Tanking right decision for middling NBA teams


By Alex Fischbein / For the Pitt News

The NBA and its fans can try to stop it all they want, but tanking is here to stay.

Many people invested in the NBA are outraged about tanking — the process of intentionally fielding a weaker team in order to lose more games and secure a higher draft pick — but that’s because they fail to see anything more than regular season wins. Fans that understand tanking realize that sometimes, there is no other way for a middling team to escape mediocrity and eventually compete for a championship.

Commissioner Adam Silver and NBA executives even tried to reform the draft lottery to prevent teams from tanking. It’s a reform that won’t work. Big name free agents normally don’t want to go to a team lacking in young talent or championship prospects. These teams remain mediocre because of players who, after a good season or two, demand more money than they’re worth. On top of that, these teams are often small market teams, which is another turnoff for most superstars entering free agency.

Even the reigning champions, the San Antonio Spurs, have tanked before. They drafted David Robinson with the first pick in the 1987 draft, but they knew he wasn’t going to play for two years because he had to fulfill his service time in the Navy after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. The Spurs had two more horrible seasons, got another top three draft pick and then went from last place to first when Robinson returned.

Two more players selected by tanking teams were LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The Cleveland Cavaliers traded away some of their best players for injured or past-their-prime players at the beginning of the 2002 season. They selected James as the first pick in the 2003 draft and rose to become one of the best teams in the East.

When Oklahoma City — then the Seattle SuperSonics — drafted Kevin Durant, the team had two veteran stars in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. On draft day, the SuperSonics traded away Allen to the Celtics, and they dealt Lewis to the Magic a few weeks later. They then played their way to Russell Westbrook at the No. 4 pick in the draft. Trading Allen helped the Boston Celtics win a championship and the relocated Thunder haven’t even won one yet, which means the franchise’s little tank job didn’t harm anyone.

This NBA season, fans and writers alike are complaining about the Philadelphia 76ers and their “destructive” tanking strategy. They selected the hurt Kansas star Joel Embiid with their third pick in the draft and then traded their 10th pick for Dario Saric, who will be playing in Turkey for the next two years. The 76ers’ general manager, Sam Hinkie, has been dealing players for all sorts of picks and stockpiling assets.

A lot of people have nicknamed Philadelphia’s season “Tank 2.0” because of the team’s limited talent and few playoff aspirations. Analysts and experts think that this will make the fans turn against the team, but it really has given fans hope for success for the future, as they can dream of drafting the next LeBron James or Kevin Durant.

Attendance at home games may have declined, but that carries much significance. For example, the Indiana Pacers were one game away from the NBA Finals in the 2012-13 season, and they had an average game attendance of just 15,269 people, which ranked 25th out of 30 teams.

Tanking should be the least of the NBA’s worries. It’s smart, it’s easy to implement, and most importantly, it’s inevitable.

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