A proposal to combat tanking in the NBA

I used to really like basketball when I was younger, but now I really dislike it.  At first, it was the NBA, because after they went on strike in 1999, it was a downhill spiral from there, and it’s stuck in this unappealing mire of bullshit to this day, and still managing to sink further with each passing season (except the Spurs, I ♥ the Spurs still).  College basketball is still superior, but I’m also growing tired of how corporate it, and college football are becoming because of all the monetary potential in them, and how greedy people are leading children down a slippery slope of pursuing quick greed, fame and fortune instead of the educations that they’re often times getting for free just to play sports.

But today, we’re here to talk about the NBA, and namely the tanking that has become notoriously blatant.  If you weren’t aware, tanking is basically when a team loses on purpose, so that they can position themselves in an optimal position in the following year’s draft, with hopes that they can get the first, or at least a top-5 pick, which are usually highly talented, difference-making players.

Teams tank for a variety of reasons; most of the time, it’s because the season is deemed “over,” as in that they’re mathematically out of contention, so that there’s no point in trying for the remainder of it, or they’ve really got such a big picture in mind, and they’re anticipating a college stud to be going pro the following year, and they really really want them, even if it means embarrassing themselves for a year.  There are also isolated cases where a person or persons has an agenda, and they want to get someone fired or traded, so tanking is done to facilitate such an objective, but for the most part, the vast majority of tanking is done with next year’s draft positioning in mind.

Tanking is not illegal by any means, but it is still highly frowned upon, because it’s completely sending the absolute wrong message, diluting true talent, and if fans knew that they paid actual money to see a team not actually trying, they would undoubtedly be enraged and feel cheated, with all sorts of potential backlash there.  Regardless, teams still tank, and have been tanking for the better part of the last 30 years, because drafting a college stud or studzzzplural is usually the most efficient way at rebuilding a sustainable contender.

The difference is that in spite of the fact that it’s undoubtedly been going on for decades, it hasn’t been nearly as blatant as it’s been in recent seasons.  The 2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers have lost 26 straight games at the time I’m writing this (and was the impetus for this post), which has tied an NBA record.  The NBA’s been around for a long long time, and for them to manage to actually tie, and probably “beat” an entire organizational record is pretty astounding, and a horrific symbol of futility.  Granted, it’s a team from Philadelphia, so that’s no surprise but that’s a completely different story.

It’s not really so much the fact that the 76ers are tanking, it’s the fact that they’ve been so obvious and blatant about it.  They’re routinely losing games by 20-point deficits, and from the highlights I’ve seen, they have pretty much stopped playing defense outright.  Anyone with a name to them will still play offense, to boost those ever-important personal statistics so that they can have some ammunition to negotiate with in the future, but they couldn’t possibly appear to care any less about the fact that their team is losing every single game, and at this point, very literally.

In the past, tanking was removing the truly talented stars from the game, and citing some bullshit health ailment or injury prevention.  And/or it was replacing them with young and inexperienced players, citing such rhetoric as “they need the real-game experience,” but it still accomplished the same thing.  Ultimately, the goal is to compromise the possibility of winning games, but not be too obvious about doing it.  However, in the case of the 76ers of this year, and numerous other teams in recent years, even that’s too difficult to do, and teams are pretty much showing up without actually showing up on a routinely basis nowadays.

I hate to sound like a square or so old fashioned, but it begs to ask the question where integrity has disappeared to?  I know that integrity doesn’t pay the bills, and that integrity doesn’t win games, but I don’t know, it’s still important to people like me to have a little bit of respect to actually try and do your job, no matter the circumstances.  Such is an issue larger than just tanking, so we’ll get back to the point at hand.

Tanking isn’t illegal, tanking has been done for well, ever, we’ve established that.  However, tanking does work.  There are teams that are good now that weren’t good not too long ago, that probably employed tanking to get the talent that made them good now.  Still, it’s still a blight on the game for people who pay money thinking they’re going to see top-tier talent, and the kids who look up to, and admire basketball players, and I would like to see it not be done so blatantly, if at all.

SO, ten paragraphs later, let’s get to my idea on how to combat tanking in the NBA:

If players aren’t going to show up and play basketball to their best of their ability, get rid of them.

Sure, it’s not that simple, but give me some time to explain this idea.  Start with the starting five.  If a team is suspected to be tanking, bench or suspend the starting five, whatever it takes to prevent them from getting in the game.  These are the guys that are supposed to be the best players on the team, and the ones expected to play the majority of the games.  These are also the guys most probable to be the ones doing the tanking, since they’re on the court for the majority of the game’s minutes.

Removing these players from the game outright prevents them from getting the opportunity to accumulate personal stats, make highlights and simply gain national exposure.  All of which, when had, are great ways to accumulate wealth.  Affect their bottom line and potential to earn money, and I’m fairly confident that they’ll shape up very quick.

It’s worth mentioning that this idea and this punishment needs to come from those outside and above the team, meaning the NBA directly.  Because whether it’s a team’s general manager, or a coach with his eyes on tomorrow, it’s usually not the players’ choice to whether they should tank or not, unless they’re deliberately trying to get the coach fired.  That being said, it kind of sucks to target the players when it might not even be their decision, but they’re the chief representatives of the team, and therefore the perfect targets to punish.

The irony is that punishing the starting players by removing them from the game still indirectly accomplishes the goal of tanking, because by now forcing bench players, whom are all usually perceived to be of lesser talent, into starting roles, will typically not be the most optimal scorers and defenders, and the losses will still pile up.  But if there are star players suspended or sitting on the bench and unable to prove their earning capabilities, it can be assured that the tanking wouldn’t be nearly as harmonious as it is today, for the coach and/or management of the team.

However, let’s say punishing the star players doesn’t work, and it still doesn’t scare teams into not deliberately tanking; I have an idea for that too:

Get rid of the team.  And replace them with their affiliated NBA Developmental League team.

Sure, this sounds extreme, and is full of holes, but this is all theoretical and nobody’s ever going to really read this anyway.  But let’s explain this with an example.

Say, the 76ers continue to tank, break the historic NBA losing games streak, and finish out the season 15-67.  So they’ve managed to be the worst team in the NBA with a winning percentage of .183.  Absolutely embarrassing.

So punish them by removing them from the NBA for a season.  And in their spot in the Eastern Conference, replace them with the Delaware 87ers, their D-League team.  If the 76ers are going to play .183 ball, could the 87ers really be any worse?

The flaw to this logic is that not every team has their own D-League team, although most of them do.  In that case, I’d modify the rule to where the worst team in the NBA is replaced by the team that won the D-League championship for the entire following season.

The bottom line is that if an NBA team isn’t willing to play basketball, replace the team with one that is.  D-League players are akin to the minor leagues of baseball, and as anyone who’s seen a minor league baseball game knows, these are the guys busting their ass on a nightly basis, because they’re trying to get to the Majors.  If the NBA guys want to tank and slog their way through a season, replace them with guys in the D-League who might just be willing to play a little bit harder and more competitively than they would.

Let the 76ers play in a smaller arena and stay at Holiday Inn Expresses and ride buses from city to city.  While the 87ers get the NBA treatment with fatty stipends, chartered jets, first-class hotels under assumed identities and NBA-grade gold diggers.  Give them a taste of the big leagues, and hope it lights a fire under their ass to want to stay there.

The irony here too, is that the goal of tanking might still be accomplished, by bringing in third-rate talent to play in the NBA.  But now a team has an entire 12-15 man roster livid and furious that they’re not getting NBA treatment, NBA exposure, and if it were up to me, NBA salaries.  Given the amount of bitching and whining the primadonnas of the NBA do now, imagine how much worse it would be when they’re stripped of everything they already have?

It just might make them think twice about such blatant tanking.  After all, competition at the highest level is what the fans are already paying to expect to see.  If an NBA team or its players don’t want to play basketball, simply replace them with a team and players that do.

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