John Lucas: Cavs tanked to get LeBron

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John Lucas: Cavs tanked to get LeBron

Postby rlee » Tue Jan 19, 2010 4:34 am

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Postby Mike Goodman » Tue Jan 19, 2010 12:09 pm

Former owner Gordon Gund:
"You don't try to get the No. 1 pick,'' Gund said. "That's why the lottery was designed. To not allow that. We had a young team that we were developing. ... We did not tank the season. ... To lose to get LeBron James, we would never do that. I wouldn't do that. I couldn't do that.

"In the very last game of the season, we had nothing to gain and we were in sole possession of last place (in the NBA). But we beat (Toronto) and that left us tied with Denver (at 17-65). ... The chances of getting the first pick were only (22.5 percent).''

Does repeating the denial make it more believable?
I really dislike the idea of rewarding failure.
For a player of LeBron's caliber, 22.5% is quite an attractive success rate.
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Postby meej » Tue Jan 19, 2010 12:43 pm

If I recall correctly, it would have been 25% if the Cavs had not won the very last regular season game to tie with the Nuggets. In fact, they won two of their last three games, so there goes the conspiracy theory.

I think 22.5% is an attractive success rate if you are a Nigerian businessman. Rockets in '83, now that was tanking with style.
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Postby Mike Goodman » Tue Jan 19, 2010 1:41 pm

If I'm putting nickels in a slot machine, each with a 25% chance of winning a dollar, that's very good odds.
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Postby meej » Tue Jan 19, 2010 1:52 pm

Yet the draft gives you only one chance. Closer to loading four bullets into a revolver and playing Russian Roulette.

I understand Lucas' frustration, but he's talking Lamond Murray and Wesley Person. The line between tanking and plain old sucking is quite fine in that one. I have the feeling that even if they had not landed LeBron, the Cavs wouldn't have missed those two.
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Postby Mike Goodman » Tue Jan 19, 2010 7:26 pm

meej wrote:.. the draft gives you only one chance. Closer to loading four bullets into a revolver and playing Russian Roulette.
.

Well, except that there's always next year.

If 'tanking' improved the Cavs' chances from, say, 15% to 22.5%, that's a 50% improvement in their likelihood of getting the first pick.

If other teams also tanked -- incl. 24-58 Toronto -- then it becomes a struggle to tank without being obvious about it. The GM may wish the team would lose, the coach may even get the message, but do players really know how to lose deliberately?

Denver lost their last 8 games of '03 to forge the tie with Cleveland.
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Postby meej » Tue Jan 19, 2010 9:31 pm

Yet the Cavs did not.

The fact remains that tanking would not improve your chances of a #1 pick significantly. It's a 10% raise at most, which I am not sure that it offsets the loss of revenue due to lower attendances and devaluation of the brand name. It did make sense in the old days of the head or tails, even later on when bottom teams had big enough chances; nowadays I do not think that 25% is enough by itself.

I think that the current set up with the salary cap basically requires demolishing the roster before you can rebuild. You have to trade away long contracts, which usually mean veteran players, to get back marginal talent with expiring contracts plus draft picks. That's what I meant about Wesley Person: the Cavs no longer needed a decent veteran player like him. Even if Stepien had invented time travel and they had lost their first round draft choice, the Cavs would still have tried to get rid of his contract to open up future salary space for a possible free agent signing.
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Postby Mike Goodman » Tue Jan 19, 2010 11:34 pm

meej wrote:... the current set up with the salary cap basically requires demolishing the roster before you can rebuild. You have to trade away long contracts, which usually mean veteran players, to get back marginal talent with expiring contracts plus draft picks. ..

What teams have won a title by this strategy?

Dynasties are built one building block at a time; if you're lucky, 2 or more arrive at once. Keep your cornerstone players, draft well and develop the young guys, make good trades, grab useful free agents when you can.

Self-demolition is possible, but does it tend to produce anything beyond that?
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Postby Keith Ellis » Wed Jan 20, 2010 1:36 am

meej wrote:If I recall correctly, it would have been 25% if the Cavs had not won the very last regular season game to tie with the Nuggets. In fact, they won two of their last three games, so there goes the conspiracy theory....


It hardly seems fair to ascribe John Lucas' motivation for criticizing the Cavs' personnel changes to a Conspiracy Theory. In Ray's article Luke said nothing about a "conspiracy" to lose any particular game, much less the last game of the season. Instead, Lucas focuses on the dismantling of the club.

...he's talking Lamond Murray and Wesley Person...


In Murray the Cavs exchanged their leading scorer coming off a career campaign & the next draft's #2 pick for a Frenchman who hadn't played a half-season in five years, plus a pick from Toronto five summers down the road.

In Person & Miller Gund unloaded CleveLand's 3rd- & 2nd-leading scorers (the latter a 900-Assist guy), respectively, for two players they'd waive before the season started & two more who had a career PPG of 1.9 (Jamison) & a career APG of 1.7 (Miles).

It's easy to observe writer Chris Tomasson (&/or his editor at nba.fan.com) gratuitously inserted the word "tanked" into the title of their "expose" which opened the door to refute a conspiracy Lucas never theorized. It ain't a conspiracy when the few good players are sent packing, right in front of everybody's eyes.
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Postby meej » Wed Jan 20, 2010 7:57 am

It wasn't the good players, it was Murray and Person. You could make a case for Miller, even though his record playing for bad teams isn't too impressive, but Murray and Person had no business being top anything in any team going anywhere. They were decent players for sure, but they had no business being the main stays of a team. I remember the 11-win Nuggets, where Anthony Goldwire and Cory Alexander started.

Lamond Murray had three seasons and $14 million left in his contract. Wesley Person had two seasons and $13 million to go. The top four salaries in the 01-02 Cavs were Ilgauskas, Murray, Tyronne Hill (expiring) and Person. By the next season, three of them were gone and only Ilgauskas remained.

Mike Goodman wrote:What teams have won a title by this strategy?


Only the Spurs, who "tanked" to get Duncan, the Lakers, who traded Shaq away for peanuts, the Pistons, who lost or traded away Grant Hill and Allan Houston, and the Celtics, who made the Conference Finals and then traded away Kenny Anderson and Antoine Walker.

The salary cap prevents you from slowly accruing talent over time, because as time passes your young players get out of their rookie contracts so you don't have any salary cap for free agents, and the team record improves so you don't have high draft choices. You end up stuck in no man's land, good enough to make the playoffs but not good enough to make a run.
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Postby Mike Goodman » Sat Jan 23, 2010 10:26 pm

meej wrote:... the Lakers, who traded Shaq away for peanuts,...

Didn't they get Lamar Odom and Caron Butler for Shaq?
I'd take either one of those guys over the Big Dinosaur.
... Spurs, who "tanked" to get Duncan ...

Nah, Robinson missed almost the whole year ('97). In '96 they had Elliott, Avery, Del Negro, Perdue, and Person; in '98, they still had that cast, plus Duncan.
Nothing resembling 'demolition'.

Pistons dumped a broken Grant Hill, for Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins.
Upgrades are not equivalent to 'demolishing' your roster.
Think they wished they'd matched the Knicks' offer to Allan Houston?
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Postby Keith Ellis » Sat Jan 23, 2010 10:48 pm

Mike Goodman wrote:Nah, Robinson missed almost the whole year ('97). In '96 they had Elliott, Avery, Del Negro, Perdue, and Person; in '98, they still had that cast, plus Duncan.
Nothing resembling 'demolition'.



Correct, Mike. The point is that writer Tomasson (or his editor) gratuitously added the "tanked" description to what John Lucas actually said, & put it in the story headline.

Thus meej is right about the '97 Spurs tanking, & you're right that they didn't demolish the squad.
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Postby meej » Sat Jan 23, 2010 10:52 pm

Grant Hill wasn't "broken". He had had one injury, in retrospect a harbinger for what was to come, but he was coming off a 74-game season when they sign & traded him.

The Lakers also got Brian Grant in the deal. And they went from 56 wins & a presence in the finals, to 34 wins and out of the playoffs with Butler and Odom. You know you are in full demolition mode when the best news of your season is "that Chris Mihm dude is playing OK".
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Postby rlee » Sat Jan 23, 2010 11:02 pm

Whether his recollection & surmise is historically accurate or not, surely Lucas was alleging tanking. Here is what is attributed to Lucas in the story:

"They trade all our guys away and we go real young, and the goal was to get LeBron and also to sell the team,'' Lucas said in an interview with FanHouse. "I didn't have a chance. ... You can't fault the Cavaliers for wanting to get LeBron.


"Lucas said he was told during the 2002-03 season to use young players, and was discouraged from using veterans such as forward Tyrone Hill and point guard Bimbo Coles.

John Lucas "What you can't talk about is, 'We're trying to get LeBron,''' Lucas said of the climate that season. "You can't say that (to the fans).''

In the story, Ricky Davis concurs: "It was tough on (Lucas),'' Davis said. "They were forcing him to lose and I know it's nothing he wanted to do. It's just the position he was forced in. But it's tough. ... It worked, whatever they did (to get James) so it's hard to knock them. They got what they wanted.

The story then continues w/ owner Gund's denial of what he explicitly recognizes as the allegation of tanking:

"Gund strongly denied in an interview with FanHouse the Cavaliers had a strategy to get James by losing games in 2002-03."
Gund did confirm Lucas was directed to use younger players because they were the "future of the team... But Gund pointed out that, if the Cavaliers were indeed trying to TANK that season, why would Lucas have been fired after the team got off to a horrendous start?
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Postby meej » Sat Jan 23, 2010 11:05 pm

I do agree that for different reasons (injuries, players wanting out, teams not reaching as high as they were expected to), many teams have demolished their rosters to start anew, sometimes keeping one major piece and others starting from scratch.

What I suggest is that the Cavs and others did not do it just to get the #1 draft pick, but because the salary cap makes it very hard to rebuild in any other way. A few teams have managed to "rebuild in place", remaining in contention while they overhauled their rosters, but that's the exception not the rule.
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Postby Keith Ellis » Sat Jan 23, 2010 11:14 pm

rlee wrote:...surely Lucas was alleging tanking. Here is what is attributed to Lucas in the story:

"They trade all our guys away and we go real young, and the goal was to get LeBron and also to sell the team,'' Lucas said in an interview with FanHouse. "I didn't have a chance. ... You can't fault the Cavaliers for wanting to get LeBron.

John Lucas: "What you can't talk about is, 'We're trying to get LeBron,''' Lucas said of the climate that season. "You can't say that (to the fans).''


These are the quotes just attributed to Lucas. Nowhere does he say or allege the Cavaliers were "tanking," which is a term for losing games on purpose, unless we can somehow read it in his mind.


"Lucas said he was told during the 2002-03 season to use young players, and was discouraged from using veterans such as forward Tyrone Hill and point guard Bimbo Coles.

In the story, Ricky Davis concurs: "It was tough on (Lucas),'' Davis said. "They were forcing him to lose and I know it's nothing he wanted to do. It's just the position he was forced in. But it's tough. ... It worked, whatever they did (to get James) so it's hard to knock them. They got what they wanted.

The story then continues w/ owner Gund's denial of what he explicitly recognizes as the allegation of tanking:

"Gund strongly denied in an interview with FanHouse the Cavaliers had a strategy to get James by losing games in 2002-03."
Gund did confirm Lucas was directed to use younger players because they were the "future of the team... But Gund pointed out that, if the Cavaliers were indeed trying to TANK that season, why would Lucas have been fired after the team got off to a horrendous start?


Nobody says the Cavs "tanked" except the writer Tomasson (or his editor) in the controversial, attention-getting headline.

Gund, however, brings the word TANK into the conversation to deny it, as if he were sitting in his kitchen hearing the beating of a tell-tale heart.
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Postby rlee » Sat Jan 23, 2010 11:27 pm

In Lucas' characterization, players were dispensed with, with a goal of being in a better position to draft LeBron - the only way to get in the better position was to lose games - he concludes that the players were dispatched so that enough games would be lost to help get LeBron. His allegation (I'm not saying he is necessarily correct) was that ownership tanked (lost intentionally to improve draft position). That's right, he is saying ownership (not the players) tanked. No amount of hair splitting can contravene that. Davis said the same thing & Gund used the right word to characterize the allegation.
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Re: John Lucas: Cavs tanked to get LeBron

Postby rlee » Mon Jun 04, 2012 2:59 pm

Jonathan Feigen (Houston Chronicle) opines on "tanking" as it applies in this type of situation:

The NBA announced today that the draft lottery May 30 will be in New York at the Disney/ABC Studios at Times Square. Assuming that the lottery teams have suffered enough, the NBA will not ask them to spend spring in Secaucus, N.J.

This minor announcement, like the lottery itself, offers something to look forward to for most of the teams and their fans excluded from the postseason, and to distract the Jazz, who would get the Warriors’ pick if it falls from the top seven, from feeling too bad about getting smacked around for two games in San Antonio.

It also offers an invitation to fix the lottery.

In reality, if you are a fan of a team such as, let’s say, the Rockets and you’re feeling left out again during the playoffs’ first week, you really don’t have much lottery hope.

In their familiar spot at No. 14, the Rockets have a .5 percent chance of winning the lottery and a 1.8 percent chance of moving up to the top three. There is little hope, few expectations. No one so far back in the pack punches a fire extinguisher over the draft lottery results.

Leaving out the tired debate over the wisdom and effectiveness of rebuilding by tanking, the NBA should remove as much of the practice (and debate) as possible from the league.

Teams should not benefit so greatly – or even think they would benefit – from intentionally losing. Losing should be a bad thing. And fans should not be encouraged by the system to hope that their team loses, or to debate among each other about whether their team should intentionally be lousy.

At the Rockets’ final game this season, fans at Toyota Center cheered relatively wildly for the late comeback and win though it could have hurt the Rockets’ draft position. They were not fools. They were customers, and part of what they bought was a chance to cheer a victory.

Teams should not be in a position to take that away from their most important fans, the paying customer. They definitely should not greatly benefit from trading away players that fans have already paid to see play, unless for the reason implied when those tickets were sold – to get better. And “to get better” should not include getting better by getting worse.

You can argue whether being horrible is a good way to become great. You can argue whether it works or works often enough. You can argue whether it is right or wrong, wise or foolish. But tanking, as a practice in the NBA, is unimportant only if integrity is unimportant.

The spirit and value of competition should be protected by the league. The idea of having a draft in inverse order of the standings in professional sports is to help bad teams become good teams. This would seem to be good business, but in basketball, the impact of a single player can be so great that there can often be far too much reward given to teams for being terrible at playing at basketball.

For the Charlotte Bobcats, the worst team in NBA history, winning the lottery would not bring a consolation prize; it would be an undeserved reward for unprecedented failure. Way to go Bobcats, you were better at being horrible than everyone else.

Teams routinely give away good players to intentionally become bad basketball teams. The Warriors, who will lose their first-round pick this season if it does not remain in the top seven, did all they could to lose games late in the season. In the last game of the season in Houston, the Hornets benched Carl Landry for the second half – along with most of their usual regulars already out for a variety of reasons – because Landry played too well in the first half. The Hornets were going to do all they could to lose, even if they had to score just six fourth quarter points.

If anything, the weighted lottery system encourages teams to take a dive. The advantage of picking seventh rather than ninth is negligible when compared to the extra chances at winning the right to pick first.

The topic was briefly broached at a competition committee meeting about four years ago, but changing the system was not much of a priority. It should be now.

There is a solution. Make it a true lottery. All 14 teams should have an equal chance to win the lottery. Then, the only motivation to lose on purpose would be to go from a playoff team to a lottery team, and teams would very rarely, if ever, do that just for a one in 14 chance to win the lottery.

The NBA rallying cry of the labor negotiations was that teams should have a chance at success “if well managed.” Well, let’s expect teams to at least try to be well managed. If the Bobcats don’t have as good a chance at the top pick, tough. The fifth pick would do if you do your jobs and develop a solid team.

If you wish to have sympathy for the lousy teams, especially those that are lousy through no fault of their own, protect the draft order through seven picks, half the lottery. Have the lottery determine the first seven picks. The teams remaining would then pick in inverse order of their records. That way, the worst team would pick no later than eighth and probably sooner. The draft would still bring an opportunity to succeed – if well managed.

This is not to benefit teams like the Rockets, Suns and to a degree the Bucks by giving them a better chance of winning the lottery. Their failure to make the playoffs is their problem, not the league’s. But the system needs repairs.

The lottery itself was created to remove 80s-era tanking for the top pick. What we now have, however, is more teams tanking more often. It’s not so much that teams are trying to move up from 12, 13 or 14 to the top 10, but really bad teams hoping to get worse. Losing on purpose – even through the more subtle actions of diminishing a roster or short-term rotation – is a version of fixing results, behavior that is still considered inexcusable.

Make it a true lottery and you would remove much of the motivation to lose that teams currently find in the system. For what it’s worth, you would also make the draft lottery game show much more interesting.
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Re: John Lucas: Cavs tanked to get LeBron

Postby meej » Tue Jun 05, 2012 8:03 am

I disagree that tanking for draft positions is on the rise. I think he does not take into account the shedding of contracts required for rebuilding in the salary cap era.

All 14 teams should have an equal chance to win the lottery.


I seem to remember that they already tried this, and it did not look good.
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Re: John Lucas: Cavs tanked to get LeBron

Postby rlee » Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:36 pm

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