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Saturday, April 14, 2007
Ryan Gomes and "The Hunt for a High Draft Pick"

Ryan Gomes Greg Oden Kevin DurantEarlier this week, I published a couple of posts on NBA teams deliberately losing games in order to secure a better lottery position ("Why Does Tanking Occur in the NBA but Seemingly Not in Other Leagues?" & "The Pursuit of Crappyness: Are NBA Teams Tanking Games for Greg Oden and Kevin Durant?"). The readers' comments to the those posts are fantastic, as are reactions on other websites and blogs. My genuine thanks to all those who commented and who linked to the post, and particularly to ESPN's Bill Simmons and Henry Abbott and Sports Illustrated's Kelly Dwyer.

But despite what most would say is fairly strong evidence of NBA teams tanking, some are skeptical that players would ever agree to a scheme where games are purposefully lost. And there are some compelling reasons for that skepticism.

First off, aren't players prideful about competing and winning games? And even if they aren't--let's say they are completely selfish--wouldn't they care about their stats for their purposes of future contract and endorsement opportunities? So why would a player play worse to help a team lose? Or why would he not play in games, or parts of games, due to what are really phantom injuries, thus potentially making him appear less durable and less tough (which again would seem to jeopardize future contract and endorsement opportunities)?

Those arguments certainly have some logic to them. But to counter them, I bring you Boston Celtics forward Ryan Gomes, a graduate of Providence College and the Celtics' second round pick in the 2005 NBA draft. Gomes is one of the Celtics better players, averaging 12 points and 6 rebounds a game, making him the Celtics 4th leading scorer and 3rd best rebounder. Of interest to this topic, Gomes and starting point guard Rajon Rondo were curiously benched for the fourth quarter of the Celtics home game against the Milwaukee Bucks last night--a game the Celtics lost by two points, thereby securing the second worst record in the NBA this season, and preventing the Bucks, holders of the third worst record, from "overtaking" them for that honor/dishonor.

When asked why he didn't play in the fourth quarter, Gomes surprisingly admitted the obvious:
"I probably (would have played), but since we were in the hunt for a high draft pick, of course things are different. I understand that. Hopefully things get better. Now that we clinched at least having the second-most balls in the lottery, the last three games we'll see what happens. We'll see if we can go out and finish some games."
The "hunt for a high draft pick." Gotta love this game.


Quick, somebody needs to get Ryan Gomes a PR man. Tanking a season is something that you never, ever admit - no matter how obvious it is. Even Danny Ainge isn't that glib.

Now the real question is, will commissioner David Stern use his discretionary powers to "investigate" the Celtics after this quasi-admission of guilt? David Stern, after all, is a man who docked the Timberwolves FIVE first-round draft picks for the Joe Smith fiasco. Isn't circumventing salary cap rules less serious a transgression than deliberately bilking your fans out of hard-earned cash whilst sabotaging their in-game experience? After all, this make games anti-competitive and brings "the product" (as pro sports leagues seem to like to refer to themselves) into even more serious disrepute.

I would like to know that if a said "investigation" ever did find circumstantial or even damning evidence of a deliberate plot to tank the season, can fans - or at the very least season ticket holders - sue in a court of law? It seems ridiculous that the Celtics could abuse their rabid fan base by charging them admission and television fees to watch a cynical and flagrant disregard of sport ethics and then get rewarded with Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. After all, isn't the expectation of honest professionalism one of the core conventions of the non-written contract between pro franchises and the fans which purchase "the product"?

Anonymous Jason Chung -- 4/15/2007 8:49 AM  

I think you would need to ask what the point of a organization is. Is it to have the best team now, or perhaps to build a team that will be good for the future. If the idea is to build for the fututre, loosing a couple of games now might be better for the future, when you may get a better draft pick, and a rguably a better player bydoing it. Looking at the bigger picture changes things a little bit.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/15/2007 9:05 AM  

Um, the Celtics were down 11 points going into the 4th quarter of this game, and outscored the Bucks by 9 in the 4th (30-21) without Gomes, to almost pull out the victory. Gomes just seems bitter for being taken out of the game, offering no actual evidence. His removal from the game almost got a win for the Celtics, and is hardly evidence of 'tanking'.
"Mr. Stern, please investigate, they only played Rajon Rondo 27 minutes last night. Clearly they are trying to lose" Hiring Danny Ainge is more convincing evidence of trying to get the #1 pick!

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/15/2007 9:47 AM  

I still have a tough time believing that tanking is a rational choice. I just don't know if the improvement in odds you get from finishing an extra spot worse is actually worth it. If they use the same weighting as last year then the Celtics just clinched having a 19.9% chance instead of a 13.8% chance. Attendance, merchandise, TV ratings, goodwill, heck even the teams overall value (or at least it's growth rate) could take a hit. Is that really worth a 19.9% shot at the top pick? Granted there is two potential stud types in this draft, but the odds of getting either aren't great, and neither of them is a lock to be a franchise saver.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/15/2007 1:56 PM  

Just remember everyone--

(a) Remember when Tim Duncan came out? These same Celtics (under the incompetent Danny Ainge) had TWO picks in the lottery, their own at #1 or #2 and a pick by trade at about #10-11 . . . and MISSED on both counts (the Celtics' own 1st-round pick ended up being a #4 after the lottery).

(b) Remember also that the Denver Nuggets had the worst record in the NBA TWICE(!!) and ended up with the #4 pick . . . TWICE.

(c) On the other hand, Orlando had ONE ball in the draft one year . . . and ended up with #1 overall (Shaquille O'Neal).

So there is NO guarantee that "tanking" will get the #1 overall pick or Kevin Durant (at the time I write this, Greg Odin had not decided on declaring for the draft).

As for possible punishment on the Celtics . . . how about loss of three #1 picks (including this year's), $2.5 million, and the requirement to fire Ainge?

Melvin H.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/16/2007 1:58 PM  

I am still of the opinion that tanking at an individual level is irrational, but I can't really argue with this comment. And yes, Gomes needs a PR man bad.

Blogger Garrett -- 4/16/2007 10:21 PM  

(a) Remember when Tim Duncan came out? These same Celtics (under the incompetent Danny Ainge) had TWO picks in the lottery, their own at #1 or #2 and a pick by trade at about #10-11 . . . and MISSED on both counts (the Celtics' own 1st-round pick ended up being a #4 after the lottery).

That's ridiculous. If you want to criticize Ainge, be my guest, but at least get the facts straight. That was 1997. Rick Pitino was the president, GM, and coach of the Celtics (and I believe he was preceded as GM by ML Carr). They may have missed on Duncan, but if you're arguing that they "missed" on the 10-11 draft spot, you're right . . . in that they "missed" it up to 6th (along with their own pick, which was 3rd). They picked Ron Mercer from Kentucky with the #3, and Chauncey Billups from Colorado with the #6. Ainge, if I recall, was still coaching in Phoenix at that point.

As for possible punishment on the Celtics . . . how about loss of three #1 picks (including this year's), $2.5 million, and the requirement to fire Ainge?

Again, ridiculous. Why would you punish Ainge for something he had no control over? He's not coaching the team; Doc Rivers is. If you watch even one Celtics game this year, any basketball fan will notice that Rivers' defensive schemes are TERRIBLE. He doesn't have the players rotating to guard right, and his defensive matchups are downright head-scratchers. This isn't like in Minnesota, where McHale deliberately circumvented the CBA with Joe Smith. Ainge has done nothing wrong.

Gomes is a whiner, and I personally think the front office should take him out to the woodshed and whack him with a two by four. I love his hustle, and I'm happy he's so dedicated to the game that he gets pissy when he gets taken out. But, as I said a few days ago, the Celtics have nothing of any circumstance to play for. Gomes' roster spot isn't even remotely in question. So, if you know you're going to gain nothing, why on earth WOULDN'T you take the guys you know are staying out, and use it to audition young players and those on the bubble? Why not try new lineup combinations in the hopes one clicks (as it did that night, by the way)?

The fans are being hurt by the lower quality of play? Fine. I'll buy that. But you know what? Real fans of a team want dynasties, not one-year wonders. Sure we're pissed; we want a perfect season every year. But it's not as though the Celtics are just handing the ball to the opposing team and stepping aside. They're auditioning the lower half of the bench, and that means we're going to lose.

All I'm saying is that any fan of a team who gets ticked off because they didn't win the third-worst record instead of the second-worst isn't really looking at the situation clearly, and anyone who pores over every comment with a magnifying glass is bound to find circumstantial evidence supporting a theory of "tanking." But would you really rather a player be so delusional that they say after a close loss, "Yeah, it was fine. It happens"? Because, me personally, I'd rather they got pissed that they didn't do all they could.

Anonymous Andrew -- 4/21/2007 10:44 PM  

Andrew--I stand corrected on the Duncan statement; my point still stands--merely having the worst record (or second-worst, in the Celtics' case) is NO guarantee of getting #1 or #2 in an NBA draft, the way it works now. THAT is NOT "ridiculous". (BTW--how many playoffs and Finals have the Celtics been in since 1997?)

RE: the "punishment" statement: Don't forget that Ainge is Rivers' boss in the hierarchy. As bad as the team may be playing (or being coached), who hired the coach and gave him the players to coach?
I agree, Gomes sounds more like a crybaby than anything else, but one wonders how many other players feel the same way?
Heck, maybe it's time for Larry Bird to be the GM; on the other hand, like the Knicks, how bad is the salary-cap hell for the Celtics?

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