For those of you out there who are still skeptical about whether "tanking" is a strategy that NBA general managers actually pursue—and not just a figment of the basketball blogosphere's imagination—I present to you Bryan Colangelo.
While taking part in a basketball analytics panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Friday, the former Toronto Raptors front-office fixture candidly copped to intentionally undercutting his team's on-court efforts during the 2011-12 season.
“Admittedly, I tried to tank a couple of years ago,” Colangelo told the attendant crowd, via Sports Illustrated's Matt Dollinger. “I didn’t come out and say, ‘Coach you have to lose games.’ I wanted him to establish a winning tradition and culture, but I wanted him to do it in the framework of playing and developing young players.”
The Raptors finished the lockout-shortened campaign with a record of 23-43, tied for seventh worst in the league. Toronto wound up with the eighth pick in the 2012 NBA draft after the lottery, which Colangelo used to select Terrence Ross. The following October, Colangelo awarded DeMar DeRozan, a player of similar size and skill to Ross, with a four-year, $38 million extension.
It should come as little surprise, then, that Colangelo expressed an aversion to analytics during that very same panel, via NerdNumbers.com's Andres Alvarez:
"Analytics can be destructive for you." - Bryan Colangelol #SSAC14 translation "Fire is scary"— Andrés Alvarez (@NerdNumbers) February 28, 2014
Of course, Colangelo's clumsiness as a GM had been established long before any of this went down. The Raptors qualified for the playoffs during each of his first two seasons on the job, with Colangelo taking home Executive of the Year honors in 2006-07, before falling into the lottery during each of the following five years.
Colangelo was stripped of his duties as GM this past summer and subsequently replaced by protege-turned-Denver Nuggets wunderkind Masai Ujiri.
Coincidentally (or not), the Raptors currently own a 32-26 record, good enough to top the Atlantic Division and put the franchise on track for its first postseason appearance since 2008.
Colangelo isn't the first GM to come clean about "tanking," though he's the first to do so under his own name. Last October, ESPN's Jeff Goodman passed along the musings of an anonymous GM who confirmed the "conventional wisdom" that the best way to get to the top is for a team to dig its way to the very bottom.
Whether Colangelo's admission will spur the league to action is unclear. If nothing else, it would seem to come as a revelation to newly minted commissioner Adam Silver, who claimed during All-Star weekend that accusations of teams losing intentionally are without merit. "My understanding of tanking would be losing games on purpose, and there's absolutely no evidence that any team in the NBA has ever lost a single game," Silver said (via ESPN).
Still, Silver has made it clear, time and again, that he's willing to re-evaluate and reform any and every aspect of the league and the way in which it goes about its business. If nothing else, Colangelo's comments should give the commissioner and the rest of the NBA's powers-that-be cause to reconsider the current draft lottery system and not only discourage purposeful futility, but (more importantly) encourage more positive team-building practices.
Twitter: Where the Colangelo is always jigglin'.