Tanking is not happening, NBA fans. Now please go about your business; there's nothing to see here.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver attempted to both clearly define and flatly deny the existence of tanking during a speech he made Wednesday afternoon at the Boston College Executives Club of Boston luncheon, per The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn:
I think it's important to clarity what we all mean by tanking. Where I grew up tanking meant the coach and the players or some subset of that group were intentionally trying to lose a game. I don't think that's going on anywhere in the NBA and I would take action immediately if I thought it was.
What is going on is rebuilding. And we have a system right now that incentivizes teams to rebuild. There's a sense that you're better off rebuilding in some cases from scratch than remaining mediocre. Now I am concerned even if if it's a legitimate strategy that there's a perception out there by many people that it's not. There's an awful lot of chatter out there in the land and I continue to hear the 'T' word. So I think it's my obligation to address it.
Ah, the "T" word: It has been uttered quite a bit this season. Former Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo even admitted to tanking a few years ago when he spoke at February's MIT Sloan Sports Analystics Conference, per NBC Sports' Zach Harper.
And the whispers have only been growing louder with what has transpired in Philadelphia over the past few months.
There is little doubt that the 76ers have been tanking this season. Not only have they lost 17 games in a row, but they also dumped nearly half the useful players on the roster at the February trade deadline.
To recap, Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie:
- Traded starting center Spencer Hawes for two second-round picks, Earl Clark (who the team then waived) and Henry Sims.
- Traded starter Evan Turner and key reserve Lavoy Allen for Danny Granger (who the team then waived) and a second-round pick.
- Traded for Byron Mullens, a key component of the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats team that finished with the worst winning percentage in NBA history.
The groans from fans across the country will only grow louder if the Sixers end up surpassing the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers' NBA-record 26-game losing streak. In the world of modern American sports—where every league is supposedly looking to achieve parity—that is just a bad look.
But the tanking phenomenon might not be as widespread as many believe, a concept that B/R's Howard Beck explored in his March 10 article:
With the season down to its final quarter, we can safely conclude this much: The tanking trend has been vastly overstated. Tanking exists. It is happening. But it is not an epidemic, and it has not dramatically altered competitive balance. The standings provide some clarity.
As of Monday morning, three NBA teams had sub-.300 records, and 10 were below .400. If we're measuring widespread futility, these figures are in no way extraordinary.
Over the last 10 years, an average of 3.3 teams per season have finished below .300, including a high of six teams in 2010-11 and 2008-09. In that same 10-year stretch, an average of 7.7 teams have finished below .400, with a high of 10 in 2011-12 and 2009-10.
Regardless of how serious the problem truly is, the commissioner has a duty to head off even the slightest whiff of controversy. The league brass may or may not decide to readdress the issue in the 2014 offseason, but until that time, Silver will do his best to convince the world that there is absolutely no tanking going on in his league.