Why are so many NBA Teams tanking in 2013-14?

Mark Pybus Roar Guru

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    LeBron in his Miami Heat days. (Image: NBA)

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    Tanking is a term used to describe a sporting team’s effort – or lack thereof – to intentionally lose as many games as possible in order to succeed in the long term.

    In the NBA, losing equals a better chance at higher draft picks. Usually, the subject doesn’t come up until towards the end of the season when the lottery teams are well and truly decided.

    This season, however, things are different – to the point where tanking was a topic discussed before a basket has even been made.

    The term “Riggin’ for Wiggins” (we will get to this name later) has become popular around the league and is a funny name for what is very serious business.

    Tanking is not something I enjoy or condone as it basically ruins the spirit of a game where two teams should battle each other for a win every night.

    If one team doesn’t want to win, what’s the point of watching?

    In principal this makes great sense, but the NBA is a multi-billion dollar business where wrong decisions can haunt a franchise for years (New York/Minnesota, nod your heads).

    In a league of 30 teams and even less genuine franchise players, a team will look at every option available to land a high level talent capable of taking their team to success and financial success.

    Short term pain in the form of half-filled arenas, disgruntled fans and a credibility loss is easy to take when you get that blue chip draft prospect and can build around him for years to come.

    In some cases, teams can actually turn the tanking process into a positive experience for the fans. The great light of hope is offered to them early and the rewards of having a young, exciting player to cheer for is always on their mind.

    So why this season, of all years, are teams going to be tanking?

    It’s simple – the 2014 draft class is touted as the best draft class since the star-stacked 2003 NBA Draft, which produced LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Darko Milicic (wait, that’s not right).

    Expected in the 2014 NBA Draft are:

    Andrew Wiggins (SF): A Kevin Durant clone from Canada who will be a franchise changer for whoever lands him – hence the “Riggin’ for Wiggins” catchphrase. He has a complete game and is a freak athlete to boot. In short, it is worth ruining an entire season to secure him.

    Julius Randle (PF): An offensive beast with all the moves you expect from a polished veteran. An above average handle for a PF means he can hurt you in the open court.

    Jabari Parker (SF): Another great all-rounder who has great size for a wing player, can score from anywhere and possesses the smarts of a player much older.

    Dante Exum (PG):  The highly talented PG from Down Under is spending this season in Europe developing his game. A natural scorer and above-average defender, Exum will be a force in the league given the impact score first PGs are having right now.

    Joel Embiid (C): A legit seven foot tall with a massive wingspan and athleticism to spare. His defence is also top notch and will be a big guy to build around.

    Aaron Gordon (PF): Essentially the second coming of Blake Griffin. Watch his YouTube videos and be impressed by Gordon’s supreme abilities.

    So now we have established the quality talent that will be on offer in 2014, who will be the teams fighting for the right to draft a potential franchise player?

    Expected lottery teams this season are the Philadelphia 76ers (despite their 3-0 start), Phoenix Suns, Charlotte Bobcats, Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic and the Boston Celtics.

    All these teams have either announced they are in rebuilding mode or it would be basketball suicide not to finish in the lower half of the league given their rosters and/or team location.

    While finishing with the worst record doesn’t guarantee you the first pick – statistically it works out to be a 25% chance – it does help to have a few extra balls in the lottery.

    With all the talk of tanking this season it would be slightly amusing to see an outsider take out the #1 pick, just as Chicago did in 2008 to get Derrick Rose (they were a 1.7% chance to land the #1 pick).

    So is tanking right? No. But this is big business and there is plenty to play for.

    My tip would be to concentrate on the teams fighting for a title and enjoy the quality of basketball that will be on show this season.

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    The Crowd Says (20)

    • Roar Guru

      November 4th 2013 @ 6:55am
      B-Rock said | November 4th 2013 @ 6:55am | ! Report

      Tanking has just become an accepted part of the modern NBA. It is a real shame but fans are now on board with it, particularly if you are in a less desirable city.

      As the sallary cap is relatively low (vs revenues) any team can pay the max to a star player. Only the incumbent team can offer more $. So if you are Orlando, Oklahoma City or Sacramento, you are only going to get a star by drafting them then paying them more than everyone else can. Stars are pretty much always in the top 3 picks, and to have a chance at this you need to lose a shed load of games. The glamour teams (lakers, heat, knicks, etc) don’t need to tank as stars want to live in LA, Miami and NY for the same amount of money.

      Its still a high risk strategy though. The worst team only gets a 25% chance of the 1st pick, but you are guaranteed top 3. There aren’t many can’t miss players, probably only 4 or 5 every 10yrs, so if you tank each year you only have a 1 in 10 chance of drafting these guys.

      But at least its a plan!

      • Roar Guru

        November 5th 2013 @ 9:45am
        Chris Kettlewell said | November 5th 2013 @ 9:45am | ! Report

        Although, part of the point I guess is that if there are half-a-dozen players this year that they reckon they could build their team around, then even if you finish with pick 3-4 you would think you are probably going to come out with someone good. How good is always hard to tell in the long term, the guy drafted 1 may never rise as high as one or two of those drafted below him for lots of reasons that can’t be predicted, from injuries to the fact that someone else who may not be quite as good now may have a lot more improvement in them than the guy who’s currently slightly better. So it’s always a bit of a gamble.

        I suspect that fans of a team that’s been pretty average for years would rather them have a terrible year and draft a player who ends up being a perennial all-star and carries the team to championships, than to have them fight their way to the middle and never get beyond there.

    • November 4th 2013 @ 8:06am
      IanW said | November 4th 2013 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      The Sixers have just opened their season with wins against Miami, Washington and Chicago … I think rumours of them being in the tank are over-stated.

      Note the number of good players at the top end of the draft means that a team without a lot of talent can play as hard as they can, get more wins than Vegas expects and *still* upgun their team for a playoffs or title run in a couple of years.

      From the perspective of individual players, being in the tank may well be a recepie for personal career death – a Lavoy Allen going into a trade or free agency situation will be a lot more marketable if he was one of those Sixers who somehow got to a thirty-win season than if he was a member of the Worst Team Of All Time.

      • November 4th 2013 @ 7:48pm
        Clark said | November 4th 2013 @ 7:48pm | ! Report

        Carter-Williams has been incredibly impressive in his first 3 games, he is going to be something special by the looks of things, almost scoring a quadruple double against debut, against Miami of all teams.

    • November 4th 2013 @ 8:40am
      Red Kev said | November 4th 2013 @ 8:40am | ! Report

      I think that telling rookies to tank when they’ve just hit the NBA is impossible, the front offices just bank on them being over-matched. Maybe Michael Carter-Williams is just better than the Sixers realised.
      Looking at the Celtics, if Rondo comes back relatively quickly and regains his form then the East is weak enough for the Celtics to qualify for the playoffs – and I doubt the front office is prepared to tell their one all star to tank.

    • November 4th 2013 @ 8:51am
      mushi said | November 4th 2013 @ 8:51am | ! Report

      Yep i don’t think they are tanking in a deliberate on court lack of effort. But their roster decisions certainly suggest that winning now isn’t the priority.

      I think in a perverse way this has helped them as teams have looked at them as a night off. Something to remember when those – “could Kentucky beat the bobcats” type arguments come up.

      • Roar Guru

        November 4th 2013 @ 9:29am
        Mark Pybus said | November 4th 2013 @ 9:29am | ! Report

        Completely agree but any tanking efforts will be passed on to the coach from the GM. Players can play their games but coaches can influence things a lot more than we realise.

        No one likes to lose but sometimes it’s a reality of the business.

        • November 4th 2013 @ 10:17am
          astro said | November 4th 2013 @ 10:17am | ! Report

          I think if players on a ‘tanking’ team perform well, and thereby the coach performs well, its a plus for the ‘tanking’ team.

          Take Philly…If their hot start continues, they’ll simply look to trade Evan Turner or Thad Young to a ‘win-now’ team for more picks! That way they create a roster which won’t win this year but gain more picks AND know they have a good coach.

          • Roar Guru

            November 4th 2013 @ 11:15am
            Mark Pybus said | November 4th 2013 @ 11:15am | ! Report

            Philly is in a great position that they have a top draft pick already who isnt playing (Noel) and potential lottery picks from other teams.

            It will be interesting to see what happens if they keep winning like you said.

          • November 4th 2013 @ 11:16am
            Red Kev said | November 4th 2013 @ 11:16am | ! Report

            Looks like Turner is already on the GM’s “to be traded” list as he hasn’t been offered an extension.

    • November 4th 2013 @ 8:57am
      mushi said | November 4th 2013 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      As far as tanking making sense this year it does when there are 7 blue chip rated prospects (included Smart who by all reports the Magic would have drafted at 2 this year). So if you end up with one of the worst four records you are guaranteed one of those guys.

      I was watching the nba crew on Saturday and there was talk about this being better than 2003 as that was 5 deep (well really only 4!).

      If you’re going to tank may as well do it when the ping pong balls don’t have to go your way.

    • Roar Pro

      November 4th 2013 @ 5:37pm
      Phil Coorey said | November 4th 2013 @ 5:37pm | ! Report

      Let me say as a Celtics fan, I’m happy that they have started 0-3. But trying to get Wiggins will work out about as well as the Timmy Duncan draft…

      Looking like one hell of an NBA season though

      • Roar Guru

        November 4th 2013 @ 7:39pm
        Mark Pybus said | November 4th 2013 @ 7:39pm | ! Report

        The Celtics have excuted their game plan very well and Brad Stevens should be commended on the 0-3 start. Get up a big lead early or make a big run in the 4th quarter before all of a sudden falling apart and look bemused at the result.

        Danny Ainge is a very sneaky man.

        • November 5th 2013 @ 10:22am
          Red Kev said | November 5th 2013 @ 10:22am | ! Report

          Some of the best games this year could be between two tanking teams – who can convincingly lose against a team trying not to win!

      • November 5th 2013 @ 8:33am
        mushi said | November 5th 2013 @ 8:33am | ! Report

        Except, as I said above, the depth of the draft is what is encouraging people not just wiggins. Chad Ford breaks down the draft into “tiers” every year with tier 1 being guys that barring set backs are going to be all stars and could change the franchise and tier 2 guys being potential all stars.

        in 97 you had just duncan as a tier 1 player, and whilst I’m plumbing the depths of memory I think only really two or three tier 2 guys (hard to remember if we though the likes of antonio daniels was an all star or not).

        They are talking 7 to 9 tier 1+2 guys this year, to put that in perspective last year they graded 0 as tier 1 or 2.

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