Is Tanking Truly a Problem in Today’s NBA?

Adam Silver recently reiterated the League’s zero-tolerance policy regarding teams who purposely intend to lose games. Check out what Silver wrote in a league-wide memo (I was even kind enough to underline the important stuff!)



I guess Sam Hinkie never got this memo…

A recent article published by Tom Ziller on SB Nation argued that tanking is at an all-time high in the NBA. Coincidentally, I had planned to write about the current state of tanking, as Mark Cuban had just gotten slapped with a 600k fine for publicly discussing it. Here is my hot take: Tanking is not as big of a problem as everyone thinks.

Ziller wrote that 7 teams in the NBA are currently achin’ for Ayton. He listed Chicago, Memphis, Dallas, Orlando, Sacramento, Phoenix and Atlanta as teams aiming for the gutter. Rest assured, all of these teams are horrible. Yet, not all of them are tanking.

Some of them just, well…suck.

Let’s look at Chicago. They just began to sitting starters like Holiday and Lopez, with the intentions of letting their young players get more playing time. For 70% of their season, the Bulls played their starters and at least remained somewhat competitive. After all, how many tanking teams reel off a 7 game win streak? How many tanking teams pull of streak where they win 10 out of 12, including Ws against teams like Boston, Philadelphia and Milwaukee? Sure, they traded Mirotic to the Pelicans, but you could argue that they were going to move him purely because of his alleged poisonous locker room presence. Are the Bulls a dreadful squad? Absolutely. But for the majority of this season they have competed their tails off and tried to win games. They just, well…suck.

Sacramento is a curious case as well. Before trading away George Hill, Sacramento was starting him alongside another vet such as Z-Bo. The Kings play(ed) Hill, Carter, Randolph, Temple, and Koufos an average of 22 minutes per game! First rounders like Hield, Jackson and Skal have come off the bench far more often than they have started. If this team wanted to throw away the season, their lineups and player usage does not indicate it. They brought in a ton of vets this offseason and not just for the purpose of mentorship; they actually play these guys. In fact, it was just last night that the Kings finally gave their veteran core some DNP-Coach’s Decicions. The Kings aren’t intentionally stacking up Ls, they just, well…suck.

On to Memphis, another awful team to watch. The Grizzlies have had some bad luck this season as star guard Mike Conley has hardly played. Still, this team isn’t losing games on purpose. Would a tanking team hang on to Tyreke Evans, an expiring contract, instead of at least getting something in return for him? If management wants to lose games, hanging on to the player who is having the best year on your team may not be the way. Memphis simply lacks bodies and talent. Take some time to look at their roster and bring some tissues to wipe away the tears. So let’s keep the refrain going, The Griz aren’t lobbying for a higher draft pick, they just, well…suck.

Now, what about Orlando? Remember when they jumped off to that 8-2 start? Me neither. With new management in their front office, the Magic have no ties to recently drafted players. Perhaps this is why guys like Super Mario and Aaron Gordon were shopped around this year’s deadline. Perplexingly, Orlando hung on to Mario Hezonja only to have him receive limited minutes off of the bench, despite his rise in trade value due to his recent elevated play . Guys like Bismack Biyombo, Shelvin Mack and DJ Augustin are getting more or similar minutes to promising talents such as Euro-League project Khem Birch, potential draft steal Wesley Iwundu, the (albeit oft injured) Jonathan Isaac and the improved Hezonja. Altogether now friends, the Magic aren’t tanking, they just, well…suck.

Of course, Dallas, Phoenix and Atlanta have intentions of landing the top overall pick. Cuban even came out and said so. Atlanta let go of their veterans and Phoenix is doing Phoenix things. To be fair, tanking is alive in the League today. Yet, teams like Chicago, Sacramento, Orlando and Memphis have spent the vast majority of their season’s putting out their best possible lineups. Shoot, even Phoenix has chosen to bring Josh Jackson off the bench instead of giving him extra burn.

But perhaps a more important issue is the Association’s concentration of talent. Riddle me this: The NBA is arguably more talented than ever, yet there are only two serious title contenders this year and they are both in the Western Conference. If we’re being totally honest, there is only one serious contender this year. Front offices are finding ways to conglomerate top-end talent, leaving other teams in the dust. Talent dispersion seems to be at a low point. We shouldn’t be worried about a plethora of teams tanking. Instead, we should be worried that many teams are not trying to tank but still find themselves playing abysmal basketball.

And for those opposed to tanking, just remember that the Philadelphia 76ers used to, well…suck.

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