The strategy of “tanking” ― to purposely do poorly for a year in order to receive a high draft pick ― is found everywhere in professional sports. One could call it cheating, a dirty trick and unethical, but it certainly works.
A recent example would be the Philadelphia 76ers, who have been among the worst teams in the NBA for the past two years. However, through tanking, the Sixers have gained young players with tremendous potential, such as Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams and Joel Embiid. With such talent, the Sixers are looking to be a real threat in the association in a few years.
Tanking happens outside the NBA too, as it occurs pretty much in any association with a draft. That would include the NFL, NHL and MLB, among others.
The NBA is trying to shoot down this unhealthy trend of tanking, so it is looking to reform the draft lottery system. Here is what the proposal entails:
“The league’s proposal gives at least the four worst teams the same chance at winning the no. 1 pick: approximately an identical 11 percent shot for each club. The odds decline slowly from there, with the team in the next spot holding a 10 percent chance. The lottery team with the best record will have a 2 percent chance of leaping to the no. 1 pick, up from the the minuscule 0.5 percent chance it has under the current system.
The proposal also calls for the drawing of the first six picks via the ping-pong ball lottery, sources say. The current lottery system actually involves the drawing of only the top three selections. The rest of the lottery goes in order of record, from worst to best, after the top-three drawing is over.”
The Sixers, however, are not satisfied with this proposal, as they are still looking to tank for at least another year in order to stockpile as much young talent as possible. They have a good reason to be upset with the NBA’s proposed changes; the 76ers built a multi-year plan based around the current rules of tanking, so changing the draft function would destroy their plan and put them at an unfair disadvantage. The best deterrence would be to still implement the reform as soon as possible, but perhaps the NBA should let teams like the Sixers have a few more years to settle in comfortably before making the change.
Is tanking really a problem in the NBA, though? Tanking works, and the collapses associated with tanking mirror results in any other sort of business in the real world, as franchises will rise and fall constantly. It is what makes the NBA exciting. Imagine if every single team in the NBA had an equal level of talent. There would be no upsets, no underdogs and no hero stories for fans to reminisce about.
Even if tanking were a problem, this proposed reform could just create even bigger problems. A smaller gap between the lottery chances of the worst and the 10th worst team would allow luck to play a huge role in the success of teams. It is already happening under the current system. Look at the Cleveland Cavaliers ― they received the first pick for two consecutive years, despite long odds to earn the No. 1 pick in either season. The NBA’s proposed lottery plan could exacerbate this phenomenon by increasing the role that luck plays in deciding the draft order. That is the makings of an unfair association.
Though frustrating at times, tanking is part of the formula that makes professional sports so exciting. Instead of thinking of it as a dirty trick, one can see tanking as a shrewd strategy. In turn, if alternative proposals could seemingly produce their own problems as well, why bother changing the system? There probably will never be a perfect system for these associations to work with, so maybe tanking is not a horrible phenomenon after all.
Contact Ethan Teo at ethanteo99 ‘at’ gmail.com.