Pelicans' Head Coach Monty Williams Calls out the NBA's Tanking Problem

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 17, 2013

Oct 17, 2013; Tulsa, OK, USA; New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams reacts to a call in action against the Oklahoma City Thunder at BOK Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams just filled another seat on the NBA's anti-tanking bandwagon.

Of course, it may be a little easier for him to make that call than some of the other fine folks in his position. But we'll get to that later.

For now, let's touch on the latest round of anti-tanking rhetoric. Williams told CBS Sports' Matt Moore that there's simply too much at stake for teams to embrace the loss column in hopes of improving their draft position:

I don't buy into this idea of tanking and teams who quit when things don't go their way. To me, that's what is bad about the NBA. Guys are still getting paid, guys are still getting shoe contract money, all those things are still in play. So when things don't go your way, you can't tuck tail and run.

The conversation started when Williams was asked to touch on the way his team has survived without rising superstar Anthony Davis, out with a fractured hand since Dec. 1. The injury has forced New Orleans to adopt a next-man-up mentality, and the team has responded with a 4-3 mark without the single-browed star.

But here's where Williams' words, via Moore, lose some of their momentum:

Look, you're going to run into tough times. But it's too early in the season to make assessments about where we are. I do like the fact that we've played better. When you lose Anthony and you have a guy like Ryan [Anderson] to take his spot? It helps a lot.

That's precisely the problem and a rally cry for the pro-tanking crowd. They don't have a Ryan Anderson (21.8 points per game) to embrace the challenge, let alone a young two-way force like Davis.

METAIRIE, LA - NOVEMBER 15:  Anthony Davis #23 and Ryan Anderson #33 of the New Orleans Pelicans attends an All-Star lineup to unveil the official NBA All-Star Ballot 2014 presented by Sprint on Friday, November 15 at the New Orleans Pelicans Practice Fac
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

That's the whole point of this tanking business, to suffer through a lost season in the hopes of landing a player like Davis on draft night. Players that, by all accounts, could come in waves next June.

Williams is right; tanking is an issue. Even the most forward-thinking fans have a hard time being able to stomach 82 games in the absence of hope.

But, like an anonymous general manager told ESPN The Magazine's Jeff Goodman, sometimes that lost season is the only way to keep hope alive:

You need superstars to compete in this league, and the playing field for those guys is tilted toward a few big-market teams. They are demanding trades and getting together and deciding where they want to go in free agency. It's tough for us to compete with that. So a high lottery pick is all we have.

It's an inexact science that carries no guarantees. A mounting loss column increases a team's chance to snag the No. 1 overall pick, but that selection is still decided in a draft lottery. The team with the overall worst record hasn't received the top choice since the Orlando Magic landed at the top of the draft board in 2004.

The tanking process damages the NBA's product. It's built around false hopes—first, that it actually promises any type of reward, and second, that the draft choice finds that same level of success on the game's biggest stage.

But for some franchises, that skewed sense of optimism is all that they have going for them.

Not everyone has a Davis or an Anderson—or Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon or Tyreke Evans for that matter—to rally around. If transcendent talents are littering mock draft boards, then talent-deprived teams will continue to attempt to climb those boards.

It's a natural, albeit unsightly, part of today's NBA life.