April 8, 2010

Great Job, Guys! Now Tank.

Rooting for a clueless organization sometimes forces you to root for strange things. I was rooting hard for Nellie to pass Lenny Wilkens, not for his sake -- he's way too damaging of a presence right now for me to care about his legacy, and I don't really think he cared much about the record anyway -- but for the sake of the team's future. A franchise this stupid has enough trouble doing business in a vacuum, let alone in an environment filled with distractions. (The sad irony, of course, is that stupid franchises beget distractions, and thus the bulk of the season has been spent discussing the soap-operatic relationships between key figures, not the horrible product on the court.)

Nellie's record hunt, though ostensibly a positive distraction, was a distraction. Now that it's done, there's at least a chance that the Warriors braintrust will take a glance at the facts on the ground. If they do, they will come to two quick conclusions:

1) Jesus, we suck.
2) Now is no time to stop sucking.

The first point is both obvious and frequently made, but worth reiterating once more: this team is extremely bad, in a way that transcends injuries or luck. There are a number of variables in play here, not all of them reflecting an innate lack of talent: this roster is poorly constructed and execrably coached, and a few savvy trades and more competent on-court guidance could improve the team's results. Nevertheless, there is no reason whatsoever to think that this team has enough talent to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference going forward.

Which brings us to the second point, and the only stat line that matters.

Last night's win sank the Warriors into a three-way tie for the worst record in basketball, amidst a cloud of teams that have been sucking in earnest: the Clips, Sixers, Pistons, Wizards and Kings have a combined 18-80 record since March 1st. The Warriors, who've gone 7-13 in that span, could still finish with the league's third-worst record. They could also finish with the league's eighth-worst record; in fact, if they run the table, they could end up tied for eighth-worst with the Knicks, necessitating a coin flip to determined who would have the notional ninth pick in the draft. Which means that we Warriors fans have more perverse outcomes to root for.

Tanking is only advisable under the most extreme of circumstances, but these are those extreme circumstances. The Warriors have a severe talent deficit; they can affect their draft slotting by several places in the season's final week; there is a steep talent dropoff after the first four or five players. Warriors fans have been burned far too many times to find solace in a strong finish to the franchise's worst season in eight years... a couple more wins aren't going to fool anybody. This is is when you manipulate the system to your advantage. The Warriors absolutely have to lose their remaining four games. Any other outcome would rank as one of the biggest blunders in a blunder-filled season.

Happily, the Warriors' three final opponents are the Thunder, the Jazz and the Blazers. These are good, intelligent teams who are playing well, and while it might behoove one or more of them to get cute about playoff slotting, none of these teams has a coach who likes taking his foot off the gas pedal. These teams should beat the Warriors without much trouble; the Dubs should not have to "try" to lose these games. But Saturday brings a formidable challenge, in a Clippers team that 1) also sucks, and 2) also stands to profit from a loss. To be fair, Kim Hughes hasn't been benching starters with phantom illnesses or giving outsized minutes to scrubs... the Clips have more or less kept up appearances. They just haven't shown much interest in winning lately, dropping 16 of their last 18, and 11 of those 16 by double digits. And they've gotten very good at losing to the Warriors, getting outscored by 48 total points in the teams' last two showdowns.

Saturday's visit to LA is, simply put, the season's most important game. The future of this franchise will be more affected by that game than by any other this year; it's a game that could mean the difference between John Wall and Derrick Favors, or between Derrick Favors and Cole Aldrich. The Warriors need more talent, and they will never have a more clear-cut opportunity to increase their chances of getting than they'll have on Saturday. So they need to figure out a way to get this done. Whether it requires sidelining Stephen Curry with "flulike symptoms", or triple-teaming Rasual Butler, or mandating three tequila shots per player before tipoff, it's got to happen.

The celebration is over, and reality has once again descended upon the Warriors. That reality strongly suggests that a loss on Saturday would be a good idea... let's hope the Warriors confront that reality. After all, it shouldn't be too difficult for this team to lose some basketball games.

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