If it wasn’t clear before that teams in the NBA are tanking,it certainly is now and the league is taking notice. Or at least they’re acting like they are.
As of press time there are nine teams with less than 25 wins on the season,three teams with less than 20. Since All-Star weekend, nine teams with the league’s worst records have won only five games and lost 28. If the season were to end today,the Memphis Grizzlies would have the best odds at landing the top overall pick in June’s draft.
Last week,NBA commissioner Adam Silver warned that teams will face severe punishment for deliberately losing amid a reported “tanking epidemic” in the league’s cellar. Those teams are suspected of tanking in the hopes of improving their chances at a high or even the top overall draft selection at the NBA Draft Lottery.
Silver reminded all 30 NBA teams that tanking “has no place in our game” in a memo sent last week to explain the league’s six-figure fine of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Cuban made headlines in late February when he revealed during a podcast that he told members his team that “losing is our best option.” The league responded by fining him $600,000, citing “public statements detrimental to the NBA.”
“We have been careful to distinguish between efforts teams may make to rebuild their rosters, including through personnel changes over the course of several seasons, and circumstances in which players or coaches on the floor take steps to lose games,” Silver wrote in the memo, obtained by USA Today Sports.
He added, “The former can be a legitimate strategy to construct a successful team within the confines of league rules; the latter -which we have not found and hope never to see in the NBA — has no place in our game. If we ever received evidence that players or coaches were attempting to lose or otherwise taking steps to cause any game to result otherwise than on its competitive merits, that conduct would be met with the swiftest and harshest response possible from the league office.”
The team with the worst record will have a 25 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft. Starting with the 2019 draft, the three teams with the worst records will share a 14 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick, a move intended to lessen the incentive to lose at the end of the season.
In my view,there’s no doubt that Silver sees these teams are jockeying to pad the ping-pong ball war chest come draft lottery time. When you have this many teams underperforming and in a race to the bottom,it makes you look bad. Not to mention that this isn’t a good example to set for children to tell them through your actions that you shouldn’t try your best when your team is out of the playoff picture and the only thing to even compete for is a high draft choice.
Just because the Philadelphia 76ers did this for five years and are now playoff contenders doesn’t mean it’s going to work for your club,or that their model of doing this excuses the practice. You play to win basketball games,not draft position.
Now,I don’t think a majority of players are tanking because there are guys like Devin Booker of the Suns who are having big nights on lousy teams, but it is clear that front offices of teams are more than likely quietly hoping their teams don’t win games. Even teams who have been perennial playoff teams like the Hawks,Grizzlies,and the Bulls are now sinking ships themselves.
However, there is another side to this and that’s the lack of parity in the NBA.
Yep,I’m still on that train and there’s a good reason why. Right now as I see it there are about five really good teams in the NBA right now who are capable of winning the NBA title this year. You have the Warriors and the Cavaliers, who until this season were the only two teams that mattered, and you have the Rockets,Celtics and the Raptors. Then you have the middle of the pack teams who are going to either go to the playoffs or just barely miss and then you have the worst of the worst who are stinking up the joint night after night.
When you have a majority of superstars on just a few teams,it makes for a watered down league where only those teams matter. It makes the first round of the playoffs nearly irrelevant because the top teams are going to beat the shit out of the lower seeds and advance handily. Then you have the teams who just missed the playoffs who either make the decision to sell off whoever’s left and start over or try and get better in free agency and the draft. Then you have the bottom teams who have no hope of getting better anytime soon.
The NBA doesn’t have what other leagues like the NFL,NHL,or MLB have: the ability for teams to turn things around in a hurry. Look at the Jacksonville Jaguars this past year, they went from being a 3-13 team to winning their division and coming within a game of their first Super Bowl berth. In the NHL teams like the Flyers,Devils,and Lightning were absent from the playoffs a season ago and will more than likely be in the playoffs this year. In Major League Baseball the Minnesota Twins and Arizona Diamondbacks were losers of more than 90 games in 2016 only to make the playoffs the next year. Instead this is a league where the rich teams like the Warriors,Cavaliers,and Celtics get richer and the bottom feeders like the Kings,Suns,and Mavericks have nowhere else to go but down to the bottom in the hopes of getting better by drafting younger talent. The longer this goes on,the worse off the league is going to be.
So,what can be done? Well as I have outlined before, there needs to be an incentive for teams to try and get better talent and even retain the talent they have from going off to team up with their buddies on a better team. Maybe a franchise tag needs to go into place or having a harder salary cap. Even overhauling the playoff system is an idea that actually has been long overdue,however the proposals that have been discussed haven’t been to this writer’s liking.
Will this change? I hope so. Am I holding my breath for it to anytime soon? Not really.
Until the league can change its culture so that more teams have a chance to turn things around sooner rather than later, teams will continue to bottom out and draft high in the hopes that their future in five seasons is as bright as the present is for the superteams we have now.