There is concern in NBA circles about the possibility and reality of tanking. That is, teams somewhat purposefully trying to lose to get better draft positioning.
Especially when you take a look at this year’s Draft with all the potential stars that appear to be available.
Mark Cuban has become a de facto spokesman for the NBA and its owners at this point. If there is an issue in the NBA that needs a candid opinion, Cuban is the guy to go to. He does not have the strait-laced, corporate visage of commissioner Adam Silver. And he legitimately speaks for himself. He also is one of the longest tenured and veteran owners. So when he talks, you tend to listen.
And he believes tanking does exist and that it is not working. Via The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio (h/t Matt Moore of Eye on Basketball):
On Adam Silver denying tanking exists in the NBA:
“No one thinks it doesn’t exist, it’s just a question of whether or not it’s effective. And when so many teams tank in one conference, it’s not effective.”
Cuban went on to explain that in the Eastern Conference, tanking actually becomes difficult on account of there being so many teams all trying to tank at once. With so many teams planning on tanking from the beginning, plus teams who weren’t trying to winding up there (Milwaukee), it creates a competitive tanking environment, basically.
The Eastern Conference certainly is full of some very bad teams who have banked their future on this year’s Draft. Management has certainly done what it can in several cases to put the teams in position to take advantage of that.
But because so many teams are doing that, someone is going to get squeezed out. They will not “win” the lottery and the whole season will be lost. There is still the possibility a team just outside of making the Playoffs sneaks in and takes a top pick away from them.
The strategy is not foolproof and could backfire.
After all, the worst record only guarantees a top-4 pick. That is the difference between Anthony Davis and Dion Waiters or Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson.
The Lottery likely will still do its job and penalize some team for fielding a bad squad. Of course, some tanker likely will get rewarded too.
The math for NBA teams deciding how to rebuild still tips in favor of playing the Lottery for most.