May 28, 2017
WHAT SHOULD THE NBA DO (IF ANYTHING) TO ADDRESS TANKING INDIVIDUAL GAMES (BY RESTING HEALTHY STARS) AND/OR FULL SEASONS (TO IMPROVE DRAFT POSITION)?
How ’bout a serpentine draft pattern? Worst team gets first pick in the first round, and last pick in the 2nd round; 2nd-worst gets #2 pick in 1st round, and second-to last in the 2nd, etc. In any case, that’s not the biggest tanking problem…
The tricky type of tanking to be discussed is the rest-your-stars play that Gregg Popovich often did with Tim Duncan and that Steve Kerr did with the Splash Brothers (among others). That is a lot stickier problem to tackle… At the moment, I have no idea what can be done about that; forcing teams to play their stars could cause injury if said star really needs to get rest, and then the lawsuits would fly… That would be very ugly.
I do believe they are lengthening the NBA season by a couple of weeks next year… That should help alleviate the need/desire to have star players skip games, since they’ll a little bit less jammed together on the schedule. If that doesn’t prove to be helpful, then maybe requiring players who miss games to miss an extra one, too. Not many coaches would voluntarily rest stars for two games in a row.
Fans sometimes lose sight of what teams are trying to do; i.e. win a championship – if not this year’s, a near future one. Rebuilding happens. Who is qualified to tell a coach this player must get so many minutes per game? If a marquee player is getting end-of-the-season rest to prepare him for the playoffs, it’s an acceptable strategy. It has the added benefit of giving the lesser players more court time and more possibility of stepping up in a big way.
Conversely, if a team has tanked and has no chance to go to the postseason, why not vie for a better draft pick? Again, it gives the reserves added incentive to play their best, so they won’t be the ones traded away when the Rookie Sensations come in. A sensible coach might rest a star for a game or two, though the smart ones won’t bench him for
the entire game, as practice simply isn’t the same as a real game for keeping sharpness.
A different situation occurred in 1974, when The Atlanta Braves wanted to treat their home town fans to Henry Aaron’s breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record, and decided not to start him until the team was at home. Bowie Kuhn ordered The Braves to play Aaron in at least two of their opening three road games. A valid order? Many Braves fans thought not. (Cincinnati’s fans had a different view.)
Let the management make the decisions on those issues. (Most of them, anyhow — my personal jury is still out on the Aaron issue.) The fans, as always, will vote with their feet and their wallets.
Teams try to win, why can’t teams try to lose?
Teams also try to compete for the long term, why can’t losing be a part of that?
How can you prove that a team is trying to tank? The only reason we heard of the recent incident is because the owner admitted it….but then again why can this not be a strategy?
My solution, or rather someone else’s I’m promoting, is essentially a draft position rotation.
It wouldn’t help immediately, as teams have already made plans based on the current system and the furthest-out draft pick traded should be completed before this system is implemented. However, once in place it takes away all motivation for season-long tanking, as there is literally no reward for it – each team will receive their scheduled pick (and/or a scheduled pick they have traded for) regardless of their season’s success level. I haven’t heard a better proposal yet…
The current draft lottery is better than a straightforward worst-to-best draft order, but the lottery has not been fully effective in serving its two primary intended purposes – it has not fully prevented teams from tanking seasons, and it has not led to much competitive balance in the NBA. To eliminate season-tanking in basketball, I like the idea of completely eliminating the connection between record and draft order. The buckets concept seems superior to the wheel concept for the reasons explained here.
Individual-game-tanking (by resting healthy players) is also worth addressing, but could be difficult to address in a direct way. If NBA understudies play in place of above-the-title stars in a home game, the home team could maintain some goodwill with fans by loading them up with concession/souvenir vouchers and exit giveaways (this still wouldn’t address instances when stars rest in road games). I believe a more effective indirect deterrent to individual-game-tanking would be to increase the importance of regular season games. The NBA could do this by making the playoffs more exclusive – even introducing a 45-wins-and-in playoff format (under this format, only 10 teams would have qualified for the playoffs in 2016-2017, 11 teams in 2015-2016, 14 teams in 2014-2015, 13 teams in 2013-2014, etc.), and allowing the best teams to handpick their first opponent (or even handpick their opponent before the start of each round, to place yet even greater importance on regular-season record) – rather than automatically slotting them into a bracket based on seed.