Rooting for a tanking team is tough—and weird

David Liam Kyle, NBAE via Getty Images/AFP

When LeBron James decided to ditch the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second time this past summer, everyone thought the wine and gold tanking ahead of the 2019 NBA Draft would be an obvious move. Everyone except for the Cavs themselves.

Whether it was owner Dan Gilbert selfishly wanting to prove that he can still have a winning team even without LeBron or there still being a handful of talent on the team, the Cavs members — players, coaches, and the front office alike— continued to preach that they will (and want to) be playoff contenders in 2018-19. That seemed even more apparent when Kevin Love inked a four-year extension to remain in Cleveland even without LeBron.

The problem that many people brought up with that scenario: In order for Cleveland to keep their 2019 first-round pick, it would have to fall between Pick 1 and 10. If it is 11 or above, they would no longer keep the top-10 protected pick. That seemed like a problem.

Fast forward to March, and that is no longer a problem. Currently 16-48, the Cavs are 13.5 games behind the No. 8 seed in the East. With just 18 games remaining in the regular season, the wine and gold haven’t technically been eliminated from postseason contention, but I mean, they aren’t making the playoffs. Even if they win their remaining games, they would have to jump six other teams. It’s not going to happen.

With that said, it seems apparent that the Cavs should tank (and maybe are at times?). The problem is that rooting for a tanking team is hard. I’m competitive. Whether I’m playing or spectating, I want my team to win. But how do you root for your favorite team to win when they are tanking. Whether they admit it or not, the Cavs are tanking this season, at least in the latter half of it.

With the new NBA Draft Lottery odds, the teams with the three worst records in the league will have the same odds to land Pick 1, 2, 3, and 4. It is the first time that the team with the worst record won’t be the favorite to land the No. 1 pick.

In what seems to be a three-player draft, with Duke forwards Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett and Murray State point guard Ja Morant by far being the best players in the draft, at least on paper, it’s vitally important for the Cavs to land a top-three pick. Getting the No. 1 pick would be awesome, especially considering just how dominant Zion looks, both on the court and in pictures alone, but a top-three pick is needed. It will help turn this franchise around sooner rather than later.

I was at the game when they beat the Memphis Grizzlies February 23. Considering it was my first game of the season, it was fun. It wasn’t anything close to when I used to attend games with the LeBron-led Cavs, but while it was different, it was still a good time. I watched players such as Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman continue to develop and play really well, along with watching Love dominate as well. Winning is important for development, especially for young players such as Sexton and Osman. The more they continue to develop, improve, and gel together, the more they will win.

The problem is that, while I loved that the Cleveland won, especially with me there, in the back of my mind I knew how important it is for them to lose the rest of the season. The more losses, the better shot they have to finish with one of the worst three records in the league, giving themselves the best odds to possibly landed the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

So that’s where things get tough. The Cavs need to lose, but Cleveland fans and players alike have a hard time losing. Everyone wants to win, Cavs players and fans included. But in the back of everyone’s mind, they know that the wine and gold need to continue to lose.

Heading into Monday night, the Cavaliers had the third-worst record in the league. Here’s the five worst teams in the league, at least in terms of record:

  • Suns: 13-51
  • Knicks: 13-50
  • Cavs: 16-48
  • Bulls: 18-46
  • Hawks: 22-42

Notice how close Cleveland is to not being one of the three teams that will have the best odds of landing the No. 1 pick? It’s too close for comfort, honestly.

We haven’t even talked about the fact that the Cavs seemingly haven’t been at full strength from the moment the season tipped off either. If all of their players are healthy, there’s a possibility that the wine and gold could be fighting for a playoff spot. That obviously isn’t the case, but the problem lies in the fact that unless players such as Tristan Thompson remain on the sidelines the rest of the season, there’s a good chance that the Cavaliers will win at least a few more games this season before it’s all said and done. Keep in mind, Cleveland has won five of its last six games that Love as played in. While you could say that part of the winning is due to their opponents being bad, it’s clear that the Cavs are much better than their record may show when they have a guy like Love on the court. Add in Thompson’s possible return and, well, things could get tricky in the standings.

It’s hard to root for my teams to lose while wanting them to win, too. While I want them to rack up as many wins as possible, I, along with many Cavs fans, realize that the more they lose now, the more they could potentially win down the road. Now, they just have to lock up one of the three worst records in the league, a spot that is vitally important for the future of the wine and gold.

So when all is said and done, I guess losing is good in Cleveland in 2019, at least on the hardwood?