All Things Tanking Pt.2

so first I want to apologize for Pt.1 being a bit messy. I'm hoping this part is cleaner, but I doubt it.

What have we learned so far? You need MVP Caliber talent to be a contender and to get MVP Caliber talent you either need to draft it, collect enough draft picks to trade for it or be one of a handful of teams that can outright sign it. So what can we conclude from this? You either tank, be LA/NY/ Miami/Phoenix or cross your fingers and hope for the best.

Not quite what ESPN wanted to say was it? Oh they'll point to limited statistical analysis to 'prove' tanking doesn't work (ie. only 1 team with a top 3 pick that remained with the team won a title within 4 years over the last 15 years) but once you start to broaden the spectrum, bit by bit, you'll find something quite different.

Want more?

"The most respected minds in the game agree that the worst place to be in the standings is in the middle. On stage at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last year, geek hero and former Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard spoke of the importance of getting off the "treadmill of mediocrity."

So the best and brightest of NBA minds think the best idea for a team is to either be good or be bad?

Remind me again how does one become good? Be bad and draft players, be bad and collect assets to trade for players, be one of a handful of teams that attract FAs.

So how do you become bad? Tank

I'm no doctor but I sure see a common theme here.

I know what some of you are thinking: "wait a minute smart guy, not all teams that tank end up being successful!". Its true, tanking doesn't equal guaranteed success. But then again what does? Does every trade turn out to be successful? Does every FA signing turn out to be successful?

Of course not. That leads into the root cause of all NBA evils.....

bad management is the root cause of perpetually bad teams

Breen: The problem with that is the teams that are really bad, they might stay that way for a long time and you do want to give them a chance.

JVG: And a lot of them are bad because they’re not managed properly.

I think it would be hard to find anyone who disagreed with this sentiment. Bad teams are bad because they made bad choices. Good teams are good because they made good choices. Doesn't matter if its in the draft, on a trade or in regards to signings.

So I have to ask the question: could it be that since management hasn't made good decisions, that management is the reason why 'tanking' hasn't worked for them? Would it matter what 'model' they followed if management sucked? Could we not look at teams that have tanked and had success and not point out good management?

Good management does whats in the best interest of a team based on its unique set of circumstances and situations. Teams that can and afford to spend can build by throwing dollars around, teams that are in attractive destinations can build by freeing up cap space to sign FAs, that small market teams will build through the draft.

Bad management is not an indictment of tanking, but rather an indictment of bad decision making, which says nothing about the success, failure or usefulness of tanking. Its not hard to make an argument that tanking is often the end result of continuous bad decision making.

The data reveals the truth

Anyone remember that lockout the NBA had... anyone? No? Liar. During that lockout there was a lot of talk about payrolls, contracts, and parity.

What did ESPN Truehoop say then?

"Want to win games? Win the draft first"

wow snap! Thats quite the change from "tanking doesn't work" no? So why was the draft so important then:

"There you’ll find the breeding ground for championship teams"

"but if you flip through through the title winners every season, you’ll find that the championship blueprint usually begins with hitting a home run on draft night."

"rookie scale that keeps salaries artificially depressed for several years,"

" if you want to be competitive, follow the lead of most champions: build through the draft and be smarter with your cash."

Did the lockout really change things so much that historical evidence changed to? Seems so.


The draft still exists as a "life preservers". Its a safety net to help teams that are bad improve. Teams have, and do, take advantage of that safety net which resulted in the weighted lottery system. That is, there is no guarantee the ping pong balls will bounce your way, so it makes 'tanking' a riskier proposition than a straight win-loss record.

But why does tanking still exist? Because of unequal access to resources. Not all players are equal, not all management is equal, not all teams have equally attractive locations and not all teams can afford to pay the same.

If one wants to end tanking 'fix' those 4 things. Just changing the lottery or draft to take the life boat away from certain teams is going to nothing but make life tougher for teams that will always be limited by poor markets and/or income. So whats the real 'answer' to tanking?

Contraction - bigger pool of players to work with

100% revenue sharing - all teams earn the same $

Salary cap skewed so small markets are allowed to pay more - gives them a financial advantage to make up for their disadvantages

Non-guaranteed contracts - Makes it easier for management to fix their mistakes.

Then you can go ahead and change the draft to reward the best teams or make it equal for all. But good luck getting that past the players union, NBA ownership and David Stern.

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