It was not so long ago that the NBA was in the midst of an existential crisis that many believed could do irreparable damage to the quality and image of the league. The problem was that several teams decided that it was not in their best interests to field competitive teams. The logic these teams employed was simple: if the ultimate goal is to win a championship, and the best way to build a championship team is to acquire talent through the draft, then why spend big bucks to cobble together a roster that would maybe sneak into the playoffs and quickly be destroyed by a real contender?
This strategy, dubbed by the media as “tanking,” left a bad taste in the mouth of fans and the league office. To subject a fan base to 82 games of garbage, intentionally, is not a good way to build team support in a city. Why pay full price to attend a game when the people in charge did not pay full price to put a product on the floor?
Tanking was in no way a new phenomenon in the NBA. Even the San Antonio Spurs, model NBA citizens over the last two decades, tanked their way to the first overall pick in the 1997 draft, nabbing Tim Duncan following a season David Robinson sat with a dubious foot injury. But the most recent examples of teams trying to lose has been more pronounced than ever before. Sam Hinkie and the Philadelphia 76ers quickly became the poster child of this aggressive team reconstruction style when they traded Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for Nerlens Noel, an incredibly talented big man who had torn his ACL in college and likely would need to sit out his entire first season.
Several teams followed Philly’s lead in a race to the bottom. Utah absorbed two horrific contracts in a trade with Golden State that netted them future picks and nothing else. Orlando was content to stink after trading Dwight Howard away. Even the proud Boston Celtics seemed uninterested in winning after they traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce away for future picks and Gerald Wallace’s horrible contract. The NBA became so concerned with the tank trend that it introduced lottery reform that would take away some of the advantage of finishing with the worst record. The proposed reform did not pass a vote as teams were wary about the potential ripple effects of any change in the draft system.
Changing the way the lottery works would have been a gross overreaction to the situation the league found itself in. The reason is simple: tanking, at least for the 2015-16 NBA season, looks to be a problem of the past!
To prove this, let’s take a quick gander at the teams with some tank incentive heading into the coming season.