The NBA has a tanking problem because the NBA used to employ a lot of problems

The NBA has a tanking problem because the NBA used to employ a lot of problems

On Monday evening, the Los Angeles Lakers downed the Philadelphia 76ers on a last-second shot from rookie Jordan Clarkson. Hands were rung and eyes rolled, as a significant portion of NBA fandom could hardly recall what number Clarkson wore prior to this professional event, and yet they could recite the two teams’ 2015 NBA draft odds by rote: Los Angeles keeps its pick unless it either continues to win, or in case bad lottery luck pushes the team out of the top five. If it falls out of the top five, the lowly Sixers takes in its own high end lottery pick, and the Lakers’ selection.

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Los Angeles has won three of five, quite the warming trend for a 20-53 club, putting its fans in an impossible position that we see yearly amongst the lower rungs of the NBA. The team’s fans understand that most of the current Lakers won’t have a spot in the rotation when the franchise finally turns it all around, there is no point in rooting for their growth and success, and every added win lowers the team’s odds at the draft pick of their choice – presuming they get to keep it anyway.

Philadelphia? They’ve spent the better part of two seasons auditioning players for rotation spots nine through 15 on the 2017-18 Philadelphia 76ers. The guy they drafted in June of 2013 didn’t play until October of 2014, the guy they drafted in June of 2014 won’t play until October of 2015, and another really good guy they drafted in June of 2014 possibly won’t play until October of 2017. Their best young prospect from last season, Michael Carter-Williams, was recently traded for a draft pick that may not make his debut until October of 2016 – if then.

Minnesota coach Flip Saunders recently had to back down from earlier, heated comments he made about Utah Jazz broadcasters that he called “irresponsible” after they discussed the Timberwolves’ decision to rest several key (and also injured) starters as the team worked its way toward its tenth straight lottery appearance. The Wolves have the second-best odds at entering 2015-16 with the last three top overall NBA draft picks on its roster, and yet the team will still be ages away from a playoff berth, and not likely to end a postseason drought that is about to enter its second decade.

Phil Jackson’s New York Knicks have the best odds at a top overall pick, but even with cap space and the return of Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks are still several significant moves away from even playoff contention. They’re so far away that Jackson even asked season ticket holders to turn their frowns upside-down as the team readies itself to ask its fans to reward the worst season in Knick history with the highest ticket prices in the NBA.

The Sacramento Kings haven’t sniffed relevance in nearly a decade, and yet the team is still content to possibly sit DeMarcus Cousins down for the rest of the season. Cousins, the team’s beleaguered franchise star working for a franchise in turmoil, is coming off his first All-Star appearance, and he’s been hustling since Team USA training camp in July. Sitting Cousins would also give the Kings better odds in keeping its first-round draft pick this year, as a dip out of the top ten this season would mean the selection would move on to the Chicago Bulls.

Denver, essentially, gave up on its season midway through 2014-15. Boston, rightfully, has its fans worried that the team may perpetually overachieve its way out of earning the chance to acquire a star. Talk of tanking used to dominate NBA headlines in March and April, but the modern cycle has fans discussing it on draft night in June, and wondering if the reboot will take two or three years, as could be the case with the Lakers, as opposed to the single-year dive.

This is where the hand-wringing comes in. The NBA could do away with the weighted lottery. It could fine teams for blatantly sitting winning prospects. Khrushchev's shoe, on the table, Mark Madsen shooting three-pointers, all that fun stuff.

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The NBA doesn’t need to revisit how it deals with such thing. The NBA, simply, needs to get rid of bad general managers. The NBA is also well on its way toward achieving that.

By now the GM shaming has become a well-worn trope (and you’re welcome!). The deal that sent a Kings first-rounder to Cleveland (and eventually Chicago) for J.J. Hickson was laughed at as much then as it is now, as the Bulls watch the Western standings. Brooklyn GM Billy King was mocked almost from the outset of his time with the team. Even while pegging the 2012-13 Lakers for a championship run, we all wondered why the Lakers felt compelled to send a potential first-round pick Phoenix’s way in the Steve Nash sign-and-trade. Fans had no idea what Minnesota was chasing when it declined to give Kevin Love the contract he deserved or when it handed Kevin Martin four years and $27.7 million in 2013.

We’re slowly getting away from this, however. Several teams, unfortunately, have had to play dumb this season in order to make up for past mistakes. Teams are getting smarter, though.

Even the Knicks, just a few months from being roundly mocked for trading draft picks for Andrea Bargnani, declined to send a draft pick to Toronto for a player in Kyle Lowry that was soon to be a free agent. Phil Jackson’s longtime buddy and former assistant coach Charley Rosen may want the team to trade the top overall pick for Greg Monroe (something that isn’t NBA-legal) on draft night, but Charley Rosen (thankfully) does not work for the New York Knicks. Meanwhile, the Lakers might be playing possum currently, and might enter 2016 without Kobe Bryant, without Byron Scott, with three high-end draft picks, cap space, and the waves of Malibu to offer.

The game has passed some general managers by, like Washington’s Ernie Grunfeld (who once traded the aforementioned Jordan Clarkson for freaking cash considerations), but they’re probably not long for the league in that role. King is out of Brooklyn as soon as new owners swoop in. Soon enough, general managers won’t have to take several rebuilding years to clean up the messes of their predecessors, as we’re currently seeing in Detroit, Orlando, Sacramento, Philly, New York, Minnesota, and …

That’s a lot of teams, but the NBA has also rid itself of several very poor general managers over the last few years. This isn’t to say that parity will hit and the ranks of competition will level, as you still may have GMs being hired partially because they’re from the same state that the team plays in, but things are changing in ways that don’t have to lead to a change of the lottery rules.

This is what happens when you let Dwight Howard run your franchise, or David Kahn, or Joe Dumars, or Doug Collins, or James Dolan, or when you basically give up on basketball while trying to sell your team. A goodly chunk of the NBA is in a bad place because the work of some lacking ex-GMs put their teams in bad places. Outfits in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York aren’t guaranteed future success with the NBA draft still three months away, but these front offices had to start somewhere.

There are five to a side in basketball, stars matter, and there will always have to be 25-win teams. This is part of the reason why so many of us follow the NBA, and the biggest reason why comparisons to other sports or leagues are anachronistic at best and pointless at worst. The NBA’s job right now, as it recovers from the work of so many executives who were stuck in 1991 while working in 2011, is to get smarter.

Not more unhinged. We’ve tried that already, and it didn’t work.

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Kelly Dwyer

is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!