This weekend at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, a black eye was revealed about the NBA; teams tank games.
Gasp! Say it isn’t so. Okay, I’m done with the sarcasm. For years, the NBA has contended that their teams do not purposely lose games, and now we know that isn’t the case. This weekend, former Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo admitted what all basketball fans already knew: “I tried to tank a couple of years ago.”
New commissioner Adam Silver has said that this is something the league does not condone, and that he wants to find a way to stop the tanking. Well Adam, I have news for you — there is nothing you can do to stop tanking.
There was some talk of making all incoming draftees free agents that would be free to sign with whichever team that choose, but that will never fly with the owners of the Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Memphis Grizzlies and other small market teams. Those teams can’t even get veteran free agents to sign, how are they going to get young kids to agree to come there?
The other notion is to take away the weight added to the lottery selection and let every non-playoff team have the same chance of garnering the No. 1 spot each season. I like this idea, but it still will not stop tanking. It would just change the level of tanking. It is kind of like the NCAA tournament. When there were 64 teams in the field, there were teams that felt they deserved to be in; just because they raised the field to 68, it did not end the talk of snubs each March.
If the league were to take away the weighted chances out of the draw, there would still be teams that are close to making the playoffs that decide to tank and fall out of the top-eight in their conference. It would probably make teams more likely to tank.
Think about it, if you were the Atlanta Hawks or Charlotte Bobcats this season, would you really want to make the playoffs just to be swept in the first round? Or would you like to have a one in 14 shot at having the first pick? Or a five in 14 chance of a top-five pick? If it were my choice, I am going after the draft pick every chance I get.
This season, there are five teams with legitimate chances to win the championship: the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers. Of those five teams, only the Pacers do not have a top-five pick on their team, and the Spurs are the only team that has one top-five pick.
The remaining three teams have seven top-five picks. Getting high draft picks and making the right decision when you get them is the best and quickest way to win in this league. You will never stop teams from trying to get high draft picks when getting them is what can make or break an organization.
If the NBA does give all non-playoff teams the same percentage of nabbing the top pick every season, it will prevent the travesty that the Philadelphia 76ers have become, but it will not end tanking. Instead, we will lose those competitive battles for the last few playoff spots. Tanking cannot be eliminated, Adam Silver. Please don’t ruin the handful of good teams we have now in favor of making really bad teams just kind of bad instead.