcoming season.
As the losses pile up, your team can "Give it all away for R.J." or "Encourage bad play for R.J."
If you're hoping to land Williamson, an athletic freak whom Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has called "graceful" despite his 6-foot-7, 285-pound frame, then your NBA team can "Quit tryin' for Zion" or support the notion that "Our fans are cryin’ for Zion."
If you're a fan of Indiana freshman sensation Romeo Langford, your Tank Slogan can be something along the lines of "Play with less gusto for Romeo" or "Go ahead and blow for Romeo."
The Knicks won't be alone in this chase.
Their "rival" Brooklyn Nets aren't expected to be very good, either. Both New York teams are projected to have win totals in the low 30s.
The Chicago Bulls are projected to win fewer than 20 games, while the LeBron-less Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic have projected win totals in the 20s. The Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks are in the 30s.
In the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, and L.A. Clippers are all projected to win fewer than 30 games.
And let's be real. There are only a handful of teams with a realistic shot at winning the title in 2019, and they reside in Golden State, Houston, Boston, Toronto, and maybe Los Angeles if you believe that much in LeBron.
So while the rest of the league won't actively be "tanking," they will end up looking ahead to the 2019 Draft, which isn't deep but has a few potential transcendent stars in guys like Barrett and Williamson.
Tanking is nothing new, of course.
Philadelphia 76ers fans were forced to endure "The Process" for several years by watching teams that weren't at all competitive. Now they are a fun, exciting young playoff team featuring Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and, ahem, Markelle Fultz.
A couple of years ago, ahead of the 2014 Draft that produced Embiid, Saric, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle, among others, one NBA executive told me he saw as many as half a dozen teams tanking.
The GM of one team told ESPN.com: “Our team isn’t good enough to win and we know it…Sometimes my job is to understand the value of losing.”
"Well, teams have always tanked," Charles Barkley said a few years back on Mike & Mike. "The Miami Heat did it a couple years ago when they cleared all their space and put a bad team out there to get LeBron, Dwyane [Wade] and Chris Bosh. Nobody complained. Same thing with the Knicks. They did the same thing when they were going for LeBron so teams have always tanked. I don't understand why people are all of a sudden making a big deal out of it.
"Nobody complained when Pat Riley did it. But now all of sudden..."
Barkley said for teams like the Sixers it was the best way to rebuild.
"I like what the Sixers are doing," he said during "The Process." "They weren't going to win. I want a young team with a bright future. I want cap space and draft picks. That's what has happened in the NBA."
Of course, not everyone is a fan of tanking.
Ask Coach K.
I did a few years back when his 2015 NCAA championship team featured one-and-done players Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones. Some of the Tanking Slogans we came up with that year included:
- "Lose some more for Okafor"
- "Forget how to score for Okafor"
- "Fall on the floor for Okafor"
Needless to say, Coach K isn't a fan of tanking.
"It's stupid to have it because one, you don't know if you are going to get somebody and it's a disservice to your fans," Coach K told me then.
As it turned out, Okafor never materialized into the NBA player many thought he was, so Coach K was right in that you can't always predict how top prospects will translate into the NBA.
That said, go ahead and ask him about his current crop of one-and-dones and he'll give you rave reviews.
“The kid’s a winner and wants to be special…very intelligent,” Coach K said of the 6-7 Barrett before he averaged 30 points a game in three Duke wins in Canada. “He’s way ahead of his years as far as maturity. Very, very mature player.”
As for Williamson, who went off for 36 points and 14 rebounds in Duke's last game in Canada, Coach K said he has “graceful” athleticism for a man of his size.
Zion's second jump though 🐰🐰 pic.twitter.com/rrcObfQ5aS— ESPN (@espn) August 19, 2018
Williamson would be the second heaviest player in the NBA right now, something that is of concern to NBA scouts but not to Coach K.
“At that weight or approximately that weight, he moves as fast as anybody, jumps higher than anybody and he’s alert," Coach K said. "We’re not talking about someone who has excess body fat. This is a kid that’s in pretty darn good shape and just has a man’s mass. It’s more mass and strength than any type of excess weight. I’m not concerned about that. He’s done really well.”
Barrett, Williamson, and the Blue Devils open the season in Indianapolis November 6 in the Champions Classic against Kentucky, which has its own batch of future pros like Keldon Johnson, P.J. Washington, and Nick Richards.
No doubt David Fizdale will catch some highlights and the Knicks will have scouts in the building.
At that point, Fizdale may want to reevaluate his position on tanking and sally forth with the plan to "Give it all away for R.J," or "Quit tryin' for Zion."