One of the concerns the anti-tanking crowd will often voice is the problem of a losing culture.
It’s a valid concern. Once acquired, a losing culture can be difficult to eradicate, especially if the best players on a team are young. Washington is a good example: For years, the Wizards toiled along with a significant amount of young talent (John Wall, JaVale McGee, Nick Young) but no real leadership to help direct it. As a result, the Wizards are just now coming out of a long stretch of futility.
As Boston’s losses continue to pile onto the lottery end of the scale, the question of tanking becomes a matter of definition: Are the Celtics tanking? Or did Danny Ainge simply assemble a roster likely to lose a lot of games? For their part, the players certainly seem to be taking the losses hard — something that can’t be said for teams given the mandate to lose often and by a lot.
Here’s Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald:
“You can only take moral victories out of something like this for so long,” Jared Sullinger said following Saturday’s relatively close loss at the Garden to perhaps the best team in the NBA, the Indiana Pacers.
Kris Humphries, mining the same glum territory, said, “It didn’t say half-L or half-win, it’s just a loss.”
Not every veteran has handled the rebuilding mandate so well. Courtney Leeand Keith Bogans both voiced their discontent. The former was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, and the latter was asked to go home.
But as the losing has fed on itself, the remaining veterans have continued to set an example. Ainge is grateful for their efforts.
While attempting to avoid celebrating the crestfallen attitude of the Cs, it’s both a good thing that they are disappointed and a good thing that they are losing. You know why it’s a good thing they are losing, so I won’t spell it out for you again.
But it’s even better that they are disappointed. We’ve said it 100 times this season (and you have likely seen it yourself), but this team is trying to win every night. The fact that they don’t fold, even for excellent teams like Indiana and even when their losses (40) have doubled their wins (20), speaks to their attitude — they play to win. As some of us quietly celebrate the improved draft odds, the fact that the team still wants to win is worth celebrating as well.
So what’s different about this team, as opposed to a squad like Washington? One has to imagine Rondo is having a positive effect. Whereas Washington’s best player was a young point guard who was probably tasked with leading a team too early, Boston’s best player is a veteran who has spent most of his career winning. He has a championship ring, a nice bundle of All-Star selections, and (one would imagine) the respect of his teammates. Even if those teammates aren’t talented enough to win games, they seem to be picking things up from Rondo, and as long as they pick up more of the scrappy killer attitude and less of the chest-bump-a-ref-during-an-important-playoff-game-and-get-suspended attitude, they are learning from an excellent example.
The losses sting now, but as long as they continue to sting, this Celtics squad is probably in as good a place as we could hope.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.