Dummy's Guide to Tanking in Today's NBA

Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse more stories
Dummy's Guide to Tanking in Today's NBA
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Tanking is an unfortunate part of the NBA. Teams that aren't in the playoff race often like to assure they miss the playoffs, and it's a fairly well-known fact even amongst casual fans that teams sometimes sacrifice winning for the sake of obtaining the best chance at a high lottery pick.

The worst teams get the most ping pong balls in the lottery hopper and have the best chance of winning a No. 1 pick.

But sometimes things backfire for teams, as it did for the worst teams in the 1993 Draft Lottery, who struck out on the chance to draft first in a pretty rich crop of rookies that year.  

In the 1992-93 season, the Orlando Magic missed the playoffs by just one game, finishing with a .500 record under Shaquille O'Neal early in his career. Despite having the worst chances of landing the No. 1 pick, the Magic won it and used the pick to draft Chris Webber, whom they immediately dealt for the No. 3 overall pick Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway and a host of future draft picks from Golden State.

Who was the biggest No. 1 overall bust in the last 10 years?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Then, of course, there is the added dimension of the fact that a high pick does not guarantee a franchise player. Great busts have been taken first overall in the past.

From 2005 to 2007, the draft failed to produce franchise talent at the No. 1 slot, with Andrew Bogut ('05), Andrea Bargnani ('06) and Greg Oden ('07). Only Bargnani is still with his original team, and the Toronto Raptors sorely wish that wasn't the case, as they shopped the Italian bust heavily at the trade deadline.

But more often than not, tanking pays off for teams who are unfortunate enough to do it. The 2002-03 Cleveland Cavaliers certainly don't regret finishing near the bottom that year, as it enabled them to draft one of the best players in NBA history in LeBron James. In the long term, however, the Cavs were unable to keep James when he became a free agent.

So, even if a team is able to obtain a high pick and actually land the franchise talent they desire, there's little guarantee that any such player will spend the better part of his NBA career playing for the team that drafted him.

Then again, sometimes that does happen. In 1996-97, the San Antonio Spurs tanked in a weird way: David Robinson suffered a season-ending injury, and the Spurs plummeted to the bottom of the league's standings without their Hall of Famer. That drop enabled them, however, to land another franchise talent with the No. 1 overall pick in the '97 draft, future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan.

The Spurs' twin tower lineup of Robinson and Duncan went on to win a title in 1999 and 2003. The Spurs, of course, would go on to win two more titles after The Admiral hung it up, and they've been a relevant NBA contender for over 15 seasons now. Sometimes, as you see, tanking can really work out.

As the 2012-13 NBA season winds down towards its conclusion, expect teams like the Orlando Magic, Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards, New Orleans Hornets, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns to make a strong push to finish with the worst record in the league.

No, there are no franchise-changing talents available in this year's rookie crop. However, the chance to land Kansas' Ben McLemore or UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad, among others, may be too tempting for teams to pass up.

The real tanking may be seen in the 2013-14 NBA season. It's expected to be the best top-heavy draft since LBJ's class in 2003, and teams have been very hesitant to give up picks in the 2014 NBA draft. With guys like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins available for teams to choose from, there will be some jostling to, well, not win games.

Follow B/R on Facebook


Subscribe Now

By signing up for our newsletter, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

Thanks for signing up.