Tanking should be a major concern

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The NBA has two significant events taking place within the next two weeks.

The first is the trade deadline that occurs this Thursday. It is earlier this season than in the past and precedes the second major event, which is the NBA All-Star Weekend which takes place Feb. 15-17 in Charlotte.

The first major trade to take place since the early season trade of Jimmy Butler from Minnesota to Philadelphia took place towards the end of last week and involved a pair of teams likely not to make the playoffs. Certainly the New York Knicks will not play in the postseason so they decided (again) to play for the future by trading their best player, Kristaps Porzingis in exchange for Dennis Smith Jr, DeAndre Jordan and Wes Matthews after Porzingis made it clear to Knicks management he would not sign a long term contract to remain in New York.

Of course Porzingis will be idle the entire season after suffering a torn ACL almost exactly a year ago.

At 10-41 the Knicks have the worst record in the NBA and appear destined to have the best chance at acquiring the top draft choice come June’s NBA Lottery (aka “The Zion Williamson Sweepstakes.”)

And therein lies a problem. A problem that has existed for some time that needs to be addressed. Or at least should be addressed.

The practice of “tanking” has become prevalent throughout the world of professional sports over the past half decade or so. For those who may not be familiar with the practice “tanking” essentially refers to a team (or organization) not doing its best to win games in the current season in an effort to secure as high a position as possible in the upcoming draft of college talent.

To those of an older generation the thought of a team not going all out in an effort to win a game is abhorrent. To be perfectly clear, players themselves rarely, if ever, try not to win games. They generally give their best effort.

It’s management, coaching and ownership that do not put the players in the best position to win, be it through allocation of playing time, the use of less than optimal player combinations, subtracting rather than adding talent during the course of a season, etc.

All of this takes place while the fan base pays exorbitant ticket prices to attend a game and, especially in the case of young fans, root hard for their team to win, believing the team is trying its best.

P.T. Barnum is reputed to have said “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Perhaps that was an understatement as fans continue to buy tickets and attend games, effectively telling ownership that playing for the future is O.K. All in the hopes of improving its chances for a better draft position by finishing with a weaker record.

The NBA draft lottery was instituted in the mid 1980’s to take away the incentive for a team to get the top draft choice simply by having the worst record in the league. The procedure has been modified over the years to lessen the likelihood of the team with the worst record getting the top pick.

Yet the practice of tanking continues to not just take place but to extend to even more teams taking that approach once the likelihood of making the playoffs is all but gone and often publicly stating that intention.

The integrity of the NBA demands that teams take the court for each game with the intention of winning. Perhaps by implementing the following suggestion the perceived benefit of taking will be greatly reduced if not eliminated.

Simply take the 14 teams that do not make the NBA playoffs and give all 14 the same chance of getting the top draft choice. Which is exactly the procedure used at the very beginning of the lottery system when there was one envelope for each team and the first envelope pulled would get the first draft choice.

Teams might still not put their best lineups on the court, perhaps wanting to give looks to younger players or trying different combinations that decrease their chances of winning a particular game. But there would be absolutely no benefit in doing so as regards their chances for the top draft pick. The incentive to tank would be eliminated.

Nuggets at 76ers (Friday): Both teams are battling for seeding position for the playoffs. These teams met in Denver on January 26 with the Nuggets, favored by 10.5, winning handily 126-110. Both Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler did not play for the Sixers. It was also the first game of a four-game road trip for Philly.

This game is the end of a four-game road trip for the Nuggets and the middle of a homestand for the Sixers, who are rested after having last played on Tuesday. 76ERS

Thunder at Rockets (Saturday): This is their third meeting and the home team has won each of the previous two although they’ve not met since Houston edged the Thunder by four points on Christmas Day. Both teams have played winning basketball over the past few weeks with each going 9-6 SU over their last 15 games.

Chris Paul has returned from injury for the Rockets who continue to be led by James Harden whose streak of 30 or more point games was extended to 27 on Monday, third-longest such streak in NBA history. This is Houston’s first home game following a four-game road trip, a spot that generally favors the road team as the home team gets settled back in.

OKC is off a pair of home games against losing teams (Orlando and Memphis) and Russell Westbrook will relish the challenge of trying with his teammates to end Harden’s streak, especially on the road. THUNDER

Heat at Warriors (Sunday): Miami holds the final playoff berth in the East but is just a game and a half behind seventh-seeded Charlotte and a similar distance ahead of ninth-seeded Detroit. But the Heat has not played well over the past few weeks, going 5-9 both SU and ATS.

This is the third of five straight road games heading into the All-Star break for Miami, which last played on Friday and will play on Monday in Denver. Golden State is rested and has not played back-to-back games since the middle of January. Miami might hang around for a half before the Warriors explode in the second half. WARRIORS

Last week: 2-1

Season: 26-21


About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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