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Tank Diaries: Where Does It End?

There was no miracle trade-up. Instead, the Thunder drafted Australian project Josh Giddey at no. 6 and reportedly flirted with dealing the one star they do have. The tank, it seems, is here to stay.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Henry Golding wasn’t even trying to make me feel better. To be fair, I don’t even really remember what he was saying. I just know he was on the television, talking at his phone, smiling away. For some reason, the boring people over at Disney thought it would be fun if, during ABC’s version of the NBA draft broadcast, after each pick, somebody got chucked onto our screens and shouted about how hard the player had worked and how exciting it was they were getting drafted. Sometimes it was someone who was close to the player. Sometimes it was a celebrity with a tie to the organization that drafted them. Sometimes it was somebody who stars in one of the Mouse’s many entertainment properties. These famous hotties did nothing but confuse me. Yes, person I have never seen, you are cartoonishly good looking, but I am trying to listen to Jalen Rose sing right now. Quiet down and end this fancy FaceTime. There are dreams being made.

Golding is in Snake Eyes. It’s another G.I. Joe movie. How many recent G.I. Joe movies have there even been? I guess three? G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and G.I. Joe: Ever Vigilant (which has yet to come out). The seconds it took me to search for and type those out, I’ll never get them back. I miss them so much. Ever Vigilant sounds like one of those Christian screamo bands that were going around in the mid-2000s. Catch them after ultimate frisbee and before the pizza arrives. Personally, the only G.I. Joe–related thing I’ve enjoyed these past several years was Bill Hader saying “G.I. Joseph doll” as Alexi the doorman on Saturday Night Live.

But now comes Snake Eyes. And look, I don’t care how long G.I. Joe dolls have been around, Snake Eyes (1998) already exists and stars the King of Souls, Nicolas Cage. This is attempted Cage erasure and I won’t stand for it. He was looking for truffles. What he found was love. See Pig today.

It is a particular kind of disorienting to expect movement from your team, see none, and then be confronted by the perfect-looking guy from Crazy Rich Asians while you try to process the fact that your team missed out on all the generational dudes at the top of the draft only to take an 18-year-old Australian who you hope will one day be able to shoot.

And so what Golding said, what poetry he spoke, I have no idea. I would’ve rewound it at some point to find out but the television I was watching was not capable of such wizardry and I had to stumble along into the future without being able to properly understand the past. I think he was in a cream-colored sweater? I think he looked amazing? I think he said very little of substance whatsoever? I was looking at my phone too much during the telecast but didn’t a lot of those ABC star pop-ins just sort of amount to vague platitudes? How far in advance were those filmed? Last month?

“Wow, awesome. Man, you did it. You made the NBA. You made it to there. You are an NBA player. You were just drafted by an NBA team. Wow. That’s pretty freaking cool. You have achieved your dreams and I am thrilled for you. Hard work is so important and dreams as well.”

We thought there were signs. A video was going around a day or so before the draft that had Evan Mobley telling Jalen Suggs his favorite team growing up was the Oklahoma City Thunder. Later on, Mobley announced a sponsorship with Chipotle and SGA commented something like, now I don’t have to pay for food anymore. “What does that mean?” I thought. It must mean something amazing, right? It must mean it’s happening. It must mean all those rumors about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander getting traded are lies. It must mean we’re going to keep Shai and trade up for Mobley. Man, Mobley and Shai running the pick-and-roll in space will be tough to deal with. Sorry, rest of the league. I don’t like dust either. Big-time apologies for leaving y’all in it. Can’t wait to see what we look like defensively either. Poku and Mobley? That’s a lot of arms!

Turns out those “signs” meant absolutely nothing. The Thunder apparently tried to make a deal with Cleveland but nothing materialized. Mobley will run pick-and-rolls with Darius Garland now. He will probably be very good and haunt me and make me sad. The first time he dunks on someone this season is going to be so depressing. I love this game.

And you’re there on your couch, right? And you’re reeling a little bit. And you’re checking your phone and wondering if maybe Presti and Masai have some deal on the books and the Thunder can swoop in and get Suggs and you’re back to happy. No trade happens. You’re bummed again. But the Raptors take Scottie Barnes, meaning they passed on Suggs! Belief has been injected directly into your jugular and you are standing and cursing in momentary celebration and trying to get your wife to come into the room and this is the thing you will remember the most—the dumb hope. The dumb, foolish hope you had in the few minutes between Toronto’s Barnes pick and Woj’s tweet announcing Orlando’s plans. You know it’s naive, but you thought there was a chance. Orlando is sometimes stupid. Maybe they’ll, you know, continue in that tradition? Shock the world and take Jonathan Kuminga? Or maybe they’ll accept some Godfather offer and swap picks? SGA-Suggs backcourt for the next decade? Party mode. You’ll be there with bells on your person and love in your heart.

But none of that happened either. Orlando did what they should have and took Suggs. [A sound like gravel in a blender.] Woj’s tweet comes across your phone. “With Scottie Barnes off the board, Orlando has Jalen Suggs on top of its draft board at No. 5, sources tell ESPN.” You read that. You read that and do the other kind of cursing.

It’s a great pick by the Magic. I’m happy for a small market to catch a victory like this and I think Suggs will be a monster for them. I also hate it and think it sucks. Why did it have to be so brutal? Why the momentary tease? The basketball gods let us touch the carrot when Masai pulled the lever on Barnes and then they yanked it back, threw it down a mountain, tripped us, and laughed as we rolled away.

Before the draft I was a jellied gathering of nerves and sweat. I told myself the only thing I truly wanted was for Shai to be on the team at the end of the night. As long as he was still on the roster, disappointments be damned, I could take whatever the evening threw at me, and still feel OK. I am here today to report that that was a lie. SGA is still on the team and I do not feel OK. Disappointment has been a theme for the Thunder and the night remained very on-brand.

And look, I really like Josh Giddey as a prospect. In time, he could be incredible. I hope he is. There’s honestly a lot to be excited by. The passing and playmaking seem real. He’s throwing guys open, moving the defense with his eyes or his drive. He has rare size for his position. He thinks the game at a super high level. His potential versatility on offense is exciting and that falls very much in line with the type of guys post-Westbrook Presti has favored. Giddey’s mom and dad were professional basketball players in Australia and he spent this past season playing professionally over there for the Adelaide 36ers. You hear people praise his IQ, the way he sees the floor, his professional approach to the game. The kid is polished on camera. He paid attention during the PR seminar. The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie won the night calling him NBA Chalamet. The hair flows. Maybe the shot will come. Maybe he’ll continue to put on muscle. Maybe he can figure out a way to get by guys on offense and stay in front of them on defense. It’s not that I think these are impossibilities. There is a very real chance he will make all those improvements. It’s just the other guys at the top of the draft presented far fewer maybes, far fewer ifs. I went to the dealership expecting to drive home in a Ferrari and I wound up going home in a nice, high-end Jeep with leather seats and a lot of the fixings. Sunroof. Heated seats. Remote start. A great ride in its own right and there are far worse vehicles—vehicles so blah they seem to disappear into the road—but I had the money for the Ferrari. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.

The rest of the night didn’t hold many fireworks either. The Thunder traded out of 16 for two heavily protected future firsts and took Florida’s Tre Mann at 18. In the second round they traded 34 and 36 to the Knicks for 32, where they took Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, then finished their night taking Aaron Wiggins at 55. Mann has a flamethrower and can do things off the bounce from distance that are very exciting if the skills wind up translating. He’s gone through one of those thrilling late growth spurts. Hopefully he’ll be able to contribute. JRE can do a lot. He’s well-rounded enough that I can see him sticking in the league for a while if the shot is consistent. Wiggins played at Maryland.

It’s the middle of the night and I’m getting delirious. I have started to consider the fact that maybe basketball is stupid and a waste of time and I should go get another interest. Seems like a lot of people got really into making sourdough during the pandemic. I suppose I could get into that.

Paycom recently bought the naming rights for the Thunder’s arena. It will now be called Paycom Center. Not The Paycom Center. Just Paycom Center. The Thunder should listen to their fans and nickname the place the Thunderdome. They should do it before the season starts. It makes too much sense not to. Everyone will love it. Let’s let a little personality bleed onto the page. They should rename the office the New Cone of Silence. Not a peep out of that place. Presti, this guy doesn’t say a thing. There’s “speak softly and carry a big stick” and there’s “say nothing, ride into the room on a dragon, and dare people to look at you.” Woj and Shams seem like they’re physically present in every single draft war room. They often know and announce the picks on Twitter well in advance of Adam Silver parading onto the stage and saying the kid’s name. Hardly the only time that river of information pauses is when the Thunder go on the clock. Your secrets are safe with them.

As a fan of the team I kind of go back and forth between thinking that is either awesome or annoying. On the one hand, it is probably the right way to go about things in a league as loose-lipped as the NBA. On the other hand, give me something. They don’t come out and refute any reports either so these fake SGA and no. 6 trades just run amok, prance willy-nilly all through the countryside, try to throw off my groove. Because these rumors were everywhere. High and low, all corners of the internet.

I wrote a lot about SGA in the very first edition of deez here diareez so I don’t feel like it makes a ton of sense to go into the particulars of why he’s so good here, but you saw rumors about SGA and six for the first pick. SGA and six for the third pick. SGA and six for the fourth pick. On and on. When these reports came out—that SGA might have been offered in a deal—the news wasn’t exactly surprising, but it was disheartening. I understand that it is hardly certain that SGA can be the best player on a championship team, and I understand he might make them too good to be able to draft a guy who could be, and I understand no-man’s land in the middle of the standings is no place you want to be, and I understand this argument I’m about to make is ultimately the argument of a child, but he is really, really good and really, really fun and really, really cool and I don’t want to see him go be amazing somewhere else. That has happened before. It is not fun. And how in sync does a roster’s timeline really need to be? Who cares if SGA is four or five years older than the other high-upside guys we get down the line? Guys play much longer nowadays. His brand of ball isn’t wildly physical and his game is unique enough that it should age nicely. Presti likened the trade rumors to people reading the National Enquirer. Who knows what’s real? And I won’t do it but just know I wanted to end this paragraph with, “These tears are.”

I said last month that even though the lottery didn’t go the Thunder’s way, that doesn’t mean the decision to tank was the wrong one. I still believe that, even in the wake of this frustration. I would not pick to root for a tanking team. It’s not my preference. Personally, I enjoy title contenders, title favorites, good teams. But the roster was what it was, and the writing was on the wall and in the letter, and the league works how the league works. But then the question comes: When does it end? When is the team finally bad enough that it becomes “OK, let’s get good again”? I guess when you feel like you’ve accrued enough potential greatness on the roster? I feel like it’s super late and I’m getting super obvious. I want to have answers but I keep being pulled in both directions. There is the part of me that says, “No. Be patient, little boy. You can wait a few years to be good again. You can deal with some losing. This was one year! One! You can’t lose for just one, maybe two more? You’re soft, dude. Weak. I boo you.”

That part of me is honestly very loud. I think the ideal scenario is three top-five picks in as many years and you build up with the blue chips. But there is the other part of me that says there’s not always going to be a perfect time to rip it to the studs. And maybe when the trade went down we didn’t know just how good SGA was, but we see now. He could be really special. And he has gotten so much better each year. And the ammo remains the same otherwise. You still have the picks. You still have the swaps, the trade exceptions, the whole kit and caboodle. All that still exists as a means to get better. There are no guarantees in sports and dreams die every day. People who act like having all these picks is somehow bad are odd and make no sense to me, but I also think having all these picks does not mean they will automatically be able to get whoever they want whenever they want them. Look no further than last night.

I can be ditzy and easily convinced, and, if I’m honest with myself, I’m homer enough to talk myself into any outcome being the one that was best for us. Whatever route the team takes, I will be there. Wembanyama looks incredible. And I’ve made my love for Banchero known. And who wouldn’t love to root for a kid named Chet? But then what about Shai? He is already incredible. His ceiling isn’t as high as theirs maybe, but still. I hem and haw. Think one thing one day, another the next. I don’t know. I want to be hardcore and certain and chisel reality onto stone, but I don’t know. The grass isn’t always greener. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s a lot greener and thicker and softer, but sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t …

Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.