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Adam Silver on tanking: ‘absolutely no evidence’ that any team has lost a single game on purpose

Feb 17, 2014, 3:47 PM EDT

adam silver

NEW ORLEANS — Adam Silver held his first public press conference since taking over as the NBA’s new commissioner on Saturday, and the theme of what he hopes to accomplish during his tenure can be described using just two words: transparency and innovation.

On of the issues that is widely discussed among fans is the need for teams to bottom out in order to have a better chance at acquiring a high draft pick via the lottery system that’s currently in place. Tanking would imply that in order to do this, teams must find a way to lose essentially on purpose, or at minimum, more than perhaps their roster construction would seem to allow.

Silver seemed adamant in stating his belief, however, that teams simply don’t lose on purpose — despite the public perception.

“My understanding of tanking would be losing games on purpose,” Silver said. “And there’s absolutely no evidence that any team in the NBA has ever lost a single game, or certainly in any time that I’ve been in the league, on purpose. And, to me, what you’re referring to I think is rebuilding.  And I’m not sure it’s just a function of the collective bargaining agreement; I think there’s a balance with any team of the need to look out to the future and at the same time put a competitive product on the floor.”

In a large and formal press conference setting, there isn’t really the opportunity to follow up with multiple questions to get into the heart of any single matter. But what might have been asked in a different situation is not about how players and coaches behave, but about the way front offices sign minimum- or low-level salary players to stay under the luxury tax threshold, and conserve a franchise’s dollars for a later season when making a playoff run may be a more legitimate enterprise.

Anytime I have spoken with players or coaches about tanking, the topic is laughed off completely, and with good reason. Individual players can’t afford to not put forth their best effort on a consistent basis, and coaches are as competitive as they come. They similarly want to win, and that never changes — even if there is a directive from the front office at some point in the season to give the younger players on the team more minutes in order to develop them for the future.

Rebuilding is a necessary part of the process that even the glamor teams must go through from time to time, as we’re seeing in Los Angeles with the Lakers this season. That’s something Silver is alright with, but in his mind, it has nothing to do with teams intentionally losing games.

“I think what we’re seeing in the league right now is there’s no question that several teams are building towards the future,” Silver said. “And I think their fans understand that, as well. If there was any indication whatsoever that players or coaches somehow were not doing their absolute most to win a game, we would be all over that. But I don’t believe for a second that’s what’s going on. I think we have the most competitive players in the world, the most competitive coaches, and I think they’re doing everything they can to win games.”

  1. casualcommenter - Feb 17, 2014 at 3:58 PM

    Tanking isn’t about individual players on teams intentionally missing shots or turning over the ball. That would would hurt their stats and therefore their prospects as a free agent eventually, and you don’t really see that happening.

    Tanking is about teams at the GM level deciding at some point that the season is a lost cause and refusing to make moves that improve the team for this year. Instead, they make moves that will hopefully improve the team in the future by trading away decent players now in exchange for future draft picks. In addition, coaching staffs begin to err on the side of caution when it comes to stuff like ‘knee tendinitis’, allowing guys to miss weeks at a time for seemingly minor injuries.

    Players like Michael Carter-Williams on the 76’ers are trying. They just don’t have enough surrounding talent to be consistently competitive, and that’s the GM’s decision.

    • jcmeyer10 - Feb 17, 2014 at 4:33 PM

      Right, Silver might want to look at the GM’s before blaming the players.

    • miamatt - Feb 17, 2014 at 4:56 PM

      Bingo. Coaches and players don’t throw games, it stems from the GM plans. If the coach has any job security, he certainly can be “encouraged” to see what they have in young players, and to give injured players time to heal fully, as you pointed out.

      • bougin89 - Feb 18, 2014 at 12:14 PM

        I actually totally agree with you but I’ll play devil’s advocate here about the coaches tanking for the sake of conversation.

        In 34 games(he’s been on and off injured) this season the Bucks, on average, have played Ekpe Udoh 20.6 minutes per game with 14 starts.

        Their are college teams that Ekpe Udoh couldn’t sniff 15-20 minutes a game.

        I’m half joking here but seriously if you had to watch your team play Ekpe Udoh for 20 minutes a game more than half the games the Bucks have played you’d be complaining that the coaches tank too.

  2. dinofrank60 - Feb 17, 2014 at 4:28 PM

    He hasn’t watched a lot of NBA games, has he? Wait, until the next time a team quits on the court…

    • miamatt - Feb 17, 2014 at 4:59 PM

      Quitting isn’t necessarily a conscious decision to throw a game. It happens organically, when bad teams (or even good teams on any given night) reach a point where they are demoralized and don’t believe they can overcome a mounting deficit. Not to excuse it, but winning begets winning, and losing begets losing.

  3. jlinatl - Feb 17, 2014 at 5:05 PM

    There is a thin line between rebuilding and tanking. The problem is that being mediocre in the NBA can be worse in the long run than being bad. The way the system is set right now most fans would probably rather their team tank/rebuild than win 36 games year after year.

  4. pbtunpaidwriter - Feb 17, 2014 at 5:09 PM

    The ‘proof’ is that GMs put horrendous talent on the court. The 76ers holdings out MCW for any small injury and getting rid of Jrue Holiday last year while holding out Nerlens Noel when he’s cleared to play.

    That ALL qualifies as evidence. I give credit to the Jazz since they really ply hard but they’re in the stacked West. The Bucks have legitimate injuries to Sanders and Butler who can never stay healthy. Ilyasova is a mystery but I think the Bucks really do try.

  5. apkyletexas - Feb 17, 2014 at 5:52 PM

    So – Chicago trading their best healthy player mid-season (Deng) for a contract they were planning AHEAD OF TIME to cut within one weekend (Bynum) – that’s not purposefully ensuring your team will lose extra games?

  6. sportsfan18 - Feb 17, 2014 at 5:59 PM

    No evidence does NOT mean it isn’t happening folks…

    I mean the Lakers giving Kobe $24 million a yr for the next two years means they’ll have MORE losses each of those seasons than they would have had they only paid him like $12 mill a season and then had another $12 mill each year to spend on STRENGTHENING the team around him.

    So, not tanking in the terms we all know, but their team WILL be weaker than it would have been had they had another $12 million to spend on other quality players. They’ll get the best they can with what they have, but it won’t be as much.

    I mean, what is $12 million to a team and their salary cap? Glad you asked. $12 million is about TWENTY (20%) percent of a teams salary cap.

    I suggest that you go car or house shopping with your budget, then slash it by 20% and, oh yeah, you STILL have to get as nice of a car or house as you would had you spent an additional 20% on them…

    There is NO WAY the Lakers will be as good the next two years as they would have been had they paid Kobe like $12 mill a year…

  7. antianarxi - Feb 17, 2014 at 7:20 PM

    I have been watching the NBA nearly 30 years. These last few years I have NBA tv and watch everyday. I can tell you for a fact, that teams ARE loosing on purpose this year. I played ball at a college level and know all the tricks of the trade. im not going to get into details cause I could be writing for days, how teams decrease performance. just because Silver doesnt have evidence doesnt mean its not happening. Of course Silver cant admit teams are tanking cause that would result in multi million dollar lawsuits from the gambling business and people that have lost alot of money.

  8. onbucky96 - Feb 17, 2014 at 8:12 PM

    Hilarious. Has Adam seen the 76ers or the Bucks this season? How about the most obvious example, Cleveland tanking for Prince James.

  9. campcouch - Feb 17, 2014 at 8:16 PM

    It’s not a tank job if you realize you don’t have the talent,you won’t be able to sign better talent or simply there isn’t quality talent to be had out there. So yes,the front office can’t say it publicly,but it is understood throughout organizations that “we stink” and until we can draft good players,draw more fans and then afford quality players,we’re going to stink.Players may be told to “reserve themselves” or get a DNP to help the cause,but a stinky team is a stinky team. Besides,it’s a lottery,and as we’ve seen,the worst team doesn’t get the 1st pick most of the time.

  10. hojo20 - Feb 17, 2014 at 8:27 PM

    Gerry Callahan wrote a column in the Boston Herald last week telling Ainge it’s time to start getting the Celtics to lose in order to get more ping pong balls.

  11. coachjac30 - Feb 17, 2014 at 8:42 PM

    Why does anybody care if a team “tanks”. It still doesn’t guarantee you the top overall pick. If a team is willing to lose fans for a season or more due to losing (and often losing ugly) shouldn’t that be the problem of only the team itself

  12. kanemoney - Feb 17, 2014 at 9:51 PM

    Tanking in broader terms is ‘intentionally not playing to your full potential’ and this applies to players, coaches and GMs. By this measurement, there are at least 5 teams more than content to not make a trade to make their team better in the short-run, taking a smart risk on a D-League player, experiment with lineups, etc.

    The problem is that the league is dominated by a handful of dominant players. If you don’t have one, you don’t win (aside from perhaps the Mavericks and Pistons over the past decade).

    There is a lot of super-talented teams (I am thinking Denver, Golden State, etc. over the past few years) who are great teams but won’t win a championship. As a GM it’s tough for that to be your realistic ceiling if you consistently maximize your short-term potential.

    I think this is why many fans are not pissed off. They see a GM saying “we are gonna suck for 2-3 years to have a shot at being great” versus “we can realistically be good.” Who wants to be the second round doormat, when you can be a contender.

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