This is the time of the year when “tanking” becomes part of the NBA conversation. As the playoffs draw near it is championship season for the league’s elite and a different vibe for the bottom feeders.
As a franchise in a down year, the talk is about what can be fixed. Do we have the right star? Do we even have a star? How is the supporting cast? Can we play defense? Are we the Nets? Enter the NBA Draft, which is often branded as the ultimate solution to a drowning team.
It is human nature to be interested in shiny new things that we have not seen before. This is why we will be salivating over the summer as Trae Young, Marvin Bagley, and Deandre Ayton (who is really a 7’1 260 lb boulder with a heartbeat) begin their NBA careers in the Summer League. There are organizations that are willing to throw away games in an effort to land a 19-year-old franchise changer. This phenomenon used by teams with inept management is referred to as “tanking.”
What is the Issue With Tanking?
Besides the obvious issue of a group of grown-ups willing to perform at less than optimal levels in hopes of a teenage savior, there is also the issue of a product without integrity.
With ticket prices ever climbing, fans are not going to be happy to hear that “player development” is the reason why games between professionals can at times look like runs you can find at your local YMCA on a Sunday morning. Many owners want viewers to believe that they are playing their “future talent” in order to see what they may have for the future. That motive alone has merit, but there are numerous clips available just by searching “NBA tanking” on Twitter that show that things are a little deeper. Here’s another one of my favorites as a bonus.
Here's your NBA tanking update:
-Mavs: only 4 men on the floor
-Bulls: miss wide open shot pic.twitter.com/NNWnVdHIvd
— Sportsbet.com.au (@sportsbetcomau) March 4, 2018
Mark Cuban continued his mission to be the most fined person in sports history recently on the House Call with Dr. J Podcast when he openly admitted tanking to Julius Erving.
“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but, like, I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and here we are, you know, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, ‘Look, losing is our best option,'”
Any statement that begins with “I’m probably not supposed to say this -” likely should not be said and is a bad idea. For the face of the franchise to say that in a public forum simply speaks to why outside of Dirk Nowitzki the Dallas Mavericks have been largely irrelevant since their inception in 1980.
Who cares about integrity…Does It Work?
If you are one of those people who calls loose ball fouls at the park to win pick up games you probably don’t care about my first 400 words at all.
I hear you, “It’s all about the bottom line! If I can get the number 1 draft pick who cares if I’m unwatchable for a year!”
Let us look at the lotteries from the past few seasons and players picked in the top 10 positions vs everyone picked after starting with 2010.
Notable top ten: John Wall (1), DeMarcus Cousins (5), Gordon Hayward (9), Paul George (10)
Notable After: Eric Bledsoe (18), Avery Bradley (19), Hassan Whiteside (33), Lance Stephenson (40)
Did it work?:
Each team who had a pick in the top 10 besides Golden State (They took Ekpe Udoh at six) remains without a championship since this draft. A redraft of this year certainly puts Paul George ahead of John Wall. Washington remains the John Wall, Bradley Beal, and not much else show eight years later and has nothing much to point to for having the number one pick this year. Having the 2-4 picks in this draft (Evan Turner, Derrick Favors, and Wesley Johnson) was not worth throwing away a whole season for. No proof that tanking the 2009 season would have been worth it to this point nearly a decade later. Besides Paul George, None of the notable players drafted in the lottery even have significant playoff experiences.
Notable top ten: Kyrie Irving (1), Enes Kanter (3), Tristan Thompson (4), Jonas Valanciunas (5), Kemba Walker (9).
Notable After: Klay Thompson (11), Kawhi Leonard (15), Nikola Vucevic (16), Iman Shumpert (17), Tobias Harris (19), Kenneth Faried (22), Nikola Mirotic (23), Reggie Jackson (24), Jimmy Butler (30), Chandler Parsons (38), Isaiah Thomas (60)
Did It Work?
I think this year it was clear to see that tanking meant little to nothing. The Cavs grabbed Kyrie and Tristan Thompson (two top 5 picks!) and continued to be unwatchable until LeBron James decided to return from Miami. Enes Kanter has one of my favorite celebrity twitter accounts. Kemba Walker is tired of being out of the playoff picture.
Meanwhile, Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard each have championships and Jimmy Butler has gone on to be widely considered as a top 3 two way player in the league. Say what you want about Isaiah Thomas, but he’s pretty good for the last pick in the draft. Let it be known that besides the Cleveland LeBrons the other teams in the top 10 this season (Minnesota, Utah, Toronto, Washington, Sacramento, Detroit, and Charlotte) are still seeking sustained playoff success years later.
Photo: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Notable top ten: Anthony Davis (1) , Bradley Beal (3), Damian Lillard (6), Andre Drummond (9)
Notable After: Evan Fournier (20), Jae Crowder (34), Draymond Green (35), Khris Middleton (39), Will Barton (40)
Did It Work?:
The top 10 this year was boom or bust. Not in my notable section for the top 10 is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2), Thomas Robinson (5), Harrison Barnes (7), Terrence Ross (8) and Austin Rivers (10). Barnes, Ross, and Rivers have all turned out to have spans as average to slightly above average players in the NBA but none of them truly move the meter as far as creating a contender. Anthony Davis and the Pelicans are on the verge of making the playoffs for only the second time since this draft. Washington and Portland are still star-dependent and shallow as well.
Notable top ten: Victor Oladipo (2), Otto Porter (3), C.J. McCollum (10)
Notable After: Stephen Adams (12), Kelly Olynyk (13), Giannis Antetokounmpo (15), Dennis Schroder (17), Andre Roberson (26), Rudy Gobert (27)
Did It Work?:
One theme to note is the constant presence of Washington and Portland in the top ten despite having high (and solid) picks in previous years. Also note the number one pick Anthony Bennett is no longer in the league. How fortunate is Cleveland for being able to bomb this draft and still manage a championship not too long after? No. Tanking did not work this year either.
Notable top ten: Jabari Parker (2), Joel Embiid (3), Aaron Gordon (4), Marcus Smart (6), Julius Randle (7)
Notable After: Zach Lavine (13), Jusuf Nurkic (16), Gary Harris (19), Rodney Hood (23), Clint Capela (25), Spencer Dinwiddie (38), Nikola Jokic (41)
Did it Work?:
The 76ers have finally caused a ripple in the universe this season largely due to the play of Embiid. Their sustained tanking has netted them multiple highly regarded number one picks. That stroke of luck has culminated in a toss up first-round matchup that they still have question marks about with the impending Joel Embiid eye injury and the return of Markelle Fultz. No again.
Notable top ten: Karl Anthony-Towns (1), Kristaps Porzingis (4)
Notable after: Myles Turner (11), Devin Booker (13), Kelly Oubre (15), Terry Rozier (16), Larry Nance Jr. (27),
Did it Work?:
KAT was obviously a slam dunk for the Wolves and Kristaps Porzingis is not a bad selection for Phil Jackson’s Knicks at this point. D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor went two and three respectively and both now play for different teams after only three seasons. This is the year I thought Emmanuel Mudiay would be the savior for the Denver Nuggets at the 7th pick and he now comes off the bench for the Porzingis-less Knicks as this 2018 season comes to a close. So..no again. The Wolves still needed to steal Jimmy Butler from Chicago to be viable and the Knicks continue to be the among the laughing stocks of the league.
Well-run franchises do not tank. There is a reason why contenders remain contenders year after year in every sport. The spirit of sports is competition no matter the odds. This is an attitude instilled in every athlete at a young age from any coach worth their weight. There is a reason why the Spurs have been contenders for the majority of my life and why the Knicks, Suns, Mavericks, and others have been a grease fire since the end of their 2-3 year peaks. Contenders are built through a strong team culture and a stronger front office. Draft picks, development, and shrewd free agency moves are the way to build a dynasty. #TrustTheProcess creates memes. Consistency and refusal to lose creates championships.