The argument against NBA teams tanking games is tired and silly. For decades, pro squads have given up on entire seasons in order to develop young talent and secure high-end draft picks, but it wasn’t until 2013-14 the hyperdrive media and those who tend to fall in lockstep with their favorite TV/radio shows and/or writers started to kvetch about things.
Recently, Grantland’s Zach Lowe broke the news about the league considering a percentage-based variation on determining draft lottery odds. We strongly discouraged the league to pass on the idea, and we weren’t alone.
The Philadelphia 76ers – the squad that lost 26 straight games last season while sitting out its top draft pick, a franchise that may sit out its current top draft pick for most or not all of 2014-15 – are also strongly objecting to the idea.
Thanks a lot, Sixers. Way to tramp down the clichés and play against role. From Brian Windhorst at ESPN:
The NBA is pushing toward changes to the draft lottery system by next season but is facing a strong objection from the Philadelphia 76ers, the franchise that could suffer the most from it, multiple sources told ESPN.com.
The rough draft of this plan was met with opposition by 76ers management, which is in the midst of a multiseason rebuilding project that is dependent on a high pick next year. The 76ers, sources said, are hoping to get the NBA to delay the plan's implementation for at least a year because it would act as a de facto punishment while just playing by the rules that have been in place.
The 76ers, however, may struggle to gain support from Silver or fellow teams for holding off on the changes. Philadelphia's planned sink to the bottom has caused a drag on revenues in one of the league's largest markets and has upset some other teams, sources said.
The Sixers want the NBA to pass on preventing them from doing the best possible job they can to improve their franchise. This is essentially what this boils down to.
The 76ers will lose again in 2014-15, possibly more often than they did in 2013-14, when the lottery “rewarded” them with the third overall pick. Philadelphia will then enter the 2015 offseason with two of the best young big men in the game, the 2014 Rookie of the Year, another high-end lottery pick, a coveted stashed prospect still developing overseas and a massive amount of cap space.
Philadelphia is taking a year off, because after years of trying to overpay overrated talent under various personnel bosses including Billy King, Rod Thorn, Ed Stefanski and Doug Collins, the 76ers are rebuilding the right way. And sometimes “the right way” takes two seasons.
Compare this Sixers setup with what we’ve seen in recent years in Dallas and with the Los Angeles Lakers. Those Lakers just signed Carlos freakin’ Boozer. They just signed Jordan Hill to a contract that nears eight figures per year, one they will no doubt decline the second year of the deal. They could waive Steve Nash, but don’t want a portion of his contract carrying over into the 2015 and '16 offseason. The team just took on a draft pick for the right to pay Jeremy Lin $14 million in actual payroll this season, and unless Linsanity breaks out in Pacific Time this season he most certainly won’t be around past 2015.
Dallas? The Mavericks let their starting center go in the offseason following their 2011 championship, and he went on to win the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2011-12. Dallas did nothing but hire a series of rentals in the 2011 and 2012 offseasons, only diving in to dole out multiyear deals in 2013. It punted away two years of Dirk Nowitzki’s near-prime in order to hoard cap flexibility for the following summer, knowing full well the peak output of the team it was creating would be 45 wins or so at best.
What about Orlando, dismantling a division winner in 1999 in anticipation of the next offseason? What about when Seattle decided it didn’t want to pair Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis with Kevin Durant in 2007? What about Jerry Krause, rolling over cap flexibility in both 1999 offseasons (there were two, technically), and in 2000?
And in 2001?
And in 2002?
What about this?
What about when the Denver Nuggets started Junior Harrington and Vince Yarborough for a combined 90 games in anticipation of drafting LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony? What about when the San Antonio Spurs encouraged David Robinson to ease slowly into his rehabilitation the season before Tim Duncan left Wake Forest? What about the time when Red Auerbach said, “Nah, I don’t need a lottery pick right away,” and drafted Larry Bird while of the sound knowledge he wouldn’t play for the Celtics for another year?
There has always been tanking. Houston lost games repeatedly in the early 1980s in the hopes of drafting Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon, and the NBA responded with a draft lottery. Orlando ducked into consecutive top overall picks despite brandishing a 41-win record one year, and the NBA responded with a weighted lottery.
A lottery that works, mind you. Boston and Milwaukee tanked in 2007, and they fell as far as they technically could in the lottery and missed out on Durant and Greg Oden. Philadelphia set out to lose last season, and only picked up the third pick. Milwaukee set out to win last year, lost more than anyone, and grabbed only the second overall pick. Cleveland picked up the top overall pick again because chance favors the failures.
Weighting the lottery system even further will only encourage the worst kind of tanking – the brand that sees teams truly send out the stinkos in March and April (let’s sign Paul Shirley!), sitting any young talent that would give the team a chance to win. It will make the game of loss collecting a more calculated affair, and far more transparent than what Philadelphia is doing right now.
We know what the Sixers are doing: Philadelphia wants to lose, and the team’s evasive front office is also gaming the system. After years of acting as a destination that no star wanted anything to do with, unless the star was wildly overpaid after a season-altering injury, they’ll soon enough be the NBA’s Next Big Thing. Two potential All-Stars up front, the 2014 Rookie of the Year, another lottery pick in 2015, Dario Saric in the ether, and massive cap space alongside scads of other second-round draft picks and the ability to facilitate trades in exchange for assets.
It’s a great setup. And one of its biggest fans? NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
"You look at any business, you look at short-term results and long-term results," Silver said. "And if you told a business, if somebody told you a business was going to operate on a quarter-by-quarter [basis], you'd say, 'That's not the way to operate a business.' You'd say, 'You need a strategy. You need to look at the long-term.' And I think what this organization is doing is absolutely the right thing. What they're doing is planning for the future and building an organization from the ground level up.
"And so, if you look at what's happened here over the last several years, it's badly needed," he said. "Somebody needs a plan. Somebody needs a vision to win here. And I think that's what's happening."
"I am not concerned about what is happening in Philadelphia."
So, a rebuild is not concerning and "badly needed,” but we want to stop it. Because the Sixers are doing it better than anyone else.
The bottom line here is that Philadelphia 76ers fans want this. The great majority of them understand this league and they were tired of the mediocrity. It’s true that ideally they’d like to watch wins sooner rather than later … but they know what’s up.
Those in opposition to the Sixers? Sportswriters with columns, and especially ex-sportswriters with TV and/or radio shows. Those guys, and other NBA owners.
That’s not a group Adam Silver should care about pleasing, but we know how this is going to end up. Even if Adam Silver is only five months removed from praising the 76ers’ “strategy.”
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