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NBA President of Basketball Operations Admits Tanking Is 'Definitely a Strategy'

PHILADELPHIA - AUGUST 12: Newly appointed team president of the Philadelphia 76ers Rod Thorn is introduced at a press conference on August 12, 2010 at the Wells Fargo Complex in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2010 NBAE   (Photo by Jeremy Messler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2014

Depending on your viewpoint, tanking is either an abhorrent concept that should be considered utterly reprehensible, or it's a logical means to an end for an NBA team trying to maximize the progress of its rebuilding efforts. 

There doesn't seem to be much middle ground, though you do get some indifference: 

The NBA has generally refused to take much of a stance against this whole strategy, but a few high-ranking officials told TrueHoop TV's Henry Abbott some rather interesting things about the league's viewpoint during an interview over All-Star weekend. 

First, Rod Thorn, the league's president of basketball operations, said, "I don't look at it as tanking. I look at it as I don't want to be at this level here. I may have to get worse to be good. It's definitely a strategy and more and more teams are looking at it." 

Thorn goes on to explain that the general strategy involves trading away players with the intent of getting worse in the present and then rebuilding by getting lucky in the draft. 

It's a surprising admission from such a high-ranking person in the NBA offices. The league hasn't firmly condemned the concept of tanking in the past, but there've been precious few bits of tacit admission as to the merits of such a process. 

Even more amazingly, Thorn wasn't alone. 

Kiki Vandeweghe, a former general manager and the league's current vice president of basketball operations, explained the thinking behind tanking to Abbott: 

Be up. Be down. But don't be in the middle. That's the thing that I think fans need to realize. Guys are trying to win. General managers want to win. I've been through a season where we didn't win many. Rod also. It happens to everybody. That's miserable. Nobody likes that. You want to win games. But really the one thing I want to point out: It is a strategy.

Adam Silver, the new commissioner of the NBA, was quick to denounce losing games on purpose during a press conference in New Orleans. But let's make it perfectly clear that losing games on purpose is not akin to tanking, though that may be a popular misconception. 

Tanking is a process used by front offices to make a roster worse. Players and coaches are paid to win games, and you'll rarely see any of them intentionally losing games, though they may milk injuries for all they're worth.

Nevertheless, there's a big difference between making roster moves that promote short-term losing and intentionally playing to lose games. The first is tacitly accepted and explicitly understood by the NBA, according to the aforementioned quotes from front-office members, but the latter is strictly prohibited. 

You may not like tanking, but you're still going to have to deal with it. 

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