Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Coach K Says Tanking is ‘Stupid,’ But His Players Sure Seem Worth Tanking For
NEW YORK — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had just finished praising his potential one-and-done players Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones when he climbed down off the podium at Barclays Center and told me tanking for star players like them is “stupid.”
“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 after his No.-4 ranked Duke team beat Stanford, 70-59, to win the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Some 50 NBA personnel, including Boston Celtics President Danny Ainge and Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough, were in attendance.
About three miles away at Madison Square Garden, the dreadful Philadelphia 76ers had just fallen to 0-13 by losing to the Knicks, a 4-10 outfit.
The Sixers players like Michael Carter-Williams may not be tanking themselves, but their front office has put them in a situation where they are threatening the NBA’s all-time record for futility.
“It’s a very murky puzzle at times,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said, according to the New York Times. “But I do think, despite our record, that I feel very good about where we’re at. I know that might sound funny when you look at the win-loss record. But the foundation of the system is in place.”
The “foundation of the system” is Philly’s plan to build through the draft, and that’s where teams like Duke come in.
According to DraftExpress.com, Duke has three of the first 13 projected picks in the 2015 NBA Draft in No. 1 Okafor, No. 7 Winslow and No. 13 Jones — all freshmen.
At 0-13, the Sixers are the odds-on favorite to have the best chance of landing the presumed No. 1 pick Okafor next June.
Sixers fans are quick to point out that Philly has already drafted two big men in the last two drafts in Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid.
But several NBA sources said Philly could easily trade one of their current bigs if they opt to draft Okafor at No. 1 (assuming they get the No. 1 pick).
“They will probably trade one of the bigs they currently have instead of Okafor,” one NBA source said.
Or the Sixers could trade the pick itself for more assets. After all, they need just about everything.
Or the Sixers could miss out on landing the No. 1 pick and Okafor could be chosen by someone else — even the Knicks.
Whatever the case, the 6-foot-10 freshman who has been compared to Tim Duncan is good. Real good.
“There’s really not anything Jah should not be able to do eventually,” Krzyzewski said Friday. “He’s not there yet, he’s a young kid still, but he has all of it.”
Okafor says Sixers, Knicks and Lakers fans Tweet him all the time, hoping to land him to help save their franchises.
“Just when I get on Twitter, I get Sixers fans Tweeting me, Knicks fans Tweeting me, Lakers fans Tweeting me, so I see a lot of that stuff when I get on Twitter,” Okafor told me.
He has his own set of slogans already:
“Lose some more for Okafor”
“Forget how to score for Okafor”
“Fall on the floor for Okafor”
“Just some of the slogans, they’re all pretty funny,” Okafor said.
Against Stanford, Okafor managed just 2 points in the first half but still finished with a double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds.
“As long as he’s a scoring threat, it helps our other guys.’ Coach K said of Okafor.
Those “other guys” include the 6-6 Winslow, who was brilliant in notching 14 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists, while chasing down Chasson Randle for the block in the above video that was ultimately called a foul.
“I thought Justise played a great game, not a good game, a great game,” Coach K said. “That kid’s a really good player. He and Okafor give us two players to go to offensively.”
“He’s been phenomenal the entire season,” Okafor told me of Winslow.
Winslow shot 2-for-7 from the arc, but as Coach K noted, several of them went in and out.
If Winslow can consistently that 3-pointer, he’s a lock to be a top 10 pick, even if the James Harden comparison is a little much.
“Top ten,” one veteran NBA scout told SNY.tv. “He is getting better, a little more experienced and he will slow down a little and soften his shot and watch out.”
Winslow’s performance prompted a round of new Tanking Slogans, including “Keep Ya Wins Low for Winslow” — “I love that one,” Okafor told me — and “Do Your Best to Blow for Justise Winslow.”
Coach K, perhaps hoping Winslow will stay on campus for his sophomore year, wasn’t quite buying into the slogans.
“Winslow’s a little bit further away,” Coach K said in reference to the tanking slogans.
But back in the locker room, Jones and company couldn’t help but get a kick out of them.
“My favorite one was, ‘Lose more for Okafor,'” Jones told me. “It’s funny to hear the different slogans. It’s all fun and games, I’m happy for those guys. Those two are my brothers and to even hear people making slogans for them as in teams are tanking for them, that’s a dream come true. That’s everyone’s dream as a basketball player and to see that they’ll have the opportunity is great.”
So there you have it.
Coach K thinks tanking is stupid, but his players sure seem worth tanking for.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.