To recruit Wembanyama, how do the franchises prepare to compete with nothing?

To recruit Wembanyama, how do the franchises prepare to compete with nothing?


Is this really the American dream for a young French basketball player? Ending up in Salt Lake City, walking your big legs among the faithful of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and getting some fresh air in the Wasatch Mountains to escape this dreary city? Not really. Yet this is what could await Victor Wembanyama, the future best player in the world, the “French unicorn” who is bringing America to its knees.

Yes, because Salt Lake City, where the Utah Jazz play, is one of the big favorites to welcome our Frenchman, currently in Boulogne-Levallois, during the next draft. How ? Hoping to draw the number 1 choice, promised to our prodigy, during the lottery, which decides the order of passage of the NBA teams when electing the players who will come to fill their workforce. To be more likely to have the first choiceyou have to be among the three worst teams in the League.

Surprising, at first sight, for any stranger to the American system. Yet, with the tankthe NBA has its own little socialist side: to rebalance the forces, the more you are to vomit, the more chances you have of recovering the stars of tomorrow. A somewhat perverse system, because some teams will deliberately be ridiculous in the hope of nabbing the Grail, aka Victor Wembanyama. Like the San Antonio Spurs, the Oklahoma Rockets, the Houston Rockets or the Utah Jazz, therefore.

I never thought of losing »

“The leaders came to the conclusion that this team, which was expensive, led by Gobert, Mitchell, Bogdanovic, was no longer going to be good enough to try to win the title, explains Eric Walden, journalist at the Salt Lake Grandstand and host of the “How’Bout This Jazz” podcast. The decision was made to transfer these guys to get young players and get some good draft picks. You have to finish in the last three teams so as not to mortgage your chances of not having Victor. »

But how can you prepare for a season where failures will be almost more celebrated by club management than victories? We contacted the man with the most beautiful name in French basketball, Mickaël Gelabale, who lived two difficult seasons from 2011 to 2013 at the Seattle Sonics (now the Okhaloma Thunder). The franchise had decided to part ways with legends Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to rebuild everything:

When I arrived there, I never thought about losing, because that’s not my mentality. You don’t tell yourself that you’re going to lose so many matches until you’ve experienced it. For me, it was not frustrating to be in a team like that, because I was fulfilling my dream when I arrived in the NBA. Afterwards, I tried to make my place myself, personally, rather than knowing what the team was going to do. »

And hop, we remove an essential pawn of the team

At the Jazz and the Spurs, this season, the state of mind of the players is, officially, a little similar, and could even undermine the strategy of the leaders: “Trying to lose is not in the nature of Gregg Popovich , he will make sure this team plays strong every game, says Tom Osborne, a journalist at the San Antonio Express-News. After watching them during pre-season, I think they will be better than people think. Their young hard core Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell and Josh Primo are very competitive players who want to win. »

So, if things go wrong and the team starts to win more than it should, the leaders always have other levers to activate. No question of expressly asking the team to lose, under penalty of sanctions from the NBA, which is very careful about tanking, but an even more perverse strategy: “The best way for the Spurs to ensure that they end up as one of the worst teams in the League will be to trade its best veterans, like Jakob Poeltl, Doug McDermott or Josh Richardson. You’re sure not to win 30 games with that, ”resumes Osborne.

“On paper, you have good players in Utah, like Conley, Sexton or Markkanen, adds Eric Walden. But there are huge holes in some positions, which prevent winning with regularity. It’s a team that can’t play defense well, that can’t pass… Automatically, you’re going to lose games, you don’t even have to ask the coaches to lose. »

The Sixers, role model

And the supporters in all this? How to take pleasure in seeing his team chain defeats? “It’s not like in France where the spectators want results, results, assures Gelabale. There, they understand very well when they have a team capable of going to the play-offs or when they have a team in reconstruction around young people. Suddenly, they came to see Durant’s debut at the Sonics or the stars of other teams. »

And then, what better way to see your team return to the heights after hitting rock bottom? Ask Sixers fans, who came close to cutting their wrists after seeing just 10 wins in 82 games in the 2015-16 season. Since then, the team has been slowly rebuilt, in turn draft (with in particular Joel Embiid, who arrived in 2014, or Ben Simmons), and regularly qualifies for the play-offs.

“Tanking is the best way to try to find the high peaks, recognizes Eric Walden. The risk is that you put a lot on having a superstar. But, what happens if you don’t have this superstar? Which player do you draft if you don’t get the one you wanted? So ask the Charlotte Bobcats (now the Hornets) who, after tanking to death – only 7 wins on the season – hoped to recover Anthony Davis in the 2012 draft and ended up with the second choice, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist . Since then, the Hornets have participated only twice in the play-offs. Kidd-Gilchrist, for his part, no longer plays in the NBA. We wish Victor Wembanyama just the opposite. Even to land in Salt Lake City if it allows him to reach the heights.

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