Regarding tanking, the NBA for quite some time has tried to stop its franchises from taking advantage of loopholes in the draft to become better. To eliminate the prospect of tanking, it sees the NBA draft and free agency as the best methods of improving teams, and while most teams have not broken the rules, many recently have, and the fans and media have noticed.
What is the NBA doing to stop tanking?
The NBA has a tanking problem
Tanking soils the brand by turning core fans off to a lack of front office and team effort. It also ruins ticket sales and revenue. Fans modify schedules to attend games, and when a team doesn't play the totality of its roster with full effort, fans are rightfully upset.
As teams everywhere were tanking to secure higher spots in the NBA draft in the 80's, the draft lottery was instituted. The lottery has its flaws as well and has been modified multiple times over the years. Many say the 1984 draft featuring Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton is to blame for the origin of tanking as teams did whatever it took to lose for a draft that many agree is the best of all time.
Houston went 9-27 to close the season after starting 20-26 prior to that historic draft. Tanking teams over the years have tanked for Derrick Coleman, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Greg Oden -- even Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
Trust the process
Former Philadelphia 76'ers GM, Sam Hinkie, was hired prior to the 2013-14 season. In the three years he was in Philly, the Sixers went 47-195. In 2015-16, Philadelphia began the season 1-21 record -- which included an 18-game losing streak. Jerry Colangelo was brought in, and Hinkie was gone.
Trust the process slogan began in 2013 when the Sixers drafted Nerlens Noel with the 7th pick. The Sixers had full knowledge that Noel tore his anterior cruciate ligament and pulled the trigger anyway. Hinkie believed that while LeBron James was in the Eastern Conference, no team would be able to compete favorably vs. a LeBron-led team. James went to eight straight NBA Finals playing for either the Cleveland Cavaliers or Miami Heat from 2011-18.
The Sixers conducted front-office duties to build a roster throughout the draft, so when LeBron either leaves the conference or retires, the Sixers roster would be strengthened and ready to move into a slot left by LeBron's departure. The Sixers held out players and had high draft picks for many years in succession. Joel Embiid was picked at No. 3 in 2014, Jahlil Okafor 3rd in 2015. Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz were the first overall picks in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Even with trades, the Sixers sat pretty, developed Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons into multiple all-star selections despite their youth, and are now a perennial Eastern Conference contender.
How has the NBA responded to tanking?
In a direct reaction to the Sixers, Adam Silver changed the draft lottery for the 6th time. The team with the best chance of winning the first pick went from 26% to 14%. He's mentioned more value be placed on incentivizing winning. Should penalities like rescinding draft picks or fining teams and taking television money away if a team is found to tank. It seems like a difficult exercise to police.
Is this a CBA issue?
Rookie contracts give teams an advantage. A rookie salary structure is in place for teams to keep a player for four years with a team option for two more. That player is restricted while under the rookie scale. How about implementing 1 year player option deals as former Sixers assistant GM Ben Falk has suggested, and forcing NBA teams to be more competent in the draft process -- which could eliminate teams drafting a star and not building around that player to tank when the next generational talent comes around?
The idea of eliminating the draft is a suggestion that makes sense, and one I heard in the barbershop recently, yet wouldn't small markets be affected if rookies simply sought out the big market teams? I'd also suggest that the rookie scale deals be eliminated altogether. It's understood the NBA seeks to protect its front offices from the consistent ineptitude leading to bad draft decisions. A rookie scale does nothing more than give GM's a wait and see look at the players drafted instead of challenging its scouting team to look a little closer at players regarding how they project.
Regarding tanking, accountability resounds. It's important that the NBA somehow gets a handle over the common occurrence of tanking. NBA fans will begin to wonder about the league if teams are permitted to lose purposefully without punishment. Like Silver says, the rebuilding process should take a year, and not continue over the years. Fans will not tolerate that, and neither will a media looking to scrutinize the process of losing to win. Tanking has worked and teams will continue the process of tanking to secure that once-in-a-generation player that could turn around the fortunes of a franchise on the scoreboard and in the stands. Adam Silver, you are now on the clock.
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