Over the last few years, both media and (supposedly) concerned fan alike have gnashed their teeth at the concept of NBA teams “tanking” games. Those media, and the fans that sometimes appear to have a hard time naming off more than five NBA players at a time, are choosing to ignore some of the league’s more ignoble precepts (families being priced out of NBA arenas, impending lockouts struck to secure earnings for owners that do not deserve them, greed in the form of putting advertisements on jerseys) in order to focus on teams that begin a season with no hope, choosing to instead initiate year-long training camp that will likely result in the prize of a very high pick in the NBA’s year draft.
At his first All-Star weekend press conference on Sunday, new NBA commissioner Adam Silver took on the definition of tanking head on, rightfully dismissing it entirely. From Pro Basketball Talk:
“My understanding of tanking would be losing games on purpose,” Silver said. “And there’s absolutely no evidence that any team in the NBA has ever lost a single game, or certainly in any time that I’ve been in the league, on purpose. And, to me, what you’re referring to I think is rebuilding. And I’m not sure it’s just a function of the collective bargaining agreement; I think there’s a balance with any team of the need to look out to the future and at the same time put a competitive product on the floor.”
There is a difference between “tanking,” and presumably throwing games, and “rebuilding.” Teams in Philadelphia, Utah, Orlando and Boston aren’t shooting free throws with the wrong hand or head-butting the ball up court. They’re actively trying to win games while featuring young talent that, as their collective record shows, isn’t ready to compete at a playoff level. No comment section denizen complaining about teams tanking is actually settling into their League Pass to watch these games. I doubt they even have League Pass at all, and would rather just wax sanctimonious about contests they’ve never seen, featuring players they couldn’t name.
Players and coaches are competing, and trying. And if you believe that teams are attempting to lose games in order to eventually acquire more famous teammates through the draft, consider your own fandom.
All of us, at one point or another, has been a fan of a lottery-bound team with no real hope in that particular season. None of us are shaking our fists in frustration at the television when our crummy favorite teams happens to win a game, or ranting at a box score upon learning of a rare win for the good guys. Even though we’re smart fans – and we know that more losses lead to better lottery odds – it’s still hard to get down to the point where you’re rooting against your favorite team. Even if that team features Corey Benjamin and Dragan Tarlac.
So if we can’t pull off the tank job from afar, imagine how the players competing in the game actually feel. On top of personal pride, they’re not going to skunk their own chances to help a franchise that may not have any use for them once things start to turn around.
Of course, this is re-stating obvious truth, but this needs to be talked about. The outcry from both professional writer and fans alike has risen to a fever pitch, and it’s completely needless. Silver is in real danger of being bullied into changing the lottery system in ways that could truly hurt the league and its foundation, not to mention your favorite team’s chances of righting their particular ship once it goes pear-shaped. These are the guys that screwed up the Dunk Contest – you want them fiddling with the lottery, now? What happens when it’s your team’s turn to lose 65 games?
You lose the most amount of games, and you get a one in four chance at the top pick. Your odds dwindle even further after that. Nothing is guaranteed, and there’s still the chance that a bad general manager will either screw up with his draft selection, or building around the selection should he turn into a winner. Various teams are losing handfuls of games for various reasons, but as we’ve seen in Milwaukee this year, you’ll be revealed as terrible at your job eventually.
Teams aren’t losing games on purpose, and the lottery system (which rarely hands picks to top teams at the expected percentage position) works. Kindly stop whining about tanking, before the league is pressured into a ham-fisted “solution” that makes things worse.
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