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Adam Silver says he doesn’t think tanking works

Sep 20, 2013, 12:12 PM EDT

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We haven’t even started the season — he’s not even commissioner yet — and already Adam Silver seems bothered by talking about tanking.

Well, a lot more questions are coming this year, tanking is going to be one of the big topics around the league this season. With a deep and loaded draft next season a number of teams have already started the “we’ll get bad to be good” train — Philadelphia, Utah, Phoenix, and Orlando (plus maybe the Bobcats, except they have just been bad for a few years and they did add Al Jefferson this season). Other teams with slightly better rosters that struggle out of the gate this season will shed assets to get better lottery odds for a shot at Andrew Wiggins and crew.

In an interview with (hat tip to Eye on Basketball) Silver said he is uncomfortable with all this because he doesn’t think it works.

“Number one, I don’t think it works, because culture is critical,” Silver said. “And I don’t think you can build a winning tradition by this undercurrent of ‘‘it’s really better to be bad and you need to be bad to be good.’ I haven’t seen it done successfully around the league. It makes me nervous that it has to be asked, so I recognize it’s something the league has to focus on.”

It hasn’t been successful? Then why exactly is it referred to as the Oklahoma City system? OKC was bad long enough to draft Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden with top four picks in consecutive drafts. That built the foundation of a contender.

It can work and a lot of GMs and owners like it better than feeling stuck in a rut in the middle of the league. You can build from the middle and win if you are smart and a little lucky (see the Indiana Pacers) but a lot of GMs and owners realize that to win in the NBA you need an elite player to get there. If you’re the Knicks or Lakers you can get those stars via free agency, but if you’re the Jazz or Magic you need a good draft.

(Plus, you can sell your owner on the roster being far less expensive for a few years. Owners like that.)

I think Silver swings and misses on the culture issue as well. The Magic and Sixers and every other team out there will tell you they are not “tanking” — they are not intentionally trying to lose games. Their coaches will put together detailed game plans, the players will bust their tails every night to win games, and there will not be a culture where losing is acceptable. That’s not how it plays in the locker room. What we are talking about is a management decision to put less talent (or younger, developing talent) in that locker room.

Tanking isn’t a sure fire rebuild method, but it is one that can work with a few breaks. And anytime you have potential franchise-changing guys coming into the league (and there are potentially multiple franchise changers in 2014) you’re going to see this. Anything you do to the lottery isn’t really going to change that.

  1. money2long - Sep 20, 2013 at 12:48 PM

    hopefully he meant it doesn’t work ALL the time.

    because i’m fairly certain in nba history, out of all the teams who’ve won the lottery and got the number one pick, one of those franchises has had the thought in mind to tank to get it.

    surely they think tanking could work.

  2. asimonetti88 - Sep 20, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    “It hasn’t been successful? Then why exactly is it referred to as the Oklahoma City system? OKC was bad long enough to draft Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden with top four picks in consecutive drafts. That built the foundation of a contender.”

    There is more to it than that. The Clippers drafted in the top 10 13 out of 16 years between 1994 and 2009 and only had 1 winning record in that same time frame. You also need to draft smart, and retain that talent when you do hit on the right players. When you have top 10 draft picks and spend them on Michael Olowokandi, Darius Miles, Al Thornton, Lorenzen Wright (RIP), Lamond Murray, Al Thornton and Chris Wilcox… and then trade away guys like Antonio McDyess and Tyson Chandler before they even take the court!

    • deadeyedesign23 - Sep 21, 2013 at 2:29 PM

      Obviously you need to make the picks count, and have them fall in drafts with key players, but I’d rather take my shot that way rather than being a team like the Raptors who languish between 5th and 10th place for decades.

  3. moseskkim - Sep 20, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    i didn’t think OKC tanked though. i don’t think they were bad just to get good players. they were just bad. they had ray allen, rashard lewis.. couple other pieces. they drafted well more than anything. Durant was a no brainer pick but harden wasn’t considered a great pick at the time and westbrook was a head scratcher. there have been teams with many more top picks who just didn’t draft well. that’s why scouting and player development is so important. some teams just know, some teams just suck at it.

    • asimonetti88 - Sep 20, 2013 at 3:18 PM

      They did have Ray Allen and Rashard, but they also traded away Ray and let Rashard walk to get worse.

      • asimonetti88 - Sep 20, 2013 at 3:20 PM

        Which has me wondering… what if they had kept Ray and had Ray and KD on the same team? It would be raining three pointers for days!

  4. hildezero - Sep 20, 2013 at 1:47 PM

    I agree. The tanking system doesn’t work. Although, they’re have been a few teams in NBA history that have tanked and ended up working well for them. I rather have my team (Suns) not tank at all, yet tanking for Wiggins wouldn’t be a really bad idea either. Tanking for a high quality collegiate player that is expected to do a lot in the pros soon? I say, go for it, Suns!

    • bougin89 - Sep 20, 2013 at 3:51 PM

      The moves the Suns have made this year, trading Scola for Gerald Green and a lottery protected ’14 first rounder, trading Caron Butler for a project big man and Ish Smith, and using the stretch provision on Beasley(I guess you could argue that was addition by subtraction but for arguments sake I’ll list that move here) can be seen as tanking. I wouldn’t be surprised if Marcin Gortat and his expiring contract are moved at some point this year either.

    • adoombray - Sep 20, 2013 at 4:23 PM

      this. Then you have the bobcats, that have been “tanking” since they came into the league, Cleveland keeps drafting in the top of the lottery, the wizards are perpetually bad, and its not the nfl with guaranteed draft position where you can reasonably forecast where a guy is going to be. Let’s face it, tanking is pure luck as much as everyone wants to pat themselves on the back for one team pulling it off. ask David Khan how it worked out for him.

  5. papichulo55 - Sep 20, 2013 at 2:04 PM

    Each teams portion of the national networks payment should be based on Won-Loss records. Tankers wont get paid. Might not totally stop it, but hitting the Tankers where it hurts will make them think twice.

  6. jcmeyer10 - Sep 20, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    It’s not necessarily where you draft but who you draft. Tanking only, theoretically, increases your chances to land a good player but that doesn’t mean you will pick the right guy.

    • 00maltliquor - Sep 20, 2013 at 7:09 PM


  7. rajbais - Sep 20, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    He’s right. Since the lottery started in 1985 only 2 teams tied for and 2 teams actually with worst overall record have won it.

    That’s 4 out of 28 lotteries.

    Tanking gets you more balls, but history shows that you have a 1/7 chance.

    • bougin89 - Sep 20, 2013 at 3:38 PM

      The team with the worst record usually isn’t the only team tanking. Theoretically you may have 3+ teams tanking in the same season. Sixers, Suns, Celtics, Jazz, Lakers(kidding!) come to mind for this season. So definitely 1/7 odds are pretty realistic. But most of these teams are still going to be basically right at the top of the draft to get a guy they can hopefully build around.

    • bougin89 - Sep 20, 2013 at 3:52 PM

      Plus you have the Bobcats who seem to maybe trying to win but are so awful it’s hard to tank past them.

  8. farvite - Sep 20, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    SEATTLE drafted Westbrook and Durant.

    • asimonetti88 - Sep 20, 2013 at 6:12 PM

      They drafted Ibaka too!

  9. jjordannba - Sep 20, 2013 at 7:37 PM


  10. badintent - Sep 21, 2013 at 12:38 AM

    Great . A Herr Stern clone. If it walks, smells and quacks like a duck……………………

  11. jpanders - Sep 21, 2013 at 10:31 AM

    Not sure how anyone can say tanking is not the best thing to do. Every year 70-80 percent of the nba all stars and closer to 90 percent of the elite players are top 10 picks. You need all stars to win in the nba so you need to get in the top 10 and most likely top 5 to get them. Just delusional or stupid to say otherwise.

  12. psubeerman21 - Sep 21, 2013 at 6:10 PM

    There just isn’t that much top flight talent that is available in the draft each year. How many years is there only one, maybe two franchise players? It isn’t the NFL where you can get a starter perhaps as late as the 4th round. There is usually so little talent in the draft that teams will trade out of the first round so they don’t have to give a guarenteed contract. If you don’t have a top pick, you won’t get that guy. And to get that you need lottery balls.

  13. jjthesportsguy - Sep 22, 2013 at 9:02 AM

    Haha. Adam Silver thinks we’re just as stupid as Stern did. Whoever tanks this year, it is going to work out. Jabari Parker, Wiggins, and many others.

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