If you’re having a bad season in the NBA, sometimes you just need to cut your losses and accept the failure. Some coaches and teams will fight for every victory against the odds, but others accept their fate and tank. They tank, which is to deliberately perform badly, to ensure they come as low in the rankings as possible. If a team tanks they can potentially benefit hugely from the draft during the offseason as they get the better pick, but is tanking becoming a thing of the past?
If you’re not first, you’re last
As last season drew to a close, at least nine teams were vying for the worst position possible, and it was harming the legitimacy of the league. From the outside of the team dressing rooms, it would have been easy to accuse teams of trying to lose as many games as possible. While they might come out and say they are trying, the results often don’t lie.
It has become a strategy for teams in the past to upset their fans in the short term for the hopes of long-term success. Some teams seem to think if they can’t win the NBA Championship they might as well come last and get the better draft pick.
History is not on the side of the teams who tank. Since 1985, when the lottery was instated, very few teams have become NBA champions after tanking the season before. There have only been two teams in the past 30-plus years to win the NBA Championship using their number one pick.
Tanking really doesn’t bring success, and the teams who choose to tank aren’t making things easier for themselves. It comes at a price, and for some franchises, that price is too high.
Basketball is a spectator sport, and the better the atmosphere, the better chance the home teams have of victory. If a team decides to go on a losing run, they risk upsetting the fans, and stopping the potential for an upturn in form. The fans want to see exciting basketball, but more importantly, they want to see their team fight for victories. To make a success of tanking, teams have to commit, upsetting their loyal fanbase in the process.
Finishing near the bottom of the league for several seasons will give teams the opportunity to rebuild their entire team with younger players. To do this, teams might have to spend half a decade tanking just to get the benefits, just like the 76ers, but not every team can accept that. Sport is about winning, and sure the 76ers had an upturn in results following years of terrible basketball, but it came at the cost of many disappointing years.
The NBA is trying to find a solution to prevent teams from tanking, and in the future, the teams at the bottom could see their high chance of the first pick diminished. Competition is key, and the NBA is looking at ways to restore it by adding more randomness to the draft.