Monday, 13 June 2016

Throwing Games: The Cowards Way Out?

2014- "The NBA playoffs are heading back to Canada for the first time in over 5 years, and there's no reason not to be proud of the Raptors this year. After spending half a decade near the bottom of the already lackluster Eastern conference, new management and the surprising mid season trade of Rudy Gay, propelled the Dinos into the Atlantic division crown and will play the Brooklyn Nets.

Why would I be mad? My favourite team in the NBA made the playoffs. This post is more direct to the Nets and any team who pulls this stunt, throwing the last few games of a season to be given a perceived easier opponent."

2 year break

2016- I wrote that 2 years ago and my thoughts remain the same: The Brooklyn Nets only made it past the first round (barely at that) because they lost out their 2014 season to play the Raptors rather than a tougher opponent. The Raptors certainly weren't the worse of the two teams, they were the less experienced. Now the Raptors are the 2nd best in the East and the Nets will be bad for a long time thanks to a short sighted trade with the Celtics and some bad signings. However in 2014, I was heavily under the impression throwing games at the end of the season to face a particular opponent. With a little more maturity, I think throwing all part of the game.

Think about it this way: Had the Raptors had the option of facing the no.3 seed that has little playoff experience or playing an experienced team in a tougher division in the no. 4 seed...I'd think the Raptors would be smart to take that no. 3 seed to gain momentum. It sounds slimy, but sometimes, the smartest moves and the ones that will get you further are slimily. However, if you team has any chance of winning the championship, they should be able to beat either team...that's just a fact. Seeding has mattered little in recent years: Strong teams will beat the weaker team every time, no matter if they are a 6th seed or 1st seed.

That being said, nuance is key to determine what "throwing" is.

The Penguins in 1984 actively threw their season to get Mario Lemieux with the number one overall pick. By trading Michal Neuvirth at the 2015 Trade Deadline, the Buffalo Sabres acquired the less talented Chad Johnson to get the highest odds of getting the number 1 pick and Connor McDavid. Throwing a season means taking steps to actively lose on purpose to meet a certain goal through unfair means. The 2014/15 NHL season was a race to the bottom for the Leafs, Coyotes & Sabres, yet none of them got McDavid. With the implementation of the NHL Draft Lottery and the NBA Draft Lottery, it's almost impossible to know you'll get the no.1 overall pick without having a trade plan in place. This year, the Leafs had the highest odds to get the no.1 pick, and likely Auston Matthews, but those odds were 20%. Last place doesn't guarantee you that pick anymore! Hell, the Penguins weren't even guaranteed Sidney Crosby in 2005.

What about a team resting their starters? This is common in the NFL, where the last thing teams want is an injured starting QB going into the playoffs. Many times, as early as week 15, starters will be rested and by week 17, most playoff teams have their starters on the bench. This is especially common in older QBs who have their apprentices as back-ups who need experience and an upside. A team with a Derek Andersen type QB (past their prime and former multi year starter a decade or so ago) as their back up in 2015, will likely not start him over Cam Newton. So when this happens every year, is this throwing? No! It's smart.

Smart in that just because you're starting your bench, it doesn't mean you can't win. On top of that, these teams usually have won their division recently and have their playoff fates decided. They have nothing to gain position wise by resting starters. Of course, say for example the Cleveland Browns went 11-4 through week 16 and in week 17 started Jonny Manziel and the Ottawa Renegades 2002 practice squad with the choice of facing the 10-6 Miami Dolphins who are in a division with the 14-2 Buffalo Bills with a win or the AFC South leading 8-8 Tennessee Titans with a loss ...things would look fishy. But this hasn't happened to my knowledge, and often times these teams want the bye week between the Wild Card & AFC Divisional round, so they'll try to win to get into the top 2 seeds. On top of that, these back up players want the pride in winning and proving next season they should be starters, or if they are older and their as experience back ups, they want to prove they still have it and not has beens.

So did the Nets throw their last few games? I can't say for sure, but the series was entertaining, and now with the Raptors' recent playoff run and pushing the Cavs to 6 games, while Brooklyn finished with 21 wins and 3rd last in the NBA, its safe to say who is laughing now. Throwing games to get draft picks has been common for years, and with draft lotteries becoming common and with odds now not favouring last place finishers, teams are less likely to throw games. It seems kind of dickish for a team no one likes in your city that your team has always had trouble playing against loses a few games to play a perceived easier team in the playoffs, but that's sports for ya. You were banking on the same thing: Facing an easier team. It's just smart to want to play a team you are more likely to win a 7 game series against.

Here's the thing: If your team really is better, they'll beat whomever they face, whether it's Brooklyn, Washington or even Cleveland! Sports isn't fair and it shouldn't be, that's what makes it enjoyable. Watching your team win a 7 game series over a tough rival and having that satisfaction versus a four game sweep against a team out of their elements....I know what I'd pick. Getting caught up in the emotion of "We could have gotten to then 2nd round only if..?", you can't say that for certain, no one can! When I planned this post two years ago, I was really pissed at Brooklyn. Watching teams try and fail to benefit from throwing games/seasons, particularly Arizona in 2015 helped put things in perspective. No one sympathizes with petty losing, a no.2 loser, or someone who tries to take the easy way out to avoid adversity. So next time your team gets shafted because another team plays slightly worse to lose a few games to face someone easier, remember that shows loads about the team's character, and what round they'll be eliminated in compared to yours. 

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