The Art of the Tank

A cartoon showing 76ers General Manager Sam Hinkie as a political poster with the caption ‘trust the process.’ The fans in Philadelphia view Hinkie in many lights, he took them down a risky path, many moves represented in the newspaper were frowned upon.


Alex Clough, Online Editor-In-Chief

   Everyone reading this has had a team(s) charge into the abyss, the dark times that go along with tanking, a popular form of rebuilding a once-great team, or a forever average team. Let’s focus on two of the more famous, or even infamous tanks/rebuilds, that of the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Astros, examining the ups and downs these organizations bring its cities. 

   Every organization that decides on a riskier path of rebuilding will need complete involvement from the front office, the scouts and the players themselves. What comes along with tanking is generally fewer tickets, a decrease in tv viewership and a drop in jersey sales with all lead to a loss of revenue. Both the Astros and 76ers experienced this, putting both active fanbases into pain-ridden years.

   The 76ers story begins in 2012 after finishing eighth in the east, beating the Bulls in the first round, but eventually falling to the Celtics in the second round. This led to the so-called instigation that began the reverse in Philadelphia. After trading for big man Andrew Bynum, the Sixers were expected to compete for a title, though in a quite comedic fashion, the season collapsed after Bynum injured himself bowling, never even playing a game for the team.

   Following this, Doug Collins was fired as Coach and the Sixers hired Sam Hinkie to lead basketball operations, who in turn hired Bret Brown as a coach to lead the rebuild. Whether Philadelphia fans liked it or not, the rebuild began. 

   In Houston, the Astros, like the Sixers, had absolutely zero regard for the team put onto the court as long as a high pick came out of it. Between 2011 and 2013, the Astros had a combined record of 162-324, losing a hundred games each season. The result came in George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. Jeff Luhnow, the President of Baseball Operations, had gained three players that would set the groundwork for the future.

   The Sixers had a vacillating few years of dreadful seasons and controversial picks. Between 2013 and 2017, the Sixers went an abysmal 75-253, leading many in the media to call Hinkie a fraud. In 2015 after starting the season 1-30, yes that is not a typo, the Sixers, or the league in a sense due to the bad attention brought in front office veteran Jerry Colangelo to oversee the organization.

   Following the awful 2015-2016 season, Hinkie resigned to nobody’s surprise. He left behind multiple first/second-round picks and set the groundwork for the 2017-2018 squad. Joel Emiid, drafted in 2014, missed his first two seasons with injuries, though after flourishing the season before, the big man was joined by first overall pick Ben Simmons. Through the bumpy and tumultuous five years, the Sixers entered the season with two stars, and a good supporting cast, thanks to the modern approach of Hinkie. 

   While many organizations of his time either focused on drafting or trades to build a championship team, Hinkie was a believer that every single title team has a superstar, instead of spending big or risking a detrimental trade, like the Sixers did years before with Bynum, the overload in first-round picks due to the tanking led to a team almost certain for glory. 

   Luhnow was almost personifying the layout Hinkie set forth, just in an entirely different sport, with a completely different draft. While in the NBA, securing the worst record doesn’t guarantee the first pick, only a better chance in the lottery, in the MLB, it’s simple. So, three 100 loss seasons for the Astros resulted in three number one picks and a second overall pick in just four years.

   The downside to this are flops, the painful despair of a once exciting player, which both teams experienced. The Astros had three number one picks in a row, only one of them, Carlos Correa, made it to the majors. The Sixers traded up three picks in 2017, drafting Markelle Fultz who only lasted a year with the team. 

   The main idea of this process in which teams take in providing winning seasons derives from one question. Would you rather be a mediocre team living in the basement, but still attempting to compete for the integrity, or simply defy ‘sport’ and suffer more, only to succeed more? 

   The ironic thing about both teams is that sitting here in 2020, can anyone really say these tanks worked. The Sixers have had two second-round exits, one a buzzer-beater in game seven of the 2019 Eastern Conference Final and are now trying to salvage any hope of winning that was once had. This is attributed to awful free agency signings and contracts and a general unlucky path of injuries.

   The Astros, well a World Series was won, funny though because they cheated, as simple as that, in the most brilliant way possible. With every single sports fan, not just baseball, obtaining lifelong hate for the team and its players, the punishment resulted in Luhnow getting banned for a year and many resourced extracted from the team. 

   For a minute, the world was in awe of the juristic approach these teams took to win. Even though neither have a legitimate trophy to show for, both took a risk, one that many more might just take, though hopefully the next will stick the landing.