Death or Glory: Just Another Story

Published: April 3, 2012

Jason chimes in on the approach to winning a title.

Considerable debate has taken place essentially from the acceptance that Chris Paul was not going to be playing for the Hornets took hold, whenever that was for each person. As the battle raged, different factions formed.

At the heart of the debate, organizing the factions, as I see it, are two key issues. One issue is the particular goal of the fan or the franchise, with the other being the means to that end.

As far as the goal goes, there seems to be this idea that winning a title is the goal. I can see this from the fans perspective. I can see it from an owner’s perspective. This is not the goal of a franchise, however. That would be to make money. Winning a title helps, but there are ways to make money that do not rely on obtaining a distinction that only one of thirty teams will benefit from per year. So, why should we even expect this, especially at this juncture? We can ignore this, since if we don’t, the debate ends. We wouldn’t want that, would we?

The Clash said many great things including

Death or glory: just another story.

Beyond being a great tune brimming with zippy lyrics like “He who *&^%$ nuns will later join the church,” it really is a look at a part of a human, all too human, question that was raised long ago, first captured in the West by Homer in The Iliad. Achilles was given a choice between a long, quiet life as a regular Jopoulos, or be a flame that burns through the ages. He chose the latter, so we are told . . . and Brad Pitt played him, so . . .

This story is well-known, as it should be.

What is slightly less well-known is the story of Pyrrhus . . . not his son. He had a kid? Yeah, dude did ok at the bar . . . at least on par with Peja . . . Pyrrhus was conceived during Achilles’ cross-dressing days . . . dude was a wild child.

This Pyrrhus was a King who spent such great resources in fighting off the Romans in a particular battle that his kingdom ultimately fell. So the term “Pyrrhic victory” comes to us.

Why this is not an Achillean victory boils down to the glory achieved by Achilles, combined with the defeat of the Trojans, contrasted with the later defeat of the Greeks by the Romans . . . unless you count the preservation and elevation of much of their culture as a victory . . . the Chinese would . . . but that is neither here nor there, sadly. We have the framework we need. Achilles. Pyrrhus.

Is it death or glory? Is that our choice? No. At `best’ it is death or a chance at glory (death being metaphorical here and in the Achilles case, as he was going to die in either case) since the Fates aren’t sitting at the table with us.

I share the opinion of The Clash: It’s just another story. It’s played out. Try as anyone might, the second best team ever will be losers to the best team ever in a seven game series (in all likelihood), despite being able to take any other series against any other team. Measuring worth of a team by titles is simple, coarse, irresponsible, disrespectful, and lazy. There are so many factors that affect title acquisition that are arbitrary (e.g. length of the series) and uncontrollable (e.g. injuries), that title counts measure so much more than `goodness’, and what is measured is obscured to most people, myself included. To discount the talents, efforts, and sacrifices of the Steve Nash and Jim Kelly types of the world, and I can’t abide that. Nope. Unh-unh. You are wrong for that.

Beyond this, even discussing titles today is insane, and, I feel, irresponsible. We haven’t even parked the franchise yet. Can we stop the car before we jump out of it? Can we take the groceries in before we start cooking? Can we let one egg hatch? Just one. Please?!?!

Step one: team.

We haven’t completed step one, people.

Read that one more time, reprinted here for your convenience . . .

We haven’t completed step one, people.

The price we paid for having an unsettled franchise was reflected in our collapse after the move to New Orleans and after the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals. We accepted a franchise in disarray in 2002. This team shipped out a superstar, got worse, drafted a hall-of-famer / best of his generation at position X, put the cast around him over a couple years, got close . . . shipped him out amid disarray, etc.

Someone is going to say that Baron is not a superstar. Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s leave the attitude aside. He’s never been on a good team after the Hornets. Garnett won one division title in Minnesota. What do we say about him if he never moves to Boston, attitude and all?

So what about the teams with the `good’ superstars who can’t win? Knicks of today and the last however many years anyone? Look at their team and salary and their 0.500-in-the-Eastern-Conference record and tell me the organization matters less than players.

So give us Anthony Davis, forgetting the one-in-five to one-in-six sort of chances (some will say this is a big difference . . . with one roll of the dice, it isn’t; it’s a bad gamble, trust me). Now what?

Can we keep him? Or are we on another six year plan? Whether we are or not, we’ll hear it for six years. He’ll hear it for six years.

Oh? What’s that? Get another Anthony Davis, too. The odds of that, even two such beasts exist, are one in sixteen in the best of cases, likely worse than one in twenty-five.

Oh? What’s that? Not another Anthony Davis? Just a Daniel Michael DeVito to his Arnold Alois Schwartzenegger. Like D West? No, he came first and wasn’t good enough.

So what then? What plan should we enact and wait for the Wheel of Fortune to deliver for a chance a title that does . . . what for us? Ask Seattle how they feel about their trophy sitting outside of Bricktown and all it does for them while they cry into their flannel pillow cases.

While we wait for fate to deliver us the answer on a plate, we just anti-work our way through season after season while our fans applaud people who won’t be on our teams for falling on their . . .balls? . . . for the glory of a maybe title for someone else? Our Bizzaro fans become an army of Steve Bartmans who root for Bill Buckner to mishandle the ball over Dave Henderson for hitting one for a homer? We sit around and do everything contrary to the nature of sport and to the nature of the workers we hire? What honor is there in that? What is sporting in that? Plus, the team would have to pay people to attend.

Hoping for (our) losses disgusts me. It is an abomination and a crime against second nature.

Every time I hear it I feel pity for those who feel it. It’s not their fault they feel such revolting things as pleasurable. If it was, I wouldn’t pity them.

And, yes, I’m including my fellow bloggers here. Sorry, guys. It’s the truth.

Keep that title if it means we have to root for losses. Keep it, turn it sideways . . .

The characterization of perennial playoff potential as perpetual purgatory is unfair at this point. Recent history shows that there is a ceiling, but the ceiling was the created by the consistent tax-paying teams beating each other up for the title, turning the rest of us grapes into whiney wine in the process. That has changed with the most recent CBA, as evidence by other teams’ roster moves, leaving that past with questionable predictive value.

The cost of this, which is a title during that time plus a couple of years, can not be ignored, but neither can the cost of this ridiculous word and notion of “tanking.” How long will be keep the franchise is disarray? How long will be alienate the fan base? How long will the franchise not deliver value to sponsors? How long? That’s a real question. It’s been a year of eating it up and playing nice. That’s the job of the fan. But for how long?

All I hear is the supposed possible benefits of this “tanking,” but the lack of discussion of the real, tangible, and present costs has become annoying to say the least. “Tank” advocates, this is your warning. You will be asked to discuss the other side of your filthy coin.

The only discussions I see are centered around very small changes in very small odds, sometime recast a larger, but still small, changes in relative magnitudes, a sleight of hand that looks good to the weak of mind. Is that it? Is that really the best the “tankers” can do? Clinging to ping-pong balls from heaven? Plus, they aren’t ping-pong balls, they are combinations. Ugh. At any rate, is this the totem? This pathetic, measly difference in percentages is worth selling your sporting soul for without regard for the reality of the situation?

Life isn’t a video game. These are people’s jobs we are talking about. Those people have lives and families. They have health issues and need insurance. They have tires that need replacing. Think about the people that the years of “tanking” are going to cause to lose their jobs. Go tell them it’s worth it. 504 525 4667. Ask to talk to a rep about buying season tickets. Tell them. Better yet, go to the office on Poydras street and do the same. Or just ask them at the game . . . if you even go. Once you do that, I’ll believe you are truly behind the “tank.” If not, I’ll believe . . . something else.

Show me a team that “tanked” to get picks, then got the picks, then won a title. How many are there? At what rate is this successful? Is it worth it? If it was your money, is it worth it?

Some will point to the Thunder as a success story. Some Sonics fans will tell you they weren’t “tanking” to get better . . . they were tanking to get worse. And let’s not crown them yet even if they were “tanking” . . . the Heat are still waiting on their second title, after all.

Let’s assume they win their title this year or next. Now ask Seattle if tanking was worth it. Ask.

Oh, is that not fair? Oh, did you not mean to lose the team?

Well that’s what’s been happening here for 10 years “tank-genius.” Every day we’ve been losing the team, and now we want to just assume the deal is done, the team is here, and we can just abuse the fans in new and ever-more inventive ways? What gall. What myopia. Staggering, really.

What else do you want? Let’s just add on some other ridiculum. How about we call you president? Wouldn’t that be nice? I bet it would. What else? What other fairy tale nonsense should we add in while we’re on our dream safari?

Get real. No one is looking to “tank” and the data shows it. That’s because these smart people know it’s not a good idea.

This team needs a foundation. They need to focus on games now, not titles. They need to focus on a culture, not a legacy. As Nietzsche wrote (in German): He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.

What good is the championship-caliber team if you can’t hold it together? What good is the championship-caliber team if you can’t both know and execute the right moves to keep up with the Joneses of the NBA? Remember the Bonzi trade? Posey? Good moves? Maybe. The right moves? No. Best available? Maybe. Could we have been in a better position to have more moves available to us? Likely.

This stuff may not be as important for winning a title as having that key player, but not having the right foundation will stop you no matter who you have on your roster, and screwing up that key player’s shot almost ensures he’ll leave (Paul, James . . . Nash had legit shots . . . Howard is a work in progress).

Pyrrhic victory? Yeah, that’s the other story I was talking about above.

There was a guy who used to post here . . . he’s not posting any more and he certainly frustrated me, but he was right. In the end, he was right. That, more than the loss of Chris Paul and the wasted chance, upsets me. This negative guy’s reasoning was flawed, but he said the right thing and is, by that measure, right. We couldn’t hold Chris, and there was nothing to be done. Trying to make it work just made the situation we’re in worse than it needed to be, likely, at least in terms of winning titles. As far as saving NBA-ball in this city, it was necessary. Do we really want more of the New Orleans can’t hold its stars jibber-jabber? Do we really need to stoke these fires when we could put them out for good? Do we need to dynamite our own levees (again)?

I’m all for winning a title, but pursuing a title `now’ at the cost of removing, over the next few years, established, definite threats to a team that we will not be likely to field in the next few years is unwise. Then we get into splitting hairs on odds about the first pick of the draft when our likely position is either four or five (perhaps a difference that makes a difference there).

Using the draft with maximum efficiency is important, but hoping that we beat the odds so we can fool the Fates and win a title is an untenable position. If we get a great pick, so be it. As the percentages say we’ll need to be the worst team for three season to have at least an even shot at getting the top pick, this just is not feasible for a billionaire spending hundreds of millions for the privilege of paying tens of millions on players, for season ticketholders, or for anyone who wants to enjoy the ride to the eventual title in any way prior to that final season.

Beyond this, I’ll take a team here for me to enjoy who will never win a title, rather than the title-bound team that may leave. I’m not Achilles. Never was. I wrote a paper praising Hector (his Trojan counterpart) when I was a freshman (A on that one) and never looked back. I expect no one who does not attend games to `feel’ this, and I recognize this.

Also, someone like Johnny Depp will play me.

This team needs to win games, play Eric Gordon, play their vets while developing youth, but not develop them at the expense of wins. They need to play this season like any other: hard. The possible, not guaranteed, cost in the draft is worth it to me.

All in all, I’m more than happy with a 40%-60% chance to win each game every night for the next five years with no title shot. I prefer our chances at building that foundation to our chances to winning a title at this point in time. We can take our shot when ready and when the next star falls into our lap we don’t burn our double-covered body parts.


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