Tanking debate: Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic

Are the Celtics tanking? Should the Celtics tank? Why aren't the Celtics tanking? Are the Celtic being outtanked? These are the types of questions that the Celtics fans keep asking themselves since this season of unknowns has started. These are, no doubt, valid questions, yet just because a question is valid doesn't mean it will have a solid answer ever. Let me elaborate: Is "is there a God?" a valid question? Yeah, perfectly valid. Yet if I had to ask myself that every day and go debate with people because I think I have an answer, I would probably go crazy or other people would just stop debating with me. After all, there simply isn't enough data to prove either point is definitely correct.

See, any debate centered around Celtics and tanking have the same issue. We simply don't know, and we probably won't ever know. The sustenance of this ambiguity is inherent to a successful tanking season; why would anyone waste money on a Celtics home game if they know that they want the team not to win? If the Celtics care about ticket sales and fan interest, they have to make sure that they win a few games now and then. Groupon won't always help. It has to be this way: if the Celtics lose several games in a row, you have to feel like they will win the next one, even if you sorta hope that they don't. Even rooting for a loss has to be exciting.

See, they're having fun!
Now, back to the original question. Are the Celtics tanking? Can a team that starts the season 3-4 be tanking? Well, let's take a quick look at the last season: Orlando, the worst team last year, started the season 5-7. They beat Denver, Golden State, the Clippers during the season. Charlotte, the second worst team last year, started the season 7-5. They beat Indiana, Chicago and us, twice. Phoenix, the fourth worst team last year, started the season 6-7. They beat Memphis, Lakers, Chicago and San Antonio. New Orleans, the fifth worst team last year, started the season 3-4. They beat Chicago, the Clippers, San Antonio... You get the idea. Why does that happen, though? Well, in the beginning of the season, every team has a lot to work on, and that's why there are weird results on a nightly basis. Brooklyn Nets are 2-4 right now. The Bulls are 2-3, the Nuggets are 1-4. That will change, and neither the Suns nor the Sixers will be above .500 come All-Star break. Boston's record right now doesn't imply anything for the rest of the season, especially when there are 75 games and tens of injuries left.

Should the Celtics tank, anyway? I believe that they should be losing some games this season as recent history suggests that the Celtics can't compete with some big teams in attracting free agents. The higher our lottery picks, the more leverage we have. The awesomeness of this year's draft class has been well established too, so that looks like a logical step to go forward. On the other hand, ask Portland what happened to Oden. Ask the Grizzlies what happened to their next Dikembe Mutombo. Hell, we all sadly remember what happened in 1986. Anything can happen. Besides that, some star/rising star players today were picked late in the first round too: Paul George was #10, Kemba Walker was #9, Klay Thompson #11, Kawhi Leonard #15, Jrue Holiday #17, Kenneth Faried #22...

What I'm saying is this: tanking doesn't clearly yield the best results. Even if it's the most optimum strategy, don't the Celtics want to get rid some contracts? How can Danny Ainge trade Bass, Green or Wallace if they don't show that they are good players that can win games? Isn't Stevens injecting confidence into the young Celtics and pushing them to their limits also important? Is it possible to have our cake, eat it and have fun with it American Pie style? No. If there are choices, there will be disagreements, and trying to convince the other guy that he has to have fun the same way you do is quite ridiculous.

So, about this "true fan" thing that's going on: I want the Celtics to lose, but that doesn't stop me from going crazy after Jeff Green's miracle shot. My girlfriend, who doesn't enjoy regular season basketball at all, wants the Celtics to qualify for the Playoffs. If the Celtics fail to win it all for the next 20 years but compete in the Playoffs every year, she would still be a very happy Celtics fan. Does that make her less of a fan? If I care about the Celtics' future more than its present, am I suddenly less of a fan? People watch basketball for different reasons, support teams for different reasons... How on earth can this become an issue even?

My plan for this year is to just watch what a great coach we've got in Stevens, root for the young players to develop well and the veterans to pad their stats, hope for some last minute excitement at every game and not get carried away by either wins/losses. I suggest you find such a solution too instead of running around with a litmus test of Celtics fandom or true love or whatever.

Enjoy the game tonight.
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Photo credit: Jim Davis / Globe Staff