With the season winding down and the draft lottery on the minds of the league's bottom-dwellers, tanking, whether subtle or obvious, has been a word on the tips of everyone's tongues.
Around the league there are teams looking for ways to drop games like crazy in order to improve their odds for the lottery.
Some teams are taking the more basic approach, holding players out of games with psuedo-injuries, reducing minutes of guys who give them a better chance of winning and just flat-out putting in bad players.
The key to a good tank is to make it look as if there's nothing out of the ordinary going on, which is generally helped out by some genuine injuries mixed with unique coaching strategies that will give the tanker in question a better shot at losing games less obviously.
Tank wrong, and fans will turn on the team faster than the bandwagon seats fill up when a new, exciting player comes in.
It's become much easier to tank without upsetting fans lately as they've become more aware of what it takes to build a winning team. Bottoming out and obtaining draft picks brings bright futures, as frustrating as it can be.
Fair-weather fans may leave, but they'll be back once the team comes back around.
However, nobody wants to be labeled as a tanker, regardless of the fact that so many teams do it.
Call this some guidelines, or just a few tips to teams looking to better their draft position without completely flopping down the stretch.
There are plenty of injuries to keep a player out for a game or two, but completely shutting a guy down for the remainder of the season because of a minor injury is definitely a tanking strategy.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have done it the right way, whether intentionally or not. While Anderson Varejao's injury was a legitimate season-ender, the shoulder injury to Kyrie Irving wasn't one that would keep him out for the remainder of the season.
Irving came back in Cleveland's game against the New Orleans Hornets (which they lost), but sat out their next game against the Atlanta Hawks for precautionary reasons. Plus, there's still the possibility of a sudden "flare-up" that could end his season once we get closer to the end.
Then there's the Orlando Magic, who shut down Arron Afflalo at the end of March with a "hamstring injury." After a bit of a backlash, news came out the next day that he had a "slight tear" in his hamstring.
The timing seemed fishy, and they had already lost the trial in the eyes of the public.
When you see a player giving an extra effort to get a win in crunch-time, it's great for the fans and for the team's energy. When the team's looking to lose a game, it's definitely not in their best interests to see them play a ton of minutes.
The key here is to limit the minutes in specific games, not to go all-out and completely drop players from the rotation.
As the Phoenix Suns go into full-on tank-mode, they've completely taken their high-effort players out of their normal roles and reduced their minutes. Shannon Brown, Luis Scola, P.J. Tucker and Goran Dragic have all watched their minutes dwindle as of late. Not surprisingly, they've lost 12 of 14 games.
Most egregious has been Brown's complete marginalization. What was one of his best years throughout the first half has been completely negated by the second half. He's played double-digit minutes in a game just once since February 12th.
When a team wants to cover up the benching of a player in favor of losing more games over the last month of the season, it's got to be blanketed with the ruse of experimenting with rotations.
For instance, the Orlando Magic have thrown DeQuan Jones into the starting lineup for the third time this season. The first two times worked out to mediocre results. They were well aware of his impact on the lineup being minimal, so putting him back in it was predictable.
Orlando could have easily given the efficient-scoring, hustling Kyle O'Quinn a run after Arron Afflalo got hurt, but that could result in a boost of energy for the guys on the floor.
Instead Jones, an untimely decision-maker, will be their guy down the stretch, and the Magic won't be helped out.
Young Guy Trial Periods
The flurry of 10-day contracts at the end of the season serves three purposes, with the three of them overlapping into grey areas at times.
Top of the list is for injury-depleted playoff-bound teams to fill out the rest of their roster, generally picking up big, physical veterans.
After that, it's the younger players in order to give them a chance to prove their mettle and work toward a full contract next season.
Finally, it's filling out a roster with the intention of throwing a guy in late in the season to help with the tank job in a less obvious fashion.
The best time for the last one to reason is when it overlaps with the second reason, making it seem like a young dude could make the team next season.
Cleveland has done the worst job of this as of late, giving Chris Quinn a late-season run during Kyrie Irving's injury. Quinn, 29 years old, isn't playing for the Cavs next season, and nobody believes he is for a second.
Meanwhile, the Suns and Magic have their own version of this over the past month, playing recent acquisitions a few more minutes than necessary in recent weeks. Phoenix has this going with Hamed Haddadi, while Orlando is doing the same with Doron Lamb.
It's a thin line to walk when you're a team near the bottom of the league, and it seems that most teams are trampling all over it in their own way, toeing it perfectly in others.
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