NBA Commissioner Warns Teams About Tanking

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Mike Brest Reporter
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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver warned all 30 teams in a memo last week that blatant tanking will result in punishments from the league office.

The content of that memo was reported Wednesday by USA Today’s Sam Amick.

According to Amick, the memo said:

“The integrity of the competition on the playing court is the cornerstone of our league. It is our pact with the fans and with each other, the fundamental reason we exist as a preeminent sporting organization, the very product that we sell. With everything else changing around us, it is the one thing in our league that can never change. We must do everything in our power to protect the actual and perceived integrity of the game.”

This was brought on by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who was fined last week for saying that the best option for his team was to lose. (RELATED: Mark Cuban Fined $600,000 For Tanking Comments)

The problem with Silver’s message is there is no real way to enforce it. Tanking is a good strategy for many teams in the bottom third of the league. It makes sense for smaller markets that will not attract high-level players during free agency. For the teams that compete for the eighth spot in the playoffs, they do not have the talent to win a championship and will not get it via the middle of the first round, so it does make sense for them to trade some assets to try and get that transcendent talent in the lottery.

Tanking has become a bigger emphasis this year for two reasons. First, many consider this draft to be very deep with franchise cornerstone talent like DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III and more. Second, and more importantly, the NBA passed a resolution to change the draft lottery starting in 2019.

Currently, the top three picks in the NBA Draft are determined by a lottery that includes every non-playoff team, with the teams with the worst record having the best chance at obtaining the top overall selection. Starting next year, though, the teams with the three worst records will have equal shots at obtaining the first selection.

So, moving forward, having the worst record will not guarantee a team the best odds in getting that top pick.

Right now, there are nine teams with a win percentage under .400. If the season were to end today, that’d tie the highest for most teams under that mark since the 2012-2013 season.

The bottom eight teams in the NBA are separated by a total of three games right now. Of those eight teams, two of them have current losing streaks of 10 games, and five of them have lost at least five in a row. None of them have won even four of their last ten games. Even worse, seven of those eight teams have combined to lose 41 games in a row and the eighth team won their most recent game (a mistake made by the Dallas Mavericks).

Tanking is an issue because it has been successful in the past. Over the past four NBA Drafts, the Philadelphia Sixers have selected in the top three all four years, the Lakers have been in the top three the last three years, and the Minnesota Timberwolves have the 2013 and 2014 first overall picks. Philadelphia is on pace to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011-2012. Los Angeles isn’t quite there yet, but Minnesota currently sits third in the Western Conference. So, if they’ve been successful using this strategy, why wouldn’t others follow suit?